Saturday, April 28, 2012

I've got a Spring in my step!

Colorado Springs, that is. I fly on Monday for most of May (come home on the 24th, just in time to fly to Virginia for Memorial Day). No rest for the weary and all that. I already shipped out my trusty Mt bike, so depending on the work load I HOPE to get in some nice rides. The Springs is a GREAT place for Mt biking!

I no sooner stepped off the plane from England here in California and it was raining, like I brought it with me. It rained on and off most of the week. Between that and my INSANE work, no rides for me. Today (Saturday) I could have gone out, but it was rather windy and the forecast for tomorrow is the same temps but far less Sunday it is.

And so, April is almost over. I feel like I woke up from a coma or something, and the entire year thus far has passed me by. And here goes almost another month. Work in the Springs will be intense...not sure what kind of hours we will be working, but we're under the gun to do a set amount of work by the end of May. No pressure or anything. Just day after day of 'git er done'. We'll see how it goes...I'm optimistic that I'll get enough time off to make shipping my bike worth while.

I do have this picture to share....I HAD been sitting where the small green pillow is. Fur Babies all OVER me. I squeezed out briefly and got this's sure nice to be missed! We've been on a few walks in my week home, but they will once again be all sad Monday morning, as  they don't understand.

OK...speaking of fur-baby walks, it's time to get them out. Have a GREAT weekend, and if you have a moment to spare, check out Jill (Homers) progress in her FOUR HUNDRED MILE Mt bike race: The Stagecoach 400 (down in  So Cal). She's a little over a day into it as I's a link to the race map with spot track locators on it. Over on the right in the list of participants (alphabetical by first name) just hover your mouse over Jill Homer and her SPOT locator will jump around on the map showing her location in relation to all the other can then click on her name and it will take you to her personal progress page. She is SUCH an ANIMAL! I can't fathom doing the rides she does. Here's a link to the race page:

Just peeked in, she's 152 miles into the race, been ON THE BIKE for 22 hours, with 6 hours off the bike. And she has 248 miles to go. Can you IMAGINE?? I can't! GO JILL!

OK. Off to the park. Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 13, 2012

ONE WEEK! (with updates from Friday night's original posting)

Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

Suddenly I'm down to one week to go! In fact, as I type, it's actually LESS than one week. In exactly one week I will have been in the air for over 4 hours on my way HOME!

Weather has been utter crap the last 2 weeks. Rain, cold, wind...but not necessarily in that order. I ALMOST slipped out for a ride yesterday (Thurs) afternoon...but felt guilty as I have actual work going on (training up a new guy to take my place) I stayed. Got out of work at 3:30 and it had just finished hailing! So my guilt saved me from a miserable ride. Every time the sun peeks out I want to jump on my bike...however then I look around and see I'm surrounded by dark clouds...and the sun is just teasing me.

Starting to get QUITE excited to be heading home though...feels like I've been here forever! I still have one last ride I'd like to would probably end up being around 70 miles (and would be by FAR the longest ride this year so far)...but I'm not going to do it if the weather would make me miserable. So I'll wait and see what the weekend actually brings. Ride or not, the bike goes "Back in Box" Sunday afternoon or Monday at the latest. I hope to have it at the post office on Tuesday (note: it will NOT go out thru the British Post Office...I'll be mailing it from the Base post office, which is an APO..thus skipping "Her Majesty's Royal Customs" dept which held it for ransom for a month after shipping it here).

Here are a few pics from my last ride (last Thursday) had snowed on Weds, and there was still a fair bit of snow lying around just a few hundred vertical feet higher than where I work. Certainly I don't get the chance very often (as in NEVER) to ride with snow on the ground. And quite honestly, that's ok by me. So without further adieu, MORE boring pictures of my bike rides.

 Climbing from the base heading towards the Yorkshire Dales. The altitude at this point is probably around 1100'. Back at the base (about 600') there are hardly any traces of the prior days snow left.

 Heading back to the base (this ride was an out and back)...this was taken about 2 hours later in the same general area as the first shot. I just thought it worthy of another picture stop, as I don't think my bike has ever been IN snow before (and hopefully never will be again). With the snow on the side of the road like this, only the middle is open, making any passing cars especially scary (my normal line of riding is about another foot or more to the left).

 I cruised the length of Gouthwaite Reservoir in both directions. It was a lovely day down in this valley...temp around 50F but sunny. I had climbed over a rock wall to get this shot near the bank...and as I returned to the wall to climb back over to my bike, a mallard duck quickly flew out of her nest (which was right next to the wall about 3' from where I came over). She didn't budge nor make a peep when I climbed over, and only got scared and flew out when I came back. All I know is that she sure scared me! There were at least 9 or 10 eggs in there...I would have taken a pic but I felt bad and got away fast so she could return.

This will probably be my LAST post, so there MUST be some beer talk. These are my beers of the last 10 days. I won't bore you with all their reviews as I can still hear the snoring from my LAST attempt. I will however single out three of them. The third from the right end is very interesting. It's a Black Sheep Brewery "Monty Python's Holy Grail" (with the GR x'ed out, so it's now "Holy Ail"). The comment below the GRAIL says "Tempered over Burning Witches". Being as the Holy Grail is one of my all time favorite (albeit STUPID) movies, this beer was worth a try!  I was a bit sad that in the description on the back there was nothing about Llama's, or anybody being "sacked" (note: I learned in my Black Sheep tour that the Pope (not sure which one, tho had to be in the last 20 years) was given a case of this particular beer, though my guide had no idea if he actually drinks beer...but he IS German my guide said).

 OK...being as my trip is almost over, thought I'd do a quick comparative analysis of my ALL TIME FAVORITE BEER's.

To do that we must start with a visit to the town of Masham. Once there, you have two directions to choose from. Right takes you to Theakstons brewery, and left takes you to Black Sheep brewery.

And so...I'll start with Theakstons Brewery. The original. The Theakston family has been brewing beer in THIS VERY BUILDING for over 7 generations.

And here it is.... the reigning champion. No description needed...makes my mouth water just LOOKING at it...a wonderful dark Yorkshire Ale. MMMMMMMMMMMMM!

Next...we then head literally across the street to Black Sheep. It's the underdog...Old Peculiar has been around forever, and has been my favorite for the last 5 years (when I first tasted it). It's now time to meet the contender, but I first must give you a bit of history.

Black Sheep Brewery is celebrating it's twentieth birthday this year. Yes, it's just a baby. The building however has been a brewery for much longer. It used to be called Lightfoot Brewery. But long ago the Theakston family bought it and then closed it down. To this day no one knows exactly why. However about 21 years ago the Theakston Brewery was bought out by the Newcastle brewing conglomerate (you've heard of Newcastle Brown Ale? They sell TONS in the US). It's still run by the Theakston family though, just has different owners. But Paul Theakston had a falling out with the family and wasn't happy about that situation. So he worked out the deal and bought the old Lightfoot building and started his own brewery. Twenty years later he's still in charge, and his 2 sons are fast up and coming in the brewing biz. Yes, Black Sheep is ALSO a Theakston family affair.

When Paul opened Black Sheep he had agonized over exactly what beers to brew. Their most popular is the Best Bitter, which is a low alcohol pub beer. But he didn't want to just copy the family beers, but to create his own. He has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams!

Here's the list of Cask Ales "on pump" at the visitor center. They are all nice. VERY nice. However, it's the Riggwelter that has my attention and is my OTHER favorite. It's billed as a "Strong Yorkshire Ale"...a real "wolf in sheep's clothing".

And here it is...the contender. It's similar to Old Peculiar, but different in many subtle ways. It's a bit lighter, and they use different combinations of hops to give it a different taste. The name Riggwelter isn't just a name, it has meaning.  Rygg in Old Norse means "back", and "Velte" means to 'overturn'. "When a sheep is on it's back and cannot get up without help, local dialect says it's rigged, or riggwelted. It's logo is the overturned sheep. And being a strong ale, YES, it can really put you on your back!

I know this is a cop-out, but I can't say which is my favorite. To decide among them is favorite would be the one I have in my hand at that moment.

 There is some good news though as I prepare to head home. Theakstons has begun exporting OP, and it's now available in the US. AND SO IS RIGGWELTER! I learned at the brewery tour that Black Sheep is now exporting it to Europe and North America, however, it's not called Riggwelter. The Export version is called "Monty Python's Holy Grail, only this bottle is sub-titled "Black Knight's Reserve, Dark Yorkshire Ale" (and thankfully it's still tempered over burning witches). That's the export on the left (the right is the UK pale ale version that I showed above).

So, if ever you should see this on the shelves, give it a try. You just might love it like I do. But I must add that NO bottled beer can compare to getting it "off the pump". Cask ales flat out RULE the beer world, and even in the US there are more and more Cask Ales becoming available.

And so....I've now bored you to TEARS talking about beer again...sorry. This is probably my LAST post from the UK. If that's true, then having it end with pictures of my TWO favorite breweries AND beers is a quite suitable ending to this adventure.

And FINALLY. I was hoping to ride today (Sunday as I do this final update) but of course, the weather pattern from the last 2 weeks is still upon us...wind, rain and COLD. By cold, I mean high around 45F, with winds 10-20mph. And it wasn't rain this afternoon, it was more sleet (really cold rain). So in lieu of a bike ride, I gave the steed a good washing (it was filthy) and then took it apart and packed it away in the shipping box.

Here is my steel steed after dis-assembly.  Clean and ready to get stuffed into the hard-case.

 And here it is a mere 2 hours later, ready to close the lid and put on the lock. Yes, the lid actually does close (though the tire on the rim makes it a REALLY tight fit).

And so, my UK Cycling adventure is truly over. I rode a total of 559.2 miles between March 6th and April 5th...that's a good months worth of riding in my book! No flats, no accidents, not a single mechanical issue with the bike...not too shabby! I got PAID to ride lots of great scenic lightly traveled roads in another country...winner winner chicken dinner! No complaints from me.

Have a GREAT weekend!


Monday, April 2, 2012

The wonders of malted barley, wheat and hops.

Thought it was time for me to do a 'beer review'. I've saved the last dozen or so bottles and put them in a picture...I know there is at least ONE person out there who actually will think this is interesting...for the rest of you pretend I'm talking about bike racing.

OK, OK...there's only 10 in this photo. I guess I'll have to do a 2nd review-post in a week or so. Basically, I"m working my way thru the beer aisle at the local ASDA grocery store (similar to an Albertsons or Vons, or any other large US chain), trying out as many local brews as possible. Of note, I did not arrange the bottles in any particular order (except for the first and last ones I mean), it's just how they came out out of my 'recycle bag'. After this review they will all head to the recycling center as they can be proud: their job is done.

And so, let the reviews begin.

Starting on the left just happens to be my FAVORITE beer in the whole wide world: Theakstons Old Peculiar. The Theakston brewery is about 20 miles away in the town of Masham. It's been brewing beer on the same site for over 200 years, and is still family owned (to the best of my knowledge). I toured the brewery when I was here 5 years ago, and might go back again if the lousy weather holds up next weekend (rather than doing a bike ride in freezing weather). Old Peculiar (or OP as it's commonly referred to) is a dark English Ale, and is Theakstons most popular beer. At the pubs it's served from the hand engine pulled out of the cask (meaning no external CO2 is used as is typical of 'bar beers'). Cask ales are slightly less fizzy, but typically VERY smooth. Also almost all beers here come from the "beer Cellar" where they are kept, rather than a refrigerated room. REAL beers don't need to be ice cold, as it masks the subtle flavors and aromas.  OP is a nice dark color, with slight hints of chocolaty and a very slight sweet taste from the malt. The bottle-version isn't quite the same as the cask drawn, but is still a very nice bottle-conditioned ale (alcohol content: 5.6%).

Next: Belhaven Brewery's Wee Heavy. This is a Scottish beer. The brewery was established in 1719 and is one of Scotland's oldest surviving regional brewers. Wee Heavy has a "Rich deep flavor derived from the greater proportion of malted barley to hops which characterized Scottish Ales of the 19th century". It has a heavy-sweet taste which really augments it's slightly stronger alcohol content (6.5%). This is certainly in my top 5 ALL TIME favorite beers, and I believe it's imported to the US. The color is darker than a copper ale, but not quite considered a 'dark' ale.

This next beer is imported to the US and I've seen it in the stores: Wychwood brewery's Hobgoblin. This is a "Traditionally Crafted Ruby Beer". "The Legendary Hobgoblin is a blend of smooth, rich flavours from chocolate & crystal malts, combined with a refreshing bitterness from English Fuggles hops & a dash of citrus aroma from Styrian Goldings...a beer of mischievous character". This is a nice brown ale, and has a 5.2% alc content.

#4 is called Nightmare, from Nick Staffords Hambleton Ales brewery founded in 1857. It's a premium Yorkshire Stout, which is a "bottled version of the classic Championship Winter Beer of Britain 1997: a smooth, massively flavoured creamy drink, best served on the warm side allowing full appreciation of the roasted barley rearing out of the flour malt brew". It sits at 5% alc content, and if you like stouts (and I DO), this is truly a winner!

#5 is also from a Yorkshire brewery, it's a Cragg Vale Bitter from Little Valley brewery. This is an organic bottle conditioned bitter sitting at 4.2%. "Cragg Vale Bitter is a rich, red-brown coloured ale with a full and rounded malty body. Using Challenger and Goldings hops, this beer is crisp and fruity with a clean bitter finish".This one was a little lighter than all the previous selections, but sometimes that's just what the Dr. ordered. VERY nice!

#6 is a Batemans XXXB (pronounced "Triple X-B). This was recommended by my local friend (and  is his, it's brewed in his home town of Lincolnshire). This is a "Classic Premium Pale Ale", and sits at 4.8% alc. It has won the CAMRA Premium Beer of the Year (Champion Beer of Britain) five times. It's a copper red bitter brewed by the Batemans family since 1874. This is a very nice Pale ale, and not quite as 'hoppy' as I expected from a pale ale. If I run out of new beers to try (and even if I don't most likely) I'll surely pick up another bottle (or 3) of this jewel!

Next up is Saltaire Brewery's Triple Chochoholic. This is a speciatly chocholate Stout with EXTRA chocolate. Needless to say, this beer has lots of chocolate overtones. Saltaire is also a Yorkshire brewery, and this particular vintage sits at 4.8% alc. It's the SIBA (no idea what that stands for) Winner 2010 Supreme Champion. It's VERY smooth, and if you like stouts that are extra chocolatey, then this is for you!

Up next is Manns Brown Ale. This one is by FAR the lowest alc at a lowly 2.8% (kids beer). "Manns is the original Brown Ale, first brewed at the Mann's Whitechapel brewery in 1902. The historic recipe produces a dark, rich, full bodied ale with a luscious flavour and hits of roasted creamy toffee". Quite honestly, this was the cheapest to buy of all my beers thus far, and was pretty decent. The lower alc content doesn't affect the taste at all, and it was very drinkable.

2nd to last in this picture is Shepherd Neame brewery's Spitfire. This brewery was established in 1698, and is Britain's oldest brewer. This is a premium Kentish ale, and is named after the Spitfire airplane which fought in the skies above Kent in the Battle of Britain. It's a dark amber to auburn in color, has hints of fruit and toffee aroma, and is somewhat hoppy and bitter. It sits at 4.5% alc, and was a nice addition to my "Tour of Britain's Beers".

And last (but CERTAINLY not least) is Black Sheep Ale. This is also brewed in Masham, in fact, right across the street from Theakstons Brewery. Many generations ago there was a rift in the Theakstons family, and there was a split. They moved across the street and started their own brewery. Black Sheep Ale is "the culmination of six generations of brewing expertise". This is a very nice bitter with a light copper color, and is typical of a nice English pub bitter. It's 4.4% alc is right in there with standard English ales. You might notice that I separated this particular bottle at the far end of the picture as it and the OP were having words in the recycle bag. Apparently the family rift is still ongoing.

Not shown in this picture (sadly) is Black Sheep's Riggwelter, which is Black Sheep's version of Old Peculiar. I had a Riggwelter and then an Old Peculiar (one after another) this last Saturday evening, and quite honestly, they are both EXTREMELY good. I think the Riggwelter is slightly lighter in both colour and flavour, and it's alc content is 5.7%, which is right in there with it's esteemed older brother OP. It's billed as a "Strong Yorkshire Ale" and is just BARELY behind (by a hair) OP as my FAVORITE beer. Between these two, it's whatever is cheaper. 

And so, this wraps up my FIRST ever beer review column. I'm down to LESS than 3 weeks to go here if you can believe it! And our weather is taking a SERIOUS turn for the worst. A week ago we were in the mid 70's, and TOMORROW's high is supposed to be only 38...what's up with THAT? So, no bike rides for the Mattster for the next few days. We might actually get SNOW on Weds, as it works it's way down from Scotland tomorrow afternoon. Maybe I'll hoof my way up to ASDA tomorrow after work and see what's calling for me in the beer aisle.

And one final note (to slip in just a tiny bit of cycling): HEAL FAST FABIAN! Gosh....I can't recall him EVER being hurt before! Some VERY bad timing for sure...smack in the middle of the Classics. But Boo Boo is having a real banner year, wasn't sure he had it left in him. Have a great week!