Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kittens & Rochefort 10

I realized I have been neglecting to introduce my dear readers to Darwin (left) and Huxley (right), the kittens that Sarah and I adopted.  We had talked about getting pets for some time, including a misadventure (nearly) acquiring a puppy last summer, but the timing was never quite right.  Well Sarah found someone in the Pittsburgh area looking to give some kittens a good home which lead to these siblings joining our family.  Sarah wanted two so they could entertain each other while left alone and they seem perfectly capable of doing that.  Darwin is the female, slightly smaller and less eager to be held with a penchant for exploring.  Huxley is male, larger, and a bit more calm being handled, but he plays rougher; no qualms about using claws or nibbling on you.  It was really nice to finally meet them, since my only interaction with them prior had been through skype.  They took to me quickly, playing and sleeping near my head.  I imagine they'll change quite a bit in the year we're apart, but I hope that early bonding will be memorable for their little kitty brains.

Another Belgian Trappist Ale?  This one is a Quadrupel called Rochefort 10 that I had the pleasure of trying during Easter dinner with family.  Every ounce of this brew originated at the hands of a few careful monks inside the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy.  The Rochefort series (6, 8, and 10) are numbered after an old method of rating the strength of a beer, with the 10 bearing the strongest flavors as well as 11.3% ABV.  It had a bit of the same cherry flavors as Trois Pistoles and Three Philosophers, but presented them in a more refined and balanced way that agreed with my palate.  This was a rich brew that seemed to get better as it warmed.  I will definitely be trying this again, given the chance.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Planning a Surprise and Chimay Grande Réserve

Last week I found out that I would get a 4-day weekend for Easter.  Originally I wasn't planning on doing anything, but on a whim started looking a flight prices anyway.  I happened to find a cheaper American Airlines connection through Dallas to Pittsburgh from Friday evening to Sunday evening.  A plan hatched to surprise Sarah with a visit for the weekend.  Well I arranged for my grandma to pick me up from the airport and kept the whole plan under wraps.  This was easier to accomplish considering that getting confirmation for my extended mileage pass was delayed until Thursday afternoon.  But it all fell into place and Sarah had no idea what was waiting for her outside the apartment when I messaged her from my kindle that I had sent her something that should arrive by 6.  Surprise!

My Aunt gave me a bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve for Sarah and I to try.  This is probably the most famous Trappist Ale and I had been putting off trying it since it will always be there whereas the American and  Canadian experiments in the style may disappear after only a few seasons.  This is a winner.  It's a strong dark Belgian ale with a polished taste.  It's more refined and "beer-like" than the bold dark fruit flavors that come out of Maudite, though the two pour very similarly.  Sarah and I both really enjoyed it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Smallpox, waiting, and Glissade

Today I earned my paycheck from Uncle Sam by waiting in line from 0630-1630.  I don't have enough stripes or deployments to really complain, but suffice to say I overheard more than a few veterans remark that the medical processing didn't take this long for their prior deployments.  Within this time I spent about 15 minutes (between different lines) receiving a smallpox vaccination and getting my already-completed clinical evaluation electronically notarized.  I am especially glad that I brought a) a ziploc bag of trail mix because there was no opportunity for reprieve standing/sitting in the lines and b) my Kindle, because I was the only one from my squad processing today.  I finished one nonfiction book and the H. P. Lovecraft novella The Shunned House.

Tonight I'm sampling Sierra Nevada's Glissade golden bock.  It's light in the mouth with some easygoing bright flavors, but still a bit hoppy for me.  I'm not choking it down, but I don't get excited about each swallow either.  The internet tells me its IBU is 42, which is higher than anything I've liked previously.  Not bad, but not my style.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Brother Thelonious & Camping part 2

Last night had a bright gibbous moon and in combination with my firelight, I really didn't need anything else in order to see fairly well.  Undaunted, I was still eager to try out a new headlamp I'd purchased to take to Iraq.  My previous two headlamps had both been "opportunistically relieved of my possession:" one during a party at Pitt and another at JRTC in January.  This new one is a Princeton Tec like my first one, but a cheaper/lighter model with a red LED that only needs 2 AAAs.  I sewed a nametape on the headband so hopefully this one doesn't walk off like its predecessors.
My stainless steel camp cup has split 3/4" along a seam, but it still performed well for making a pack of ramen noodles.  Straining the cooked noodles took some creativity, though.  I used a nalgene bottle to push the hot noodle-water out the sides like a leaky piston.

Tonight's beverage is Brother Thelonious.  North Coast brewery donates a portion the sales of this brew to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.  So off the bat, that's a pretty cool tie-in.  The beer itself is a strong dark Belgian-style ale.  It pours with a rich, mahogany color with strong raisin flavors, including a relative sweetness.  This flavor profile masks the 9.4% ABV very well and makes it pretty good for sipping.  I would get this again and may do a side by side comparison with Maudite in the future.

Camping & Snake Dog IPA

I went back to the Peak Trail yesterday to do some camping up on the little peak.  I was looking forward to having a fire and actually being able to cook something instead of just heating things up in my motel microwave. I cooked some mild italian sausage, noodles and beans over the fire. and stacked on some cheese and trailmix as well.  Pretty solid meal, though the sausage would have to be replaced if I were taking a more lengthy excursion by foot.  Suitable firewood is way more bountiful here in contrast to places I've camped in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario.  Lots of dead and dry pine just laying about and dry, fibrous bark that peals off and takes a spark easily.  Not many large limbs, though.
I was eager to try out my issued Military Sleep System with my hammock.  I left the goretex bivvy-sack behind, but the patrol and intermediate bags kept me pretty warm until 0430 or so.  You'll always be warmer sleeping on the ground, but that's one of the tradeoffs when choosing a hammock.

I got this as part of a Flying Dog Brewery sampler pack.  No revelations here; I still don't like IPA.  But I want to thank the Flying Dog Brewery for introducing me to International Bitterness Units by putting the IBU value of their brews on each bottle.  Snake Dog's 60 IBU is just way to high for my tastes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Zonk & Affligem Abbey Belgian Tripel

Zonk /zɒnk/ Unofficial army command. Typically used during PT (physical training) formations during extremely uncooperative weather as a way of dismissing a unit from duty. After the command of “Zonk!!” is given the entire unit runs off screaming and shouting to their barracks rooms or cars.
That's the command we received after marching away from our 0630 formation this morning.  It was cooler this morning, but nothing unbearable.  I think my sergeants are just eager for this week to end.  Can't say I disagree with them; I've been juggled around in a predeployment medical bureaucracy for over a week now.

I pick this one up last weekend because it was next to the Unibroue offerings and because it had apparently won the World Beer Cup for its class three separate years.  I started off pretty unimpressed; it's lighter in body than other tripels and a little hoppier, but generally less bombastic in flavors.  I wasn't a fan for the first glass, but subsequent tastes got better until I was a little sad to finish it off.  Does this abbey ale have a complexity that only reveals itself over time?  Was I just getting used to its particular flavor profile?  Or maybe the 9.5% ABV was influencing my change in affection?  Probably a combination of the three, but tasting is not an empirical pastime and analysis can only take you so far.  I doubt I'll get it again, but I wouldn't call it bad either.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Peak Trail & Boddingtons Pub Ale

I don't want to give the politicians too much credit for averting a problem they created, but I am still relieved an extension was made in time.

I added a link in my sidebar yesterday, but I thought I should make this overt.  Sarah has a blogger page now!  It's pretty exciting and you can all read her thoughts, musings, and life updates at From The Desk.  Today's post features her reviews of different ways to travel.

This afternoon, I took a trip to the Peak Trail in nearby Dana Peak Park.  I had never been there before and was relying on google maps to get me there.  It felt really good to get out of the city and get some dust on my boots.  You might think that the army would satisfy that urge for me, but alas, my unit is too preoccupied with deployment stuff to even consider it.  Anyway, the "peak" is really not that large and would only take a few minutes to climb if there were a direct route.  Despite the geological disappointments of Texas, it was a fun little hike and I had a picnic dinner of chipotle and water on top overlooking the shallow lake.

On the way back from the hike, I picked up some Boddingtons Pub Ale in pint nitro-cans.  Now this is my first time pouring my own nitro-can and I think I did alright despite my lack of appropriate glassware.  It didn't take as long to settle as a true draft ale, but it was clearly better than a bottle with carbon-dioxide.  I liked it, but not as much as the Belhaven which I found myself comparing it to.  It's a bit hoppier, a bit lighter, and not as smooth.  Still well-rounded and better than average, but I'm not sure where that puts it in my beer preference hierarchy, since most places that carry it around here would also have Belhaven at the same price-point.  Let's take a moment to appreciate that can design, though; could anything be more English?

Friday, April 8, 2011

No Budget and Shiner Black

So as of writing, it looks like the US government is going to shut down at midnight.  Which (as it stands currently) means that we (folks in the armed forces) will only be paid for this past week and nothing further.  For the Army that translates to a half check on the 15th and then nothing until a budget is signed.  After we get a budget, they will begin back-paying us.  Hopefully this will be resolved before the 12th or so, so no one will get a lean or empty check. This is not a huge deal for me personally, but not all of the guys here are the best savers and kinda live paycheck-to-paycheck. Not to mention those on tight budgets because they have kids to feed/clothe or who are deployed. Especially if their spouses have government jobs which will be suspended concurrently.  Naturally, we still have to work, though many of the civilian contractors around the base will have to stay home.

Shiner Bohemian Black Lager is the second-best seller from the Shiner family of beers and probably my favorite.  This was my first introduction to a Schwarzbier and I think I am a fan.  It's dark, roasty, and good without being thick or heavy at all.  I'd say it's similar to an old friend Yuengling’s Black and Tan, but a bit lighter and perhaps more drinkable because of it.  The packaging says it's made with "Czech Saaz and Styrian Hops."  I'm no hops connoisseur, but I like it.  I will definitely try more in this style.
p.s. No one says the "bohemian" in name, even though it's right there in the label and promo stuff online. It's simply "Shiner Black" (to contrast with "Shiner Bock").

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Boots, Trois Pistoles, & Three Philosophers

I got married precisely a month ago.  Now, that's a pretty big life event and folks usually get dressed up.  However, I didn't want to get married in my dress uniform, or rent a tux, but I also don't have much a wardrobe to choose from down here.  In fact, my civilian options were downright spartan.  I eventually decided to go with dark jeans and a green dress shirt, but my footwear options were only Vibram FiveFingers or government issue.

So Sarah and I took some of the time after ring shopping to drive around town in the rental car hoping to find some nicer casual boots/shoes I could wear for the ceremony as well as around town when I'm not in uniform or doing PT.  It turns out (to no one's surprise) that I have abnormal needs/tastes for footwear.  We searched high and low for a simple, stitched welt boot or stout leather shoe, but it seems folks around here just aren't into that.  Too much nylon and plastic sole molding and goofy lacing.  We ended up going right back to the first shop we stopped at and I got these:

Doc Marten's Paved Jasper. They've got less chunky, thinner soles than regular Docs and the waxed brown leather can take a polish well enough (the polish has made mine darker and a bit more even in color than this picture).  They were perfect for our little ceremony and have broken in quickly and comfortably.  I am a little worried about them being too hot for the summer, but that remains to be seen.  Overall, a solid, understated product from a company better known for their more garish designs.

When Sarah was here this last time, she and I picked up a bottle of Trois Pistoles because I had enjoyed Maudite and La Fin du Monde from the Québécois Unibroue before and also thought the bottle looked epic.  Unfortunately it was a lot like Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers, which I had back at Killdare's when I saw it on-tap.  Both are Belgian style dark ales that smell absolutely wonderful. Dark fruits and deft multi-fermentation. There is clearly a lot of attention and craftsmanship in both, but the flavor is just too much for my palate.  It's not too hoppy or too bitter; kind of a sour cherry/spice flavor that just doesn't belong in my beer.  Not every beer adventure can be a victory.  This was a voyage of discovery.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shoulders & Tire Bite Golden Ale

The Tattoo shoulder is healing up nicely.  Feels a bit like old, itchy sunburn.  I have been washing and Lubriderm-ing it twice a day since returning Saturday night.  It's a bit unnerving to have color and flakes come off while washing, but I've read that's normal and thus far the design is still strong and unmarred.

The other shoulder got Anthrax and Hepatitis A.  All part of our pre-deployment vaccination regimen that began early this morning.  I was unable to get my smallpox vaccine because of the aforementioned fresh tattoo, so that little joy still awaits me.

Today's beverage is Tire Bite Golden Ale from Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland. This is another instance of me disagreeing with the negative consensus reached on BeerAdvocate.com.  Maybe this just illustrates my inexperience with the Kölsch style of beer, but I found it to be full-bodied in spite of its light appearance with nice hops and cereal flavors you almost want to chew.  It’s not thick or bitter like a stout can be and I enjoyed it.  I think this would compliment many foods very well.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's been... One week

I have been staying in the glamorous Economy Motel for 7 nights now.  The wiring here is very suspect, but I bought a surge protector to make sure the appliances operate consistenly. The plug the fridge was using gave out twice while Sarah was here resulting in the contents of the fridge becoming slightly warmer than the air-conditioned room.  But it's cheaper than an apartment with no lease, so that is less headache for anticipating out deployment plans.

We spent the today doing a full inventory of the Bradleys and packing up their contents.  Hopefully this is an indication that we are not taking them with us to Iraq.

Today's beverage is the Texas-only product brewed in Houston: Ziegenbock.  It's an ok light amber lager.  But pretty undistinguished so what you're really paying for is the brand story.  Which is unfortunately an Anheuser-Busch rebrand trying to muscle in on the long-standing local favorite Shiner Bock.  So it's palatable enough that I wouldn't turn it down, but nothing special and I'd rather support the Shiner Brewery.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Return to Austin and a permanent decision.

We decided to go to Austin because a) Sarah wanted to see the university and b) Killeen is pretty boring and c) we have a car and can totally do things like that.  I think that town is perpetually congested with the constant events and festivals they host.  This weekend was a hotrod and classic car show on the south side of the city.  After evading that traffic snarl, we decided to walk around the UT campus.  Sarah was grumpy because there was a loud guy doing an uninspired microphone check for their pre-finals festival, but the campus itself was very pretty and green compared to much of Texas.  We ate dinner at a place just off campus called the Mellow Mushroom.  It was pretty good, though the waitress convinced us to get a bigger pizza than we really needed.

After dinner, we went to Atomic Tattoo to get my final design put on my shoulder.  Some of you may know, that this is a project I have been working on for quite a long time.  Research and redesigns for well over a year put my limited drafting training to work.  The final design is an original that takes its theme from my family clan badge with design elements from the Book of Kells while obeying the physical limits/realities of tattooing.  I am very pleased with the design (which is good, since it's rather permanent).  But enough exposition; here are some photos that Sarah took in the tattoo shop right after my artist finished up.