Category Archives: Brian

Taking on Texas: A Tale of Two Whiskeys

As a Texas outsider, I have learned there are several moments when it is best to just shut up. For example, if you wade into an Alamo discussion and start talking about who possibly disobeyed orders and if everyone really should have died, you’re going to get yelled at. (Please yell at Susie – this is her website.) What I like about Texas is that, as a whole, it’s a land of contrasts. You can go from large cities to beautiful hill country to mountains to desert to lakes and everything in between. You find global businessmen alongside ranchers in ten gallon hats, first generation immigrants eager to start a new life and suburban moms … all standing in sometimes nervous proximity of each other.

While there’s a popular narrative for what Texas is, the best part about it is the narrative never quite fits everyone. That’s why I enjoyed the opportunity to look at two different takes on what Texas whiskey is from two different distilleries – Devils River Whiskey and Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey.

As an outsider, the Mainstream Texas Nationalism can sometimes overshadow some of the really cool things about our state – like amazing nature areas – including the Devil’s River (94 miles of mostly unspoiled and pure, limestone-filtered water right here in the southern portion of the state). If you like history lessons and whiskey, Devils River Whiskey combines both as they’ve built their brand around the river John Coffee Hays named back in 1840. The bottle features river shots, Texas, and just about every other possible reminder that this whiskey came from the Devil’s River.

On the other end of the spectrum, Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey is made in Dripping Springs, TX with a brand focused on being a well-made craft whiskey with global appeal. If you’re a sucker for cool stories about people chasing their dream like I am, this blog post is a great place to learn more about Swift.

Now that my four paragraph commentary is out of the way, it’s time for opinion sharing. I poured each of these neat to start and had a couple of different guest reviewers try them both that way, with a bit of water, and then on ice. We started with the Swift and the first thing we noticed was there was a lot going on in each sip. The bottle tells you are getting notes of toasted vanilla and chocolate laced with hints of rose and white peaches. It’s a smooth, sweet sip with none of these flavors overpowering the others, but it was very different from what we were expecting.

For the Devils River, all the talk of bold flavors is implied by the bottle, the implication you’re one sip away from the forbidden river journey you didn’t even know you’d been dreaming of taking. There is a pepper and oak taste to it, but it’s also easy to sip and eventually falls into familiar notes of caramel and honey. The tasting group agreed that this was the better of the two whiskeys to drink straight.

We moved to a simple cocktail portion for the whiskeys and made manhattans, old fashioneds and a few custom recipes shared by the folks at Swift for us to try that were a little more off the beaten path. Both whiskeys made good cocktails, but the complexity of the Swift definitely stood out in the mixology phase of the review.

The two cocktail recommendations from Swift were simple to make and are worth making next time you pick up a bottle.

Wallace Mountain
1 oz Swift Single Malt Whiskey
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Averna Amaro

Pour ingredients into a mixing glass, ice, stir and pour in to a big rocks glass or highball.

Barley and Limestone
0.75 oz Swift Single Malt whiskey
0.75 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
0.75 oz Cherry Heering
0.75 oz Meyer Lemon juice*

Pour ingredients into a shaker, ice, shake and strain in to a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.


Swift Single Malt
Nose: overall sweet with lemon and floral
Flavor: sweet and citrusy
Finish: long and dry – changes as it lingers with pepper as well
Aged: minimum 15 months
Proof:  (43% ABV)
Price: ~$55/750mL

Devils River Whiskey
Nose: sweet with hint of pepper
Flavor: honey and caramel with oak and a small amount of spice
Finish: warm, smooth and medium length
Aged: n/a + years
Proof:  (45% ABV)
Price: ~$29.99/750mL

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
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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
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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
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~$25 / 750 ml
Stillhouse is available at most major liquor stores in the area

Product Review: Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

“There are no basic drinks, just basic people.”


It’s hard to believe there was a time when pumpkin spice wasn’t a meme, but an actual source of excitement. I think my first taste of getting genuinely geeked out about the flavor was when pumpkin cheesecake showed up at a Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. The questions were instant–“Who put these tastes together? Why is cinnamon/pumpkin/spice so freaking good? How do I get more? Is there still going to be a pumpkin pie?”

The rarity was a huge part of the appeal, and as pumpkin-everything creeped into our lives, the rush was gone. I think my breaking point was bringing home pumpkin spiced goat cheese from a New England supermarket and my daughter asking why it existed. “Because they know I’ll buy it, you smart-mouthed kid.” I vowed that 2016 would be a year of pumpkin spiced moderation. I got one beer on draft early and nodded in approval. I have had one pumpkin-spiced coffee this year. (I did eat a tub of pumpkin cookie butter from Trader Joe’s, but I’m only human.)

That’s why I had to chuckle when I was asked to review Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast – it was like the Captain himself heard about my Halloween Humbugness and decided to intervene. The pumpkin spiced shot comes in a round bottle making its best effort at looking like a pumpkin, and it makes a perfect centerpiece for any Halloween party bar … if you’re into that sort of decor. It’s the first pumpkin spiced rum on the market and is designed to be everything from a chilled shot to an ingredient in a few fall cocktail recipes.

I’ll be honest, I braced myself to taste something closer to egg nog with a heavy pumpkin flavor before pouring it out (full disclosure – my first sip was out of the container because it felt cool in the moment) and was surprised to get a decent amount of cinnamon and spice along with the pumpkin. It was lighter than I expected, which made it easier to mix into drinks.

The crowd favorite was what the good folks at Captain Morgan call the Apple Jack-O (recipe below). We dubbed it the Jack-O’Blast n’ Cider. (Say it quickly … a few times. Get it now?) Either way, the reviews were positive and my wife said that this should be flasked and kept on-hand for all fall/holiday activities that involve walking around outside. I tried a splash in coffee and, while it wasn’t bad, decided this was best for cold drinks. (And that’s probably why there is a huge “best served chilled” suggestion all over it.)

All in all, if you’re a pumpkin person, you can get a lot of mileage out of this product. If you’ve hit your limit on all things pumpkin, skip the shot and make the cider cocktail or try making a spiced version of a dark and stormy or something similar.

They sent along a few other suggestions, including:

Apple Jack-O
4oz of chilled apple cider
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

Orange Pumpkin Smash
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast
2oz orange juice
2oz club soda

Combine Jack-O’Blast and orange juice in a glass filled with ice and stir. Top with club soda.

Jack-O’Lager
1oz Jack-O’Blast shot
4oz Lager

Drop shot of Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast in a glass of lager beer.

Blasted Brew
0.5oz Jack-O’Blast
0.5oz Cannon Blast

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a shot glass.

Captain’s Cauldron
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast
2oz orange juice
1oz cranberry juice
Optional: 1oz club soda topper
Lemon wedge – squeezed

Combine all ingredients in a glass filled with ice, stir and garnish with a lemon wedge.


CAPTAIN MORGAN JACK-O-BLAST RUM
captainmorgan.com
ABV: 30% / 60 proof
Price: $15.99 / 750 ml

You can find Jack-O’Blast at most liquor stores.

Product Review: Balls Vodka

It’s hard to look at the packaging and marketing materials for Ball’s Vodka and not go through an internal rant. For me it was a combo of, first, a solid chuckle … but then the follow-up thought, “Ugh … is this all we’re doing here?” as the puns continue. I’m definitely not one to eschew a terrible joke or ten (Susie very clearly told me I was the person destined to write this review as soon as the email came in), but the line between a good and a lazy ball joke is quite fine.
Do I smile, make a cavalcade of crotch riffs and call it day? Does the world need more stiff drink puns? (Duh.) Am I overthinking this? And if I am, why don’t I ask you to look at the freaking bottle and tell me anything about this is meant to be serious?

[Takes deep breath.]

Alright, let’s go ahead and put some Balls in my mouth and see where this goes. (Yeah … I just wrote that.)

Balls_Vodka1-e1426082024629I first experimented with just the Balls to get a straight taste and then I went for a vodka soda – just to set a baseline. My vodka palette is by no means refined, but I’m confident enough that I avoided burning my necessary taste buds when I was a teenager that I can make good decisions. I know what I hate and can tell what isn’t quality … and I didn’t hate this. The taste was clean with notes of vanilla that only briefly lingered, and it only took a few sips to realize this was actually pretty damn decent stuff. I was actively looking for reasons to choke* on every sip, but it never happened.

* I just can’t keep doing this – if you have a good pun/joke/idea, just say it aloud to yourself right here or leave it as a comment.

The third and final test was to invite vodka (and some ball)-loving friends over and see how they reacted. After a few puns, they dove in along with me and had the same feedback. This is a solid vodka for simple drinks (we never felt the need to do anything besides sip the classic soda and/or tonic with some lemons and limes). The suggested price point is around $10 below Grey Goose, so this could be not only a solid pun-based conversation piece, but a good versatile bottle for your home bar.

The TL:DR version: These Balls go down smooth and even your mom will love them. (Please try to understand how much I hate myself right now.)

To learn more, score some sweet merch or find a bottle near you, visit ballsvodka.com.


BALLS VODKA

ballsvodka.com
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  • Proof: 80
  • Nose: vanilla
  • Favor: clean, slight mineral and sweetness
  • Distilled from: American corn
  • Sipping suggestions: mixed in simple cocktails
  • Price: $29.99 for 1.75L

 

Product Review: Traveler Grapefruit IPA Shandy

As a lover of IPAs (before it was cool), I’ve had to face some hard truths about them in the last few years. Recently, it feels like, for every new brewery discovery I make, there are even more options featuring a ton of IBUs dumped in barley that would leave me feeling like I didn’t even know what beer was anymore. The brewing process for an IPA is simple, and the strong ingredients are not only useful for proving how many hops your manly palate can take, but also for covering up shortcuts or mistakes in the process. IPA is the king of craft beers and the backlash was inevitable, but I’ve been finding myself looking for other beers to round out my choices at home.

So, when Traveler Beer reached out to our team offering a chance to try the Traveler Grapefruit IPA Shandy as a follow up to my review of the non-IPA offerings from last summer, I jumped on it. I was intrigued, but cautiously optimistic about it. Best case – I pick up a new guilty pleasure for a summer beer; worst case, I continue cursing the availability of hops to everyone with an idea, some free time, and a brewing kit.

The answer was: somewhere in the middle.

First, this is a very low 4.4% beer, so it’s not going to wallop anyone out of the gate. (Which was kind of what I was looking for. I have two kids now, I can’t sit around all day guzzling beers with buddies waiting for a buzz. And I’m too lazy to walk to the bathroom that much. Efficiency is key.) This is not a heavy drink, and, if you’re not into beer, this is a lower ABV than most of the hard sodas that became a thing last year. (More on that to come, I’m sure.)

Second, “IPA” may come first in the title, but this was still very much a shandy. The grapefruit taste was front and center and the hoppy, beer flavor was very much buried underneath it. None of this is a bad thing – in fact, if you like a good shandy or fruit-based beer in general, you’ll like this. I shared with a friend who very much fit this profile and she really enjoyed it.

I know you’re reading this because you want a yay or nay, but all I can do here is give you facts. If you want a bold, bitter beer taste, this isn’t for you … but then again, you’re the one who opened something with grapefruit shandy in the title, so maybe you need to realize words mean things. If you’re a fan of citrus and are looking for something you can enjoy all day long, this is a solid pick up.

To learn more, visit travelerbeer.com/ipa-shandy or visit the home page for the full lineup of Traveler Beers.

STATS:
Malt Varieties: 2-Row Brewers Malt, Malted and Unmalted Wheat
Hop Varieties: Galena, Warrior, Centennial, Citra, Cascade, Chinook, Nelson Sauvin
Special Ingredients: Real Grapefruit
Alcohol: 4.4%
BUs: 52

TRAVELER BEER
travelerbeer.com
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