Friday, December 29, 2017

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales 2017

Here we go again! I'm having a harder time finding beers I haven't had before, as in these lists from previous years:

Winter White Ale by Bell's Brewery (5% Alcohol/Volume)--The bottle's label says, "Bell's(r) Winter White (tm) Ale is a bright alternative to dark and heavy winter seasonal beers. This stylish and refreshing wheat ale is fermented with Belgian yeast, yielding a mix of clove and fruity aromas without the use of any spices. An ideal beer from embracing winter." I suppose winter does have that interesting contrast between the darkness of the shortened days and the lightness of the snowy ground. Most brewers do go for the warming dark and roasty flavors. So this beer gets points for going in a different direction. But I have to be honest--this is just a wheat beer with a seasonal label on it. I like wheat beers a lot, so I liked the beer. But there's nothing seasonal about it other than the label.

Sleigh'r Winter Ale by Ninkasi Brewing Company (7.2% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says, "Seize the season with Seigh'r. Layers of deeply toasted malt are balanced by just enough hop bitterness to make it deceivingly drinkable. Paired with a dry finish, Sleigh'r is anything but your typical winter brew." The ale is dark with a start of spiceness that quickly turns to bitterness. I like the initial flavor, but the "dry finish" has too much bitterness that lives on too long after I've swallowed. The beer is an interesting experience but not one that I would call enjoyable.

2XMAS Spiced Double Ale by Southern Tier Brewing Company (8.0% Alcohol/Volume)--The label only says, "BREWED with ORANGE PEELS, GINGER ROOT, CARDAMOM, CINNAMON, FIG PASTE, and CLOVES." The website is more verbose: "Swedish flags are a fairly common sight in our part of the country [Lakewood, New York]. Holiday parties often have warm concoctions of spices and booze at the ready to knock the ice off of toes while raising spirits. We were inspired by a 'Glögg' party, deciding on the spot to brew a beer that pays tribute to this Nordic tradition." The smell is nice if a bit on the potpourri side. The taste of all those spices is overpowering. I found this beer really hard to enjoy.

Jolly Traveler Winter Shandy by The Traveler Beer Company (4.4% Alcohol/Volume)--The label describes this beer: "Jolly Traveler is a cheerful winter beer inspired by the senses of the season. A wheat beer made with real orange, pomegranate and holiday spices, this Traveler is a refreshing libation for the season of festivity." The beer has a Tangy aroma (yeah, like that powdered drink astronauts drink). The taste is citrusy without being too fruity. The little kick of spice offsets the sweetness giving it a nice, if unusual, flavor. On the other hand, when I think of winter, orange and pomegranate are not the first things that come to mind...or even the twenty-first things. Sure, this is a refreshing and flavorful beer, but the winter memory it evokes is of heading to the tropics to get away from snowy weather. I like the beer but this is the wrong season for it. It's definitely a step up from White Winter Ale.

Winter Storm Imperial ESB by Heavy Seas Brewery (7.5% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says, "With a full ruby hue, rich malty character, and earthy hop aroma, Winter Storm is an original--an Imperial ESB for the winter months." I didn't know what an ESB is. The brewery website calls it "Extra Special Bitter," which is very close to an IPA. The flavor is certainly very similar, though not as bitter to me. So I like it better than an IPA but it would be far from my first choice of drinks. I think the only thing seasonal about this beer is that it comes out in the winter time, there's no holiday connection. I suppose it was poorly chosen on my part.

Noel by Goose Island Beer Company (9.5% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says, "A Belgian Style Dark Ale." Minimalism is not so bad...The web site says, "In Belgium, Noël beers were released at the end of the year as a special, limited release to thank loyal brewery customers for their support throughout the year. Goose Island Noël is an un-spiced Belgian-style, Dark Ale with balanced notes of caramelized sugar, toasted bread, black cherry, and dried apricot all in a warm, deep-mahogany body. This beer was brewed to celebrate the past year and toast the new year to come. From our brewers to you and yours, cheers and happy holidays." More verbose but nicely descriptive. The balance of sweetness to tartness is excellent and the flavor is rich. Readers know I love Belgian beers and this is another fantastic example of the best of Belgian brewing, even if it's made in Chicago. High marks.

Winter Ale by Blue Point Brewing Company (7.7% Alcohol/Volume)--Another very modest label: "Hearty, Robust Amber Ale." Again, the web site has more to say: "Our Winter Ale is a hearty, robust amber ale. We use pale, Vienna, crystal and chocolate malts to create a balanced character of malt and hops with just the right amount of spice to warm you up during the colder months." The spice is there but not overdone. The beer is a little too dry and bitter for my taste, but not so far off the mark as others. It does get points for the other part of the label that says, "Please remove bottle cap before drinking."--The Brewers

Didn't make it up

Christmas Ale by Bell's Brewery (7.5% Alcohol/Volume)--Finally, a label with some info on it! "This traditional Scotch Ale is rich and malty with notes of caramel and a warm finish. Certain to make any occasion festive, or at least a bit more bearable. Enjoy with the company of friends and family." Maybe the Scottish part is the "festive, or at least a bit more bearable"? The taste is malty with almost a hint of pine in the flavor, which sounds bad but tastes okay. Not great but not bad either.

Rude Elf's Reserve by Fegley's Brew Works (10.5% Alcohol/Volume)--The label tells us, "After being pestered by crazy workshop elves and celebrity reindeer, the Rude Elf found his true calling in Santa's brew house. He kept his edge and brewed a new Christmas legend for us all. Cheers! The Fegley Family". The holiday spices pop up big and bold but not rudely. The beer is still smooth to drink, like there's a caramel finish to sweeten the spice. This is a surprisingly good beer. Maybe the alcohol content has something to do with it?

Criminally Bad Elf by Ridgeway Brewing (10.5% Alcohol/Volume)The bottle says, "It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, of course-wrong place at the wrong time...but Claus was soon back on the street with the polite apologies of the authorities-no questions asked. All's well that ends well, surely, but still, the reporters wanted to takes its toll, doesn't it? 'Indeed,' sighed Claus, 'my elf is going crazy, and I fear I shall soon go crazy as well.' And with that he hoisted a great flagon of his favorite barleywine-style ale, silently contemplating the future and straining to remember why he got into this particular line of work in the first place." As a barley wine ale, this is original and flavorful.

I have to say this year's winner is Noel, though there were plenty of good beers in the group. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Volunteering at the Ravens/Colts Game 2017

I volunteered with our church's youth group to hand out programs at a Ravens game (just like I did last year). The weather was warm for late December (high 50s/low 60s). It was also rainy, though mostly on and off drizzles in the afternoon. I had no trouble getting to the stadium. Walking in I saw plenty of die-hard tailgaters doing their thing during the drizzle.

Tailgating tents across the street

Under an overpass

I arrived at the stadium just in time for the volunteer check-in, so I didn't get to stroll down Ravenswalk and pick up some swag. I did get a good look at the two statues out front of the stadium. 

Ravenswalk entrance

Ray Lewis was a linebacker for the Ravens, starting in their inaugural year (1996) and playing all seventeen years of his career for the Baltimore team. He is considered one of the best linebackers of all time.

Ray Lewis statue

Johnny Unitas also spent most of his career playing for the Baltimore team, but he played quarterback from 1956 to 1972 back when the Baltimore team was the Colts. He was a great player and a social celebrity too, turning him into a bit of a pop star back in the day.

Johnny Unitas--The Golden Arm

But back to volunteering. Our group was mostly stationed at Gate A, though the organizers needed three volunteers to go to Gate B with another group. I and a couple volunteered for the B duty, which was a quieter gate for most of the time (we covered the two hours prior to the game (it was a 4:30 game) to the end of the first quarter). Most of the time one of the ladies at the metal detector tried to flag down people to come to our gate. She tried waving and dancing.

Gate B

We were near the walkway from the light rail, so sporadic crowds came through. We also had a marching band march by, which certainly made the gate less quiet and more fun.

Marching band

More of the band

We were surprised to see some of the band made it inside the stadium.

More band members

Since the game was a few days before Christmas, plenty of people had Santa hats on, some colored Ravens purple! A few guys came in suits that definitely looked like they were made from wrapping paper.


We did not get complimentary seats this year (I think they might have been sold out or not enough for all the volunteers) so I watched a few plays from the end of the seating entrance. The rain had picked up and I had already been standing around for almost three hours, so I decided to head home at the end of the half.

View without a seat

Front of the stadium lit up for the holidays

I did get some free swag--a program (naturally) and a stocking cap for the coming winter months. I think it will probably clash with my New York Giants pullover, but I may wear them together anyway. Also, they were handing out car magnets as fans left the stadium. As is our family tradition, the car magnet is now a refrigerator magnet.

Program and hat

Multi-use magnet

Even without the free seats, I still had a good time and was glad to help out the youth group, which my children will one day benefit from.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review: Amulet: Book Seven Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet: Book Seven Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi

Stonekeepers Emily, Trellis, and Vigo look for Trellis's lost memories, hoping to find some weakness in the Elf King, Trellis's father. They get more than they bargained for at Algos Island, a place for lost memories with a painful past that has dire consequences.

Meanwhile, Emily's brother Navin heads for the Elf capital on a mission for the resistance. Getting there on the sly is a bit tricky. They get passage on an airship only by working in the food service industry, which makes them a little too visible to all the bounty hunters looking for resistance leaders. So maybe he's in worse trouble than Emily? Maybe not.

The story is getting more dramatic, with very interesting backstory for the Elf King and a big reveal of the long-term plan for the bad guys. The cliffhanger ending is epic. The series isn't losing its excitement or narrative power. I'm looking forward to more.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Garden of Lights at Brookside Garden--Trains, Plants, Jazz

A continuation from yesterpost...

The Garden of Lights wasn't just lights in the garden. Down the hill from the visitor center are the conservatories. The conservatories are basically greenhouses with plants still growing in them. They were open for touring and, naturally, they had some Christmas plants on display.


Okay, not as Christmasy

A waterfall hiding in the lushness

The big draw at the conservatories was the train set provided by The Washington, Virginia, Maryland Garden Railway Society. In addition to making an incredible model railway, they added in some fun characters (like Wonder Woman, Yoda, Moana, and many others). If that wasn't enough, they also made scavenger hunt sheets (with pictures) for the younger visitors. Our kids had a great time trying to find everything on their sheet. They even had three different sheets of scavengables! We had a good, long time in the warmth of the conservatory, for which we parents were quite grateful.

One end of the main train set

A little town

Wonder Woman takes the train

A pond with Yoda on the shore

The other end of the train set

The conservatory, much like the one we were in

The train set along the wall had a bunch of actual historical spots, some of them no longer extant. The kids were clueless but we adults enjoyed seeing places like Glen Echo Park, which brought up many fond memories from our dancing days.

A bit of Georgetown, District of Columbia

Glen Echo Park entrance

Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo

Bumper Car Pavilion at Glen Echo

The Cabin John Hotel--read about it here

Baltzley Castle--read about it here

We went back to the visitor center to get some hot cocoa (which we had promised to the kids). The Cafe, in addition to providing hot cocoa and snacks, also sold smores kits for people to use on the outdoor fire. The best part of the cafe was the band playing. Close Enough for Jazz is the "official jazz ensemble for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL)" (at least, according to their web site. Who knows how many unofficial jazz ensembles they have?). My wife and I enjoyed dancing to jazzy versions of Christmas classics. We don't have any footage of us dancing but we did get some of the band playing...

The Garden of Lights is going on through January 1, 2018, and presumably will be back next year. I think we'll be back next year too!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens--The Lights

We toured the Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens in Maryland. We've been to the garden before during the day (see here). Coming at night to see Christmas lights makes the garden quite attractive in the wintertime. What a great idea! Entry is by the car, so loading up our van made our visit a bargain.

Entrance to Garden of Lights at Brookside Garden

Lights on a walkway

More of the walkway

My kids on a balcony


Supposed to be lightening and clouds, looks better in real life

By garden beds

Regular old trees

Lake with dolphins!

Another walkway

Son on display

A gazebo that looks like a carousel

The kids!

Lily pad pool

Covered walkway

Walkway without flash (and in the other direction)

A lion

Another pool

More lights

Reflecting pool

The Garden of Lights display also has a nursery with live plants and a fantastic train set, which we'll see in the next post (plus the jazz band at the cafe)!