A couple beers from Sacramento (and Bakersfield)

Do you really need to know why we end up in Sacramento a couple times a year?

No, you don’t.

Just know that in the summer Sacramento is a very cool place to play golf, drink craft beers, check out local wineries and to generally chill out. Since I click all of those boxes with enthusiasm it’s pretty easy to see why I like Sacramento.

But wait, this trip found us making a quick stop in Bakersfield. How can you say bad things about a place that has streets named after Merle Haggard and Buck Owens?

The answer is, you can’t.

Turns out that Bakersfield is home to a bunch of good craft brewers. We tried to stop by Temblor (second worst name in town) but the place was swamped on a Sunday night. Impressive, but not in a hey, I really want to elbow my way through the teeming, unwashed masses of Bakersfield for a pint of suds kind of way.

So, we rolled over to Ming Avenue to check out the Marketplace location of Lengthwise (winner of worst name in town). The place is hidden at the back of a pretty nondescript mall. The vibe inside and out was very cool. Plenty of the local gentry were there watching the World Cup. First up was their Red Ale which was excellent if a tad bit more hoppy than I think it needs to be. The color is a deep, rich red with just a touch of amber.

Red

Next up was their Razzberry Wheat. I was looking for something approximating my brother’s amazing Watermelon Berliner Weisse. The Razz was close but had a touch too much berry flavor.

Raz

Upon making this comment out loud the guy at the end of the bar said, “I was gonna warn you about the Razz; the Strawberry Wheat is much better.”

This friendly and full-bearded fellow was wearing a hat and shirt from Bike Dog Brewery in West Sacramento. I told him we’d be in town the next day and would be sure to check it out. Sadly, the WestSac brewery was closed Monday-Wednesday so we had to go to their Broadway Taproom which was fine and dandy but lacked the slight industrial grit that I feel adds the last little bit of flavor to a good beer, plus it was freezing inside.

Being on a red ale kick I tried their Klunker Red Ale which was nice on a warm evening at 5.5% ABV. It was less hoppy than the red ale at Lengthwise and a touch closer to the ideal red I’m always searching for.

BD
Bike Dog…get it? OK, so everyone’s pretty much running out of catchy names in the craft beer realm.

My rating for Lengthwise and Bike Dog and the beers I tried is:

Three Beers

 

A couple beers from Sacramento (and Bakersfield)

Review of Shinola’s Canfield Over-Ear Headphones

Canfield

Shinola is a fascinating company with a name that is, for me anyway, a little odd. I mean, come on; we all know what rhymes with Shinola. They make all sorts of interesting things from watches to wallets, from turntables to speakers, all assembled in their factory in Detroit, Michigan. The Canfield Over-Ear headphones are Shingle’s circumaural headphones. From a design standpoint the Canfield Over-Ears straddle a modern look with classic headphone shapes, contours and lines from the days of old. They are very solidly constructed. The lambskin ear cups are especially luxurious. The Canfield Over-Ear’s contemporary lineage is confirmed by the presence of an inline volume control and the fact that the (rather shortish) cable is terminated with a 3.5mm plug, though a good quality .25″ phone plug adapter is included.

Before I get into what it’s like to use and listen to the Shinolas I want to comment on its connectors. Disclaimer: I am a unreasonably obsessed by connectors and signal path issues. I accept the fact that the 3.5mm plug has become a kind of de facto standard when it come to the majority of headphones we use today. From this, I exempt really high end headphones which may operate in a fully-balanced mode and so may use XLR or other connectors that accommodate that topology. When it comes to the Shinola Canfield Over-Ears there are female connector jacks on each earpiece. So, there are soldered connections on each earpiece and another soldered connection on the other end. On one hand, this affords the user with an interesting opportunity; this configuration makes it easy to use another cable (that’s similarly terminated). Just pick your brand or make your own cables. The Shinola’s make swapping cables easy, if potentially costly.

But…

Under the best of circumstances you’ll be dealing with a significant number of extra solder points and plug-in connectors. That is not a recipe for a typical high end implementation. If Shinola is using what they consider to be good quality wire I would rather they ditch the female jacks on the earpieces and solder those wires directly to their drivers or crossovers. It’s a tough situation. I can see the advantage of what they’re doing but the downside, especially for a pair of $450 headphones, is significant.

The Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones are excellent. They are truly full-range and offer exceptional dynamic capabilities. But, maybe unfortunately and maybe not unfortunately, they do require some significant care and feeding. When driven by purpose-built headphone amps of commensurate quality the Canfields can dazzle. But, when driven by a phone or computer the Shinolas can sound a touch heavy. This problem results from a contemporary belief that’s poorly founded. The belief is that even the finest headphones can be happily driven by even the most modest of amplifiers. Quite simply, they can’t. A $450 pair of headphones deserve proper amplification.

When properly driven, the Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones sound marvelous. They are detailed, yet unfatiguing. They handle large dynamic swings with ease yet always preserve a deft portrayal of acoustic delicacy. The midband is slightly shelved back but vocals, both female and male, are always rendered clearly and with great articulation. The bottom end extension and impact are superb, easily besting my other reference headphones that are similarly priced. The Shinola’s even challenge significantly more expensive headphones, and they do so with a sense of ease and a lack of strain. The top end is smooth and extended if a tad soft. Every product is voiced and Shinola clearly voiced the Canfields to be kind to recordings that are not exactly what most would call high fidelity. All in all, though, the Canfields are superbly musical headphones, especially considering their price.

These Shinola headphones are beautiful and obviously lovingly assembled and finished. And, they look as if they would be quite comfortable to wear. The earpieces rotate freely and the length of the headband adjusts readily as well. I found it easy to adjust the Canfield Over-Ears to the point where they fit me just right. The texture of the lambskin ear pads is decadently smooth. My guess is that they’ll feel even better once they’re broken-in; rather like a fine baseball glove. The headband’s padding could be a little wider and more compliant. Since these are heavyish headphones their mass is concentrated on a relatively narrow area of the head. Could they be even more comfortable? For sure. Perhaps Shinola will reevaluate this as they evolve their headphones down the road.

As they are, the Shinolas are amazingly good headphones even in what is a very competitive section of the market, price wise. For a new company, they are a nearly miraculous product. I have every confidence that Shinola will better the Canfield Over-Ear headphones if they decide to stay in the headphone game. In this case, more than in other headphones at this price, the rewards you reap with the Canfields will have a direct relationship to the quality of the device that drives them. I, for one, do not see this as any kind of shortcoming or disadvantage. Think of it as a part of the price you’ll pay for enjoying the musical refinement that Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones can attain.

The Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones are very much worth the effort.

Shinola Canfield Over-Ear Headphones

$450 USD

Review of Shinola’s Canfield Over-Ear Headphones

Anderson Valley’s Boont Amber Ale & Hop Ottin’ IPA

I confess that most of my experience with Anderson Valley beers are from bottles…yes, I said bottles; the horror. But, the fact is that even out of a bottle their Boont Amber Ale runs a very close second to my all-time fav, Hangar 24’s Orange Wheat.

Again, the magic lies in the beer’s balance.

Today I was lucky enough to have this beer on tap and as is often the case the leap from bottle to tap is a huge one. Out of a bottle it’s great, on tap it is sublime. Boont is creamy yet crisp, it’s full-bodied but by no means heavy. Many ambers taste almost like a detuned IPA but Boont is a true amber in look, mouth feel and taste.

Here’s hoping that Anderson Valley (someday) will follow-up to the Boont with a red ale that matches it for character and quality.

Four Beers

Now it’s on to Anderson’s Hop Ottin’ IPA. This, like the Boont, has a lovely color. It’s citrusy constitution is offset by its full yet clean, malty finish. It’s 78 IBU but it’s really not that hoppy in the mouth. Me? I likes me a 7.0% ABV IPA.

Give me some wallop if I’m going to be drinking something with a good deal of bite to it.

Three Beers

Anderson Valley’s Boont Amber Ale & Hop Ottin’ IPA

A Study in Contrast: Pugachev’s Cobra & Orange Wheat by Hangar 24

First of all, I’ve been meaning to do some quick beer reviews for years. I mean, why drink all that beer if’n you’re not gonna write about it?

Well, some of the stuff tastes pretty good, plus, I’ve taken a bunch of notes so I figured I’d be a nice guy and share some findings here.

Warning: If you’re not into beer you’re not going to be interested in the old blog for the next few posts. This is gonna take a while…

Sorry (not really)…don’t you know that good beer is delicious?

Second, get your ass out to Hangar 24 in Redlands before some multinational corporation realizes how cool Hangar 24 is and how quintessentially California their main taproom is and buys the place and moves it to Colorado or Missouri or some other God-foresaken place. The main taproom is in Redland just a few miles off the 210. It is directly across the street from the Hangars of the airport (get the connection; hangars…hangar 24…airport?). Nearly all off the taproom’s seating is outdoors which can lead to an amusing experience when the temperature hits 106 as it during my first visit.

Ummm…toasty!

During that first visit I had what has become my measure of the very best all-around beer I’ve ever had; Hangar 24 Orange Wheat. Sure, lots of breweries make something similar but no one manages to match the balance of citrus aroma and flavor as well as Hangar 24. It’s great anytime but on a hot day it simply has no equal.

Oranges
That’s right. Those are Redlands-grown oranges ready to be made into Redlands-brewed Hangar 24 Orange Wheat. Ain’t nothin’ better that I can think of!

But wait, this is supposed to be a study in contrast, right? Oh, baby…I have me some contrast right here under the name of Pugachev’s Cobra. This is a very big beer. How big? 15% ABV, but that’s not the full story. This beer exudes the aromas of chocolate, vanilla, oak, bourbon, licorice and dark fruits, while flavors of chocolate-covered plum, sweet malt, bourbon, and roasted coffee dance on your tongue. In a word, it’s amazing, but it’s also BIG! Big, like kick you ass, Big. Big, like go easy on this stuff, big.

In the end, it’s the best big beer I’ve ever tasted and the Orange Wheat is the best beer over all. The fact that both beers come from Hangar 24 is, well, I’m not sure what it is but it’s true.

Both of these beers earn my highest four-beer rating.

Well done, Hangar 24!

Four Beers

 

 

A Study in Contrast: Pugachev’s Cobra & Orange Wheat by Hangar 24

Randolph Engineering Aviator

Like a few million other guys my age, I grew up with the legend of American Astronauts. But, even though I respected guys like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin it was the Mercury and pre-Mercury guys like Chuck Yeager and L. Gordon Cooper who really got me going.

Cooper was regarded as the best pure stick & rudder guy of the Mercury era and he held the record for lowest heart rate during take off of any of the Mercury or Gemini astronauts. Now, maybe that just meant that Cooper was dumb but it always seemed like seemed like tough & unflappable to me. More than anything, the guy just looked like an American pilot and I’m sure Cooper very much saw himself as a pilot first and an astronaut second.

Anyway, the man had style.

Astronauts-in-American-Optical-Sunglasses (1)

And, the thing is, I needed new sunglasses. Like needed…like I lost one of my go-to shades. I looked around for a current version of the cheaters Cooper wore back in the day and I came up with Randolph Engineering.

What? Sunglasses that are made in the US?

I know; totally crazy. I’ve owned French sunglasses, Italian sunglasses, German sunglasses and doubtlessly many pairs made in China. But, unless I had (and surely later lost) an old pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers from back in the early 80s I’m pretty sure I’ve never owned a pair of US-made shades until now. Who knows? Maybe Ray-Bans were already made off shore even back then.

Sure, I could have maybe scoped out a better deal online but I decided to go old school and cruised over to the local Randolph stockist right here in the West Val. The optometrist owns a pair of Randolphs himself and said that he brought the line in because he thought the idea of US-made sunglasses was cool, as do I.

There are a lot of options but I chose to ignore most of them and confined my choices to frames: flat black, matte chrome or bright chrome. The black, even though it’s my default color choice in everything except cars, kind of hid some of the contours of the frame. The bright chrome rocked out loud but since I do not I passed on those shiny beauties. The matte chrome shows the frames off nicely so I snatched them up.

P1040103

The Aviators fit me beautifully and they fairly scream quality as well as faultless fabrication and assembly. You can truly feel the pride of the people who made them and that’s worth a lot to me. I was a bit uncertain about the straight temples but my doubts evaporated once i slipped them on.

It got me wondering, why do they make curved temples when straight is so dang comfy?

Randolph makes the Aviator in three sizes and I found the middle size to be just right. My final justification for the buy was the fact that the Aviator can be used with prescription lenses. Someday, but not today, I’ll need prescription lenses to navigate the highways and byways of California and when I do I’ll be set with my Randolph Aviators.

The more I think about it, the better value the Randolphs are. When you factor in the US manufacture and the lifetime warranty they cross into the realm of how do they manage to sell them for the price? In fact, I may end up with another pair if I’m not careful.

If you find yourself short a pair of sunglasses, do yourself a favor and check out the Randolph Aviators. I am digging them and I’m a very hard man to please.

 

 

Randolph Engineering Aviator

Thinking about cameras & a quick review of the Road Runner Bags Camera Strap

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cameras.

Me? I love a good used camera. First of all, they’re cheap. I bought my Nikon D300 for $200. I mean, was there ever a better value in the history of the world? Second, I tend not to worry about used cameras. I always make sure the stuff I bought has seen some actual use. That way any bumps and bruises are easier to regard as marks of character rather than evidence of carelessness on my part.

The sad news is that my Fuji X100 gave up the ghost; very disappointing. Or, to channel our 45th president; sad. If I were given to complain (and I am) I would say that it’s pretty dang disappointing that Fuji is unable to fix what they regard as a professional camera that’s little more than a handful of years old. I ended up in the funny spot. Fuji could either ship back my pretty much useless X100 or I could pony up some cash and they’d sent me a brand-spankin’ new X100T.

Fine, fine, fine…here’s my credit card number.

Thing is, I knew I wasn’t going to keep the X100T. I’m kinda soured on the Fuji thing at least for now. Eventually, I may get myself another small mirrorless camera with a 1″ or m4/3 sensor but for now I’ve decided to simply toggle between my aforementioned D300 and a battle-scared old Panasonic LX3.

Sure, I used to own an LX3 (and later and LX5 and an LX7) but this little camera has me enamored for some reason.

FullSizeRender
The mighty LX3 and its new Road Runner Bags strap in olive & black…yes sir!

This little camera rocks hard. I picked it up well-used over at Fred Miranda for $55. Nearest I can tell the little fellah has over 100,000 clicks on the odometer and it works perfectly. Heck, I even bought a second Panasonic battery for it; yup, I’m going all out. The neat little Leica lens is quite sharp over its entire range and the focus and metering are spot on. If Panasonic would upsize this exact camera with the same zoom range and a 1″ sensor I’d buy it.

The cool olive & black Road Runner Bags strap was supposed to be for my repaired X100 (sniff, sniff…) but I put it on the LX3 out of spite for Fuji. Like another favorite company of mine, Courier Ware, Road Runner isn’t much on self-promotion. The strap doesn’t even have their name anywhere on it…just a small label that says, Handmade in California. The webbing that Road Runner uses is very smooth on the skin and their form-follows-function-factor is admirably high. Road Runner Bags is a neat little company. All their stuff is made right here in Los Angeles and they certainly did a fine job with their first camera strap. I’m hopeful they’ll continue to work on more bags and straps for all the two-wheeled photographers out there on the streets and trails of Los Angeles.

Check their website out today and buy something.

Anyway, I enjoyed the Fuji because it was so easy to bring along. I disliked the Fuji for the same reason everyone else did. It was rather fussy, sometimes inscrutable, and the focusing was always marginal and then it got worse. How does that even happen? I also found the X100 rather fragile feeling. I don’t know if Fuji got it right with the S or the T or the F. All I know is Fuji’s naming convention for the X100 series is going to be tough for whatever follows the X100F. I’m not off Fuji forever; then again, maybe I am.

I can’t quite get my brain around how some folks are able to get along with an iPhone as their sole camera. Of course, I wear a wrist watch. Still, I do see the appeal to less is more when it comes to cameras. With the departure of the X100 and now the sale of the X100T I’m left with the LX3 and the D300.

Both of them suit me just fine.

Thinking about cameras & a quick review of the Road Runner Bags Camera Strap

One strap, one bag; Crumpler & BBB

Man, talk about bored. Bored is the only possible motivation to write about a camera bag and a camera strap.

There you have it; I’m bored.

First the strap. You all know the Crumpler name. You know the make nice stuff, especially their somewhat unusual bags. But, did you know they made a nice strap, too?

No, not their lackluster and bulky Industry Disgrace. Today I’m talking about their very lightweight (and somewhat light duty?) Popular Disgrace. This 2.5 centimeter strap is da bomb for a lightweight camera like my aged Fuji X100. Its magic resides in its simplicity, and also the perfectly textured neoprene that covers the conventional strap material.

I hike a lot with the X100 so it spends a lot of time slung across my back. The neoprene has just the right about of traction and just the right amount of slip (dare we call it, perfect coefficient of drag). The strap material underneath is quite stout. It would be totally suitable for a larger and heavier camera, if the neoprene section were a tad wider.

IMG_2999

Me? I don’t like heavy cameras. My old Nikon D300 is as heavy as I can stand. That’s what keeps the X100 nearby so often. If you have an X100 or any other lightweight camera you might want to check out the Popular Disgrace, if you can find one.

In case you’re one of those folks who find camera bags slightly less dull than camera straps, I have a good one for you. The Bare Bones Bag (BBB hereinafter). I’m being kinda charitable to the folks at Figital Revolution. They’re not really the ones who’ve done the heavy lifting (stitching?) in the creation of the BBB. The real work was done by the hard-core, hard-asses at CourierWare.

For those of you who are even more bored than I am (come on,  you’re reading this aren’t you?) feel free to check out my review of yet another CourierWare bag here.

No, you cannot stuff a lot of shit into the BBB.

And, no, the BBB is not possessed of a great deal of padding. Heck, my version of the bag doesn’t even have a velcro closure for the top.

And, yes, the BBB may be able to pass as a purse, assuming that the woman who’s carrying it is good looking enough.

Still, for me it’s just dandy for carrying the (wait for it) Fuji X100. It holds that, my beater Panasonic LX3, both their chargers and spare batteries, my faithful Benchmade knife and a lot (but not too much) other crap. There’s a touch of padding in the bottom of the bag but the rest of the bag is just plain (if very high quality) waterproof 1000 denier Codura nylon.

If you’ve been living under a rock you may not be aware that CourierWare makes a superb bag. They are light yet totally bombproof and guaranteed for life. The care and quality of the stitching is beyond reproach. Now, the truth is that I’m not even sure that you can buy the damn thing. I got mine used and you’re never getting mine, believe me.

But, if you have a load that’s the right size for it, and if you can find one, the BBB cannot be beat. If you value function and give not one shit about style, it may be the bag for you. If you need a larger bag, check out the CourierWare website. CourierWare’s owners, Diana & Eric, are amazing, salt of the earth kind of folks and they’ll make the bag of your dreams.

 

 

One strap, one bag; Crumpler & BBB