Monday, August 3, 2020

Bell's Hopslam and A Balmoral Cigar

Not too long ago, I found a lone can of Bell's Brewing Hopslam Ale hiding in the back of the beer fridge. I was excited as I thought I had consumed the last of the supply I acquired in Spring 2019. Those cans were some of the last available after Bell's announced they would no longer ship their beers to Virginia

Hopslam is an annual release from the Michigan brewery. The Double IPA at one time seemed like it had almost a cult following, and the retail price reflected the demand. In more recent years, my impression is the price had moderated somewhat. The newer distribution in cans helps to preserve the beer so those cans that get lost in the recesses of the fridge stay pretty fresh.

The beer pours a golden amber with a sticky white head. The aroma bring citrus and honey to the nose. The taste is bitter grapefruit, with a honey and fruit background. The mouthfeel is sticky and oily. It's not a beer to guzzle, but one to sip and savor.

My cigar pairing this time was the Balmoral Anejo XO Nicaragua Rothschild. The Nicaraguan Habano wrapper encased a Brazilian Cuban seed binder and a blend of Dominican Republic Olor, Nicaraguan, and Brazil Mata Norte fillers. The cigar's flavors are somewhat muted by the beer's lingering remnants on my palate. The smoke brought notes of milky coffee, toffee, sweet fruit and a touch of pepper. My glass of ale lasted for about half the smoke, at which time I switched to simple water. The flavors of the medium-bodied cigar stood on their own a bit more once the beer remnants faded. Throughout the smoke, I found this to be a quite enjoyable cigar.

It doesn't appear we will be getting Bell's in Virginia again for awhile, as the legal battle around Virginia's three-tier system stretches on.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

An Old Beer and A New Cigar

How to wind down the weekend? That was the question after dinner last Sunday. It had been a full weekend of good smokes, drinks, and shooting. It was still warm (I'm sounding like a broken record.) but bearable, with proper refreshments. I went back to digging through the old beer stash in the basement and came up with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale from 2013. 

I've been neglectful picking up bottles of this annual release. However, I've got quite a few older vintages from various years stashed away, some even older than this one. The Barleywine-style ale is ripe for aging.

The seven year old Bigfoot Ale featured a rich, sweet malt backbone, with a pleasing hop bitterness in the finish. Carbonation was good and the beer left a sweet coating on the palate. I was sorely tempted to dig out another bottle but resisted the urge. 

The cigar selected was the Viva La Vida in Torpedo. This 6 ½" x 54 stick was another from a recent My Cigar Pack shipment. Featuring a dark, shiny Habano Maduro wrapper over a Nicaraguan Corojo binder and Criollo ’98 fillers, the boutique cigar comes from Artesano del Tabaco in collaboration with master AJ Fernandez. The full-bodied smoke has rich notes of leather, coffee, pepper and cinnamon spice, all with a hint of sweetness. Construction was perfect and I got a razor sharp burn and plenty of flavorful smoke all the way to the nub.

Of course, I was inspired to dig up a video of Coldplay performing the song of the same name as I enjoyed the smoke.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Espresso and a Smoke

Sometimes one has to ease in to the weekend, rather than jumping too quickly. Once I finished last week's work, I opted to chill a bit before dinner with an espresso and a smoke. At the very least, the coffee would give me the the boost to begin the weekend with gusto a little later.

After preparing my drink, I grabbed a Balmoral Anejo XO Rothschild Masivo. This cigar was part of the My Cigar Pack June shipment. The Balmoral brand is a new one to me. I enjoyed a Balmoral Anejo XO Nicaragua just a few days prior and was looking forward to comparing this darker blend to that one.

The Balmoral Anejo XO features a shiny Brazilian Sungrown wrapper, Dominican Republic Olor binder, with fillers from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. This is a full bodied smoke with notes of charred wood, dark coffee, and pepper. A good bourbon, neat, might have been a more complimentary accompaniment. I opted for only the one double espresso, and finished most of the smoke with simple water. The warmth on the deck was still building in the late afternoon, so the plentiful glasses of cold water were welcome.

The smoke was enjoyable. I would have to say I enjoyed the Balmoral Anejo XO Nicaragua just a bit more. (Review posted later here.) That said, I only had the one cigar of both, so comparisons a few days apart are questionable at best. My cigar finished, it was time for dinner and to contemplate the evening's selections. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Cavalier Monthly IDPA Match

Another hot Saturday, and another hot IDPA match. That's the pattern for the summer in Virginia. This past weekend the event was the monthly IPDA match at Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club. Five very fun courses of fire awaited the 41 shooters who braved the summer sun.

The first stage we shot presented three shooting positions, all from behind the cover of barrels. The layout was symmetrical with three targets available from the two end positions, and one from the middle.

The stage was interesting in that the targets visible from the two end points of cover, were seen from across the stage. You had to remember to engage targets that were in front of you, and the ones that where on the opposite side. Many shooters also failed to keep the engagement priority straight and failed to "pie" the corner, earning penalties. Not a difficult or tricky stage, but you had to have your plan well in mind. 

The next stage as one that involved many points of cover around a zig-zagging array of walls. The course started with three targets in the open, and the next five were lone targets at different shooting positions — one point of cover, one target. It was only one or two steps needed to get to the next opening or corner between the targets, which made for some interesting footwork.

I enjoyed the next stage a lot. The course began with us engaging three pieces of falling steel that were placed behind the -0 zone of IDPA targets. Then we moved to find two targets around the end of a wall. After that we navigated a couple corners in a hallway to shoot the last three targets. These final targets were shot from a low opening in the wall that required us to kneel to see the targets.

Bay 5 at Cavalier typically holds the course that offers the longer shots of the match, so I was not surprised to see that being the case this month again. (I do not walk the stages to get a sneak peak before the match.) Shot from both sides of a partition, the stage had three closer targets, with non-threats, on the right, and three targets at increasing distances to the left.

I felt confident going in to the stage, even though the heat was beginning to affect me. I was thinking about getting through the next two stages and retreating to the A/C of my car. As so often turns out to be the case, the closest of the left targets was the one I rushed, dropping one shot for a miss.

The last stage we shot had a most interesting target set up. It was one that I debated my preferences for shooting right up to the last moment. I was so focused on my plan, and I was feeling drained, that I neglected to get a picture of the stage. I virtually kicked myself for that oversight when I realized it on the drive home.

The stage was shot from behind a table, with the loaded gun and all magazines starting on the table. Directly in front of the shooter was a non-threat. Behind the non-threat stood a target array with a full target and four head-only targets poking out from behind it, two on each side. There was also a head-only target placed on each side to of the stage. Besides the table, walls on either side limited movement. 

The gun was loaded with only six rounds to start. The center open target required six hits, and the six head-only targets all required one hit each. The placement of the non-threat in the center and the walls meant that the center array could only be fully engaged by leaning or stepping from one side to the other. Each outer target could only be seen while engaging the opposite side of the center array. I opted for the straightforward plan of shooting all six of the required hits on the center target first, then reloading and engaging all the head shots.

The fun stage done, I was fully cooked, despite the multiple bottles of water consumed. While the temperature was minutely cooler than last weekend's match, I seemed to be affected a bit more this week. After I shot, I made my apologies and headed for the car. I think it may be the first time in some 10 years of shooting matches that I scooted before the the last shooter was done. A cool shower and even more water once I was home, did make for a quick recovery.

I thought the stages at this month's match were exceptionally interesting and fun to shoot. Some sloppier shooting as the morning wore on had me finishing 16th of 41 Overall, and 9th of 23 in SSP. Looking back, that's a little better than last week, despite the affects of the heat. There's no more shooting for me for a few weeks, so we'll see what August brings.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Beating the Heat and Digging Into the Stash

After that warm IDPA match last Saturday, I was recovered enough after a dinner out with the family to face the heat once again. This time on the back porch for a drink and a smoke. Remember that delicious Bishops Blend cigar I lamented not buying more of? Well, it so happened the shop had a few more left when I returned, and I snagged the last six on the shelf. It was one of those limited releases I decided to light up for my evening repast.

Since I was consuming one of my limited smokes, I figured I'd also dig into one my my, surprisingly, limited Bourbons. I recall when Buffalo Trace was just another ubiquitous whiskey, worthy of any cabinet, inexpensive, and easy to find. I always had it on hand, and had no hesitation to pour it any time, neat or in a cocktail. Then somewhere along the line, it became a thing. The ABC stores started listing it as "limited." It became a topic of conversation among friends when it was found in stock.

As always, the Black Label Trading Company Bishops Blend did not disappoint. The small stick provided about 45 minutes of enjoyment. The cigar's cocoa and coffee notes matched well with the oak, dark fruit, and spice of the bourbon.

It was an enjoyable way to wind down the day.  And I still have a little of both treats left for another day.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Saturday Morning IDPA Match

On Saturday morning I headed off to Charlottesville to shoot the monthly IDPA match at the Rivanna Rifle and Pistol Club. Of late, this is one of two matches I get to most months, and my only range time, so I was looking forward to it.

The crowd that gathered in the morning for the match was a little smaller than usual, the predicted oppressive heat no doubt a factor. But the heartier souls ventured forth.

Stage one of the match had us facing an interesting array of targets. Three target groups at two priorities of distance requiring the "full" targets to all be engaged first, and then there were four head-only targets that we came back to and engaged in priority. Once we sorted out the instructions it was a fun stage to shoot. This stage got my match off to a good start, but would also represent my best finish of the morning.

Stage two required shooting from a seated position, with the loaded gun and spare mags on the table at the start. There were five paper targets visible, along with two falling steel poppers. The poppers each activated a swinging target hidden by barrels on either side. Engaging the steel brought the swingers into priority. 

I was happy to see the swinging targets, as I don't get to practice with them much. I did better on them than I did on the previous match, getting all the hits on paper, but was still 10 down for the stage.

The third stage we shot was probably my favorite of the match. The interesting course of fire was shot entirely through a narrow opening in a wall. The seven open targets were arranged in a close, semi-circle, however a "V" formed by two more wall sections forced the shooter to shift positions to see all the targets. 

The start position was facing up range, requiring the shooter to turn and bring the first targets into view. A small wooden fence prevented the shooter from leaning into the opening. Positioning was the key to the stage, having to shift too many times would affect performance. Well, positioning and speed. The close-in targets were a temptation to shoot too fast. I zipped across the targets a little too quickly, putting a few shots high on the paper, and coming away four down. However, it was a fun stage to shoot.

The heat of the day, now ramped up, and I believe effecting us all, we approached the last stage. A simple line of six threat targets, shot from a stationary position awaited. Well, simple except for the three non-threat targets covering two-thirds of each target. Even so, it didn't look overly challenging, though there did seem to be an alarming number of hits on those non-threats from previous shooters. 

These were the only penalty-incurring targets in the match. Making up for that, I managed to hit all three. I could blame it on the heat, or the stinging sweat in my eyes, but in truth I just rushed to be done.  

The day would turn into a hot one, and it did affect my performance, but it was a day to be enjoyed nonetheless. Once again, going out and being around smiling people enjoying themselves was a most welcome diversion. While everyone was respectful of personal space, there was none of the cowering from fear of being around our fellow humans that is gripping our Nation.

It was a quick, fun match. Four bottles of water, and one of Gatorade later, I was in the air conditioned car heading home to spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Yep, It's Hot Outside. Matters Not.

I keep reading there's an oppressive heat wave coming to Virginia. Really? It's July. In Virginia. I guess it does qualify as a heat wave, but it's hardly unusual or even unexpected.

More importantly, it was Friday. Despite the reading on the thermometer, the end of another work week means it's time to break out the beer and cigars. We have a lot of "old" higher ABV beer that's been aging in the cellar, some for over a decade. So Colleen and I looked through the stash and grabbed a bottle of Avery Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Stout that enticed us. To go along with it, I selected an HVC La Rosa 520 Toro

The Vanilla Bean Stout was from the brewery's 2016 bottling. The beer pours pitch black with a moderate beige head. The aroma was vanilla and chocolate. The flavor was a mildly sweet vanilla with added notes of milk chocolate and coffee. Despite the Bourbon barrel aging, there was little evidence of the labeled 11.5% ABV. Perhaps 4 years of sitting has mellowed those notes. The mouthfeel is light and creamy. It went down smoothly and quickly, despite the warm air of the deck.

The HVC La Rosa was a new cigar to me. Admittedly I don't recall ever hearing of the brand prior to receiving the cigar. This stick was part of the June package from My Cigar Pack. I've been enjoying this monthly club precisely for this reason — finding new cigars to try, and I've been pleased so far.

This Nicaraguan puro features a dark Jalapa Corojo wrapper over the Nicaraguan binder and fillers. The full bodied smoke's flavor was woody, with leather and espresso notes. There was also a moderate but not heavy bit of spiciness in the mix. It was an enjoyable smoke that balanced the sweetness of the stout well.

The beer and cigar were nursed along for just over an hour. With the deck fans blowing and some good tunes playing, I totally forgot about the heat as I wound down from the week and began looking forward to the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

1781 Dopplebock and Two Cigars

Recently I met up with a cigar smoking friend for beers and smokes at the Olde Town Tobacconist outpost at 1781 Brewing. I started my evening with one of my favorite 1781 beers, and one that makes an excellent cigar pairing, the K├Ânig Fruhling Doppelbock. The slightly sweet, caramel and roasted flavors go well with most any cigar.

During a previous visit I had noticed some Tatuaje Avion 13 in the lounge's humidor. It was a cigar I had enjoyed a few months ago, and I was hoping there were still some available. The cigar offers a smooth smoke, with caramel and roasted coffee notes. And the large, Double Perfecto vitola is fun to smoke. 

My friend arrived a little later than I did, and opted to enjoy some food before lighting up. As such, far along in my cigar and beer by the time he lit up. What's a friend to do? Eventually I had no choice but grab another beer and cigar while we visited.

My second cigar of the evening also ended up being of a larger format, the 6" x 56  Las Calaveras Edition Limited 2020 from Crowned Heads. I've been looking forward to trying out the new blend of this annual limited release. I still have a few of the 2019 edition in my humidor, and had smoked one recently, so it was a good chance to compare the two.

The full bodied smoke features sweet, earthy notes and a moderate amount of pepper and spice. I nursed my beer along and smoked the cigar down the warm end. This year's Las Calaveras is a winner. I think I will return to pick up a few more enjoy in the future.

It was a fun evening sitting outside, enjoying some unseasonably pleasant evening weather. Spending a few hours catching up with a friend after months of the Coranadoom lockdown was a welcome respite, and hopefully a foretelling of a further return to normalcy. 

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