Wednesday, August 21, 2019

☸️ Little Brother

Symon, our new Golden Retriever pup
click for a larger image
That little side-eyed furball at right is Bodhi’s new baby brother, Symon. He’s just five weeks old but shows every indication of being a handful, just like the big boy.

Our next dog was Kelly’s pick after Stella passed. With a number of trips coming up and a minimum six-month-of-age limit at our friends’ kennel, ‘Ohana Pet Paradise, we were resigned to wait until next year for a pup. That was until Kelly noticed that nearby Golden Willow Retrievers had another litter on their hands. When she further learned that two of the boys weren’t spoken for—from a litter of seven—it was a short discussion that led to Symon’s adoption. We picked him out yesterday evening.

Symon will join Bodhi in our home September 8. I’m greatly looking forward to the event. Each of our puppies goes through a meet-the-older-dog moment in our front yard, giving rise to many photos and a memorable day. Expect to see more of this little guy.

This all comes about just after Bodhi turns two, settles into himself, and becomes—perhaps—our best. I don’t write that lightly. He had a very big hole in our hearts to fill after we lost Zele, but it does feel like he’s filled it with his own sweet personality, good behavior, and happy demeanor. I wish the rest of my days could be filled with my pal.


We took a ten-day driving trip from our home in Virginia west to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park to visit my sister, Pam, and her family this month. My brother-in-law, Jason, was good enough to pick up a few six-packs of Wisconsin craft beer for me while visiting his parents before we arrived, to which I added a local Chicago favorite. I’m enjoying a New Glarus Two Women lager as I write this. Two Women is a medium-bodied, malty-sweet lager that goes down easy. This is the definition of a house beer, though unless you’re living in Wisconsin, you won’t find it anywhere. Alas, New Glarus only distributes in their home state.

#Symon #GoldenRetriever #newPuppy #NewGlarus #TwoWomen

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

☸️ Cedar Run Brewery

We visited Cedar Run Brewery, my area's newest brewpub, this past weekend. Kelly and I joined my beer adventure pal, Neal, for an hour or so of sampling.

Buried among family farms on the fringe of the fast-growing town of Nokesville, Virginia, the brewpub facility is new construction amid a collection of older buildings and a farmhouse. The last part of the drive involves narrow farm roads and a gravel driveway, but the destination is all-modern and quite nicely planned and built. A rough gravel parking area, perhaps repurposed, ground-up asphalt by the look of it, provides plenty of informal parking.

Bar and taproom at Cedar Run Brewery
(click to enlarge)
There's ample shaded outdoor seating just off the left side of the building, but we visited during the height of a summer afternoon when the outdoor temperature was pushing 90. We headed directly to the indoor shelter.

The structure is a large rectangular footprint finished in unpainted, rough-hewn wood. Upon entry, the long, wooden bar stretches alongside the right wall. Roughly a dozen taps emerge from the wall of the backbar under a wide-screen television displaying the tap list. There were eight beers on tap when we visited, including two newly-added. A cold room sits behind the backbar, and the insulated door to that room is an interestingly-designed sliding barn door affair. I don't think I've seen similar elsewhere. Restrooms are available farther along the right wall, while the majority of the space directly inside the door and to the left is given over to a taproom with quite a lot of seating. The pub can accommodate a crowd of people. Numerous smaller TVs adorn the rest of the bar and pub area.

Brewhouse at Cedar Run Brewery
(click to enlarge)
The brewhouse sits around the corner of the rest rooms, at the inside rear of the building. I counted three fermenters and one each of a malt tun, brew kettle, and brite tank. The malt tun has a grain mill atop, so grain can be–perhaps is–milled on-site for freshness. I arrived a bit too late for a walk-through of the brewhouse with the brewer.

Cedar Run's head brewer is Matt Ryan, who notably last served as lead brewer at Mad Fox Brewing. He picked a terrific opportunity to move out on his own, as Mad Fox ceases operation this very week. I'm looking forward to sampling a few lagers from this award-winning brewer, whose Keller Bier Kolsch won a Virginia Craft Brewer's Cup.

Cedar Run's current beer line-up was all ales for our visit and ranged from a mild Blonde to a silk-smooth stout that finished dry. It featured three IPAs of varying flavor, all hewing to the piney-citrus character of the style. Those three and the stout, Thicc Axe, were the highlight of our visit, each earning near-to-over four stars on Untappd. Bathing In the Rain, a New England IPA, was served unfiltered. The Blonde ale, a saison, and an unfiltered hefeweizen were of varying degrees extra-mild on flavor. It's early in Cedar Run's life, though, so I expect tweaks to the recipes over the coming months. Finally, a mild English ale served on CO₂ also tasted a bit too mild. I wonder how this beer would do served at cellar temperature in a cask with a beer engine, though. Its malty base would shine through at a higher temperature, and most beers do well on natural carbonation.

The wait staff behind the bar were friendly and wanted our opinion of the beer. I was pleased to tell them I'll be back for more.

Cedar Run Brewery is open Tuesday–Sunday, most days until 10pm. There is occasional on-site food truck service.


Lemon Grass Pils, Powers Farm & Brewery
(click to enlarge)
Our second stop was at Powers Farm & Brewery, where we sampled their delicious Lemon Grass Pils. This mild lager accented with the eponymous lemongrass is a delight, particularly in the summer heat. Again, we enjoyed our beer inside, seated in the cozy Powers brewhouse and taproom. This brewery is situated on a farm just outside Warrenton, in Midland, Virginia. Powers offers farm produce and beer CSAs and a tap list of eight beers. I also enjoyed a couple of tasters of two saisons; a honeysuckle variant, and a blackberry. Both tasted farm-fresh. Untappd ratings are the first three listed here.

Powers is open Thursday–Sunday and offers an extensive selection of on-site food trucks.


As luck would have it, we visited Cedar Run at almost the exact same time as the creator and host of the NoVA enBREWsiast podcast. The nameless host posted a photo of his Bathing In the Rain NEIPA framed outside while we sampled inside.

I happily discovered this new podcast concurrent with its first episode and have followed it since. The host visits regional breweries, exploring the beer and pub offerings much as I do on this blog. The series begins at Tin Cannon Brewing Company of Gainesville, Virginia, one of my favorite destinations for craft beer. If you're a fan of craft beer in the north/central Virginia area, check it out wherever you find podcasts, and follow him on Twitter as @enBREWsiast.

#CedarRunBrewery #Nokesville #PowersFarmBrewery #Midland #Warrenton #Virginia #craftBeer #enBREWsiast #podcast

Sunday, June 9, 2019

☸️ Pouring one out

Suns Out, Hops Out from Solace Brewing Co.
I learned yesterday that Jack's Run Brewing of Purcellville, Virginia is no more. An apparent disagreement with their landlord over rent resulted in closure and sale of assets. That's a shame. Mike and Marion are nice people who make and serve good beer in a cheerful, welcoming manner. My Untappd ratings reflect the quality of their product. My good memories of our visit with them reflect what I thought of the folks.

I hope the Kozars make another try at microbrewing in the coming years. In the meantime, I'll pour out–into my glass–a beer from fellow LoCo indie craft brewer Solace Brewing Co. and toast their efforts.

Friday, May 24, 2019

☸️ The boy

The BGB IBodhi GoodBoy)
Our good boy enjoying an evening of baseball, cats running around the house, and us. The greatness manifests. Sweet, too.


Friday, May 10, 2019

Boston Beer eats Dogfish

WTOP News:
The Boston Beer Company — makers of the Samuel Adams beer brand and the second largest craft brewer in the United States — and Delaware-based brewer Dogfish Head Craft Brewery said Thursday that they plan to merge the companies in a deal valued at more than $300 million.
Wondering when the craft beer bubble will burst has been a chat-over-beers pastime for a few years now. Though there have been other notable buy-outs, this one strikes home coming between two respected brands with no mega-brewer involvement.

Sam Adams Boston Lager is a safe port in a storm; available nearly everywhere on tap yet tasty enough to compete with smaller-brand, craftier products. Head brewer Jim Koch is a well-respected leader among American craft brewers.

This merger is a shame, though. Dogfish Head is one of my favorite craft operations for its product line-up and attitude toward fine beer production, and operates a string of ale house restaurants in our area. I'll miss the Dogfish brand and owner/head brewer Sam Calagione's industry leadership.

I imagine Boston Brewing will maintain the top-selling Dogfish products, but less-popular products such as their ancient ales collection are, I fear, headed for oblivion.

#dogfishHead #bostonBrewing #samAdams #craftBrewing

Monday, April 29, 2019

☸️ Various and sundry

A roundup of my recent beer and four-legged passions. All photos enlarge with a click.

Our trek for brewed (and fermented) beverage enjoyment resumes. This month Neal and I paid a visit to Phase 2 Brewing, the brainchild of Cathy Frye and her sister, Mary Battaglia. They opened Brew Loco, a coffee shop and home-brew supply store, back in 2014 with an idea for beer production as a second phase. More recently, they introduced Phase 2 Brewing. We visited on a quiet Saturday afternoon. As is our MO, we ordered flights of everything. I checked in my beers with Untappd.

One pleasure of a brewery visit is finding a brewer who creates unique beers with unusual incredients. We found one very good example in Bagel Run wheat ale; it really was like drinking a raisin bagel, but not cloyingly so. Cathy and her husband make regular runs back to New York for family visits, returning with bags of bagels for themselves and friends. Some make it into the brew kettle. What is often a bready beer style–wheat ale–lended itself to this flavorful treat.

My favorite beer, though, was Sibling Rivalry, an IPA loaded with two of my favorite hops, Citra and Mosaic. The balance between malt and hops was pitch-perfect; I'd place this one among my top-5 of this style. It hekps that I'm a big fan of west coast IPAs, the northwest variant in particular.

A close second was Mango Mama DIPA. As with any imperial beer, the less of its high-alcohol content tasted, the better. In this case not one iota of 'Mama's 8% ABV was evident, but its lush tropical hops and mild malt finish were right up my alley. Pungently flavorful and potent, this beer was terrific.

Our first four samplers at
Phase 2 Brewing.
Half Wit Radler made for a notable and unusual offering: parts hibiscus witbier and lemonade, this 3.5% ABV beer makes for a delicious and attractive afternoon thirst-quencher. Carefully poured, the beer stratifies by density; alcohol is less dense than water. See if you can pick it out in the photo.

Cathy is one of those brewers who has an innate sense of flavor. She marries traditional hops with malt with the odd adjunct to create a balanced and very satisfying beverage in which both the beer and the adjunct flavoring are each discernable, yet pair perfectly. Some brewers do this better than others. We ventured elsewhere thereafter, but the day's highlight was enjoying our time and beers at Phase 2.

As an aside, of all the many breweries I've visited, this is the first owned and operated by a woman. It's unremarkable that a woman can brew delicious beer, but it is remarkable that there are so few doing so in this beloved, independent industry. More on that later.


Me, panicking while sampling
Pen Druid's Colonial Panic porter.
(Inside joke.)
The annual Sperryfest in Sperryville, Virginia. Neal and I stopped off at Pen Druid Brewing upon arrival last weekend for an hour-plus session of delicious beers, chats with co-owner Jennings Carney, and a dissection of the recently-released film Avengers: Endgame. We ordered a flight of everything.

(In a world of beer operations, this act in this particular place is one of my very favorite pasttimes. There's a hidden, end-of-the-world feel to Sperryville and Pen Druid's modest tasting room that lends itself to happy chats with friends while sipping great beers.)

Pen Druid usually has six taps pouring wild, spontaneous-fermentated and barrel-aged beer. I was offline for the visit and didn't log my beers in Untappd, but I'll point to Golden Swan, a wild blonde incorporating organic wheat; Colonial Panic, a wild porter incorporating organic wheat, sorghum, and raw buckwheat honey; and Celestial Event, a wild dark strong ale also incorporating organic wheat as the day's highlights.

I've visited and written about Pen Druid before. The beer there is never routine. Although the phrase "craft beer" is common today, I've never found a more concrete example than the Carney brothers' process, facility, and product. Regional beer fans, and particularly those who enjoy sours and the process of spontaneous fermentation should pay them a visit.

We moved on to the primary focus of our day's trek: the Great Rubber Duck Race down the Mighty Thornton River, and Sperryfest. The ducks are indeed rubber, the Thornton was mighty (in a small-town sort of way), and everyone had a great good time, with kids and dogs in abundance. I got right down to the river's edge for the action-packed video at left.

Afterward, we took a stroll up Main Street, looking for and finding Dennis and Dave, our friends from Hinson Ford Cider & Mead. I previously wrote about their mead and cider production facility and tasting room. Our visit this weekend happily coincided with a new mead release: orange blossom. Mead is wine made from honey rather than grapes; this one is based on orange blossom honey. Yes, it tasted a wee orange on my palate.

Hinson Ford's meads and ciders are on the dry side, and are imbued with a wide variety of flavors. If you live in the region and enjoy fine meads and ciders, but eschew the sweeter versions found elsewhere, try Hinson Ford.

We wound up our short visit to Sperryville chatting with friends we bumped into along the way. There were a lot of people enjoying themselves in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, Saturday.


I've sampled this year's Hoppy Honey saison ale at both Twinpanzee Brewing and Phase 2 Brewing recently. (It's pouring at Solace Brewing, too, which reminds me that I need to make another visit there. They've gotten terrific peer comment in the 2018 regional beer review, along with the aforementioned Pen Druid.)

Hoppy Honey, Twinpanzee Brewing
Hoppy Honey's story is contemporary good will. The Pink Boots Society, a collaborative effort to assist, inspire and encourage women beer industry professionals to advance their careers through education, publishes a new brew recipe every year. Brewers take it into production, donating back to the Society a cut of the proceeds. This year the beer is a moderately hoppy honey wheat ale, all of which hits the palate at once. I rated both samplings 3.5/5 on Untappd, and advocate buying a pint for both enjoyment and support of women brewers. As mentioned above, Cathy Frye is the first woman owner-brewer I've encountered, and I'd very much like to see more women working the brewhouse side today.


Kelly and I joined our pals Mike and Susan for a quick weekend drive to Ocala, Florida to attend a wedding in Citrus Hills a few weeks ago. Our mutual friends Scott and Michelle were married in a lovely outdoor ceremony, and we enjoyed a fun evening reception and dinner afterward. Unsurprisingly, we managed to find a local brewery for a visit, too: Tampa Beer Works. My beers are logged in Untappd.

This place is a brewery after my own heart: a tiny brewhouse in the back room produces award-winning beers sampled in an utterly unpretentious taproom up front. The space is small, the decor pedestrian at best; a hole in the wall. The beer was terrific. When in Tampa, blow off restaurant beer and go here, instead.


The Bitter Truth aromatic bitters
The Bitter Truth bitters and your next Manhattan. So I made a cocktail for myself last evening while Kelly's delicious lasagna was heating. She's out of town visiting family in North Carolina this weekend, and I'm spending much of the time on yard work. After mowing and over-seeding, I had earned a craft cocktail.

I tried a little something different in this one: an "aromatic" bitters from The Bitter Truth. I received a collection of these from our friend, Kathy. This was my first go with this particular bottle.

I mixed three dashes of aromatic bitters with three ounces of Masterson's Rye Whiskey and an ounce and a half of Carpano Antica Formula, which is an artisanal vermouth of great repute, in a mixing glass with ice and good wishes. What emerged was sublime. If you're accustomed to using Angostura aromatic bitters, retire them and buy a bottle of aromatics from The Bitter Truth. They sell a wide variety of others, as well.

If you're new to bitters, I wrote a piece about them a while back on Bazinga Journal, and The Washington Post published a very good primer, as well.


Bodhi at twenty-two months
The Bodhi. My pal turns two years old June 16. In the wake of our losing Zele, I thought I'd never love another dog as much as I did that sweet girl. Two years down the road, I've learned that's not so.

Bodhi has emerged as one of the great ones; he's a playful, sweet boy who wants nothing more than to be around Kelly and me. We routinely enjoy walks together. Today he romped the front yard while I worked, investigated the full length of our fence, then laid just inside the open gate while I worked at sectioning tree limbs and moving them to the woods. He's a joy. I so love this boy.

Avengers: Endgame is in theaters, so Kelly and I joined Neal and a cast of friends for opening night. Without spoiling the many threads tied up, the story was satisfying and the production was near top-notch Marvelesque. I think last year's Avengers: Infinity War was a wee tighter in execution, but I wasn't disappointed by the new film. Resolution of Captain America's life was particularly satisfying. After attending, ask yourself, "where did Loki go?"

Bodhi and his new pals, Jack and Harper
The twins. We have two new members in our family, Jack (Kerouac) and Harper (Lee). Our friend Pam rescued a mama cat who produced a litter in need of homes. We've been missing our Izzy since losing her nine years ago. Time flies. Our home once again bears the sound of romping cat paws.


I'm listening to Maggie Rogers as I write. This young woman's music and lyrics nearly brought Pherrel Williams to tears during a masterclass session. Her EP Now That The Light Is Fading does not disappoint, and her newer full-length album expands her pop. Alaska is particularly beautiful, and On + Off showcases both her voice and her expertise blending backing vocals and looped instrumentals. Look her up, download, and enjoy.

#AvengersEndgame #beer #cocktails #bodhi #jack #harper #theTwins #maggieRogers

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Sunday, December 2, 2018

☸️ The Whiskey Sour

A Whiskey Sour cocktail served in a chilled coupe with lemon rind pigtail garnish.
The Whiskey Sour
click for larger image)

It’s late on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I made New York Sours, a variation on the classic Whiskey Sour, for a friend who’s fond of them last evening. The Whiskey Sour is itself one of a family of drinks made according to an in-common recipe. I’m intrigued by the classic version of this cocktail, and put together an example. At right is a result of today’s experimentation.

Sours are generally proportioned three parts spirit, two parts lemon or lime juice (the sour) as appropriate, and one part simple syrup. Adjust to taste; balance is key. A refinement of the basic recipe equalizes lemon and simple syrup.

Update: a 3-1-1 Whiskey Sour is a notch better; sweet neatly balances sour pucker, and lemon neatly cuts alcohol, leaving overtones of whiskey flavor and lemon fruit.

A proper margarita is a typical example: three parts tequila, two of lime juice and orange liqueur, and one of simple syrup. Lemon works better with some spirits, lime with others.

I wrote about another classic sour, here.

For today’s fun, I wanted no more than three ounces of liquor in each drink so I made my “parts” one ounce. That gave my Whiskey Sour three ounces of Four Roses bourbon, two ounces of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and an ounce of simple syrup, neatly filling my throwback coupe after shaking. For a larger drink, use 1.5 ounces per part.

Traditional recipes include an optional one part egg white for froth. I went that route for my Whiskey Sour, dry-shaking all of the ingredients for ten seconds or so to fully incorporate the egg white with the other liquids before opening the shaker, adding ice, and re-shaking as with any non-egg white cocktail. I could have just shaken everything longer with ice at the peril of over-diluting it.

If a cocktail contains only spirits, stir it. If a cocktail contains juice, dairy, or egg white, shake.

The result was delicious, a slice of cocktail history in a chilled coupe, garnished with a pigtail of lemon rind. I made an Amaretto Sour for Kelly, substituting amaretto for whiskey. It was equally enjoyed; a sweeter, almond-flavored version of mine.

These cocktails were easy to make with just a bit of planning. A Friday stop at the grocer for fresh lemons and a half-hour spent combining equal parts boiled water and sugar before cooling into simple syrup allows for a ten-minute, start-to-finish cocktail preparation when you’re ready to enjoy. A shaker and glasses complete the required equipment.

Give these classics a try.

#whiskeySour #amarettoSour #classicCocktails

Friday, October 12, 2018

☸️ Rally-obedience

Bodhi-boy out for a ride
(click for larger image)

My pal Bodhi and I have just completed our first rally-obedience training class. We spent six weeks learning what this competitive workout is all about and getting ourselves into compliance with the rules. I’m happy to say Bodhi is a quick and eager learner, and that we have a three-week hiatus until the next series of classes.

We figured out that Bodhi is easily bored early on. Bored puppies make for mischievious puppies, so I was on the lookout for something more to work on after we completed his Canine Good Citizen training. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of classes available at Hungry Like the Woof in Warrenton, so it was only a matter of deciding whether to go the rally-obedience route or the agility route. Bodhi is a rambunctious boy so more obedience training would be helpful. That narrowed my choice to the rally-o.

Rally-obedience is a competitive show sport where the dog and handler move through a series of gates. Each gate is a placard placed on the floor dictating a specific behavior that the pair must display for the judge. It might merely be halt and sit, but most gates require something more elaborate. A figure-eight, where the pair must cross the center line of a couple of cones three times is one example, a slalom through four cones once or twice is another. The spiral, where the two loop around three cones, then back around two, then around a single cone all in one direction is guaranteed to leave the handler dizzy. It does for me, at least.

Some of the more challenging gates don’t involve much movement at all. One example is the pivot, where the dog begins by sitting at the handler’s left knee and must scoot its butt around as the handler incrementally pivots left or right as if standing on a pie plate. Bodhi picked up the correct behavior surprisingly quickly.

A useful behavior for every day is the one we use to begin a course. I want Bodhi glued to my left knee at the outset, and also want a way of commanding him to approach me and sit in that position. I use “get close.” It’s a treat to see him circle around my left and park it right next to me, inching closer if he’s too far from my leg. He’s an enthusiastic learner, and enjoys the workouts not only for the training treats I use.

We have the next few weeks off but will do an occasional training session in our garage to keep ourselves sharp. The next set of classes begins Halloween night. Based on how Bodhi has come along in the six weeks of the first course, we should be ready for Novice class competition by the time we finish the next set in early December. I’m still up in the air as to whether we’ll compete, though.

Bodhi is sixteen months old next week. I’ve fallen quite in love with this sweet boy. There’s not much more I look forward to each day than coming downstairs or returning home to have him greet me. Seeing him leap across the floor to sit, wagging his tail at my feet fills me with joy. Love my boy.

#Bodhi #LabradorRetriever

Sunday, October 7, 2018

☸️ Hinson Ford Cider & Mead

Two ciders, two meads. Ok, two ciders, two melomels.
Elderberry furthest to the right. Yummo.
(click for larger image)

We had the great fortune of seeing this cidery and meadery sprout wings and soar this past weekend. Tucked away in a corner of Amissville, Virginia, this hidden gem is home to some of the finest ciders and meads I’ve tasted. That it’s located fifteen minutes from my home in the middle of nowhere tells me something the craft beer movement has known for years: many are thirsting for interesting drink. Build it and they will come.

Cider- and mead-making are the younger siblings of the craft alcohol world. While wineries have been with us for decades and craft breweries at least a couple ten-year spans, these two are just lately exploding on the scene. Each is usually found on its own, the passion of a single producer with a love of the product. At Hinson Ford, the two come together, a joint vision of Dennis, mead-maker, and Dave, cider-maker.

Neal and I had the pleasure of visiting Dave, Dennis, and Dennis’s wife, Mary, at Hinson Ford on a cool, rainy spring day earlier this year. Neal had followed their Facebook postings and scored an early invitation to what is now a tasting room. At the time, it housed equipment and a rolling bar amid the lovely rough-cut wall paneling and finished trim. We lucked out. The guys were happy to have visitors, and we were more than happy to sample everything they had on hand. It might have been eight, or ten, or a dozen meads and ciders; I forget. What was clear from the outset was the craft with which they were created.

Last weekend saw Hinson Ford’s soft opening, and we attended with friends in tow. The soft end of a Virginia summer was upon the place as we arrived to find parking scarce and the tasting room crowded. Tables outside were filled with families enjoying the warm, less-humid weather that is our reward for enduring the moist heat of June, July, and August. And September. We lucked into an emptying table inside, where we held court for a couple of hours.

The rolling bar sported a Square pay station, and a pressurized set of four taps sat next to it dispensing samples for the day. More examples of Hinson Ford’s work were available in bottles. We tasted everything.

Each mead is fermented from a particular nectar of honey, all from the local area. The flavors are distinct and all are enjoyable. Critically for me, the meads at Hinson Ford aren’t overly sweet. Hinson Ford gets this aspect of mead-making right. They also produce melomels, mead flavored with fruit. Of particular note is the elderberry-flavored example. I returned for a full glass of this after my flight of samples and enjoyed every drop. This one is well worth your added attention. On tap during our visit were the elderberry and a strawberry melomel. Delicious. We returned to the bar for a full glass of Dark Skies Bochet, a rich, caramelized mead that drinks like a port. This one makes for a rich after-dinner drink.

Each cider, likewise, is fermented from a particular type of apple. Crisper, dry fruit types are represented by crisp, dry ciders. I could spend the afternoon sipping these examples until I fall out of my chair. They’re authentic and delicious. On tap for our visit were Calville Blanc, Ciderhouse Blend and Brehon Blend, each distinctive. Calville, a dry cider appears golden and tastes crisp from start to finish, while Brehon, laid up in oak, bears a smoky wood flavor amid the fruit. Ciderhouse is a straight-up marriage of apple variety.

I’m enthused not only that a craft alcohol destination has opened in my local area, but that Hinson Ford is a cut above. The tasting room is cozy, the owners run the place and they’re genuinely in love with the product they make. I’m not often this knocked out by a craft producer, having sampled my share of beer, cider, mead, and wine. I’m pleased to call these folks neighbors, and enjoyed my time at their lovely sampling and production digs deep in the heart of rural Virginia. The mead is magnificent, the cider sublime, and the people friendly and welcoming. Bring yourself and your family out for a visit.

#HinsonFord #Amissville #Virginia

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Why it's time for skeptics to reconsider the IPA

Kate Bernot—The Takeout:

To those who, like [my friend] Gwen, believe they don’t like IPAs but haven’t tasted one in years, I issue you a challenge: Try one of the new breed of American IPAs that’s risen to popularity in the past couple years.

You’ll find them labeled “hazy,” “New England-style,” “NE IPA” or with any matter of “juicy” puns in their names.

I heartily agree. Mosaic- and Citra-hopped beers began making the rounds a couple of years ago. My local craft brewer, Wort Hog Brewing, put on tap a New England IPA called Shenandoah Haze last summer, and followed with Citra pale ale. Citra PA became my favorite of their beers, ousting Rye Not Helles lager from that spot for its explosive apricot and citrus flavor neatly balanced with plenty of malt.

If you’re prone to the “I don’t like hoppy beers” claim, read through Kate’s column and challenge yourself to try a New England IPA or similar. You’ll be surprised.

#IPA #NEIPA #hazy #citrus

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Takeout: 5 beer-menu rules I wish all bars would follow

Kate Bernot—The Takeout:

I want bars that are thinking about what we drinkers need to find our next favorite beer. Get us from point A to “holy Moses, this is delicious,” and you’ve done your job as a bar. As an advocate for beer drinkers coast to coast, I propose bars take to heart these five simple rules that will improve their beer menus.

Rules one and four are particular pet peeves of mine.

I want an eight-ounce serving of higher-ABV beers so I can enjoy more than a sample without getting tipsy. Some beer bars and breweries offer ten-ounce tulip glassware for their stronger beers, but not nearly enough. An eight-once half-pint is tough to find.

Another issue is lopsided menus. Sure, IPAs are popular. I love a few, myself. Four or five on a menu of ten is too much, and shortchanges other beer styles. And it should go without saying, knowing that so many beer drinkers comment, “I don’t like bitter beers,” that a couple of lagers and a decent wit or blonde ale would do more to increase customer traffic than anything else.

Cater to your customer’s desires, not your personal whim.

#craftBeer #service #petPeeves

Saturday, June 9, 2018

☸️ The long walk

BGB at our turn-around rest stop
We took a long walk this morning, the longest of Bodhi's life, down the Warrenton Greenway and back. My pal did well, only getting visibly tired about two-thirds of the way through. The Greenway now stretches two miles end to end, which we doubled. That's quite a boost from our usual walks together.

We left our shop with a hat on my head for sun and bottle of water in my pocket for Bodhi. The Greenway features a dog park and water fountain for people and dogs in the first eighth of a mile, so we didn't have to crack the water bottle until about halfway down the trail. I took a quick sip and began pouring the rest into my free hand for Bodhi, who lapped at it for only a few seconds. He wasn't all that thirsty.

Our turn-around point at the current end of the trail was a good place for a rest break. The last half-mile or so was under a full canopy of trees, leaving the stone-dust covered trail cool.

Bodhi was well-behaved most of the way out and back. He's taken to ignoring people as they pass, which makes the walk more pleasant, but other dogs are still his kryptonite. I figured out a new grip on a short lead that doesn't pinch my hand as he tries pulling to meet a passing dog.

He isn't pulling to see other dogs quite as hard anymore, though, which contributes to our enjoyment.

The bulk of our walk back up the trail was easy since Bodhi was tuckered out. He stayed right next to me, only straying for a sniff of the greenery once or twice. The day's heat had begun to flare. I think he was looking forward to the cool floor of our air-conditioned shop.

We'd almost reached the trestle bridge at the trailhead when I decided on a diversion into the dog park. It's finally open again, and the grass is relatively thick and healthy. I wish they'd mow it a little longer; it'd have a better chance of surviving the summer heat. Bodhi spent a few minutes sniffing around the several other dogs while I retired to a bench in the shade. He found me not long after and laid at my feet. I knew it was time to head back to the shop, so off we went.

It's a small milestone for us in our life together, but one I've looked forward to. Having my dog walk calmly alongside as we tread a long trail is one of life's simple joys.

#BodhiGoodBoy #longWalk #WarrentonGreenway

Monday, May 28, 2018

☸️ Rocket Frog Brewing, Sterling

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. Although we paid a visit to Rocket Frog Brewing during their grand opening a week ago, I’m only getting to write about it now. There’s a bit of geek whimsy behind the name and a notably high percentage of good beer to go along with it.

On September 12, 2013, NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission from the Wallops Island Flight Facility, a lesser-known launch site on the Atlantic coast of Virginia’s Delmarva peninsula. Wallops launches smaller rockets mainly headed to sub-orbital and low Earth orbit, but this mission went all the way to the moon. The remarkable thing about it for our beer excursion is an image captured by a facility camera just as the rocket ignited.

A frog jumps high as a rocket launches behind itWallops Island Flight Facility sits adjacent to the Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to many small critters. A frog ventured out to the Flight Facility and was caught in a camera’s eye at ignition. (Photo at left courtesy of Rocket Frog Brewing). That photo became an internet sensation shortly after it was made public.

Rocket Frog Brewing was a gleam in the eye of its owners back then. The rocket-startled frog stuck with them and, with mission contractor Orbital Sciences Corporation based only a couple of miles from their future brewery, became a mascot. Although we didn’t get to meet the owners, I wonder if there’s also an employment relationship there for at least one of them.

The brewery and taproom sit in an office park in Sterling. The taproom bears a series of long, narrow, high tables accompanied by metal stools. An L-shaped bar is at the back, and a shallow table attached to the side wall permits standing while sampling. A couple of low tables seating six or eight are up front, and bathrooms are to the right. Televisions are mounted up high around the room. Beer-making vessels are visible through a glass wall at the back of the room.

A food truck was on-site for the afternoon, parked directly in front of the taproom entrance.

We sampled eight beers at the very crowded grand opening, luckily scoring an open pair of seats across from one another. Rocket Frog did pretty well by me, scoring four or more stars for half of their beers on Untappd.

It often takes experienced brewmasters a few batches to dial in their recipes just so. Realize that beer recipes are the property of the brewery owners, not the brewmaster, so that moving to a new brewery often requires the brewmaster to start from scratch. One who hits it right on multiple products right away is a good find.

Rocket Frog Brewing logoRocket Frog’s eight offerings are based on five actual beers, two of which are modified with flavoring ingredients.

Their Wallops Island brown ale is twinned by a coffee brown ale incorporating coffee beans late in the beer-making process, while their saison is tripled by adding peaches to a batch and raspberries to another.

I’m a fan of the saison (farmhouse ale) style, and Rocket Frog’s Croak at the Moon didn’t disappoint. Its yeasty if somewhat astringent simplicity garnered an above-average 3.5 stars. The fruited versions scored a little lower, although I did give a point each for the brewmaster’s skillful blend of fruit with a traditionally yeasty beer without the result tasting like cough syrup. Well done for what it was; I’m just not keen on most fruited beer.

Of note, Angry Alice IPA and Angry, Angry Alice DIPA were very good, earning at least four stars each. Even better, we met Alice, the young girl for whom these beers are named. She wasn’t angry this afternoon, just a wee shy. Probably a little overwhelmed by the crowd, too.

The DIPA version of Alice garnered four and a quarter stars on my Modified Emerald Protocol scale. Any beer that pushes me to rate outside whole numbers has a measure of nuance requiring a more granular scoring. Angry, Angry Alice was one such product. Its blend of hops resulted in a piney, resinous flavor that gave way to a lingering maltiness.

A DIPA is higher in alcohol by volume (ABV); a good one hides it amid complex hops flavor, while an excellent one blends in a solid malt backbone. Angry, Angry Alice did both. Kudos.

Minotaur V blonde ale, named for the rocket that boosted the LADEE mission into space and the frog into the air, was a standout worthy of four stars.

Blonde ales are more often than not a disappointment on my palate, neither particularly flavorful nor nuanced with complexity. They’re often created as entry-level beers agreeable to a broader audience and enjoyable by the non-beer fan side of the party. Rocket Frog’s Minotaur V blonde balanced a moderate hops load with a malt bill that lingered on my palate well after swallowed.

Beers arrayed between us for samplingThis tasting session, while not out of place among our beer excursions, garnered attention from a few other attendees. Our array of eight samplers each lined up in parallel appeared remarkable. (Photo at right courtesy of Neal Emerald.) Although these folks looked to be beer fans themselves (who should know better), our eights must have looked like a lot of beer.

Do the math: eight five-ounce samples is forty ounces, or two-and-a-half pints. Enjoyed over a couple of hours amid note-taking and discussions of the beer, movies, and upcoming travel, that’s not a great deal of drinking. Perhaps it was only the colorful array of multi-hued beverages that caught people’s attention.

Rocket Frog provides an enjoyable visit filled with tasty beer. Begin with the Minotaur V blonde and, if you’re a real beer fan, be sure to try both Alices back-to-back. Save the fruited saisons for last, as their flavoring will skew your palate a bit but leave you with a pleasant lingering taste to remember.

#RocketFrogBrewing #Sterling #craftBeer


Friday, May 18, 2018

☸️ Underneath

A Labrador Retriever under a bedThis guy used to love crawling under my chair each evening. He’d dive under Kelly’s, too, when he was tiny. I remember one of the last times he squeezed his way in, telling him “not much longer, pal.”

It’s been a while since he was small enough to fit.

I swapped out my winter clothing for summer duds a few days ago, transferring each between our master closet and a guest bedroom closet. Bodhi followed me upstairs and watched as I walked an armload to the guest bedroom, then promptly dove under the guest bed when he discovered how much room was under there.

Once and again, the dog of hidden places.

#LabradorRetriever #bigPuppy

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

☸️ Blackbird's Bodhi, CGC

White Labrador Retriever with CGC ribbonMy pal and I completed his Canine Good Citizenship class last evening. He entered the class seven weeks ago as a well-behaved nine-month-old pup and finished two weeks into his rambunctious, adolescent period. It was a stretch through the final two sessions, but he got it together enough last night to pass each segment of the exam and earn his certification.

We had completed our Family Dog class just before the CGC/Therapy Dog class began. I’d intended this class to extend our work together and continue shaping his behavior, particularly in public. I’m happy to write that it accomplished both.

Each week we worked on improving Bodhi’s basics—sit, sit-stay, down, down-stay, and come—as well as teaching him not to pull while out for a walk. Our instructor taught a less-strict “loose-leash walking” rather than a strict heel. This last skill was one I’d never mastered with previous dogs.

The combination of a front-ring harness and a metal chain leash worked best for Bodhi, particularly the chain leash after he chewed through two of our nylon leashes and one on loan from Sally, our instructor, during a class session.

The harness goes around his neck, under his chest and up around his back. It has d-rings on his back and chest. Pulling on the leash while it’s attached to the chest ring results in turning him toward me, which reduces his urge a little.

He got his teeth around the metal chain once and realized he wasn’t going to pull me anywhere with it.

Bodhi’s most significant challenge had been around other people. We don’t have many visitors to our home, and our neighborhood is in a rural area with no sidewalks and few, if any people out walking. Kelly brings him to our shop in Warrenton where he greets everyone coming in the door, but she can’t always be right there to shape his behavior when he meets someone.

Sally recommended to the class bringing our dogs to businesses like Home Depot and Lowes, which welcome in dogs among the shoppers. Our first experience doing this was a tug of war between Bodhi and me, but after several classes and plenty of work, he was calm and well-mannered. The training was paying off!

One interesting behavior I witnessed at Home Depot this past weekend was the difference between the indoor store and the outdoor garden center. Bodhi walked right beside me while inside but as soon as we got outside he moved away to sniff at everything. As soon as we walked back across the threshold into the store proper, he was right back next to me. He has distinct indoor and outdoor behaviors.

We’ll keep working on his outdoor “loose-leash walking” skills.

Bodhi’s current challenge is other dogs, more-so over the previous two weeks than earlier in this class. Once we got into the training room and among five other dogs last evening, his excitement level spiked up from his usual from the walk over.

He went through the first set of three tasks—meet and greet, meet and pet, and meet and groom—with good behavior. Things went off the rails after that.

He got bored waiting for the next set and began barking at me. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would hush him up. We weren’t permitted to bring training treats to the exam, but they probably wouldn’t have calmed him longer than it took to swallow them, anyway. I took him outside for some quick exercise to avoid distracting the other dogs. We ended up doing that at least a half-dozen times.

In between each time-out, though, Bodhi worked through several required behaviors, such as walking among a distracting group of people and being held out of sight by a stranger for three minutes. He was attentive but not bonkers when a loud distraction occurred. He stayed with me as we walked past, then stopped and greeted another owner-dog pair. 

I have to confess my doubts in the midst of Bodhi’s acting up. He’d only begun this sort of thing in the last two or three weeks—I asked the instructor, “you do recall him being well-mannered when we began this class, right?”—and I had dreaded him not passing his exam in the week leading up to it.

During my wait out of his sight for the long hold, outdoors, I was looking up at the sky for calm and thought, I’m not calling this on him. I’m not telling them he’s not settling down. They’re going to have to say to me that he didn’t pass. They need to say the word “fail.”

A couple more minutes passed. This was Bodhi’s second try at the long hold with a stranger after he repeatedly barked halfway through the first. I hadn’t heard another bark. And then there was Bonnie, our second instructor, inviting me back in. He’d done very well.

It was the turning point in the exam for Bodhi—and for me.

Bodhi’s best behavior came toward the end when I put him in a stay and walked away. He sat watching me as I stopped, turned and waited, then returned to him. He sat calmly again as I walked away, stopped, and called him to me. He ran right over and parked himself in front of me.

Our last work was a simple walk on the lead where he stayed alongside, checking in with a glance every few steps, and made turns as I nudged him or called “this way.” We walked right up to the instructor, stopped, and he sat. Done.

Both instructors remarked to me after the exam that Bodhi is going through adolescence, acting out like a teenager. He turns eleven months old next week and does seem to have passed into a new phase of behavior; he can be very head-strong.

Bodhi wasn’t alone in acting up during the exam, either, but that wasn’t any comfort. I wanted my pal to shine, and we both had to work to accomplish it last evening.

We have much more outdoor and among-crowds work to do. I was encouraged last weekend when Bodhi wasn’t at all interested in the other people at Home Depot, preferring to walk along with me, look around, and sniff at things outside. He turned away from whatever he was nosing on the floor when I told him “leave it,” which is a critical command if a pill is dropped or he smells something interesting in the fertilizer department.

His focus now needs to be behaving when there are other dogs around, something we can work on when Warrenton re-opens the dog park on South 5th Street as well as during our walks on the Greenway and Main Street.

For now, we’re taking a break from training classes as Kelly and I begin summer travel. I’m considering signing up Bodhi for agility training in September or later, though. I’ve never done that with a dog, and it looks like a lot of fun for both of us.

He about gave me a stroke last night, but my boy came through. I’m very proud of him.

#Bodhi #LabradorRetriever #CGC

Monday, April 30, 2018

☸️ How'd I get so lucky?

White Labrador Retriever riding in the carThis guy took a ride with us through our day’s errands, walking through Lowes, Home Depot, and taking a rest and a cold water while we enjoyed lunch at Panera. And, for the most part, he behaved.

Jeez, I love this boy. He’s only ten months old. Think of the decade-plus we have before us.

#Bodhi #LabradorRetriever

Monday, April 23, 2018

☸️ The. Boy.

Goooood lookin’. Love this boy.


#LabradorRetriever #Bodhi

Sunday, April 22, 2018

☸️ Happy boy in his second training class

Bodhi at his second training classA brief update on our Bodhi boy. April 16 makes him ten months old, but there’s a big dog now where my little guy used to be. We have to remind those meeting him for the first time that he’s still a puppy.

Just this week we realized his growth has slowed, but his chest is filling out. He’s going to be a stunning-looking dog.

We’re taking the Canine Good Citizen class at Hungry Like the Woof together, which is more a continuation of what we began at the Family Dog class a few months ago than something new. Lots of loose-leash walking (a less strict form of heeling with a dog), meet-and-greet, “leave it,” and backing out of confined spaces. There’s a lot of behave-yourself as other dogs parade by, too.

We’re having a great time, including the walk over from and back to my car parked at Kelly Ann’s Quilting. Warrenton is a town on a hill, so whether walking or running there’s a workout to be had and a thousand places to sniff and explore. Walking helps Bodhi settle down quickly once we’re in the classroom.

Now and then I take a moment to think back on the little wild thing who came home with us and compare him to the (mostly) well-behaved young dog we have now. It’s been a gradual progression, so it’s easy to forget how far he’s come.

#LabradorRetriever #Bodhi #training

Friday, April 6, 2018

☸️ Yeaster, 2018

Crowded taproom at Pen Druid BrewingThat’s not a typo in the headline; Pen Druid Brewing’s annual Yeaster festival falls on the Saturday before Easter Sunday every year. We’d planned our visit a couple of months before the day. What we found last weekend surprised even us.

The place was a madhouse before the brewery’s opening time. Parking was filled, vendors were up and running in the grassy area between the gravel lot and the Thornton River, and there was a line nearly out the brewery door.

No matter. We waited in line for service for about twenty minutes, then settled in at a table.

I’ve written about Pen Druid before; I call them “the alchemists” for their commitment to wild yeast and spontaneous fermentation. Six taps of beer made just so were flowing, and I enjoyed samples from two of them. Jupiter (below, left), their wild double IPA, was outstanding. I bumped its previous four-star Untappd rating to a five-star; somehow this batch was more hoppy and juicier than my last sample and exemplified a perfect DIPA.

A pint of Pen Druid's Jupiter DIPAA double IPA is one brewed with higher final alcohol by volume and plenty of hops. Jupiter clocked in at about 9% ABV. The additional alcohol conveys a greater depth of flavor.

During a brief lull and shortening of the line I jumped in and procured our second round, but aside from that, the place was packed all day.

We’ve attended previous Yeaster celebrations, and this was by far the most crowded of any. There were families parked on chairs and blankets on the grass; it appeared there were more and more diverse vendors than ever, and the crush to buy beer was surprising. Not that Pen Druid’s beer doesn’t deserve the attention—they’re one of the few local breweries working with wild yeast strains—we’ve never seen so many beer fans lining up twenty-deep for them. Vendors ranged from the neighboring Hopkins Ordinary Alehouse brewery to food, to crafts. It was a family-friendly atmosphere, and not a few dogs were along—leashed—for a day’s outing.

We’ll head out earlier next year to catch the doors opening at Pen Druid, and spend some time sampling Hopkins Ordinary’s beer. Their line was shorter when I found them among the vendors outside.

If you’re looking for something beer-related to do next Easter weekend, take a drive out to Sperryville, Virginia and attend Yeaster. If you’re looking for an adventure in beer any time, Pen Druid opens at noon Saturday and Sunday throughout the year and are well worth a visit.

#PenDruidBrewing #Yeaster #Sperryville #Virginia

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