Category Archives: Brian

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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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
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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
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Product Review: Pisco Porton

Ever have those friends who claim they cannot (or will not) drink a certain liquor after too many peer-pressured pulls from a plastic handle in college? Or they swear they will retch from a mere whiff of whiskey? Annoying, right? Well, when I was asked to do a review of Pisco Porton, my entire framework for the spirit was one of those cloying, annoying cautionary taIes had always promised not to become.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to travel to Santiago, Chile with a mix of sheltered coworkers and locals who promised to give us a well-rounded experience of the city’s nightlife in just a few days. I quickly learned pisco is mixed with everything – piscolas and pisco sours were everywhere and they were delicious, and as I would learn each morning, packed a hell of an aftershock. I came back raving to Susie about how this drink had kicked the crap out of me (in the best way possible). She kept nudging me to review it, but after a few raw flashbacks to how I felt from a week of pisco emersion, I decided it needed to wait until my memories from Chile dulled a bit. So, after some stalling, I was finally ready to go back and face my new frenemy.

For those not familiar, pisco is a white spirit made from grapes (technically a form of brandy) that, when done well, feel like the beautiful offspring of grappa and vodka. There’s a whole backstory where Peru and Chile fight over who does it best, but if you’re scoring at home, Porton is team Peru. If you do like history and South American culture, use this review and this article as a launching point because it covers it much better than I can.

I resolved to start with a straight pour served neat and was happy to find my sips did not leave me burning or second guessing what I’d gotten myself into. The drink was earthy with vanilla and fruity notes that came through as I savored it. I didn’t get the tobacco and oak mentioned in the review linked above, but it was still much easier to drink than I’d expected.

Now that I had invited pisco into my own home, I was ready to experiment beyond what had been prepared for me back in Chile. Luckily, Pisco Porton has a great website full of information and resources, including a strong cocktail library featuring both traditional and non-traditional recipes. After perusing (peru…no, I will not make that joke), I landed on three recipes that would hopefully prove how versatile the spirit is and didn’t sound too difficult so as not to be held back by my non-professional bartending skills.

Recipe #1: Peruvian Negroni

Take the classic negroni recipe and swap out gin for pisco and you’re all set. To be honest, after I mixed this, the pisco flavor was harsh and overpowered the drink. After rebalancing it and adjusting to the bite of the pisco (it’s not a mixer that’s going to disappear unless you’re making sugar drinks … and that’s just rude), it improved with each sip. If you’re looking to try pisco for the first time, stick with more traditional sour or cola mixers, but if you like the taste of pisco on its own, this will work for you.

Recipe #2: Peruvian Sidecar

Once again – we’re swapping out a traditional spirit (cognac) with pisco. Unlike a traditional sidecar that can sneak up on you before you realize how tipsy you are, the pisco version doesn’t tip toe around your wavering sobriety. However, the end product was a strong drink I could sip and enjoy and ended up being my favorite of the three. The bold profile of pisco is complimented nicely by orange and lemon.

Recipe #3: Portonero

Probably the most approachable of the three, the combination of pisco, lime juice, bitters and ginger beer was made to make every Dark and Stormy or Moscow Mule enthusiast ease into trying something new. At first sip, the pisco presence was masked heavily by the ginger beer, as ginger beer often does. Even after a second attempt with a different ratio, the ginger beer overwhelmed the spirit, making for a good drink, but not a great showcase for pisco itself.

Now that I’ve got my pisco legs back, I’ve made a few more sidecars and plan to infuse another bottle of with blood oranges and see what I can come up with.

Although I didn’t make one tonight, I think everyone owes it to themselves to try a pisco sour, because as Roy Kesey said in the previously linked interview with San Diego City Beat, “When you drink a well-made one, it feels like you’re drinking the world’s best lemonade, but then you fall down after the third one.” Salud to that!

Not (S)Mash’d

“Have you heard about that moonshine place?”

“Look, Sandy Glopperson checked in on Facebook and is drinking Burt Reynolds’s juice from a jug!”

One of these two sentences describes how social media first introduced me to the fact that there was a restaurant less than five miles from my house serving a bunch of variations of moonshine and moonshine-based cocktails I needed to check out. At the time, I was loosely familiar with the idea of moonshine, but didn’t realize this was the start of a quick crash course elsewhere (more on that later).

I went on a Friday night with a group of friends and was impressed at the quick transition from strip mall parking lot to a cool indoor scene and open patio. Basically, it’s about as comfortable as you can feel within a football field or so of a Twin Peaks. Our waiter was very attentive from the beginning and it was apparent he really enjoyed presenting the menu and concepts to people – which I only note because I think I would be sick of doing that in about a week.

20140530_195900For the uninitiated, the menu has three tiers of strength and flavors – ranging from sweetened sugar water with a kick to the stronger, fruit-infused flavors. We went with the waiters recommendations and quickly ran through a number of options that were on the sweet side and not too strong, but good, including the Cherry Limeade and Pineapple Bomb. The South House Cherry Limeade was listed as its own moonshine flavor, but the waiter encouraged me to try it with Sonic-style ice and mixed with a bit of Sprite to taste exactly like a spiked drive-thru drink. It was delicious and dangerously easy to drink, although I learned later getting the moonshine straight minus the Sprite is much better for those used to drinking stronger cocktails. The bomb was also a great tropical cocktail (although you have to really like coconut to enjoy it without being overpowered). There was also the Jolly Rancher that tasted exactly like a watermelon Jolly Rancher (I guess they hit that one on the head) … so high fives all around on that one.

At this point, it was time for a food break, and Mash’d had some good options (although food reviews tend to get a lot more positive after everyone has 3 drinks). A twitter follower recommended the beef Bulgogi tacos–which I happily devoured–and the wings were good as well. Reviews on some of the other food the group had was a bit more mixed, but everyone found at least one item on the menu that they enjoyed.

With some food in me, it was time to tackle one of the stronger moonshines on the rocks. (DUN DUN DUN.) I went with the Midnight Moon Blackberry and quickly found it was like drinking a straight infusion. All of a sudden, it was like I snapped out of some sugar-induced haze and remembered what I like about drinks to begin with – complexity, tasting the alcohol, a nice finish that lingers. (Oh yeah … and the intoxicating properties don’t suck either.) This is kind of where my review turned on a matter of personal taste. I had enjoyed everything I had earlier in the meal, but it was very much a novelty and not something I’d make a habit of drinking. I also sampled the straight apple pie moonshine and had the same reaction – this was something I would want to pour myself at home versus sampling one time with friends.

20140530_215915I had also been told to close the night with Hillbilly Moonshine, their moonshiney take on a white Russian and, if that’s a preferred drink, I can say you won’t be disappointed. It’s very heavy (which, I mean, duh), so I wouldn’t plan on more than one and I’d do it at the end of a meal only.

All in all, I enjoyed the trip out, although for future visits, I plan to only stick at the straight, high end of the menu and probably skip the cocktails altogether. I would definitely recommend at least a visit to Mash’d for a different drinking experience and a chance to try new things, but my bigger recommendation is to keep an eye out at Total Wine, Spec’s, etc. for the different flavors of South House moonshine and start building your own experience at home.

Drink strength: 3 of 5 (I mean, I had all or parts of 8 different drinks in 3 hours and, while I didn’t drive, didn’t feel remotely smash’d)
Food: 3.5 of 5

MASH’D
3401 Preston Rd, Frisco, TX 75034
www.mashd.com | Facebook | Twitter/Instagram: @Mashdfrisco
(214) 618-9440

After my visit, I had the opportunity (along with the other SDD contributors*) to visit JEM Beverage Company in Carrollton, who makes many of the moonshines at Mash’d under their South House label, as well Western Son vodka (also featured in the Hey Ginger frozen drink at Mash’d) and Red River Whiskey … and some other delicious stuff. It was here I learned what moonshine is (they make bourbon, infuse it with flavors and then don’t age it, which explains why I liked it so much straight). I walked out of the distillery that day with several bottles of each and have been enjoying drinking all of it on the rocks at home without the syrups, sugars, etc. Simplicity is key.

*Note from Susie: if you think you’re a good drinker and can speak English and spell (or if you know someone who fits that criteria), email me! I’m looking for writers both in Dallas and other cities!