All posts by Brian Bianco

Rebel, Rebel: Beer Mixology and Sam Adams Rebel Juiced IPA

Albert Camus once said, “Life is a sum of your choices.” It’s so easy to look around us and create a narrative of who we are, how we interact with those around us and the image we think we are projecting. For example, I like to think I am on this website reviewing just the most cutting edge projects, but I’m now realizing that I have carved out quite a niche with the fruit-infused beers, whiskeys, vodkas and moonshine.

I bring this up because now that these things are so widespread, they almost have a tendency to run together. This is not a shot at these products, but there’s only so many ways to convey “hey, it’s pretty good, especially if you like this flavor, but runs a little sweet.”

That’s why, when I had a chance to review Sam Adams mango-infused Rebel Juiced IPA, I perked up at the pitch. Rather than simply pour and sip, they suggested I use the beer as a base for three brunch cocktails designed to bring out the mango flavor of the beer. These weren’t the simple summer beer type recipes either, which made it much more interesting. I also had a recent experience ordering a beer cocktail at a well-known suburban cocktail establishment that ended with the bartender condescendingly asking me if I was sure I wanted that and if I understood how beer cocktails work, so I was properly motivated to make some good ones.  So, I gathered a few friends on a weekend night downtown, bought my ingredients and went to work.

Before I dive in, I will say this beer really does stand well on its own. A few of my favorite breweries have failed pretty miserably to incorporate mango, but this didn’t taste artificial at all. I like the standard Rebel IPA as is (read more here about its recent evolution) and would still stick with that straight up, but it was nice to have a fruit beer come in at over 6% and not have a hint of cleaning product taste to it.

Back to the cocktails, first up was the Rebel Rumba, which was the favorite of the group by far. It was tropical and the beer blended into the cocktail. We found ourselves playing with the curacao and rum ratios a bit more and created a stronger hybrid that had quite a kick.

Rebel Rumba
1/4oz orgeat
3/4oz lime juice
1/2oz Dry Curaçao
1/2oz dark rum
1/2oz white rum
3oz Sam Adam’s Rebel Juiced IPA

Combine all ingredients into a shaker and shake. Strain into wine glass, add ice and garnish with fresh mango or pineapple and mint.

Next up was the Juicy Fruit. Aperol has been a nemesis of mine ever since I first started trying to mix cocktails without measuring carefully. A little goes a long way, so I was very interested to see how this one turned out. I would suggest maybe going down to 1.5 ounces of aperol if you’re not into the taste (or just add a bit more juice), but this turned out really well.

Juicy Fruit
3oz Sam Adam’s Rebel Juiced IPA
2oz Aperol
1oz Grapefruit juice

Build in wine glass, add ice, garnish with half Grapefruit wheel.

The Gin & Juiced is technically the most like a summer beer, but the floral gin, juice and syrup was much more interesting than the usual combo. This was a strong second to the Rebel Rumba and another one we wanted to play with a bit more. We did add a splash of the grapefruit juice to a second batch and that also turned out pretty well.

Gin & Juiced
3oz Sam Adams Rebel Juiced IPA
1oz Bulldog gin
3/4oz lemon juice
1/2oz honey syrup (2:1)

Add ingredients, except beer, to cocktail shaker. Shake with ice, strain into Collins glass and top with beer. Add ice, garnish with lemon wheel.

Sam Adams Rebel IPA and Rebel Juiced can be found just about anywhere for a suggested retail price between $7.99 – $9.99.

Product (P)Review: Cali Whiskey

Before it really took off, I remember how excited I used to get for winter offerings like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and Shiner Cheer. They weren’t the best beers in the world, but they were part of the season – basically the bro version of PSLs (that then mutated into basically an extension PSLs as the market became overrun with seasonal stuff, but that’s a whole other thing.) Now that everything is flavored for the holidays with the same dash of chemicals, finding something that stands out in this group is very hard.

In a seemingly unrelated note, when Susie offered me the chance to try CALI, a new whiskey from Sukkah Hill Spirits, I perked up. First, the idea of beach whiskey is just wonderful to me, but it’s also not like this is two surfers distilling in a bathtub. They turn out highly rated, award winning liqueurs and did not seem like the type to take branching into such a competitive area lightly. If you’d like to learn more about them, this November Q&A from Saloon Box is a great place to start.

The backstory also touched my heart – husband and wife make booze, wife loves whiskey, husband decides they need to make something delicious they can both sip together. It’s a tale as old as time…or something. So, on a nice January day, I opened my sample bottle, sat down on the patio (go Texas winter weather!), took a few sips then immediately picked up my phone and texted Susie a photo and a rambling explanation of how good this was.

The whiskey was very smooth and, despite not being intended as such, had a distinct holiday flavor – led by cinnamon and all spice, but not in that Fireball sense we’ve all become accustomed to tasting everywhere. There were also hints of baked apple, nutmeg and other spices – but again, I have to stress that none of it was too sweet or overpowering. The result was incredibly easy to drink and, while I was told the whiskey was perfect for a hot toddy, it was 70 degrees and I was enjoying it neat too much to consider anything else. This was the exact same feeling I got from those first sips of Celebration and Cheer – something unique to the season that was just fun to drink. It wasn’t officially a winter whiskey, but the spices and flavors line up well with the holiday season.

Right now, CALI whiskey is only being sent for reviews as they prepare to make the product available sometime this spring, but this is definitely a bottle to keep an eye out for as it becomes available.

Aged: less than 2 years (not an aged whiskey)
Proof: 85 
Nose: baked pumpkin bread, orange peel and baked apples
Flavor: nutmeg, allspice, molasses and dark bread
Price: $32-36 for 750mL

CALI WHISKEY
calidistillery.com
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Going Deep … Again

I have strong, gag-inducing memories of me and my brother dabbling in the ’90s versions of flavored vodkas, which weren’t as much about using real ingredients as just shoving artificial flavoring at you until you were convinced it did the trick. These were usually mixed with Sprite or Surge (shut up) and the whole process was just a bad hangover kit waiting to ruin your Friday-Monday mornings.

With this memory deeply rooted in my psyche, I agreed to revisit some of the flavors offered by the folks at Deep Eddy and try them in a few recipes.

If you’re not familiar with Deep Eddy Vodka and are reading a blog about drinking in Dallas, I both admire your ability to live under a rock and encourage you to visit their website. Their vodka is made here in Texas and is distilled in small batches that incorporate natural ingredients into their flavors. For this review, we were provided their Original, Cranberry, Lemon and Peach. (They also offer Ruby Red and Sweet Tea.)

To start, I asked a few friends to join me in trying each spirit neat. Each flavor stood up pretty well on its own, but the peach and lemon were the easiest to drink straight. Then we mixed each with soda water and added lime or lemon. The group’s favorites basically came down to personal flavor preferences. If you’re wondering at home, my favorite was the peach, but the plain vodka and a twist worked as well.

The next recipe was a shandy. I made mine a little stronger and, while it wasn’t my thing, the shandy drinkers in the group were happy. We also tried it with a Mexican lager and lime, which was also a great combination.

Lemon Shandy
12 oz wheat beer
1 oz Deep Eddy Lemon

Next up was a red-hued take on a Moscow Mule. The ginger beer and the vodka mix a little sweet together, but pulling back on the ginger beer and adding a bit more lime helped.

Moscow Mule
1½ oz Deep Eddy Cranberry
½ oz fresh lime juice
Top with ginger beer
Garnish with cranberries and lime

Finally, speaking of more complex drinks, we made the Southern Belle. This was a tad sweet, which was expected as the peach flavor has about twice the sugar as the other vodka flavors according to the website.

Southern Belle
1 oz Deep Eddy Peach Vodka
1 oz bourbon
½ oz fresh lemon juice
Top with club soda

One thing I noticed in general is that these spirits, while not sweet, tip that direction really fast when mixed with other sugary ingredients. Again, the spirit stands on its own without much else, but if you’re going to make complex drinks, the plain flavor might be your best bet.  When I asked for final thoughts, the biggest skeptic in the group commented how nice it was to be able to drink flavored vodka that didn’t make her feel like a sugary mess after each drink.

No matter where you are or what you’re looking for, Deep Eddy has a vodka flavor to fit your taste and is now available in all 50 states. Use their locator to find a bar or retail store near you … and then just remember to day drink responsibly.

DEEP EDDY VODKA
deepeddyvodka.com
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Price: ~$16-20 for 750mL

Everything’s Coming up Stillhouse (Moonshine)

When I was first told about Stillhouse Moonshine, I immediately stopped what I was doing, found this gif, then wrote the headline of my review. Once I got that out of my system (it took a couple of days), I turned my attention to the two bottles, er, containers of moonshine in front of me.

First, Stillhouse is extremely proud of their packaging, and rightfully so–the moonshine is house in a metal can … it’s a turpentine can with booze in it? Now I’ve seen everything. It’s a cool bit to stand out from the constantly expanding clear/white whiskey shelf at the liquor store and definitely begs to be taken on a camping trip, tailgate, beach outing or other activity that frowns upon glass. It’s also fun to get a non-whiskey drinker to watch you swig from the can, because their cringes are always worth it.

Courtesy of Stillhouse

The Stillhouse line offers a full spectrum of flavors–original, apple crisp, peach tea, mint chip, coconut lime, and red hot. Their website offers recipes for shots (they strongly recommend you chill the shots), rocks cocktails and punches.

The team was sent the original and peach tea flavors to try out, so I started sipping the original moonshine neat and immediately noticed how smooth it was– almost like a vodka as opposed to a moonshine. It’s highly filtered with just a hint of sweet corn, which made it easy to drink, but it definitely seemed meant as a mixer, especially since it’s only 80 proof. The chilled shot also felt like drinking a good vodka, but the possibilities for infusions, punches and even replacing vodka in a lot of standard drink recipes (it paired well with ginger beer) allow for some unique experimentation. I also tasted the peach tea moonshine neat and it was even easier to drink, but not as sweet as a lot of the flavored whiskeys on the market. (Thank f**k.) It’s a nice 69 proof and could easily see myself drinking a glass or two of it straight. It made a great chilled shot and didn’t need to be dressed up, but adding lemonade made for a great shot or quick cocktail.

If the other Stillhouse flavors can balance capturing the intended flavor without a sugar rush (looking at you, mint chip), this is a really versatile base spirit for some interesting drink ideas and experimentation.

STILLHOUSE MOONSHINE
stillhouse.com
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
~$25 / 750 ml
Stillhouse is available at most major liquor stores in the area

Product Review: Hornitos Spiced Honey Tequila

My first thought before even opening this bottle … will this be some magic elixir or will it be evil sugar syrup?

The war to slowly trick up everything simple and good with extra flavors has been won. The traditionalist lost. First, they took our vodka to a chemical flavor factory. Next they added honey to our whiskey. Now, you can browse every single section of a liquor store and find combinations of flavors, chemicals and booze that you could argue God either never intended to exist or that he simply waited to give us the know-how to make apple-flavored everything. Ok, this sounds overly negative – and you’re right, because some of this stuff is really good. It’s just that once you spend a winter in New England burning through flavored whiskey/bourbon praying for snow to melt, you get really skeptical of everything.

So, when I had a chance to review Hornitos Spiced Honey, I was anxious. This is a tequila I really like, and the thought of it turning into a sugar fest with a kick was almost depressing to me. Also, flavored tequila just doesn’t sound right, but I fought through that by saying I used to feel the same way about whiskey. I decided to try it neat, on the rocks, and then in whatever cocktail/mixer felt right after I got the taste and made notes as I went.

When I opened the bottle, the honey scent was strong and the agave smell felt really dialed back. I had my wife (a non-tequila drinker) take a sniff … she told me she still thought it was strong, so maybe it’s a preference thing. I took a sip and was surprised it was close to a good spiced rum than anything else.

The vanilla and spice were well balanced and the tequila taste gradually came through after a few more sips. This was very easy to drink and I could see it easily becoming part of my rotation as a warm up drink for the evening or a shot that wasn’t hard to take down. It gets better as it opens up, but the one thing that quickly became apparent is that it wouldn’t fit my tastes for a traditional tequila recipe since so many of those drinks are traditionally sweet to begin with.

Luckily, I live in New England and its fall, so people are pushing apples everywhere. In Texas terms, think of that week hatch chiles show up or if someone made bluebonnets edible. After some recent success with Makers and cider, I decided to see how the tequila would mix with it. Despite the obvious sweetness, this was a solid nightcap and it left with a list of future ideas (and there are also several recipes on the website focused on mixers like tea and lemonade as well.)

Hornitos Spiced Honey is available almost everywhere with a retail price of $19.99 per 750ml bottle. If you’re looking for a change of pace from your regular tequila and enjoy the flavor of spiced rum and similar spirits, I’d definitely recommend picking up a bottle.



Workin’ Hard
2 parts Hornitos® Plata Tequila
½ part Agave Nectar
1 part Lime Juice
2 parts Coconut Water
3 Dashes Angostura® Bitters
Lime Peel

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime peel.

IMG_20151110_215103Hardly Workin’
1 ¼ parts Hornitos® Black Barrel® Tequila
¼ part Agave
½ part Lemon Juice
Lemon Wedge

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

The Work Horse1 ½ parts Hornitos® Plata Tequila
4 parts Mexican Lager
⅓ part Lime Juice
⅓ part Simple Syrup
1 slice Jalapeño
Salt Rim

Muddle jalapeño in a glass with a salted rim, combine remainder of ingredients except Mexican lager in a shaker, shake vigorously, strain over fresh ice and add Mexican lager.

Product Review: Collingwood Canadian Whisky

Right before Christmas, I received a small sample bottle of Collingwood Canadian Whisky to review. As one who generally defaults to Crown, if I even dip a toe into the great White North, the bar was high(though Susie chastises me regularly for my lack of imagination).  Once I read that Collingwood boasts a “toasted Maplewood finish”, apprehension set in. I’m not sure if they are doing this in Texas, but Rhode Island bars are heavily pushing the flavored whiskies these days, to the point where my post-work happy hour spot proudly serves a Triple Crown (maple, apple, original) and there are way more maple-flavored options in the dark section of the liquor store than God and Booker Noe intended.

Despite the initial cringe at my sweet, syrupy trigger word, the end result is good. For Collingwood “maplewood finish” is more a process to mellow the harshness of the drink then a sweetener, and it works. I meant to just take a sip neat and then make a cocktail or two, but, since the bottle was small and the taste was smooth, I simply put the whole thing over the ice and enjoyed as we opened presents. (What?)

There’s definitely the same sweetness found in Crown and Canadian Club (think vanilla/toffee), but it wasn’t too overpowering.

The full retail size comes in an old school aftershave-looking bottle (newly revamped), reminiscent of your dad getting ready for dates with Mom 30 years ago (which will drive you to drink if you think about it too long.) I’m not ready to convert for life, but this is definitely a nice whisky to have on-hand for winter that won’t make you feel stuck in the flavored whisky/bourbon apocalypse that is slowly coming to absorb us all. (Oh, the shame.)

If you’re less of a purist and you want to create cocktails with this sweet elixir, here are some suggested recipes.  They recommend using Collingwood in “classic, lighter cocktails”.

TOM COLLINGWOOD™
TOM COLLINGWOOD™

TOM COLLINGWOOD
2oz Collingwood Whisky
0.75oz simple syrup
1oz lemon juice
3oz soda water

Mix Collingwood, simple syrup and lemon juice in a highball glass with ice. Top with soda water and serve.

COLLINGWOOD CANADIAN MULE
1oz Collingwood Whisky
3oz ginger beer
splash lime juice
garnish: lime wedge

Mix all ingredients over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Collingwood is available in most stores across Texas and you can locate the bottle closest to you at collingwoodwhisky.com. The suggested price is around $27.

COLLINGWOOD WHISKY
collingwoodwhisky.com
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Lord Levington’s nuts are great … but they’ll leave a mess on your hands

There’s always been something a little off-putting about sharing a tiny cup of cocktail peanuts in the middle of a crowded bar while mingling hands with strangers (or even drinking buddies). The experience always gets easier with a few drinks, but, when sober, bar nuts fall somewhere between stale bag of crackers and mushy banana on the snack spectrum.

Luckily, someone decided bar mix could reach an actually enjoyable level, and all it takes is a good product and a ridiculous amount of kitsch to drive home the point. Meet Lord Nut Levington, made in Dallas. (I, however, am still coming to you from Rhode Island.)

Before we even move forward, it’s probably worth poking around the website for a few minutes. The packaging style is a mix of old timey artwork, sex puns and random STD penicillin references – but regardless of whether or not you get a chuckle out of it or not, the product inside is seriously good.

The flavors are fitting over the top, ranging from Zesty Chile Lime to Thai Curry & Lemongrass to Spicy Bloody Mary (Susie’s favorite). Each flavor is covered in a dust that is clearly derived from some version of crack that makes you keep chowing down while your hands slowly get covered in a thick gunk you haven’t seen since you stuck your wet fingers in a Cheeto bag as a child. PRO-TIP: use a spoon or lid to tip the nuts directly into your mouth to avoid looking like a large adult son who had too much Mountain Dew before snack time.

Since this is a booze blog, it’s also important to point out the flavors paired pretty well with their corresponding drink. The Spicy Bloody Mary and Hot Buffalo went great with spicy cocktails, the lemongrass was tangier and went with anything, the Zesty Chile Lime was good with tequila, and White Cheddar & Jalapeño went well with beer. My personal favorite was the Hot Buffalo, but there really wasn’t a bad flavor in the pack. (And my wife quickly stole most of the Thai Curry & Lemongrass and refused to give them back. I’m letting her have that one since she recently gave me a child.)

So yeah, I’ve spared you about five different “deez nuts” jokes and a couple of other puns, so I’ll just end by pointing out that you should either look for this snack in stores or order a sample pack online today. It’s a nice break from the usual drinking snack fare and, assuming you can avoid making a mess of the place, might be a nice snack to keep around your home bar or for parties.

To find a store near you that carries Lord Nut Levington, just use their store locator tool: http://www.whoislordnut.com/locate/.

Oh … and this brand was on “Shark Tank” at some point … if you care about that sort of thing.

Summer Beer Review: Traveler Beer Co. Curious Traveler & Illusive Traveler

Drinking in the south is simple. The weather, with a handful of seasonal swings, stays steady enough that it’s easy to stick to favorite beers and favorite types of beers. I had narrowed my focus to a point of detriment, falling into the same hophead pursuit that has choked away many-a palate; “If it’s less than 90 IBUs, it’s really not a beer…” or something similar and just as stupid.

However, moving to the North East last November taught me a few things. (That’s right … I left Texas.) Not only can I now shovel a snowy driveway like a boss, but I can also appreciate the stark differences between Fall, Winter and Spring. As the snow piled up, I stuck with my IPAs, but once the snow started melting, I found myself looking for anything that didn’t remind me of staring at the window at drifts and ice. Specifically, I missed walking up to an outdoor patio year-round and grabbing a cold Shiner Ruby Red on draft. That quickly went from nice change of pace to “why did I move to this place and what did I do to deserve this?” (Y’all … there’s a LOT of snow up here.)

I’m not one for sweet beer, so I decide to include some background on my mental state for this entirely subjective review experience. The good folks at the Travel Beer Co. had two summer shandys for review – the Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy and the Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy – right around the time all this was coming to a head. They showed up just in time for a Fourth of July weekend get together by the pool, so I figured this was destiny.

I started with the Curious Traveler (lemon) and was impressed. I was expecting these beers to be cloyingly sweet and make me lose my will to drink halfway, but it was very well-balanced, striking the mid-spot between “someone dumped lemonade in a lazily-brewed hefeweizen” and “check out this intense lemonade we sprinkled with beer at the last minute.” The flavor and sweetness was not overpowering and I ended up drinking a couple of them very happily. I also had a few others try them and they agreed with the claims, with several shocked “hey, I’d actually drink that.” It was a tough, but fair, crowd. The beer was refreshing and balanced, especially with the subtle lime test helping it feel a bit different from homemade summer as well. It may not be for everyone, but it fit the day, my mood and the experience perfectly. Yay, America!

From there, I knew the Illusive Traveler (grapefruit) was either going to kill my cravings mentioned earlier or kill my spirit like so many overly-sweet grapefruit drinks are currently doing across the country, so I decided to jump in quickly once I finished my first bottle of the Curious. This one really shocked me – it had a strong grapefruit taste, but again, not the sugar rush I was bracing for, even after a whole bottle. I immediately grabbed another one (day-drinking is just the best) and finally scratched the spring/summer grapefruit itch that had been nagging me. The Illusive was definitely my favorite (and to be fair, the crowd had no such prejudices or cravings) and one I would recommend to anyone even entertaining the idea of a nice, lighter option to enjoy on a warm day.

Each of the shandy-style beers (including some promising sounding seasonal brews) has their own subpage on their website, so start here (travelerbeer.com) to find descriptions, recipes, for cocktails (which I regret being too overeager to even wait for), and other info. There’s also a zip code search tool so you can find their beers nearby, and they are pretty widely available; I’ve seen it on tap in at least 3 out of every 4 bars since. (Praise be.)

At the very least, if you ever find yourself in a situation where someone you love is about to purchase a canned margarita beer drink, stop them quickly, open one of these, and pour it down their gullet. Trust me; everyone involved will be better for it.
The Traveler Beer Company
travelerbeer.com
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram