Wednesday, March 30, 2011

36 hours in State College and Belhaven Scottish Ale

Travel obligations cut my 4-day pass on the 25th-28th down to exactly 36 hours on the ground in State College.  I tried to spend as much of that time with family as possible, so my apologies to folks that missed me in that brief window.  We had a long afternoon luncheon with the new combined McPherson/Haviland family, complete with my grandparents stopping by on their way back north from Florida.  It was really nice to spend time with everyone before being occupied for over a year.

Sarah's father made the generous wedding present of transferring ownership of their 2008 Civic LX over to Sarah and myself so we could start our new lives without car payments and so I could have a vehicle down here in Texas whilst preparing to deploy.  Unfortunately, we had to get the car down here; something more than an afternoon drive.  We departed before lunch on Sunday and drove all the way to Nashville before finding a hotel.  The next day, our goal was to arrive in Killeen before Castle began at 9pm central and just made it.  Sarah made the drive with me so that we could share driving duty and so she could help me move into a cheaper motel off-post for the remainder of my time here before deployment.  She decided it wasn't worth it to fly back in the middle of the week, so she's staying until Sunday.

I had the good fortune to try Belhaven Scottish Ale on-tap in College Station as well as in bottles here on-base.  It is much better on-tap where nitrogen-pressure promotes a creamy head to develop properly like a Guinness.  The thick tan head lingers long over a smooth amber ale body.  Excellent all-around.  The bottles are better than average, but a sad substitute for this superb draught ale.  Pictured below is their nitrogen-draught can (which I have yet to try, but gives a better impression of the creamy head).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

HDNet Party at SXSW & Quilmes

Some of you my know that Sarah and I are big fans of the show Three Sheets hosted by comedian Zane Lamprey.  Well this weekend, Sarah stumbled upon an online contest to win tickets to see Zane perform at a private show/party in Austin.  Lucky for me, she won tickets for me and a guest (since it was too short notice for her to make it down).  My friend Squirrel from basic training agreed to drive us down to Austin for the shindig.  Upon arrival, we quickly found out that this show was more of a private party hosted by Mark Cuban for his HDNet tv channel investors and personnel.  Well Mark Cuban is a pretty gregarious and generous guy and it was awesome to see Zane perform in person.

Prior to the show, we went to a fancy hotdog shop next door where I had the pleasure to try an Argentine Beer "Quilmes."  It was pretty good; richer in body than a American pilsners, but still light enough to be refreshing on that hot afternoon and complimentary to my hot dog.

This weekend I will be flying back to Pennsylvania to visit for the last time prior to my deployment.  I expect it to be another whirlwind weekend visiting family mostly and getting things arranged for being married and then overseas for next year.  The visit will be cut a little short by the fact that Sarah and I will be driving back to Texas so that I will have a car here and can move into a cheaper motel off-post.  A car is really invaluable here, where everything on-base is so spread out and command may have you running about to several locations in a day.  The motel I'm currently in is on-post, but a 2-mile walk from my company.  That's manageable for block-leave, but not so when we will actually be doing work and preparing for deployment in the coming weeks.  Special thanks to Geoff Haviland for the car arrangement; he's been a lifesaver since I don't have the resources to go car shopping around here (where dealships prey on servicemen with crazy interest rates).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Last Weekend's trip to Pittsburgh

The Army delayed our departure, but Sarah and I still managed to get out of Killeen on the afternoon of the 11th.  Were were delayed an hour in houston, but eventually got in to Pittsburgh around midnight. 
Saturday, our respective parents arrived and the newly formed McPherson/Haviland clan got together at the Capital Grille in downtown Pittsburgh for dinner.  Fancy Steaks and an intimidating wine list, but it was fun to get our new family together and celebrate.  We toasted our new life with some engraved champaign glasses from my parents and ate entirely too much.

Afterward we took my brother and Sarah's brother back to Oakland to meet our friends and visit a bit longer.  I think they were a bit overwhelmed by the magic of Oakland.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saint Patrick's 4-Day Pass & Harp Lager

Surprise 4-day pass, perhaps in honor of Saint Patrick?  I can only guess. If only someone had told me, then maybe I could have made plans.

Today's review sort of honors the holiday with a look at Harp Lager.  Most folks know Harp as the bottom half of a traditional Black and Tan.  The Imported Harp available this time of year is 'imported from Canada' from 'an Irish recipe.'  Unfortunately, it's no more Irish than Killian's "Irish Red" (made by Coors in Colorado).  The taste itself is very underwhelming.  A bit more skunky/hops character than an american lager, but really nothing special.  I won't be getting this again, unless I can find some that was actually brewed in Ireland.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back in Texas, C company birthday, and Raspberry Reserve

I arrived back in Texas last night after a whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania.  Visiting friends and family and celebrating our recent wedding made for little rest and lots of travel time during my 4-day pass.  I hope to have a bit of time on my hands since the rest of the company is on block leave, but I suppose that depends on the temperament of the sergeants they've left in charge.  I will do my best to recount everything in the next few entries. 

Last Thursday was the C company's one-year birthday.  Previously most of the folks in my company were part of an engineering company in 1-5 cavalry with other combat troops.  They were re-organized as part of our special troops battalion last year and this was the first anniversay of that event.  To celebrate, we had the day off of regular duties and reserved a picnic space at the nearby Belton Lake Recreation Area.  Families were invited and there were sports and food for everyone.  Two of the highlight events were the mechanical bull they had rented and the pie auction.  The Mechanical bull operators we able to give the smallest kids a gentle ride as well as wreck the spirits of more macho soldiers who confidently climbed on.  I lasted longer than average, but it was clear they were just toying with me.

After the food and bullriding, they auctioned off the right to pie the Commander, first sergeant, as well as all of the lieutenants and platoon sergeants.  After winning the bid, one could purchase extra "toppings" for the pie at $5 each (relish, mustard, cottage cheese...).  It of course became a big competition to see which platoon could scrape together the most money to pie their leadership and all of the proceeds went to a charity service that would be helping supply us with contact and creature comforts while we are deployed.  It was a fun day until I discovered exactly how sunburned my exposed arms had become.

Sly Fox Brewery's Raspberry Reserve
I found this one in Oakland at the bottle shop on the corner of Atwood and Louisa.  This place has quadrupled their selection since I moved away from Pittsburgh a year ago.  I chose this one because a) Sly Fox is a Pennsylvania brewery and I doubt I will stumble upon their products here in Texas and b) I was buying for myself, but also some folks who had a taste for fruity brews.  If you like raspberries, the aroma on this is wonderful.  It smelled strong, but also bright and rich.  The taste, however, didn't seem to match.  It was light on the tongue, with a fairly mild raspberry character (at least in comparison to the rich scent).  It went down very easily (and at 8% ABV, got the job done), but I was left wanting something heavier and richer to sip and savor.  I think there is an occasion for every beer, but this is more of a post-dinner or post-dessert apertif, probably suited for good lighting and stemware to show off its rich color and aroma.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In-processing a wife & Negra Modelo

So those are the rings.  We will probably do a better photo shoot at some later time.  Things have been pretty busy around here since monday because of  army in-processing.  Sarah's part of the in-processing has gone very smoothly, but my end (with the company/battalion) has been much more involved.  Company policy seems to be much more strict than the actual on-post housing policies and it is frustrating to get advice and information from different people following different policies.  Because of such policies, we will be taking a later flight to Pittsburgh and I will (shortly) be moving out of the barracks. 
After composing the previous entry, Sarah and I went out to eat dinner at a fun mexcian restaurant in town.  They make guacamole for you right at your table and the the food was great (the diablo corn is very accurately named).  With the meal I enjoyed a Negra Modelo with lime.  Now, I don't think the lime is really necessary (compared with it's lighter brother, the oft-skunked Corona), but it's a complimentary flavor.  But I think the flavor stands on its own without trying to be more than it is.  What it is, is drinkable, maltier, and more flavorful than your average mexican beer. The label calls it a dark ale, but everything I've read calles it a dunkel lager.  Maybe a translation issue?  I would get it again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wedding Day

We used Sarah's fancy phone to find our way to the Bell County Clerks Office where we applied for our marriage license. The application process required much less authentication than we expected; it seems anyone with a drivers license can get married in Texas. The judge was a gregarious Texas gentleman and an adept master of ceremonies, mixing jokes and advice with his legal duties. It was a succinct ceremony, but a lot of fun. Afterward, we went to IHOP, in what I hope will become a new anniversary tradition. The afternoon was spent with Army paperwork and giving each other excited glances.

via Kindle

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sarah arrives, ring shopping, and Wild Blue

Sarah's flight from Altlanta was delayed last night, but we made our rendezvous without a problem.  Today we went ring shopping at the Killeen Mall.  I had never been there before and it's layout is rather different from other malls I've patronized.  (Sarah: "It's a weird place.")  We compared a few jewelry stores and found one that was able to help us out selecting wedding bands and included a nice military discount.  We both ended up choosing something slightly different than we originally intended (not for lack of options, but just exploring the possibilities were were only dimly aware of previously).  I have a simple wide tungsten band with comfort beveling and sarah got a thinner white-gold band with diamonds that compliments her engagement ring rather well.

So the folks at Beer Advocate don't really care for this one.  I don't care; I think Wild Blue blueberry lager is pretty awesome.  It is kinda sweet, very berry, and certainly strong (8% ABV).  I have only found one place here in Texas that carries it, but it's widely available back in Pennsylvania.  Grab a pack and decide for yourself.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Memorial, Motorcycles, and Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale

This afternoon I attended the memorial service for a trooper from my company who died in a motorcycle accident on Presidents' day.  He was a specialist and sapper school graduate who had only been with the company for 10 days.  I didn't know him.  The battalion leadership has been frustrated because he died while riding without protection at three-digit velocities: direct violation of the established motorcycle safety requirements as well as the safety briefs we recieve before each long weekend.  It was an odd service.  They conducted the ceremony as if he died in combat instead of pushing his spedometer past his IQ.

This is why I would never get a sportbike.  Overpowered and uncomfortable, they only serve to lure riders beyond their capabilities.

Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale is a mouthful to say.  But it's a very tasty brown ale brewed in Yorkshire by the Black Sheep Brewery.  It tastes a bit like Newcastle, but with more roasty malts.  (Tempered over burning witches, naturally.)  This is one I would buy again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Veterans and a return to homebrew

Today most of my platoon took a trip to a VA retirement home in nearby Temple, Texas.  I spent most of my time listening to Joe Vaughn, a former Army medical supervisor who entered Japan with the occupation and stayed for several further tours.  In talking with them I felt like I was simultaneously interested and frustrated, like they had interestesting tales to tell, but were no longer capable of weaving the story.

On sunday I got back into Mead brewing.  I had purchased 3 lbs of honey at the Farmers' market in houston and I had finally assembled the ingredients and time to put it all together.  It should reach two months maturity in the beginning of May; perfect for a predeployment toast.  I followed the same general receipe as my previous experiment, but with better ingredients.  It was already fermenting within 30 minutes of sealing the jug.

3 lbs of Bee Wilde natural honey
1 naval orange (in eighths)
20 raisins
6 Sticks of mexican cinnamon.
1 heaping tablespoon of nutmeg.
14 grams of Fleichmann's fast-acting yeast
HEB brand spring water