Friday, May 27, 2011

OPSEC & Moose Drool

OPSEC stands for Operational Security.  It is essesntially the rules for what and in what manner I can talk about things related to my unit, our equipment, and our missions.  So stuff like troop strength and movement details are off-limits for this website just like procedures and equipment capabilities.  This is for our safety while in-country.  If I tell you any details about this upcoming adventure by phone, letter, or email, please don't repeat it here or on facebook.  The bad guys read the internet too.

Moose Drool Brown Ale is from the Big Sky Brewing Company out of Montana.  It's not as malty as some other brown ales like Newcastle.  I thought it tasted better cold like a lager.  Sarah didn't care for it, but this is one I'd get again.  The name comes from the amusing way the company has chosen to market their brews.  Once they're nearing completion on a new recipe, they commission a local artist to paint a wildlife or sporting portait appropriate for Montana.  The final production recipe is then named after the painting, usually with a humorous interpretation of the action or characters depicted.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Weekend Visit & Orval Trappist Pale Ale

My parents and youngest brother were able to fly down for a pre-deployment visit over the weekend.  They got to see the limited attractions of Fort Hood and we spent as much time as possible just hanging out.  We never made it to ride horses or go swimming, but it was really nice to just swap new and tell stories.

We did get out to the movie theater Sunday night to see Bridesmaids.  I'm not specifically a Kristen Wiig fan, but I liked the supporting cast and it got conspicuously high reviews on rottentomatoes.  This shouldn't be a spoiler, but the plot went in a direction I wasn't expecting from the trailers.  It was fun, funny, and well done, though well deserving of its R rating.

Orval Trappist Pale Ale
I chose this in Killeen at Old Chicago because it was listed as a Belgian Trappist Ale that I'd never heard of before.  Unfortunately for me it turned out to be a pale ale and a hoppy/bitter one at that.  It poured with a huge head and was far less palatable to me than the Affligem trappist ale.  I would not buy again, but hop-heads would probably love it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

PRT & Coastal Wheat

Sarah arrived Wednesday evening and work on Thursday and Friday was brief enough to have lunch with her each day.  We have been doing the relatively new Physical Readiness Training (PRT) that I learned in basic training.  Most of the guys in my unit don't like it in contrast to some of the classic army exercises, but the command for everyone to do this exercise regimen has come from above.

Sam Adams' Coastal Wheat was on sale, so I gave it a try.  The Boston Brewing Company was one of the pioneers of the brewing renaissance that began in the 80s and since then, they've grown to stretch the labels of craft and regional brewery.  They're the only one to embark on a national advertising campaign with the image perks and drawbacks that accompany that.  Some folks deride founder Jim Koch for this self-promotion, but I think he's a good-spirited ambassador for variety and flavor in beer amongst the international Macrobrews dominating the pay-to-play world of advertising.  Coastal Wheat is one of their Brewmasters' collection and has been in production since 2009.  It's a wheat ale that's brewed with coriander and lemon zest from California.  The lemon flavors pop first and it's pretty refreshing while cold, but like other wheat ales and hefeweizens, it gets tiresome after one and especially if you let it get warm.  It's far from bad, but I probably won't get this again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Packing Up & Lucky Buddha

It is true that one's work expands to fit the time allotted and my 4-day weekend slipped way too fast.

My day after PT was consumed by a whirlwind of packing up my military gear for a ruck march and inspections tomorrow.  I am amazed how such a small room can become so disorganized and cluttered with stuff.  I've got to get this tidied up before Sarah arrives.

Lucky Buddha is neat.  It's made by an Australian company, but in what they call "an Asian style."  I assume this means they use rice in addition to traditional grains, but that's common with the big american-style light lagers and pilsners as well.  I thought it felt and tasted a bit like Heineken, very drinkable but with a more skunky flavor than American offerings.  Overall it's not good or bad; easy on the wallet for an import and certainly worth the price for the cool glassware alone.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Marksmanship Re-Post & Chimay Première

Blogger went down and then came back but all of the posts since Wednesday are still missing.  Hopefully they will be able to recover my post, because I don't want to hunt down all those pictures again.

In case it never comes back, I wanted to let all my loyal readers know that I shot Expert at the M4 range on Wednesday.  With iron sights on paper targets, I hit 37 out of 40 rounds which qualifies me for this new emblem on my dress uniform:

Chimay Première is the Dubbel from Chimay alongside the Grande Reserve Tripel.  It's also very good in the Belgian dark ale style, though head-to-head I think I prefer the Tripel.  This is a bit more ruddy and cloudy in appearance and less-polished in flavor.  But downright tasty and still way above average.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Zax & Urthel Hibernus Quentum Tripel

I was getting restless in Killeen so I decided to take a daytrip to Austin.  Stopped in the REI in Round Rock and later saw a movie in a giant art-deco theater on the south side of the city.  For dinner, I decided on the Zax Restaurant and Bar after a Google search told me it was one of the best places in Austin to have a pint.  It's a pretty upscale place with bistro-style menu and pricing with a fairly impressive tap and bottled beer list.  I don't know; I expect "great place to have a pint" to be more like Zeno's or Gene's Place, but this was sparsely filled with upscale, older patrons drinking wine and cocktails with their meals.  Maybe the crowd changes later in the evening, because I actually arrived early enough to see the most overrated 2 minutes in sports.  After that spectacle I got a tasty steak salad with crumbled blue cheese and a very nice discontinued Tripel.  Strangely, they wouldn't accept my Military ID as proof of age, but then I got an awesome 50% military discount (not including tax) on both my meal and beverage.

I don't know why De Leyerth Brouwerijen would stop brewing their Urthel Hibernus Quentum Tripel when so many folks seem to have liked it.  Maybe the high-end sources for their ingredients dried up and they didn't want to compromise in finding substitutes.  The last bottles were capped in 2008 and the one I tried had a different label that what shows up in an image search, so it had probably been aged for at least 3 years.  I want to call it a Kolsch or Blonde-like Tripel because of the lighter golden color, thin head, and grain/bread flavors.  It had a medium body compared to the Dark Belgians I usually go for with an unobtrusive 9% ABV to let you know it's still a Tripel.  I picked it out of the list because it was a Tripel I had never heard before and I got lucky that it was so was good.  I'm noticing a drift in tastes towards the brown ales and dark Belgians so I probably wouldn't have chosen this from all the others in their stores had I known it was so light.  I would get it again if I ever see it since it was pretty good, but only going to get more scarce as time marches on.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Battalion Run & Wee Heavy

Another earlier start today, this time so we could get in formation for a Battalion run.  It was a pretty slow jog in formation while calling cadence after which the colonel gave a pep talk about our forthcoming deployment.  Following that we had our safety brief and vehicle inspections and were released for the weekend.

I thought I should mention that these beer reviews aren't posted as I try them.  I might average about one per night, but I don't always want to or have something new to try.  I will trade and try new things with friends in the company and I also try to get sampler packs and single bottles when I can.  This started out when I lived in the barracks without internet, so I had to keep track of brews I'd tried and type them up the USO or library.  I'll go back through that file to refresh my memory and so I can keep a backlog of options for each entry here.

This evening, however, I am trying Belhaven's Wee Heavy for the first time.  And it's pretty darn good.  It's tastes almost Belgian with its easy hops and dark fruit flavors, but there is a bit of Scotch-smokiness in the malts and finish as well.  It's about 7% ABV but no boozy-ness creeps into the flavor.  I made sure I got a Wee Heavy in a brown bottle; I don't know why they'd ever switch to clear.  Just like with the Stout, I wonder how much this can improve with a nitrogen-tap.  All-in-all, this is another excellent offering from Belhaven; 3 out of 3 so far have been more than agreeable to my palate.  If I'm ever back in Scotland, I'll definitely try to make a trip to see their operations.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo y Sol

Got up way before the sun in order to draw an M4 out of the arms room this morning.  I haven't shot an M4 since basic rifle marksmanship, but I grouped, zeroed, and qualified on my first try today.  It felt nice to get back into practice and get reasonable success right away.  I actually scored higher than my qualifying day in basic training, but not well enough to upgrade the medal on my dress uniform.  Oh well.

Part of this day at the range involved tactical march from the company to the range in full battle-rattle.  I had a full assault pack over my Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV).  I have not used either for a ruck march before and it wasn't particularly comfortable.  I'm not sure which device is to blame, but I suspect it's the assault pack.  I carried way more water than I needed and there's no frame or supporting hip belt for it.  Unfortunately my nifty new Medium Rucksack with frame and hip belt is already packed away in a CONEX for Iraq.

For Cinco de Mayo please allow me to introduce you to Sol, la cerveza tan guapa.  Unfortunately, the pretty bottle design and presentation is the best thing this Mexican lager has going for it.  It's a light and drinkable lager; I liked it better than Corona, but lagging way behind the more flavorful Negra Modelo.  Still, Sol would be great on a hot day, with or without lime.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Motorcycle & Coopers Sparkling Ale

The weather here in Texas is much more conducive to all-year riding and several folks in my company use bikes to commute.  A Japanese study showed that riding bikes is good for your brain.  I'd really like to get one after I return from Iraq and the Triumph Bonneville seems just about perfect for me.
That's me on a 2010 Triumph Bonneville T100.  It is a particularly beautiful machine.  It has an 865cc parallel-twin engine that fits tidily in the frame and provides plenty of muscle for highway speeds without the dangers inherent in overpowered sportbikes.  Bonnevilles also have a much more natural riding position with the foot-pegs neither outstretched like Harleys nor tucked back like sportbikes.  2009 and newer models like this gently used beauty have electronic fuel injection instead of carburetters which improves fuel economy and reduces emissions.  

Sarah and I will probably need separate transportation once we're finally together in 2012 and this is a cheaper and fuel-efficient solution.  So far I've resisted the urge to go through the safety course or make any purchases prematurely, though I have visited shops to look at their bikes (I pass a '98 Triumph Thunderbird every day on my commutes in to work; they're asking $3,000 for it, but it's older and a bit bigger than I want).  I think this will be a good thing for me to plan and think about while in country and double-win of fun and practical solutions for Sarah and I once I return.

Coopers Sparkling Ale
This is a product of Australia, brought to me stateside by that omnipresent chain Outback Steakhouse.  It's bottle-fermented, full-bodied and cloudy.  The flavor is light and almost cidery in a way I enjoyed.  I liked it and have since ordered it with both their fancier steak cuts as well as their burgers.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Atlas Shrugged part 1 & Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout

I have never read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, so all of my impressions here will be coming from the film (and to a lesser degree, eavesdropping on the dialog from BioShock).  I went to see this movie on a whim one weekend a few weeks ago.  I had not even heard it advertised, but seemed to hold more intrigue than the comedies and whatnot playing at the time.  There may be spoilers below, but the film is only based on the first third of the book, so you'll probably be ok.

Every viewer starts off with a willing suspension of disbelief and the director can either maintain it or squander it or hope that the plot events are too cool/heartwarming for folks to care.  For me, there were too many holes and no effort to cover them up.  It made me wonder if Ayn Rand or the producers considered those elements to be weak parts of the plot at all or if this was an honest window into their worldview.  For example, the story is set in 2016 and one of the main characters (Rearden) is a steel magnate who has produced a new alloy that is practically Mithril.  Cool; I am on board with that sort of foreseeable future type fiction.  But in a tough economy, other metal production and fabrication companies want access to the secret formula for this alloy.  When Rearden tells them no, they throw their efforts into politically discrediting the material as "unsafe" while dismantling the Rearden consortium that produces it.  Ok; business is war and while corporations are rarely so openly Machiavellian, it's plausible.  Now the part that's hard for me to stomach is how this "political pressure" affects the scientific community in the film.  As a whole, they completely sell out and publish "studies" whose results follow the party line (the audience sees a montage of magazine covers like Nature and Popular Science with expose articles on the unsafe fraud metal).  This is not social science application theory or something like pharmaceuticals in which long-term interactions and affects are difficult to predict.  This is metalurgy!  As clear-cut an engineering discipline as any.  While it may have a secret formula for production, there are hundreds of labs at universities around the country that can easily confirm or deny the weight and tensile strength properties that Rearden claims.  The producers want me to believe these political interests bought out all of these professors to keep them from publishing the "true" capabilities of the alloy?  What about grad students with keys, ambition, and an aversion to both authority and sleep?  And how did our other industrial heroine Dagny figure out that Rearden's claims were genuine?  It's a throwaway line; "I looked at it myself; I studied engineering in college."  The whole plot turns on this concept that our heroes are the only ones who know how good this metal is; the world is out to get them.

Well I felt there were other problems later in the film, but I've rambled for longer than I thought I would already.  I may continue later, but for now let me leave you with this quotation that is similar to my experience with the film:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. — John Rogers
Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout
Well I didn’t taste any hint of oatmeal.  This came off as too bitter for me; too much hops and over-roasted malt for my palate.  Didn't strike me as worth the craft price point compared to import classics like Murphy's or Guinness.  Just another stout I won't be trying again.

Monday, May 2, 2011

bin Laden & Shiner Hefeweizen

I feel like there are no moderate voices.  You're either on the AMERICA Parade lead by the press (and reciprocally reported on by the press) or leaving dour and pithy statements about the-war-is-still-happening/this-makes-things-worse.  Alright; yes, this will not affect the day-to-day war in Afghanistan for better or worse for several months, if at all.  But let's keep in mind that bin Laden was a wanted man well before the 9/11 attacks;  the '93 WTC bombing, murder in Libya, the Luxor Massacre '97, the US embassy bombings in '98, and the USS Cole in addition to an unknowable number of failed attempts.  He was no longer the potent threat he once was, but no justice system would have let all of that slide off.  The successful operation is still unequivocally a victory for the symbolic blow to those that supported him and felt he could evade forever.  Perhaps more importantly, this was successful operation because of the intelligence captured in the raid. I have no illusions that bin Laden was pulling the strings for all radical Islamic and anti-western activities and operations, but he was a respected and well-connected man within the community.  The information seized will be useful to intelligence agents. This was a victory, but it's nothing like VE day and certainly doesn't warrant the jingoism or dancing in the street.  The only folks that should be celebrating are those in the special operations community for conducting such a clean operation on a high-value target.  I wouldn't deny the 9/11 victims' families relief or closure either, but I doubt they were the ones filling the streets last night.

Shiner Hefeweizen is perhaps the 4th easiest Shiner product to find, behind Bock, Black, and whatever their seasonal offering/experiment is.  The label calls it a "wheat ale brewed with orange and lemon peels - with honey added."  It's far closer to American offerings like Blue Moon and Circus Boy than its traditional germanic cousins.  The citrus notes definitely pop first and the sweetness is there, though the honey flavors are subtle.  Very little aroma with this beer.  It's light in the mouth and refreshing when cold, but I rarely want more than two.  Something about the wheat and citrus just gets old faster than malted barley.  Still it's pretty tasty and while there's no Circus Boy here in Texas, I'll continue to get it on occasion.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Smallpox & Belhaven Scottish Stout

Smallpox vaccinations affect about 30% of recipients with 'extra' symptoms.  I managed to get soreness at the vaccination site, malaise, lymphadenopathy, myalgia, headache, chills, nausea, and fatigue.  They were the worst Monday and Tuesday evenings, but have steadily lessened since then.  Vaccination site has started to scab over and my lymphs are almost back to normal.  At least I'm getting this out of the way before arriving in Iraq.

In addition to visiting Sarah and the Kittens, I got to spend some time with my aunt, uncle, and cousin for the first time since Christmas (and probably the last time for over a year).  It was nice to just hang out and swap stories and eat prime rib and Primanti's together (separate occasions).  My aunt is the one who provided me with the past two Trappist Ales to try as well as this Belhaven Scottish Stout.

The stout is from the same folks that make Belhaven Scottish Ale and it pours remarkably light and smooth for a bottled stout.  The label mentions something about chocolatey flavoring, but I detected none of that.  Absent too was the bitter and heavy mouthfeel one can get with other stouts.  Instead, it was just a malty, roasty ale that I definitely enjoyed.  I'd love to try this on-tap somewhere to see if it improves as much as their Scottish Ale does with the nitrogen head.  Still; another winner.