Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ahh, Autumn... and Beer

Updated 29 Nov 2013

I'm so glad to be back on the East Coast an changing seasons.  My favorite season is autumn.  I love the crispness in the air, the trees changing color, and all the awesome butternut squash dishes at local restaurants.  I also love the ales of the season, and being close to Wegman's!

Back in Silverdale, if I wanted to try an assortment of new pumpkin ales, I would have to buy a six-pack of each.  Some were pretty nasty, and I poured out several bottles.

Here at Wegman's (awesomest grocery store on the planet!), you can mix-and-match your own six packs, and they have quite a wide variety of pumpkin ales to try.

Of course, if you happen to be in the Northern Virginia area, then I HIGHLY recommend going to Sweetwater Tavern both for their extraordinarily good food AND for their AWESOME pumpkin ale in the fall.  Take a growler to go! 

To help out those of you who AREN'T so conveniently located next to Sweetwater Tavern or a Wegman's, and in order to prevent you from having to buy whole six-packs of what might later get poured down the sink, here's my votes for the pumpkin ales on a thumbs-up / meh-so-so / thumbs-down rating scale.  I still have three more in the fridge to try, so I'll come back and add them to the list later, but for those of you who may be headed to the store soon and are looking for recommendations, here's what I've tried so far (listed in order from good to not-so-good):

New Holland Brewery's Ichabod - Two Thumbs-UP, still my favorite pumpkin ale.  Strong, bold and balanced flavor.  No weird initial or aftertastes.  I anxiously await its arrival on the shelves at Wegman's. 

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - Thumb$ Up.  Quality and taste were very good - on-par with my favorite Ichabod listed above, but pricey.  It's very good if you don't mind spending the money on 4 bottles instead of a six-pack.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale - Thumbs-UP.  Sam Adams never disappoints with their seasonal ales.  Good flavor, not too strong, very enjoyable.

Red Hook Pumpkin Porter - Thumbs-UP.  Very tasty.  Didn't taste very much like pumpkin, but I still enjoyed it.  I'd buy it again.

Devil's Backbone Ichabod - Thumbs-UP.  Like the Red Hook, it didn't have a strong pumpkin flavor, but it was still very enjoyable.  I'd buy it again.

Traveler Jack-O Shandy - Thumbs-UP.  Added 13 Oct 2013, I liked this one a lot.  It was light and crisp, with a good balance between the lemon peel and pumpkin flavors.  There weren't any strong perfumy or heavy-spice flavors.  There weren't any detectable hops flavors either.  I bought this one as a mixed-up six-pack from Wegmans, but I enjoyed it enough that I went back and bought another full six-pack of this.

Saranac Pumpkin Ale - Thumbs-UP.  Flavor was good, although it did leave a slight after-taste.  I wouldn't turn away a bottle if offered, but if going to buy a six-pack for home, I'd look for one of the others listed above.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale - Thumbs-UP.  Added 13 Oct 2013.  The flavor in this one was pretty strong.  If you're not a pumpkin ale fan, then I would steer clear of this one.  It wasn't overpoweringly perfumy or spice-flavored, so I actually enjoyed it and finished the bottle.  Not much hops either.  Like the Saranac above, I wouldn't turn away a bottle if offered, and if you're picking out a mixed-up six-pack at someplace like Wegman's, then I'd include this in your sampler six pack.  Given how strong the flavor is, I'd be cautious about buying a full six-pack if you haven't tried it first.

Southern Tier - Imperial Pumpking Ale - Thumbs-Up.  Added 7 Nov 2013.  Very strong, nutty flavor, but not perfumy like some of the others.  Like the Weyerbacher, if you're not a pumpkin ale fan, then I would steer clear of this one.  Very light on the hops / not a strong hoppy flavor.  I enjoyed it though and finished the bottle.  It has a pretty high alcohol content - 8.9% by volume. 
Post Road Pumpkin Ale - Tough call.  Heavy hops, and I'm not a big fan of hoppy-beers.  If you like hops, you should probably give this a try.  As for me, I won't be going back for this one.  Also, flavor was better when I first opened the bottle.  As I got toward the bottom of the bottle, the taste of the pumpkin spices got pretty strong.  

Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale - well...  not so much.  Although it has a picture of a pumpkin on the label and says "pumpkin" in small letters under the BIG "HARVEST MOON" label, there's no detectable taste of pumpkin here.  Now, that being said, it was a pretty tasty, standard Oktoberfest type of beer, so I listed it here above some of the "meh" rated beers with weird tastes.

Harpoon's Pumpkin UFO (unfiltered offering) -  Meh.  It was okay.  I finished the bottle at least, but tasted pretty perfumy.  Given the choice of other pumpkin ales on the shelf, I'd skip probably skip this one.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale.  Meh.  Fairly light in body. Definitely pumpkin flavored. Tasted a little weird but nothing I could put my finger on. Not something I'd rave about or buy again.


New Belgium Pump-Kick.  Meh.  Odd flavor.  It says something about pumpkin and cranberry on the label.  I finished the bottle, but I won't be going back for any more of this one.


Shipyard Pumpkinhead - Yech!  Thumbs-DOWN.  It has an amaretto taste to it, and I HATE amaretto.  That being said, if YOU like amaretto, then you might want to give it a try.

Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale - Yech!  Thumbs-DOWN.  Waaaaay too perfumy and overpowering strong flavors.  I couldn't take more than a couple of sips.  Poured the rest of the bottle down the sink.  Poured the rest of the six-pack down the drain, too. 

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat - Yech!  Thumbs-DOWN.  Similar to the Elysian - too perfumy and very strong flavor.  I did manage to finish about half a bottle of this before I gave up.  I poured the rest of the six pack down the drain. 

Jacques Au Lantern - Blech!  Thumbs-DOWN.  After one sip of this, I poured the rest of the bottle down the kitchen sink.  Like the Elysian and Shock Top - very perfumy and STRONG flavor.

Friday, September 13, 2013

DC Events and Pentagon Gouge Update

Here are a few upcoming events for the National Capital Region and some gouge on the uniform shop and ITT down below:

9/14 - Saturday (tomorrow!) - Dulles Day Plane Pull.  This is a FREE event and has lots of planes and helicopters on display, and you can watch the teams competing to pull a jumbo jet across the tarmac.  I first took my kids when they were like 5 and 3 years old, and we had a great time.  This year there's going to be a Sea Harrier doing a vertical landing and take-off - click the link for the map and the schedule.

9/20-9/22 - Friday-Sunday - DC Car Free DayS!  So, it used to be DC Car Free DAY (singular), and everyone who signed up agreed to not use or minimize use of their car.  Now they've expanded it to one weekday and a full weekend.  I'll at least do the Friday, not so sure about the weekend.

10/7 - Monday - Naval District Washington seasonal uniform shift to BLUES.

Navy Uniform Shop.  Speaking of uniforms, I just discovered that the old Navy Annex is GONE, flat, bulldozed, non-existent.  I asked around what happened to the uniform shop.  They've actually put the NAVY uniform shop in a trailer just inside the gate to Henderson Hall, and it's pretty darn convenient.  It used to be you had to fight for parking, walk all the way up to go through security to get into the Navy Annex, then go exploring waaaaaay down into the farthest reaches of the Navy Annex basement to get to the uniform shop.  Now, there's parking right smack in front of this stand-alone trailer, and no security to get through (other than showing your ID at the gate to Henderson Hall).

ITT.  Looking to buy tickets for something?  There are ITT offices at the Marine Corps Exchange, right next to the package store, and there is one at the Washington Navy Yard (WNY) inside where the food court is (across the street / behind Naval Reactors).  There is an Air Force ITT in the Pentagon on the 5th Deck, E-Ring...  It's over amongst all the cool Air Force paintings.  I think that's somewhere in the 9th to 10th corridor area.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Update on Pentagon Tours

This is an update to my previous post on Pentagon Tours.

Most hallways of the Pentagon have some sort of historic or current operations museum-type of exhibit.  Many of the A-ring hallways are museums in and of themselves.  Me being the type of person who likes to read each and every word of every display in a museum, it would take me a loooooooong time to get through all the Pentagon exhibits have to offer.

The official Pentagon tours are excellent, but you have to sign up weeks in advance, and they are only offered Monday through Friday.  Given there are about 25,000 people working in the Pentagon, chances are there are a few more people out there like me who want to give a tour to visiting family and friends on a weekend.  If you need to give a tour yourself, you can download a PDF of a self-guided tour from the Pentagon Tours website.

However, the official tour route doesn't go to a couple of spots I highly recommend like the Pentagon Building History (2nd corridor, 3rd floor) and the Army's Living History Exhibit (2nd floor, E-Ring between the 6th and 7th corridors).  Because the Metro entrance is closed on the weekends, you have to bring your weekend visitors in through North Parking or through the 2nd Corridor entrance.  As a result, I made my own tour-route, which I will list below for anybody else who is interested.

Before I describe the tour route, I want to tell you about two other things I did (and recommend doing) to prepare for a weekend tour.

First, go follow one of the official tour groups around on a weekday.  You don't have to sign up or anything - you've got a Pentagon badge, just loiter at the back of the official tour group.  The tour guides have a fairly set script they follow, but they have a LOT of interesting tidbits of information they use to keep people's interest as they walk their route, and they've put a lot of thought and effort into what sequence to cover what.  You will get a lot of useful ideas of things to talk about with your tour group that you wouldn't get from just reading the PDF file Self-Guided Tour brochure.

Second, I made a scavenger hunt list of things for the five kids in my tour group to find.  I told them they had to write down the first three digits of the nearest office address (like "3A5xx" for the 3rd floor A ring 5th corridor) for where they found each item, so I knew they really found it and didn't just cross it off the list. 
Scavenger Hunt List
Aside:  The hardest one for my group to find was a red lightning bolt.  If you need help finding anything on the list, send me an email.  There are at least two red lightning bolts, but they're very small and hidden in big paintings.

Since the Pentagon Gift Shop is also CLOSED on the weekends, I went to the gift shop ahead of time and got some little things like hats, magnets, stickers, or pins.  When we finished with the D-Day paintings, I had them turn in their scavenger hunt sheets to me, and I gave them an oral quiz on some facts about the Pentagon to see what they had learned.  In return for completing the scavenger hunt and passing "the quiz," I gave them each a "prize" (one of the things I had picked up in the Pentagon gift shop earlier that week).  From there, we headed back to the 2nd corridor entrance to go back out to South Parking.

In order to help plan my route and to be able to find specific exhibits quickly, I made my own map of the exhibits in each hallway.  I have NOT finished mapping it all yet, but I have all the A-ring hallways mapped plus a few of the interesting corridors and the Army Living History exhibit.

Click on image to enlarge.

Blunoz's Weekend Pentagon Tour Route
Given those constraints, I came up with my own tour path that went like this:
- Parked in South Parking, visited the Pentagon Memorial
- Enter 2nd Corridor Entrance (use restrooms there if necessary depending on how long your drive to the Pentagon was or how long you were at the Pentagon Memorial).
- Take elevator or stairs up to 3rd floor (remember - escalators are turned off on weekends)
- Pentagon Building History exhibit (3rd floor, 2nd corridor).  I put together some notes to talk about the history of how the Pentagon got its shape and comparing its size to other things.  I am happy to email you the powerpoint slides I made, just send me an email.
- At A-ring, turn right into NORAD hallway and go up escalator (walking up them like stairs) to 4th floor.
- USAF Aces exhibit (4th floor, A-ring between 1st and 10th corridor)
- USAF History and models (4th floor, A-ring between 9th and 8th corridor)
- U.S. Coast Guard history (4th floor, A-ring first half of hallway between 7th and 6th corridor)
- Naval Aviation history (4th floor, A-ring second half of hallway between 7th and 6th corridor)
- Down the stairs to 3rd floor.  Here at the 5-6 Apex you can take a side excursion down the POW/MIA hallway (3rd floor, A-ring from 6th to 7th corridor) and then back again, or continue onward.
- MacArthur exhibit (3rd floor, A-ring between 5th and 4th corridor)
- Down the stairs to the 2nd floor.
- Soldier Signers of the Declaration of Independence (2nd floor, 4th corridor)
- Out at the E-Ring, take the stairs or elevator down to the 1st floor.
- 9-11 Memorial Chapel (end of 4th corridor on 1st floor)
- 9-11 Memorial Quilts (1st floor, 4th corridor) back to the A-ring then left into
- Eisenhower Exhibit (1st floor, A-ring from 4th to 5th corridor).
- Women in the Military exhibit (1st floor, A-ring from 6th to 7th corridor)
- Up the stairs to the 2nd floor.
- Go out the 7th corridor to the E-ring.
- Army Living History Exhibit (2nd floor, E-ring from 7th to 6th corridor)
- Continue along the E-ring past the 6th corridor to see something pretty cool.  You can't miss it.
- Turn around, go back to the 6th corridor and out to the A-ring 
- Disaster Relief Exhibit (2nd floor, A-ring from 6th to 7th corridor)
- ANZUS exhibit (2nd floor, A-ring from 8th to 9th corridor)
- Out the 10th corridor and make a U-turn to the left by the Hall of Heroes in order to see the D-Day Paintings in the ramp going up to the 3rd floor.  

So you COULD take the route recommended in the Pentagon Self-Guided Tour brochure, and it would be shorter.  You COULD take the route I developed and listed above that'll go to more of the exhibits.  Or, you COULD make up your own route using my map up above.