Saturday, March 24, 2018

☸️ Mt. Defiance redux: comparing vermouths

I recently described my visit to Mt. Defiance Cider Barn in Middleburg, Virginia. During that visit, I sampled a delicious apple-based vermouth and took home a bottle for experimentation. Here-in are the results of mixing two otherwise identical cocktails with differing vermouths. First, photos:

A Manhattan cocktail made with Mt. Defiance vermouthA Manhattan cocktail made with Vya sweet red vermouth

Notice the lighter shade of the cocktail on the left. It was made with Mt. Defiance vermouth. That apple-based vermouth itself bears a light tan shade and lends that lightness to the brown rye whiskey. The cocktail on the right, made with a lightly spicy-sweet red vermouth, is as dark as you’d expect of a Manhattan.

Mt. Defiance vermouth lends a flavor significantly different from traditional red vermouths. It brings a sweetness to the drink, taking the edge off the whiskey and leaving a light apple flavor on the palate well after the rye and bitters have run away. That surprised me.

Another pleasant surprise was Mt. Defiance’s light spiciness, similar to what’s found in the Vya red vermouth used in my standard version of the drink.

I’d peg the Mt. Defiance Manhattan right between a standard example of the cocktail and a Bensonhurst, a Manhattan variant that incorporates dry white vermouth in place of sweet red. Notably, the Bensonhurst also incorporates cherry liqueur for sweetness, a step unnecessary because of Mt. Defiance vermouth’s apple base.

This is the second specialty purchase I’ve been pleased to make from Mt. Defiance. Their absinthe is quite good served neat or watered through a sugar cube.

#MtDefiance #vermouth #Manhattan

Friday, March 23, 2018

☸️ National Puppy Day

Ours over the years …

Kelly with Maggie

Kelly with Maggie-girl

Zele first day home

Happy Zele

Stella first day home

Sweet Stella

Bodhi Side-eye

Bodhi Side-eye

Bodhi laying in the grass first day home

Bodhi bonus. Hard to believe they were ever this small.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

☸️ Mt. Defiance Cider Barn, Middleburg

Four friends gathered at a bar for cider samplingWe shook things up this past weekend, beginning a beer excursion with a visit to the new Cider Barn just east of Middleburg, Virginia. It’s Mt. Defiance’s second location. This one focuses on ciders and other un-distilled products, while their original location on the west side of Middleburg offers craft-made rums and a lovely absinthe, as well.

The audio system volume was turned down for conversation so we missed its verbal cue that we’d arrived at our destination. The Barn can’t be missed, though. I remarked, “that’s new, oh, that’s it!” as we passed.

It’s perched upon a rolling hill along the south side of route 50. Parking is ample, and as you’ll see on their website the Barn’s interior is gorgeous.

We entered as the first customers of the day and, as is our custom, each ordered a flight of everything on tap. Blair delivered four ciders, a pommeau, and a sweet, white vermouth.

I was surprised to learn that the Untappd app can be used for checking in ciders, meads, and mead-like products in addition to beer, so this tasting was a lot like a craft brewery visit. I checked-in the four ciders, but the pommeau and vermouth were not listed.

We were joined by our friends Wayne and Barbara, who purchased a couple of fine cheeses and crackers for us all to enjoy.

Mt. Defiance’s Cider Barn is a comfortable, spacious, two-floor affair adorned with belt-driven ceiling fans, hand-crafted (by lead distiller Peter Ahlf) tabletops, a wide wood-topped bar and unusually comfortable wood-seated barstools. Most barstools make you want to fidget after a half-hour. These are crafted to sit like a well-worn saddle, if not in shape then surely in comfort.

The space lends itself to social functions as well as general sales and seating, holding as many two-hundred people. The grounds are well-manicured and I imagine quite beautiful in Spring.

Our first sample was the Farmhouse Style Hard Cider, a flagship product for Mt. Defiance. Mildly sweet on my palate, it finished slightly dry. That’s a fine combination for a straight-up cider, leaving the palate relatively fresh for the next taste even as the memory of sweet apples lingers. Champagne yeast in the fermentation is responsible for this.

Old Volstead’s Homemade Cider was up next. This one swaps in ale yeast, imparting a slightly funky, earthy, English ale-like flavor and dry finish. I wasn’t quite as sanguine about this product as the previous one, but as conversation swelled around me the ambient air temperature slightly warmed the cider, revealing more of the ale-like flavorings. I gave Old Volstead a rating equal to the Farmhouse Style for this pleasant example of craft variation atop what is otherwise an enjoyable cider.

The Triple-Berry Cider was of equal flavor quality to the Farmhouse, and I goosed my rating by a quarter-point for the mild berry flavor that complements without overwhelming the apple. Think of this as you might an Italian soda; the berries’ flavoring is a subtle addition.

One of the visit’s highlights was next: Sweet Spice Cider that tasted, in a word, like Christmas. By this time of the year, we’ve all had enough of winter holiday season flavorings, from Oktoberfest beer through Christmas cookie spices that hang around through New Year. One begins yearning for something fresh and less savory, yet this cider so nicely hit the spot on my palate it garnered four stars and an inquiry as to whether it was available by the bottle. Alas, it was not, and a half-growler (referred to as a growlette at Mt. Defiance) would not keep until next December. I guess we’ll have to go back for it then. Twist my arm.

A line-up of four samplers on a bar

One of our last two samples was Pommeau, a blend of cider and the distillery’s apple brandy aged for a year in used bourbon barrels. This combining and finishing is a little like jazz; an improvisation that can embellish the primary product or diminish it. We often see it in beer-making, and I have a love/hate relationship with it there. When it’s done well alongside straight-up (un-augmented flavoring) products, and both products have remarkable qualities, the barrel-finished product serves as a way to put the art of craft production on display. When a barrel-rested product outshines the straight-up beverages I’m left wondering what that whiskey aroma and wood flavor are covering up.

Happily, Mt. Defiance’s Pommeau is a deft blend of sweet apple cider, brandy’s alcohol warmth and depth of flavor, and just a bit of bourbon barrel wood and liquor. Unavailable for check-in with Untappd, I’d have given Pommeau four stars for its combination of flavors without any one dominating. In fact, I’d say the apple cider shines through both brandy and the remnant of bourbon in the barrel.

Our last taste was also a pleasant surprise. Mt. Defiance produces a very nice sweet, white vermouth. While most cocktail makers and drinkers are familiar with sweet red vermouth, and of course the dry, white variety known for its use in Martinis, sweet whites are less commonly available or called-for.

Vermouths are an example of an Italian aperitif, a fortified wine intended to arouse the appetite before dining. Most are sweet and taken over ice. Most are also less than delectable on their own. Not this one.

Mt. Defiance’s vermouth is replete with subtle spices among the sweet wine flavor, making this a palatable late afternoon drink. Vaguely reminiscent of Vya red vermouth—one of my favorites—a bottle accompanied me home for experimentation in my Manhattan cocktail.

Spring weather will be with us shortly here in Virginia. A weekend visit to Mt. Defiance Cider Barn, or its sister facility on the other side of Middleburg, is just the thing to begin a day’s wanderings.

(Photos courtesy of Neal Emerald.)

#cider #MtDefianceCider #OldVolstead #pommeau #vermouth

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

☸️ We completed our first training class together

A white Labrador retriever asleep by the front door

Tuesday marked the final session of Bodhi’s first obedience training class. Probably just as well I’d forgotten that instructors like to test how well each dog and owner have taken to the training: I had no apprehension.

We took a nice walk from our shop on South 5th Street to Hungry Like the Woof, arriving just in time to be the first in the door, and were quickly followed by two more dogs and their people. We had a few minutes to get our things arranged and go through a few behaviors before Sally called the class to order.

After a quick greeting, we began the session with “loose leash walking,” or what you could call a relaxed heel. Bodhi stuck right with me throughout. He checked in, making eye contact frequently. He stopped when I stopped. He reversed when I did. Success. We returned to our seats.

Next, it was time to demonstrate a behavior we had to come up with on our own. It could have been giving a paw on command, for example, or sitting up prairie dog-style.

Kelly and I insist on toweling off our dogs when they come in from wet weather, so teaching Bodhi to roll over on his back for drying his belly is useful. That was our trick for the class.

I usually teach it by saying, “Over” and begin drying. Eventually the behavior is learned. We had only about two weeks to learn it, though, and he had to demonstrate what is a vulnerable posture with other dogs present.

He wasn’t going for it at first, but the instructor suggested perhaps he didn’t want to roll over on his harness. Off it came. After a little more coaxing and a rub with a towel, over he went. Bodhi’s cue for this is “belly-belly.”

We moved on to four rounds of pick-a-card. On each card was a behavior we were to demonstrate. This part of the class went by quickly—there were only three dogs remaining from the original seven—and as close as I can recall ours were “make eye contact,” “touch nose to a target on the floor,” “do a series of down-sit-down-sit,” and “sit for meet-and-greet.”

You’d be surprised at how little interest a distracted dog has in his owner when there’s something grabbing his attention. Bodhi, however, is usually good at making eye contact. He was looking at Sally when it was our turn, so I just said his name. He looked right back at me making eye contact, and we were done.

Targeting involves placing an object on the floor a few feet away and cueing your dog to “target” by touching his nose to it. Bodhi had tried and succeeded at this in week two using food container lids, but he didn’t like the instructor-provided Easy Button in class. It had talked back to him saying, “that was easy!” He remembered that yesterday. He barked at the Button after three or four verbal cues, letting me know he didn’t like it.

I dropped the white instruction card on the floor a few feet away, pointed at it, and said, “Bodhi, target. Target.” He bounded over and touched his nose to it.

I score that a success.

Sally asked whether he’d been scared by the Button the last time, so perhaps he got credit for diverting to the second target.

Bodhi loves doing what Sally refers to as “puppy push-ups,” first laying down, then rising to a sit, then repeating the two again each on cue.

Last night he breezed right through.

The meet and greet is sometimes difficult for Bodhi—he doesn’t like a hand coming in over his head—but he was fine with a hand coming alongside his face and then up over his head yesterday. I think he’d take more readily to this behavior if we had more strangers to practice on.

After four rounds we were done. I was very proud of my pal. He did great. He even had his graduation picture taken. I’ll post it if I get a copy.

We get a week off before beginning our next class together, which may lead to a CGC certification. At the very least we’ll continue working on behaviors, especially walking on the leash.

This is the point where I called Zele and Stella’s training complete, but I’m curious to see how well Bodhi takes to further instruction. He’s a smart boy, and we had fun together, so why not?

He was so zonked by the time I got him home.

#LabradorRetriever #Bodhi #training #goodBoy

Saturday, March 3, 2018

☸️ Bodhi's new harness ... works!

Labrador Retriever wearing a new harnessWe took a walk on the Warrenton Greenway this morning, Bodhi and me and his new harness. This one sports an attachment ring on his chest as well as one on his back. I used the front connection hoping to gain more control when he pulls at the leash. Wow, did it work well!

He slowed as the leash pulled him around every time, keeping him right with me, and eventually just stayed alongside. I briefly switched the leash to the ring on his back to see how that worked, and found it was almost as effective as the front ring. I think he’d already gotten the idea that pulling wasn’t working, though.

We’ll continue to work at heeling using this new harness over the coming weeks.

I signed us up for another seven-week session with Sally at Hungry Like the Woof—this one leads to a Canine Good Citizenship certification if Bodhi’s training is effective. Dogs need to be one year old for certification, so we’ll have to wait a month and a half after this next class ends before examination. Plenty of time for more work at heeling, greeting, and general behavior.

#LabradorRetriever #Bodhi #training #goodBoy

Glitter beer is here

So this is a thing, apparently (Kate Bernot—The Takeout):

I can’t form an opinion for you because honestly, after way too much thought, I myself can’t resolve competing feelings about the merits of glitter beer. The part of my brain that loves technically perfect, well-constructed classic beer styles says the fad—reported on first by Munchies—is ridiculous.

Yeah, my brain says the same. I guess it gives you something to look at while enjoying the beer, though.

#glitterBeer #novelty

Thursday, March 1, 2018

☸️ Bodhi Goodboy nears the end of his first training class

White 8 month-old male Labrador RetrieverWe’ve been working on a host of behaviors between weekly training classes held at Hungry Like the Woof, in Warrenton. My pal has mastered much of what I’ve thrown at him. He’s still a wild thing when the leash goes on outdoors, though, but we think a solution is as far away as today’s UPS delivery.

Bodhi has a solid sit, down, sit-from-down, and stay. He recalls quickly, and responds to his name most of the time. A stick or his pal Stella can capture his entire attention, though.

There’s been nothing more satisfying than taking our turn demonstrating Bodhi’s stay-and-come, dropping his leash and walking away only to see him still sitting there, watching me intently when I turn around twenty feet away. He’s done pretty well tuning out the other dogs, though the puppy in him still wants to visit the others on occasion.

I’ve mentioned that this is my first time using the clicker method of dog training. Initially I was skeptical, but we worked through getting the two of us coordinated between me, the leash, dog, clicker, and treats. It was a juggling act until I figured out what went where and how to keep my attention on everything at once.

What I’ve come to understand about the clicker v. a more traditional “correction” method is that the former employs positive reinforcement with treats while the latter, negative reinforcement using a choker collar. While all three of our older dogs did just fine using the traditional method, click/treating Bodhi sure makes him look happier to play along. It fills his belly with tiny training treats, too.

One bit of advice I’ll pass along is to do the outdoor heeling work on a quiet road. Much of my time is spent head-down watching for Bodhi to make eye contact as we walk along, and click/rewarding him for it. Hearing a car coming happens much more readily than seeing it, so fewer cars is better.

Bodhi has gotten so familiar with sitting when a car approaches that he’ll often notice before I do and slow his pace, sitting as soon as I slow. He’s a smart boy.

The one behavior where Bodhi falls down involves the one purpose I had for this class: pulling at the leash. We’ve had mixed success keeping him from grabbing at the leash—he’s bitten almost all the way through a three-week old one-half inch thick model—but a good-sized stick in his mouth seems to satisfy his urge to chomp something at the outset of a walk. Resolving his pulling behavior has eluded us, though.

Our instructor, Sally, recommended a particular style of harness that employs a D-ring on the dog’s chest in addition to one on his back. By attaching the leash up front, pulling behavior will cause him to turn around and face me, at which point he’s stopped. It should quickly dawn on him that pulling gets him nowhere.

I should have jumped on buying one of these harnesses weeks ago. Better late than never. I’ll take Bodhi for his first walk with it and a new leash Saturday.

Next week will be our final meeting of the family dog class. I intend to sign us up for whatever comes next, maybe a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) class, but upcoming travel and an age requirement for some of the classes may put that on hold for a while. In the mean time we’ll keep working at home, on the road, and on the Warrenton Greenway. My intention is to have him in shape for walking end-to-end and back by summer.

#LabradorRetriever #Bodhi #training #goodBoy

Thursday, February 15, 2018

☸️ Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, Delaplane

Six beer samples set in a bowed wood plankBarrel Oak Winery has been a mainstay among Virginia Piedmont wineries for a decade. A few years ago, winery co-owner Brian Roeder sought to re-purpose a shuttered Warrenton bookstore as a taphouse, theater, and family entertainment destination. Those plans fell through, but he realized his taphouse dream by building out a seven-barrel brewery and tasting room adjoining his winery, all in the same building. What was once a wall beyond the left end of the wine bar is now a doorway to Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, which we visited this past weekend.

There were six beers on tap during our visit, covering a wide variety of styles. From left to right, above: a pilsner, pale ale, stout, Belgian dubbel, IPA, and a saison. Sampling was done from light to dark.

The facility’s iconic stance upon a hilltop sets it apart from the surrounding trees and vineyards. It’s a big, beautiful building surrounded by green most of the year. The wood construction and finish of the wine tasting bar, seating and gathering area is remarkable. The main room soars to a second floor ceiling over most of the space. Designed to accommodate large crowds, the building is often filled on weekends during warm weather months.

Fortunately for beer lovers, the winery’s design and materials were carried through to the Taphouse. We visited the taproom on the main level, while the brewhouse sits directly below. That puts both wine and beer production in the basement, keeping the main floor and a balcony open for seating and gathering spaces.

Before getting into our experience at Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, I’ll note that our flights of everything on tap were complementary. We didn’t expect that, and were thankful for Brian’s generosity and hospitality when we went to settle our tab. I’ll also note that Barrel Oak manager and all-around host, Bob Grouge, is a long-standing local friend.

Bob met us at the door, and pointed out features of the Taphouse as we enjoyed our samples. Brian stopped by for a chat and a beer, as well. Importantly, our Untappd beer ratings were logged before our tab was comped. I don’t usually include Neal’s ratings in my writing, but since these turned out to be freebies it’s better to be forthcoming with all details of the visit. You’ll find mine here, and Neal’s, here.

Our thanks to Brian and Bob.

The Taphouse, opened in 2017, is a homey, wood-lined space with a bar running along the right side. Tables and chairs are scattered about the left side, and patios sit just outside the left and far walls. Seating is available outside, as well. The bar is standing-room only, but a well-placed bar step (rail) keeps things comfortable. A cold room sits behind the backbar, and taps serve from there. The bar staff were friendly and communicative.

A wide variety of styles and straight-up production technique are part of BOFT’s merchandising. You won’t find wild yeast, barrel aging, adjuncts or infusions among their beers. The advantage is that beer fans get an unmasked impression of brewmaster Jonathan Staples’ craft.

I’m particularly fond of straight-up production, because brewing with flavor modifiers is often done poorly and can mask errors in the brewing process.

(One notable exception from our recent experience is Twinpanzee Brewing of Sterling, which I wrote about.)

We had a positive experience with BOFT’s beer. Of the six sampled, I gave three a four-star (very good) rating, and one a five-star (great) review. None received less than a three-star (good) rating.

The highlight of the visit for me was BOFT IPA, a complex rendition of the style redolent of aroma hops, with flavor that begins with tropical fruit, moves on to citrus, but finishes with a clean crispness. This is a delicious IPA, not a palate-wrecker. Mild malt is evident through the middle of a mouthful and lays very briefly on the tongue after a swallow.

BOFT IPA won first place in the 2017 Virginia Craft Beer Cup Awards for IPAs. It’s worth a growler fill to take home and contemplate. At the very least, beer fans will enjoy a slowly sipped pint to fathom as the beer loses its chill and gains flavor.

Their Saison Brune was one of the milder I’ve sampled of this style. Belgian ale yeast imparts less of the clove flavor typical of the strain, but is a still prominent feature of this beer. Malt undergirds the entire profile, which gave me something more to like about it. The combination of malt and mild yeastiness yields a peppery flavor without any hop buzz. Good for a couple of pints back-to-back.

Another standout was Piedmont Station Pils. There’s a flavor lurking deep among the maltiness that makes this more than the average pilsner. I couldn’t identify the extra flavor I was tasting, but that unknown funkiness added dimension and an extra star to its rating.

Make the pilsner your first among the tasters unless they have a kolsch on tap, so its unique flavor stands out. Non-beer fans will appreciate this brew for its drinkability—some beer drinkers don’t care for pungent hops or even bready malt—so we found something on tap here for everyone.

Grove Lane Pale Ale employed what appears to be English hops. At least that’s how they came across to my palate, and I welcomed them. American craft pale ales often seem brewed to go toe-to-toe with IPAs, which is unfortunate. IPAs should be boldly flavorful, while pale ales can (and in my opinion, should) afford to be made milder and more approachable. Kudos to BOFT for doing just that.

One Taphouse feature touted by Barrel Oak is allowing wine drinkers from the larger tasting room to bring their beverages and mingle with beer drinkers, and vice-versa. As Bob pointed out, two hightop tables along the other side of the Taphouse were laden with mixed glassware. One party had glasses of wine, the other of beer.

Virginia’s ABC laws being what they are, this is surprising, and very welcome. Bob informed us that since they grow their own hops, though not enough for full production, BOFT is considered a farm brewery, and so they may legally mix their products.

If your group of friends rarely gets together en masse for an outing because some don’t care for beer, and others don’t drink wine, Barrel Oak has that problem solved.

Poker chip bearing a dog image used for beer discountsOne final note about the tasting rooms and grounds of Barrel Oak: all are dog-friendly. In fact, you’re encouraged to bring your leashed four-legged family member along for a visit. We visited on a cold, rainy day, yet there were a handful of dogs in evidence.

That’s a plus for me. I love dogs; my wife, Kelly, and I have two, and I feel more at home and relaxed in their presence. For me, allowing and encouraging visits with your dog is a plus for Barrel Oak, and something I’d like to see at other outdoor-related breweries. Bald Top Brewing in Madison, Virginia comes to mind for this reason.

Barrel Oak Winery has been a destination for wine tasting and events for a decade. The Farm Taphouse adds another dimension and more reason to visit.

#BarrelOakFarmTaphouse #Delaplane #beerAndWine #VirginiaPiedmont

Monday, February 12, 2018

☸️ The Deviant Manhattan: A Three-way

Ingredients and sampling glasses lined up for a tasteOne in an occasional series on liquors, cocktails, and boozy trivia.

Every now and then I like to re-trace the steps I took finding my favorite cocktails. Today, for no apparent reason, I played with three versions of the manhattan, my second-favorite rye whiskey cocktail.

The recipe for a decent manhattan is simple: two parts rye whiskey, one part sweet vermouth, and a couple dashes of cocktail bitters. The key to a sublime manhattan is, as always, the choice of ingredients.

Note I emphasized “rye.” Latter-day variants of this classic cocktail incorporate bourbon which, while supplying a satisfying whiskey barrel flavor, also spreads corn sweetness over the palate. Rye, on the other hand, imparts a spicy character and provides the perfect counterpoint to red vermouth’s sweetness. That, of course, is the aim of a well-made cocktail: balance. Eschew bourbon in this drink, and go for a top-shelf rye whiskey.

My rye of choice is Rittenhouse 100. If you can’t find that spirit, choose Bulleit rye. Nothing fancy, the green-labeled 95-proof stuff will do just fine.

I varied my vermouth choice to make this a three-way head-to-head comparison.

Rounding out the flavor profile is cocktail bitters. Leave the Angostura bottle in the cabinet and go for a well-regarded product. The Bitter Truth, Bittermens, Bittercube, and Fee Brothers all make fine cocktail bitters in a variety of flavors. My favorite flavors for experimentation are orange, black strap molasses, and chocolate mole. Bittercube’s Bolivar provides a lovely floral aroma to vodka and gin martinis. Who knew something added in such small quantity could make so big a difference in the final result?

For the baseline cocktail version, then, I’ve combined Rittenhouse rye whiskey with Vya, a lovely, mildly spicy vermouth, and added two dashes Bittermen’s orange bitters.

I first encountered Vya vermouth at Claire’s at the Depot restaurant in Warrenton, Virginia. I asked our server to inquire about the vermouth after my first sip, knowing the rye in use wasn’t imparting the mild nutmeg and even milder clove flavor found in this product.

My two variations substituted other products for Vya: first, Punt e Mes amaro (more on that amaro designation shortly), and second, Lillet rouge, the sweet, red version of Lillet blanc.

All three tasters were mixed with tablespoon and teaspoon measures. I was looking for a taste of each. The sum of the three provided six tablespoons of 100-proof liquor, or about three ounces; in-range for a standard cocktail.

One final ingredient: water. I didn’t stir or shake these samples, which would incorporate a portion of melt water into the drink. By mixing the ingredients directly in sampling gasses and moving them to the freezer for chilling, water didn’t enter the picture. A spring water boost of about 20% of the final volume brought each into final balance.

The drinks were ready for tasting after a twenty-minute chill in the freezer. First up, my baseline cocktail, one whose flavor my palate knew well.

All was in order, and my palate set.

Here’s a small, but significant tip for liquor and cocktail sampling: always take two tastes. The first sip “burns” the top off your taste buds, or so it seems, while the second imparts the liquor’s true flavor. The baseline sample serves as my first taste.

Next up was the same cocktail, but made with Punt e Mes. The difference between the baseline and this was stark—the Vya-imparted sweetness of the first was deeper in this one, with an added bitter dimension reminiscent of cherry pits macerated in neutral spirit.

Punt e Mes in a cocktail is akin to a combination of Cherry Heering dark cherry liqueur and a couple dashes of black strap molasses bitters.

Punt e Mes, which translates as in the middle, is aptly named. Its flavor, while sweet, imparts a bitterness that could substitute for cocktail bitters in this recipe. While labeled as an amaro, or Italian digestif, it works well as a vermouth substitute in the right recipes. Digestifs are traditional fortified wine-like beverages intended as digestive aids.

Punt e Mes’s sweetness countered by its enhanced bitterness worked to good effect in this drink. It’s worth another try in full figure, stirred with ice in a proper cocktail mixing glass. Another time.

Third in line was the Lillet rouge version. Aficionados of the Vesper cocktail, that 1950s “original James Bond Martini” spelled out in Fleming’s Casino Royale and later by Daniel Craig in the Bond film of the same name, know the dry, white version of this ingredient well. The sweet, red variant is distinct from the dry white in its color and sweetness.

Lillet is its own beast, not vermouth, but rather aperitif. Over ice the dry version might approach drinkability before a meal. The red, well …

An immediate, off-putting, harsh bitterness assaulted my palate. Ok, assaulted is hyperbolic; this cocktail isn’t anything I’d go for again, but the Lillet wasn’t offensive. It just didn’t work in this combination.

If I had to guess, I’d reduce the Lillet portion and add something sweet to make up for the loss of sweeter vermouths or aperitifs. Seems like work to incorporate an experimental ingredient. This one’s a reject.

I’ve used Punt e Mes in previous cocktails to good effect. Fans of Carpano Antica Formula, a sweeter-than-most vermouth of renown, would do well to try a 1:1 mix of the two in their next cocktail that calls for sweet vermouth. Punt e Mes adds a wee bitterness to the vanilla and cherry sweetness of Carpano.

So this taste-off was a success. I have a minor manhattan variant to play with in the coming weeks, and an ongoing puzzle as to how I’ll successfully use Lillet rouge.

I mentioned that the manhattan is my second-favorite rye whiskey cocktail. My favorite is a drink I created after an annual cocktail mix-off a year or so back, and debuted this past December to middling results: the silent night. The key to it is the chill: it absolutely must be served cold. I’ll write about it here in a future article, but in the mean time it’s documented on my other blog, Bazinga Journal. If you make one for yourself I’d love to hear what you think.

#cocktails #liquor #headToHead #tasteOff

Thursday, February 8, 2018

☸️ Sinistral Brewing Co., Manassas

The bar area at Sinistral Brewing CompanyWe journeyed to nearby Old Town Manassas this past weekend, for a visit to Sinistral Brewing Company. The taproom and adjoining brewery are tucked alongside the rail line the runs through this historic Virginia town, just a couple of blocks east of the Manassas train station. Old Town Manassas is a beautiful, walkable town with many small shops and eateries, so an afternoon spent at Sinistral need not end when you’ve had enough beer.

As usual, my Untappd ratings from this visit may be found here.

We parked across the street in a tiny open-air lot, but a hundred feet or so down the street is a multi-level parking garage. Parking is free on the weekend, so there’s no shortage of spaces and no hurry to move the car.

Sinistral’s taproom is broken up into roughly two-thirds bar area at the back, and one-third tables and bathrooms closer to the front. The space is long, narrow, and nicely decorated. A wall of windows to the right are hung on garage half-door panels, which roll up to the ceiling for warmer weather. A well-appointed patio with propane heaters and fire pits among the seating is just out the side door. A locked cabinet of mugs for the customer mug club adorns the left wall, as does the bar.

The bar was close to full-up when arrived, and the table next to it filled by the time we had our flights. Neal and I were exiled to the front room. No matter, it was quieter there allowing for conversation at a normal volume.

Sinistral had seven beers on tap for our visit: a cream ale, an amber ale, a brown ale infused with coffee, two IPAs (one a New England style infused with mango), a porter, and their winter ale. They earned two four-star ratings and one five-star among them.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was Buffalo Thief Brown Ale. Traditionally a roasted malt beer on the lighter side of a porter, Sinistral’s version was a tad lighter than most and possessed just the right degree of coffee infusion. I imagine they made a cold brew of the grounds and slipped them into the secondary or brite tank. The balance between moderate malt and coffee was just right. Neal, not usually a brown ale fan, was impressed as well. Five stars.

Six beer samplers with numbered key cardTheir Little Grey IPA was also quite nice, garnering a four-star review. While I’ve gained an appreciation for hop-heavy beers over the years, I still want to taste a malt backbone from them. That’s critical to a well-balanced beer. Little Grey delivers, with a mild, malty sweetness that lingered on my palate. The hops had a floral scent and moderate citrus flavor, giving this beer a complex, yet well-balanced appeal.

I was less enthused by UBetcha NEIPA, a New England-style IPA. Sinistral’s version incorporates mango, and while that fruit goes well with the style’s renowned hop fruitiness I found the mildly astringent back-end flavor of that fruit off-putting alongside the hops. I contrasted this sample with Wort Hog Brewing’s Shenandoah Haze New England IPA, and I think the mango was the undoing of this one for me.

Neal was very positive on it, though, and as he’s an IPA aficionado I’d follow his enthusiastic recommendation if IPAs are what you’re looking for.

Of the remaining beers we sampled, Moo Man’s Cream Ale earned the other four-star rating. Cream ales are an upside-down style, and the mirror image of a steam beer. Brewed as an ale with top-fermenting (ale) yeast, they also may incorporate lager yeast and/or cold conditioning, which is a maturing and clarifying step used with lagers. Moo Man’s was crisp and clean as a result, and finished with a very mild sour note. This is a terrific warm-weather beer, right up there with a kölsch or a Czech pilsner.

St. Nix Fix Winter Ale proved to be what I usually find in “winter warmer” beers—a little too much spice covering an abundance of alcohol. There are ways a brewer can overcome alcohol flavor in a high-ABV beer. Winter ales traditionally employ a variety of holiday season baking spices, enhancing the flavor and cloaking the alcohol, but for me these spices never cloak it well and leave an unpleasant taste on my palate. As a result there are very few winter warmers that get a good rating from me. This was not one of them.

We didn’t have the opportunity to chat up the bar staff, who were uniformly friendly and quick on the taps. Given the crowd at the bar on an early Saturday afternoon and the number of mug club mugs on display, Sinistral appears to be a local favorite. Their beer alone makes them worth a visit.

#SinistralBrewingCompany #ManassasVirginia #craftBeer

☸️ Bodhi Unleashed

A white Labrador Retriever sits during a training class sessionThis week’s training class session with Bodhi let us show off what a good boy he is. Normally, all dogs must be kept on-leash, attached to the owner while in class. This makes it unlikely that any two or more dogs will meet, which while adorable, is a recipe for a dog fight in the mildly chaotic (for the dogs) classroom.

While working through recall training (”come”) in our little area, I told Bodhi to stay each time as I walked to the limit of his six-foot leash. He complied, sitting calmly while ignoring the other dogs. I’d wait a varying length of time, then say his name, pause, then say come. He’d hustle right over for a click and a treat.

Sally, our instructor, noticed how well he complied with the stay command, and asked whether he had a solid grasp of it. I said, “yes.” She replied that she’d be comfortable letting him work off-leash to practice recall from increasing distances.

So my pal got to lay out on the floor in a stay while I walked around behind him, stood apart from him, and generally ignored him. Only when he heard the word come did he come bounding over to me.

He wasn’t ever far from me, and still had his leash attached to his training collar, but he was out of my hands in a room with six other dogs, and he behaved himself.

I’m so proud.

This week we continue working on loose leash walking, placetouch, and the usual sits and downs, and add recalls and sitting from a down. It’s surprisingly confusing to a dog who’s already laying on the floor to hear sit. We’ll increase the distance and duration of each exercise, but distraction will have to wait for each class session. Maybe we’ll get some warmer days, and a walk on the Warrenton Greenway will provide that needed stimulation.

#LabradorRetriever #Bodhi #training #goodBoy

Friday, February 2, 2018

☸️ Bodhi and I Learn Something New

A white Labrador Retriever lays on the training floorBodhi and I took our first training session together this past Tuesday. Unlike past classes with our older dogs, this one centers on the use of a clicker, incremental behavioral changes, and lots of positive reinforcement; much of it in the form of tiny treats. Bodhi seemed to like the treats most of all.

I’d brought our last Lab, Zele, as well as our Golden Retriever Stella to a traditional training class at the local kennel club, where they both excelled. Having lost their space at the Fauquier Fair Grounds building, the WKC wasn’t running classes when Bodhi’s turn arrived.

I signed us up for a class at Hungry Like the Woof in Warrenton, instead. They’re located in a relatively new brick building on Alexandria Pike, where they occupy the entire upstairs. It’s quite a comprehensive arrangement: a pet supply shop occupies much of one half of the floor, with a small veterinary practice tucked into an office along one side. The entire other half of the floor is given over to training space. A rubberized floor covering and moveable partitions keep the room comfortable for dogs and owners. A handful of instructors keep the space in use much of the week, and classes repeat in serial fashion.

The first class session was held a week prior, for owners only. It’s a small group; seven owners and two instructors are a full house when dogs are included. We were introduced to the clicker method of training, and each given a clicker to work with. The goals for the first week were simple: get your dog’s attention every time by calling his name, and train your dog to nose a target and/or your hand every time a command word is spoken. These goals center on getting the dog’s attention when there’s a distraction nearby—another dog or human has entered the picture, say—and control needs to be reasserted.

The methodology is simple. Say his name, and when he makes eye contact immediately click and give a small treat. Repeat ten times. These training sessions are kept short, and practiced two or three times a day. By keeping a bowl of training treats with the clicker it’s short work to go through a session in no time.

Three of these a day were enough to significantly raise Bodhi’s attentiveness last week.

This past Tuesday Bodhi joined me for session two. The collection of seven dogs were restless with each other, but quickly settled down. One dog was very anxious, and so a visual barricade was put on either side of the dog and owner to block his view of dogs nearby. It worked; his barking ceased and the owner worked with him easily.

A white Labrador retriever sits while waiting for training to beginWe spent part of the class learning the first steps of “loose leash walking,” otherwise known as heeling. I had Bodhi doing a very good heel in the quiet of our garage in the weeks before this class began, so he already knew to sit at my side when I stopped walking. This class’s method begins with taking a step and stopping, and providing a click and treat as soon as the dog sits. One step at a time we made a few circles in front of our spot.

If we get nothing out of this class beyond a dog that doesn’t pull on his leash, I’ll be thrilled. As well behaved as Maggie, Zele and Stella have been, they’ve always pulled on the lead when out for a walk. Just once I’d like my dog to stroll alongside me, unconcerned with the rest of the population. That’s my goal for this class.

The evening’s other lesson was training our dogs to retreat to a mat or towel laid on the floor. Ours is the small, colorful throw that Bodhi was sleeping on in his kennel. It’s in that photo, above. His command word for it is “place,” and as soon as his paws or body touch it he gets a click and a treat.

Since he already had the hand touch down (“touch”) I alternated between that and “place” to move him back and forth, awarding a click and treat for each successful response. You can see how quickly the right behaviors are reinforced.

My pal did pretty well, although toward the end of our fifty-minute class he was losing interest in clicks and treats. That’s a long session for a seven-month old pup.

I’ll work with Bodhi a couple of times tonight, and another three each tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday. We head back to class Tuesday evening.

Kelly and I were told we had a smart pup when we adopted Bodhi, and that he’s also a sensitive boy. I can see both are true. He’s quickly picking up behaviors we want, but at the same time he’s very aware of having done the wrong thing when he hears a sharp tone of voice attached to his name. Striking the right balance between lots of praise and occasional rebuke (you try not loudly saying ouch when a Labrador Retriever chomps down on your finger while taking a treat) is critical. I don’t want my pal too afraid of making a mistake to enjoy training.

#LabradorRetriever #training #clicker #positiveReinforcement

Sunday, January 28, 2018

☸️ Back to Basics: the Growler Fill

I briefly mentioned growler fills in an earlier article. Now is a good time to fill in the details of this very common aspect of the craft beer experience.

Growlers are containers for taking tap beer out of a brewpub. Often glass, they can also be made from aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic. The key is that the material should not impart a flavor into the beer, as plastic might, while holding tap pressure. Beer brought home in a growler could sit in the refrigerator for a week, plenty of time for plastics to do their dirty work.

Traditional 64-ounce brown glass growlerAt one time growlers were exclusively a 64-ounce brown glass affair, with a metal handle and a clamp-over ceramic cap (at left, originally from Old Dominion Brewing before they broke our hearts, re-labeled during a visit to nearby Lost Rhino Brewing). A rubber gasket, orange here, fits between the cap bottom and the glass rim.

Today’s growlers are much more effective at keeping pressure and temperature, and are more aesthetically pleasing.

Growlers come in a few sizes. The most common holds sixty-four ounces, which gives you four pints of take-home enjoyment. I’ve seen a number of breweries selling 32-ounce growlers (below), which can be handy if you’re interested in more than one beer. Three of these hold six pints, so you get a variety without too much of any one. Less common, but of more utility at a party or get-together is a 128-ounce growler. Eight pints provides enough beer for you and a few friends before having to move on.

32-ounce brown glass growlerThe upside to bringing a growler to a brewpub is portability. The downside is the need for refrigeration shortly after filling, and depressurization beginning with your first pour.

Craft beer needs to be kept cold, because nobody in the craft brew world is pasteurizing their tapped product. The expense and effect on the product’s flavor aren’t worth the resulting boost in shelf life. After all, this beer isn’t meant for shipping around the world.

Kept properly chilled, a keg of craft beer remains as flavorful and devoid of bacterial infection for the last pour as it was at the first. The same goes for a growler. So, fill after tastings are done and pints drained, and put it in the fridge as soon as possible thereafter. That’ll keep it fresh.

Depressurization is a problem with most growlers. They have, at best, a clamp-shut cap not unlike a canning jar. Others, particularly glass 32-ouncers, have a simple screw-on cap. Either way, this keeps CO2 dissolved in the beer, particularly if the growler has gotten a good fill, devoid of foam right up to the rim, but only until they’re opened. Once the cap is off, though, gas begins migrating out of the beer and wafting away into your kitchen. Shut the cap and the CO2 still has all that space occupied by the first pour to expand into, which means the beer begins going flat right away. There is, however, a solution for this.

Growlerwerks µKeg behind a pint of beerGrowlerWerks makes a stainless steel product call the µKeg (micro keg, at left with a just-pulled pint of Dü Hast Bier, a zwickel lager (5.2% ABV, 18 IBU), Wort Hog Brewing Co, Warrenton, Virginia) that has two unique features. First, a CO2 soda charge is secured under the cap and tightened up into a regulator, which is controlled by a dial in the top of the cap. After the growler is filled to a mark an inch or so under the rim, the cap is screwed on and the regulator dial turned.

The second unique feature takes over here: a pressure gauge attached to the bottom of a sight glass, topped with a miniature tap handle. As the regulator dial is turned, the gauge registers the pressure inside the growler.

Kegs are kept at around twelve pounds per square inch of pressure, with variation among beer styles ranging from higher pressure for light-bodied, crisp beers to lower pressure for darker and boozier brews. Twelve is a good ballpark number, and experimentation with the right setting is key. At the initial fill a pressure of about 8 or so is sufficient. By the time a stainless steel-walled growler is gotten home and into a refrigerator, the beer temperature will have risen and with it, the growler’s internal pressure. Over-pressurizing a growler yields a foamy pour, so better to leave the pressure slightly low until the beer is chilled down. It can be adjusted once the first cold pour is pulled.

Whether you’re new to the craft brewery scene or you’ve been making visits for years, no doubt you’ve seen one or two growler-bearing customers stroll in over the course of each hour. I was sitting at a brewpub with a friend years ago when a woman came in, pushing a stroller. A baby sat in the seat, and four glass 64-ounce growlers were nestled in the fabric tray underneath. She was a serious beer fan wielding a double-duty stroller. Unusual, but not surprising.

These vessels are common everywhere, and every brewery I’ve visited includes a price for filling at least a 64-ouonce growler on their menu. Most will fill a 32-ouncer for half that, and a 128-ouncer for double. If taking home your favorite craft beer appeals to you, ask the bartender whether they sell growlers. Many do. The µKeg mentioned above is available on Amazon, as are many others.

I try to have an empty growler ready to go for our brewery expeditions, but more often than not my µKeg is tied up with a previous fill. I might dedicate a glass growler to future excursions, because I missed the opportunity to bring home four pints of Twinpanzee Brewing’s lovely Better Than Bling IPA last weekend for lack of one. If you’re beginning to feel the tug for a beer from one of your brewery visits, but your refrigerator is dry, consider buying one of the many growlers on the market. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—you can certainly move up to something more elaborate down the road—as long as if holds beer at pressure for at least a few days.

#gorwler #craftBeer #breweryVisit #Growlerwerks #µKeg

Thursday, January 25, 2018

☸️ Twinpanzee Brewing Co., Sterling

Four beer samplers in a rowWe continued our adventure in beer tourism this past weekend with a visit to Twinpanzee Brewing. Owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Maha Majdoub and Antonio Maradiaga, this small craft brewer had nine beers on tap, and a tenth blended of two of them, which we didn’t sample.

My Untappd beer ratings from Twinpanzee may be found here.

There are breweries where the beer remains middling, and there are breweries where the beer improves over time. Then there are the breweries where the brewmaster, through home-brewing practice or years in the trade, hits it out of the park right away. Twinpanzee, open just five months, is of the latter variety.

What does that mean about the beer? Antonio’s work, while showcasing his own take on a style, simultaneously exhibits both the straight-up flavor of that particular style (a hefeweizen, say) while also putting the flavor of his signature tweak (grapefruit in this one) on display, in perfect balance. Flavors mingle and blend, giving you much to think about and enjoy.

At the risk of overstating, I’ve been to many craft breweries. The ability to produce more than, say, four beers at this level is rare. Of the nine beers I sampled at Twinpanzee, six received a solid four-star or better rating, one getting five blew-my-socks-off stars, and I broke my whole numbers-only rating rule with 3.5 stars for a seventh.

All of this is to say that Twinpanzee showed me an array of beer that you should go sample, soon. Next weekend. I was that excited about their beer.

The facility is a modest unit in a light industrial park north of Dulles airport, among a cluster of craft brewers scattered about the area. A bold dash of red paint on the front wall brightens the space, which is well lit and home to a hard-topped, L-shaped bar. The taps face the door, attached to the front of the cold room. Bathrooms are to the right. Seating is metal and wood bar stools and low four-top tables, and a shelf runs along the walls for those who prefer to stand. Televisions are mounted up high, showing sports programming. The brewhouse is located behind the cold room, walled off with plywood. I wasn’t able to view the tanks or beer-making apparatus.

We settled in and ordered two flights of everything.

First up was a straight-up kolsch, a particularly fine ale style that I think of as a sort of champagne of beers. Delicate of flavor, high in effervescence, this style makes an ideal hot weather drink. While my comment at the time was generally positive, but desirous of a wee more flavor, on reflection I think this one was just right. Its 5.7% ABV was invisible; think of it as drinking a lovely Prosecco. Kelly would have enjoyed a pint of this.

I’ve had good kolsch elsewhere. It’s not on many brew menus, and for good reason. This goes to a notion I have about craft brewers that’s not often fulfilled.

A product labeled craft should be able to show me beer brewed straight-up, meaning no tweaks, additives, barrel aging, or other jazz outside the German Reinheitsgebot. A kolsch style beer is a way to demonstrate this, because its delicate malt and mild hopping leave nowhere to hide brewing errors. It’s always the first sampled; its flavor should be too mild to follow anything else. Again, nothing to mask the brewer’s handiwork, such as a hoppy IPA sampled immediately prior.

Twinpanzee’s kolsch showed off a successful effort at straight-up brewing.

Our next sample, Lawnmower Mangg, is billed as a session ale. Lower in ABV at 3.8% and tweaked with a hint of lime zest, the moderate malt flavor and mild hopping let through only the refreshing nature of lime—no sour oiliness—and defied any particular style name. It is simply an ale, because it was brewed with ale yeast. This sample put Antonio’s flavor blending acumen on display, laying traditional floral ale flavor alongside just enough citrus lime to balance the two.

This was the first of Twinpanzee’s beers that got my full attention. A good kolsch is always a nice find, but balancing flavors, like balancing malt and hops just right, is a skill of its own.

Finishing this beer, my thoughts were along the lines of two beers, four stars each, what’s going on here? I’m either in for a disappointment from the rest of the menu, or this will be a memorable afternoon. Too often brewers have two or three beers that resonate with my palate, and the rest are fine for someone else. Giving away the end of this story, we had a hell of a memorable afternoon ahead of us.

Twinpanzee’s grapefruit-punched hefeweizen was up next. I’m a fan of hefes, though not so much those that lean heavily on clove-like flavor-producing yeast. Antonio employed a yeast strain producing signature hefe banana flavor, but no clove. Laid up alongside the traditional hefe flavor was grapefruit—not grapefruit from citrus-like American hops, but rather from zest and juice—that again well-balanced the beer flavors.

Three beers, three four-star ratings. I don’t think this has happened before.

Their brown ale was solid for the style, and incorporated toasted coconut that added to this beer’s richness. I’m a fan of brown ales. I’d say this was a good representation, and the toasted coconut earned it an extra half-star for its unexpected finish.

There were two IPAs on tap for our visit. Both were at least very good, while one was the five-star standout of the day for me. Better Than Bling’s aroma hops were amazing, and the distinctive flavors emerging from this beer added to my enjoyment. Though I’ve developed a palate for IPAs over the past few years, I’m generally not a fan of heavily hopped beers. This one was pungent and outstanding. I’d bring this home in a growler.

The other IPA, Am I For Rillo?, puts a solid malt backbone under different hops, making it somewhat heartier than Bling. The combination yields a beer worthy of four stars. It’s a very good example of the style, but probably suffered from following Bling. I’d try them in the opposite order next time just to see how each changes on my palate.

The last beer I want to cover is Twinpanzee’s oatmeal stout, Camisa Negra. So often brewers overdo their stout with too much roasted malt, leaving the beer somewhat bitter. I guess their logic is more is darker, and darker is better, because it’s a stout. Well, Camisa was thoroughly dark enough, yet refined in flavor and dry at the finish just as an oatmeal stout should be, without a hint of over-malting.

Along with the beers we had the pleasure of conversation with Donna, the bartender at Twinpanzee, and co-owner and CFO Maha. Both are beer fans with broad knowledge of the brewing that goes into each beer.

We had a long chat about Twinpanzee’s work to get their labor of love open and serving beer. There was a lot more labor than love on the front end, but now that they’re into a space and producing beer their future is bright.

If I’ve been extra effusive about Twinpanzee, it’s for good reason. While the facility is modest and the locale industrial, the product is collectively among the best I’ve had from the many breweries I’ve visited. I’ve left breweries enjoying but two of their beers, departed others wondering how they get rave reviews serving one-dimensional IPA and everything else rested in flavor-changing bourbon or wine barrels. Not so here.

What you get at Twinpanzee is nothing but great beer. To obtain direct knowledge of their brewing skill, you need sample but three beers: Far From Lonely kolsch, Better Than Bling IPA, and Camisa Negra stout.

Bring your growler, because you’re going to want to take some home.

#TwinpanzeeBrewing #craftBeer #Sterling #Dulles

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

☸️ Craft Beer Is the Strangest, Happiest Economic Story in America

Derek Thompson—The Atlantic:

But in the last decade, something strange and extraordinary has happened. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent. Yes, a 200-year-old industry has sextupled its establishments and more than doubled its workforce in less than a decade. Even more incredibly, this has happened during a time when U.S. beer consumption declined.

There are sound economic and regulatory reasons for the dawn of the craft beer industry, but the most obvious and joyful sustaining cause is only touched on briefly by the author: craft beer is a better version of what big brewers have been producing since the post-war period began. Once beer drinkers got a taste of something better, and with the three-tier system in place protecting small producers, craft beer exploded.

Big brewers make their money by dumbing down the product with adjuncts—they’re a cheaper way of putting sugar in contact with yeast—and producing a less flavorful product appealing to a wide audience of drinkers, who have been conditioned by a bland, Americanized food and beverage landscape. AB InBev and MillerCoors are the MacDonald’s and Olive Garden of beer makers, purveying uninteresting sameness approaching alcoholic soda pop.

Craft beer is about diversity of flavor and welcoming attitudes in the taproom. You can buy the product in supermarkets, but for a true craft beer experience nothing beats going to a brewery and sampling four or five of their beers in a session. You’ll almost always meet someone who’ll tell you the story of each beer, or the brewery, and make you feel part of the craft beer family.

(BTW, about that article’s top photo: sampling craft beer does not involve holding a glass up to the light unless you’re making a toast. We leave the pretentious crap to wine snobs.)

#craftBeer #ABInbev #MillerCoors #smallBatch

Friday, January 19, 2018

☸️ Sittin' Around

A white Labrador retriever sitting on a chairA white Labrador Retriever layign on a chairAn afternoon in our living room with my boy.

#Bodhi #LabradorRetriever

Sunday, January 14, 2018

☸️ "He Grew"

White Labrador Retriever laying on the floorI either hear or utter the phrase, “he grew again” at least once a week. Our little guy isn’t so little anymore.

Early on we were told, “he’s going to be a big boy,” “look at those paws!” And every few weeks, it seemed, Bodhi would go through another growth spurt, though he was probably growing steadily all along.

This past week, as he turned to look at Kelly and my eye caught him just so, I noticed how long his body had become and how tall he was at the shoulder. His head was noticeably higher off the floor when he stood.

I think he’s grown larger than Stella by now.

Meanwhile, he’s still just short of his “teenage” years; a little goofy, but settling down to a relative calm, and beside himself with joy when we walk in the door after a few hours away. My pal is showing the sweetness we’d hoped to see in him.

And he’s a sly boy. Look closely and you’ll see his side-eye look, keeping an eye on me as I take his picture. Each of our dogs gets a nickname or two unique to their behavior. “Side-eye” has stuck to Bodhi. He’s often seen scheming at how to annoy Stella, though I’m sure he thinks it’s play.

He loves to grab one of his many chew toys and offer it for a tug-of-war. It makes for easy entertainment in the evening: he tugs while we (barely) hang on, and goes from one of us to the other while we’re watching tv. There’s a trust in our relationship, too. We can take anything from his mouth short of a stick he’s picked up from the yard.

I’ve worked with him on obedience training over the past few months, but in a couple of weeks we begin a seven-week obedience program at a local Warrenton business. Bodhi can use the additional distraction of other dogs and people to bolster his focus.

I’m looking forward to working with him through that first class. Up in the air is whether we continue into the following one.

I had intentions to take both Zele and Stella into the second class, but by the time we reached the end of the first both dog and human were ready for a break from the six-days per week training work. We’ll see how it goes with Bodhi.

#Bodhi #LabradorRetreiver

Monday, January 8, 2018

☸️ DC Brau, Washington DC

Brewhouse at DC BrauNeal and I took an extended drive to visit a legendary DC craft brewer, DC Brau, this past weekend. While we were very pleased with the variety and distinctive flavor of most of their beer, the taproom was surprisingly spartan for a well-established and renowned brewer.

My Untappd ratings for this visit may be found here.

DC Brau is located around the beltway from us, and given the weekend traffic we opted to follow Waze through the city. I’m not certain that was the optimal route. If you’re coming from northern Virginia, opt for the outer loop to I-295, then north and find your way from there.

The entire facility is accessed from the back side of a row of small businesses along Bladensburg Rd NE, nearly hidden but for a sign over an alleyway. Parking is at the rear, among the grain silos. The entrance is alongside the oxygen tank.

Imagine a large industrial space almost completely filled with stainless steel tanks, with a small taproom across the front walled off from the production area and seating added. A short, crude bar and cashier station sits just in front of the wall. Bathroom is to the right. Through a door to the left is another seating area just in front of the grain mill, but the space is unheated. This is where we found seats after ordering two flights of eight.

The beer varys from a pristine, malty pilsner to a rich, nitro-tapped porter. The pilsner was worth four stars, and exemplified something sorely lacking in the craft beer scene: a straight-up rendering of a classic style. This one was very good.

I’m all for brewers putting their distinctive mark on beer, but my intuition is that first they’ve got to produce a style where there’s nowhere to hide brewing errors. Just a few degrees off in the fermentation stage, for instance, can render odd flavors in a beer. Over-hopping and cask aging can hide these. If a brewer can succeed with a pilsner, say, or a kolsch, then plunging into hops mania and bourbon barrel aging is more a craft than a mask.

Penn Quarter porter was served as a standard, CO2-tap pour and a nitro pour. Go for the nitro and its attendant creaminess. We also sampled The Citizen, a surprisingly good Belgian pale ale. Many brewers attempt brewing with Belgian ale yeast. Most of the results aren’t worth coming back for. DC Brau succeeds with this beer. Four stars.

Neal sampling beer at DC BrauIn the middle of our tasting we encountered two IPAs, one of which is DC Brau’s biggest seller, On The Wings of Armageddon, or OTWOA. The other was The Corruption. Of the two the best I can say is, two stars. The phrase “one-note wonder” was heard about one of them. Neither Neal, an IPA fan, nor I could get into either of these two. In fact there were only seven beers on tap that could be put into a flight, so we had to go double on one of them to round out our flights of eight. We both doubled OTWOA, and both left the second sampler on the table when we left.

This was a shame, as their IPAs were the reason we drove an hour-plus to the brewery in the first place. Neal had received a growler of DC Brau’s Alpha Domina Mellis as an anonymous Christmas gift a year or so back and shared it with three of his pals. We uniformly loved it. These two were not the IPA we were looking for.

Rounding out our sampling was an on-the-sly half-pour of DC Brau’s barleywine. Five freaking stars; this was hands-down the finest barleywine I’ve ever had. Many of this style are overly hopped or drenched in alcohol. They call it barleywine for good reason. At 10% ABV, Sleeping Standing Up is a milder barleywine, and that likely informs its tamed alcohol flavor. This is a beer well worth returning for, and the highlight of the expedition for me.

As you can see from the photo of DC Brau’s brewhouse, above, they pack in the tanks. That’s because they’re selling a lot of beer in our region, and as far as I know it all comes from this room. This is not an artisanal brewhouse-under-glass. This is a major production facility. Pay them a visit on a Saturday for a free tour, otherwise you’re but a fly on the front of their engine.

We’ll return to DC Brau for growlers of next winter’s Alpha Domina Mellis, as it’s only available in limited supply November through December. I get the feeling DC Brau’s local fans quickly wipe them out of this lovely IPA every year.

#DCBrau #craftBeer #expedition

Monday, January 1, 2018

☸️ Happy New Year From Bodhi

Me and Bodhi

May your 2018 be as happy as a warm puppy!

#HappyNewYear #LabradorRetriever

Thursday, December 28, 2017

☸️ Ono Brewing, Chantilly

Scott, Cyndi, Neal and me at Ono Brewing CompanyWe took a brewery excursion this past week to Ono Brewing Company in Chantilly, Virginia. They have what’s now the second self-serve taproom I’ve experienced, so we served ourselves up a flight of all eight of their beers. Along the way we met the owners, the husband and wife team of Scott and Cyndi. Scott is head brewer at Ono, as well.

My Untappd ratings from this visit may be found here.

Ono is among the many breweries springing up in one-floor industrial parks around the country. The property is well-suited to their use. The front of house is devoted to a taproom in a long, el-shaped space with tables and chairs along two sides, and a row of taps and a cashier station along another. A calendar of events hangs next to the taps. At the back of the taproom is a wall of wood and glass that allows a sweeping view of the brewhouse. More on that later.

Scott and Cyndi lived a part of their lives in Hawaii, and have brought the flavor and patois of the islands to their brewery and beers.

Ono Brewing’s beer styles run from a pale wheat ale to a stout, including a couple of IPAs and a saison along the way. Each beer has a Hawaiian-themed name, and three of the beers are infused with fruit common to the islands.

A seasonal pumpkin ale was also on tap for our visit, and ranks in the top two I’ve had of this style. So many brewers overdo the pumpkin spices. Ono’s pumpkin ale was nicely balanced. I’m not enough a fan of flavored beers to order a pint of it, but I thoroughly enjoyed my sampler.

Of the eight beers I tasted, my favorite was their brown ale. A blend of five types of malt was used to produce this rich, satisfying ale. I don’t know the hop varieties employed, but the end result was close to a traditional English brown ale.

Ono’s most accessible and perhaps their most sessionable beer was their pale wheat ale. Wheat malt gave the beer a very light breadiness, while the hops brought just enough balance to the malt’s sweetness. Anyone coming to the brewery can enjoy this beer, including non-beer fans.

Ono uses the same beer delivery system as Draft Taphouse, which we visited last week. A previous article discusses how it works. In a nutshell you’ll provide a credit card to open a tab, and receive an RFID card in exchange. Place the card in a holder just above a tap, grab a clean glass from under the counter and rinse it on the provided glass rinser, and fill from the tap. Be sure to pull the tap all the way open to prevent foaming. Beer is metered by the ounce. Taps are disabled unless a card is present, and groups on one tab share a card.

When you’re done sampling, hand over the RFID card and pay your tab on the ubiquitous iPad-based Square register. Bonus: since you’re self-serving your beer and self-busing the table, Ono donates any tip added to your tab to a local charity. Cyndi told us they donated over $7000 last month.

Each of Ono’s beers has a unique flavor. Care has obviously been put into their production, as there’s something good to be said of each. The wide variety of styles available ensures you can find something pleasing to your palate when you visit.

The Ono brewhouse is equipped with a three-vessel brewing system, with a twist. “Three-vessel” refers to how many stainless steel tanks are used for turning barley malt, water, and hops into wort during the boil, as I’ve written about in a previous article. For many brewers, that’s a mash tun, boil kettle, and a hot liquor tank (HLT). The HLT contains clean, hot water used for sparging, or rinsing, residual sugar from the spent grain in the boil kettle after the boil is complete. The wort is then passed on to a fermentation tank. It’s important that during its passage from boil kettle to fermenter the wort is cooled enough for supporting yeast without killing it.

This is where Ono’s brewing system differs from others I’ve seen: theirs has two HLTs. The second is filled with cold water.

Heat is removed from the wort by passing it through a heat exchanger on its way to a fermenter. Often a glycol-based system circulates coolant through the exchanger in a separate line, causing heat to transfer from the hot wort to the cool glycol. Ono Brewing replaced the glycol and its associated chiller with cold water from their second HLT. While roughly equivalent in cost, the benefit of a water-based coolant is that in the event of a leak, the beer is mildly watered down. If glycol leaks, the beer is contaminated.

The now-hot cooling water is pumped up into the primary HLT, where it can be heated further and used to produce another batch of beer. In this way some of the energy used to heat the first batch of wort is preserved, rather than being radiated away.

Across the brewhouse floor sit four fermentation tanks and a brite tank. There’s plenty of room for expansion between the hot tanks on one side and the cooler fermenters and brite tank on the other, so they’re ready if and when Ono’s nascent distribution arrangements produce strong enough demand.

Ono Brewing Company’s Chantilly taproom is highly recommended for your beer tasting adventures.

(Photo courtesy Neal Emerald.)

#OnoBrewingCompany #selfServeBeer #craftBeer #threeVessel

Saturday, December 23, 2017

☸️ Draft Taproom, Charlottesville

A row of self-serve beer tapsI’ve never been to, or heard of, a craft beer bar like this one. Leave it to a college town like C’ville to show me something new. This article details our visit to Draft Taproom in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a phrase, it was self-serve-beer-oh-my-god.

Kelly and I took a drive down to Charlottesville to meet up with friends last weekend. Kathy was in town for a company Christmas party, and her husband Mike spent the weekend with her. They live nearby us, so it was a weekend not far from home for both.

Our first stop was a local Mexican restaurant, Mono Loco, which has been a regular dining experience for us for years. Their shrimp burritos and jalapeño Margaritas were a magnet for repeat visits.

Let’s just say that something has changed – owner or kitchen staff – and we were unimpressed with our visit this time. Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of telling us to move on.

No matter. Our second stop was the highlight of the evening. We spent more time at Draft Taproom than we did eating dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Our friends have developed palates for Belgian ales, and they were happy with the experience. I was delirious at the prospect of sixty taps of self-serve beer, and not just any beer, but craft selections from local breweries as well as from around the US and Europe.

The visit began with a stop at the cashier. He opened a tab for each couple with a credit card, then associated a credit card-sized RFID card with the appropriate tab for each person. After that we were on our own.

The space is practically all taproom. Beer storage and delivery are concealed behind the two walls of taps, and a small food service bar and water tap are tucked near the back. Restrooms are at the rear. The bulk of the space is given over to long, cocktail-height tables and bar stools. Widescreen televisions display sports and news channels, while a sound system plays a soundtrack very similar to what I play for myself on Pandora.

The ambience is collegial and relaxed, and not overly loud. The place is a testament to what my brother-in-law refers to as “the power of beer.” People are friendly here.

Getting beer at Draft Taproom is straightforward: pour it yourself, as much or as little as you like. Paper tap lists are scattered around the room, and each tap bears a small (5”x4”, approximately) LCD displaying the name of the beer, its maker, and its ABV rating. Grab a glass from under the taps, pick a beer, place the RFID card against the LCD screen, and pour. The beer is metered by the ounce, and ounces accumulate against your tab as identified by your card. The taps won’t open without a card.

There are a half-dozen nitro taps. Nitro taps are those attached to a keg charged with nitrogen. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller than CO2 bubbles, and produce a creamier beer in the glass. Anyone who’s enjoyed a Bodington’s Pub Ale (it was on tap here) or a Guinness draft style beer knows the effect.

The array of beer is diverse and changes regularly. They had only three lagers when we visited, but a wide variety of amber ales, pale ales, IPAs, porters and stouts were on tap. They even had three sours and a Flanders red ale that night. Hard cider and wine are also available.

Glassware was available in sizes ranging from a four-ounce sampler to a ten-ounce snifter to a pint glass.

We spent a couple of hours sampling and talking before wandering up to the cashier to settle up. He scanned the RFID cards and totaled each tab. Payment is completed with the ubiquitous Square register, and a tip can be added to the beer and food total. Tables are bussed by employees, and there’s a crew working the food service bar in the back, so tips are both earned and welcome.

Draft Taproom is located right on the pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, so if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for a beer place, this is a terrific stop.


#DraftTaproom #selfServe #CharlottesvilleVirginia

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

☸️ Pre-teen

A white Labrador Retriever playing tug-of-war with a chew toyOur goofy little pup has given way to a sturdy boy. Here he’s pulling with enough effort to require most of one arm from me. Soon it’ll take two.

Also, he’s bananas about going for a walk, and strong enough to let us know it.

#LabradorRetriever #Bodhipup

Friday, December 15, 2017

☸️ Untappd!

Main screen of the Untappd appI wrote about ordering flights of beers for sampling a brewpub’s offerings in my last article. They’re a great way to enjoy a wide variety of beer without drinking too much. In this article we’ll dig into a fun and easy way to keep track of where you went for beer, who you were with, what you tasted, and what you thought about it: the Untappd app for smartphones from Untappd, Inc.

Untappd’s main functions can be broken down into three categories: friends, beers, and venues. As soon as you install the app and sign up for a free account you’ll be able to “friend” other beer fans who use the app. This is similar to friending people on Facebook. Once your friend has accepted your invitation you’ll be able to see the beers they’ve enjoyed, what venues they’ve visited, and tag them in your check-ins.

That last act links your activities, so you can page back later to see who you were with when you visited a particular brewpub, or recall the name of that beer you both enjoyed last year. Your activity history is available via the first icon in the app’s toolbar.

The second icon will show you nearby, beer-friendly venues based on your current location. It’s a handy way to find the brewpub you’re looking for.

The check-in icon, middle of the toolbar, opens the app’s main feature. It lets you peruse Untappd’s extensive list of known venues, beers, and events. If you have your hands on a beer, chances are it’s already known to the app. You can look up the beer sitting in front of you, tap out a brief opinion, enter a 0-5 star rating in quarter-point increments, detail where you’re drinking the beer, where you bought it, and who you’re with. There’s a link to your smartphone’s camera where you can take a photo of the beer, or use a photo from your gallery. Each of these is optional.

UNtappd app check-in screenAfter tapping Check-In your activity is available to all of your beer friends, and added to the expanding list of beers you’ve sampled. That’s not the end of the line, however. You can link the Untappd app to your Twitter, Facebook, or Swarm account, so all of your friends outside the Untappd app can see what you’re up to.

Logging your beer to these social media platforms is optional, and can be disabled on a per-check-in basis.

Untappd confers an unending series of badges upon you as you accumulate varying styles of beer, venues and brewpubs visited, and photos added. They’re a mildly amusing way of charting your way across the beer spectrum. They also can be shut off.

Neal and I have sampled a great many beers together, but I only began logging mine faithfully in the last few years. I couldn’t keep the app in mind while gawking at the brewpub layout, sampling the beer, and holding conversation early on, but I have it down to a short process now. Untappd keeps a few things in recent memory to help you along. Here’s my strategy for using the app.

Pick the brewery you’re visiting while waiting for your flight to arrive, then select the first beer you’ll taste. Customarily that’ll be the lightest, mildest of the flight. Choosing the beer puts a check-in screen in front of you. For each of the rest of the beers, the brewery you’re visiting is the first in a pick menu that builds just under the search box, and the location you’re enjoying the beer and where you purchased the beer are the first in a row of recent check-in locations. These last two items will be identical if you’re at a brewpub.

Rate the beer on a scale of 0-5 stars, tap out a brief description, tag your pals and the locations, and select one or more flavor profiles describing the beer. Add the serving style: draft, can, bottle, growler, etc. Tap check-in and you’re done. A check-in takes a minute, tops.

Early on in Untappd’s history, star ratings could only be entered in whole number increments. Though I see the value in a more granular increment, I usually stick with my initial rating scheme. Five stars goes to a beer that’s best-in-class. For me there can be five-star beers in all of the styles all-at-once, and as time goes by I accumulate five-star ratings within the same style. If it knocks my socks off, it gets five stars.

Four stars goes to a beer I’d go back for. While not the very best I’ve had, it’s memorable enough for a return visit.

Three stars goes to a beer that’s good, not great, but not bad.

For me, there is no beer-related difference between one and two stars. What else could remain below an average, three-star beer? Crappy beer. Two stars if I liked the brewery or the wait staff was nice to me, one if not. I have, in fact, had a one-star beer in Northern Virginia that wasn’t just a crappy, one-dimensional IPA, but was served by an indifferent wait staff.

While it doesn’t make intuitive sense to incorporate a brewery and wait staff into the rating, I’m doing it to give them a break on what would otherwise be a waste of my palate. Star ratings of all your beers at a single venue are combined with all others at that venue to give the brewery a rating. So, if I like the place, or you’re nice to me, I’ll rate your crappy beers a little better than if not.

Flavor profile tags in the Untappd appSee? There’s method at work here.

I try to keep flavor profiles simple. We used to be able to add new profile tags, but as you can see, Untappd users got a little carried away before the app designer locked it down. My profile tags are either maltyhoppy, or balanced, and maybe something descriptive of a dominant flavor, such as piney or caramel.

The more familiar you are with the people you’re tasting with, the less you’ll notice everyone dropping out of conversation to log their beer. Sample – comment – log – sample again – resume previous conversation. This can go on for a couple of hours. It’s a fun, geeky pursuit that adds to the enjoyment of a brewery visit.

Many breweries employ Untappd For Business. It’s a great way to publish the brewery’s menu on a large-screen TV over the bar, post upcoming events, and display customer check-ins along the bottom row of the menu in real time. It’s kinda neat seeing your check-in published as you enjoy a beer. Untappd For Business also posts updates to social media, so customers can follow and keep track of what’s going on at their favorite breweries.

That’s Untappd. It’s available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and (wait for it) Blackberry 10. Apparently that’s still a thing.

I’m andrewjamesrichardson on Untappd, and I’d be happy to see what you’re enjoying at your favorite brewpub.


#Untappd #apps #smartphone #craftBeer #brewPubs

Monday, December 11, 2017

☸️ First Snow

A white Labrador Retriever running in snowBodhi encountered snow for the first time this past week. By turns surprised, curious, excited, and then ecstatic, he decided he loved it and spent the next twenty minutes rocketing around our yard, skidding around corners, and making low passes behind Stella.

Snow has been a right of passage for each of our dogs. Zele’s first snow was deeper, amounting to a several inches. She jumped into it. Stella frolicked and ran in her first snow, a red blur against the white flakes. Bodhi took his time figuring out what this stuff was, eventually grazing on it before tearing loose.

I’m actually looking forward to our first big dump of snow now, just to see what Bodhi does in it. I imagine seeing just two blacks eyes and a black nose amid a deep drift.

In five short days Bodhi will be six months old. At around sixty pounds he’s already the size Zele attained in adulthood, and just a little shorter than Stella. It feels like our little pup with the short, pointy tail steadily expanded into this big boy right before our eyes. He’s become a handsome guy, too.

Blackbird's BodhiSweetness has emerged as a dominant personality trait. He roams from one of us back to the other in the evening, sticking his nose into a chair or hopping his front paws up on a leg to peer around a laptop, and see what we’re looking at.

Laying on the floor, I’m covered in Labrador as he tries figuring out how best to lay with me; between my legs, across my belly, at my side. Still a pup, he’s all over the place.

We’re still up in the air about formal training; the Warrenton Kennel Club has been booted out of the Fauquier Fair Grounds building and is searching for a replacement space. Their fall and winter training schedules have been canceled as a result. I’ll look into a local business, Hungry Like the Woof, where training classes are offered. They’ve received positive recommendations from our veterinarian and from a friend who co-owns Doodle Bug Dog Walker.

We’re working on climbing stairs at the house. His life here generally involves the first floor and the outdoors, which requires no more than a couple of steps off the porch. The basement is open to him, but he has yet to tackle the stairs down or, if we bring him in through the walk-in slider from the back yard, the stairs up. He has no trouble climbing or descending the steeper stairs at our shop, however, so it’s a matter of familiarity and wanting what’s at the other end of the climb. I’ve given him training treats as incentive, and he’s gotten comfortable putting two paws on the first step down. One at a time.

Bodhi reaches out for a treat on the steps downstairsRight now the prince is laid out from the exertion of working up the courage to tackle that first step. Later today we’ll take a long walk around Springfield, a loop neighborhood nearby. We’ve been busy with holiday social events this weekend and he’s spent more time in his kennel than normal. He needs a good stretch. For now my pal snoozes. Good life.

#Bodhi #LabradorRetriever #firstSnow #training #tacklingTheStaircase