Category Archives: Product Review

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

Buda Juice Cleanse

Being a food, drink and travel blogger, I often eat and drink … a lot. And a lot of it isn’t healthy. (“Yes, I’ll try all four desserts. Thanks much.”) That said, after returning from a two week tour of England and Ireland, I needed some extra help righting myself after all of the fish & chips and Indian food before heading to Kauai for a week.

Enter: Buda Juice’s cleanse

Since a lot of the foods we eat “contain additives made from petroleum products, pesticides, and other toxins”, sometimes it’s nice to flush your system and get rid of all of that ick. Their cleanse helps to do just that. Other pluses? It can help you lose weight, boost your energy level, brighten your skin, think clearer, sleep better, improve your immunity, and even increase your … ya know … desires. (Bingo.)

Buda Juice’s products are all certified organic, cold-pressed at 35º, pesticide-free, and not pasteurized, so they all bare an exacting expiration date that should be respected. They bottle everything in glass bottles to avoid potentially harmful plastics, and you can return the bottles for a $1 credit per bottle.

I chose to do a three-day cleanse to give myself a couple days to sweat it out at Camp Gladiator before starting my juice-only diet. (You’re not meant to work out while doing the cleanse, so I just walked for the three days.) Each day was the same six juices, and each flavor was unique and purposeful.

– Breakfast: No 01 Green Juice (spinach, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon, ginger, kale, parsley) – this was a great way to start the day and gave me a little boost of energy
daily veggies + vitamins, detox + alkalizing agent, gut soother
– Mid-morning: No 04 Blue Lemonade (apple, cucumber, lemon) – this was my favorite of the juices, which is great because I got to drink it twice a day!
post workout electrolytes, alkalizing energy elixir, hangover cure
– Lunch: No 02 Red Juice (celery, apple, beet, ginger, parsley) – a filling option as a lunch substitute and it happens to be an absolutely gorgeous color
stamina booster, stress reliever, blood purifier
– Mid-afternoon: another Blue Lemonade
– Dinner: No S1 Basilato Soup (tomato, cucumber, sea salt, basil, olive oil) – This was a treat every day of the cleanse. I warmed mine and added a bit of pepper a couple of the nights. (And it was nice to have something to chew!)
healthy heart lover, kidney flusher, detox + digestive aid
– Dessert: No M1 Almond Milk (water, almond, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom) – sweet and definitely as good a nightcap as you can get without adding booze …this was a real treat each evening. I added a bit of cinnamon to mine.
healthy cholesterol support, balanced vegan protein, smart hunger quencher

All in all, I felt refreshed and a bit lighter (both physically and spiritually) after three days of (albeit delicious) juices. But I was ready to eat all the pineapple, mai tais and fish Kauai had to offer … not because I was hungry (the juices give you enough calories for a healthy daily intake and I never heard a grumble from my stomach), but because I just wanted to chew something!

BUDA JUICE
budajuice.com
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MULTIPLE LOCATIONS

1 day cleanse: $65 (6 juices, 16oz each)
3 days cleanse: $195 (18 juices, 16oz each)
5 days cleanse: $325 (30 juices, 16oz each)

Pictures courtesy of Buda Juice

They do warn you that, as with any detox, there are some potential side effects. While ridding your body of toxins, you could “experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, skin blemishes, constipation, as well as other digestive issues. All should be temporary …”

TX Bourbon by Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.

Back in January, Amanda gave us the good news that Fort Worth’s own whiskey distillery, Firestone & Robertson, debuted a bourbon to accompany its sweet blended whiskey. More recently, we were delighted to be invited to taste the new expression with the distillers and proprietors, Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, at the distillery. The partnership was unexpected–both were separately making plans to open a whiskey distillery in Cowtown when they got wind of the others’ plans. F&R was born and has flourished–much to the surprise of the owners, but no surprise to the consumers who love their original blended whiskey.

Firestone, Robertson and head distiller, Rob Arnold, set out to create a new, unique expression with a providence that can be appreciated using local ingredients (corn and wheat from Hillsboro and a yeast derived from a Pecan tree on a friend’s ranch in Glen Rose), and of course, they decided it had to be a bourbon because it’s “America’s spirit”. And the product … is good.

The spirit is surprisingly smooth with notes of dried fruit and a warm, long finish. The approachable yet deep flavors make this a unique intoxicant. It’s no surprise that it has been in such high demand.

Nose: oak, honey
Flavor: vanilla, honey
Finish: smooth, short
Aged: 4+ years
Proof: 82 (41% ABV)

While bottles of the TX Straight Bourbon have been a beast to get your hands on, they’ve recently released additional inventory to liquor stores. If you aren’t a fan or hunting for bottles, stop into the distillery where you can buy one bottle each month. (And yes, they keep track.)


The distillery itself is quaint, yet puts out a hell of a lot of product. (And they have to in order to keep up with demand.) One of my favorite things, beside the liquid itself, is the corks. Each one has a piece of cloth, leather, fur, etc., making each bottle unique. F&R works with local bootmakers to source the leather, and they’ll even work with you to create completely custom bottles using materials you bring them … but you have to ask nicely.

Keep an ear out for news on their new distillery, set to open late summer 2017. Expect a shiny, new distillery, aging warehouse, offices, an event space … and maybe even a driving range. My team is stoked to take a trip to the 109-acre facility once it’s complete.

Firestone and Robertson Distilling Co.
frdistilling.com
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901 W. Vickery Boulevard (Fort Worth)

They offer distillery tours on select Saturdays.

Ancho Reyes Verde

Who couldn’t use an extra spice in their life … or at least in their cocktail? In Texas, it is completely acceptable to add salsa or peppers to most any dish, so why shouldn’t we do the same to our cocktails?

I recently had the privilege to try a liqueur made from poblano peppers, Ancho Reyes Verde, that just became available in Texas. For those of you who are already a fan of the original Ancho Reyes, this is its new, “fresher” counterpart.

Ancho Reyes Verde is made from the same poblano chile as the Ancho Reyes, but the peppers used are green chiles harvested a bit early, then roasted. The original uses the late-harvest, sun-dried peppers . The heat that comes from Ancho Reyes Verde seriously tastes like a freshly picked poblano pepper–it even smells fresh and earthy.  Surprisingly, the liqueur has notes of ginger along with fruits like pineapple and a slight tomato flavor.

Both Original and Verde Ancho Reyes liqueurs are quite versatile, which makes it a perfect element for cocktails. Original mixes well with brown spirits, whereas the Ancho Reyes Verde seems to mix better with clear spirits. I personally loved the Verde in a cocktail, but the flavors when sipped alone were quite pronounced.

Ancho Verde Margarita
1 part Milagro Silver Tequila
1 part Ancho Reyes Verde
1 part fresh lime juice
⅓ part agave nectar

Add all ingredients to a shaker, add ice, shake hard and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass with half its rim salted. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Verde Chelada
1.5 part Ancho Verde
0.5 part lime juice
Big pinch of salt
12 oz Mexican lager beer
Salt for rim

Rim a cold beer glass with kosher salt. Add salt, lime, ancho verde to the cold beer glass and stir to mix. Add ice and beer. Garnish with a lime wheel.

 


Ancho Reyes Verde Poblano Liqueur
AnchoReyes.com
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80 Proof/40% ABV
Retail price: ~$33/750mL

Ancho Reyes Verde was launched in New York in 2016 as a limited edition spirit, and it is now available in the lucky states of Texas, California, Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, and Florida.

(Recipes and select cocktail images above provided by Ancho Reyes)

Driving, Not Drinking: Lexus GS200t

Yes, this is a booze blog.  I hear you loud and clear … something seems a little weird here.  BUT, I am known to DD from time to time and [GASP] … not drink.  That said, I enjoy a nice drive every once in a while, and I was lucky enough to get a schmancy, brand new, fast as hell Lexus GS200t for my travels to the San Antonio Cocktail Conference last month.  I’ll just say this: thanks to the car (and, sure, the company) I really enjoyed the drive.

This beauty got us there quickly (thank you, tollway around Austin!) and with an surprisingly small amount of gas.  From Dallas we were able to drive to San Antonio and a quarter of the way back on one tank.  The handling was also second to none, which is helpful since its acceleration is also impressive thanks to the 241 horsepower in the engine that got us up and moving to 60mph in just 7 seconds.  (Ok, we didn’t test that feature … but we were tempted.)

So we’re checking boxes: fast, fuel efficient, handles like a dram dream … but this baby is more than just performance.  The inside of the car is more like a cockpit than a car thanks to the seemingly endless features, and was much more spacious than expected.  The trunk alone could have fit nine, maybe ten cases of wine and my two yoga mats.  (Because that’s how I measure.)

The hardest part of the week with this car has been the time since they took it back … my neighbor that I park across from just got a brand new one–black exterior, black interior, just totally sexy.  And I have to see it every damn day when I back into my garage.  (Talk about torture.)

In general, especially for a low emission sedan, this car really raises the bar.

LEXUS GS200T
Five-passenger sport sedan
8-speed direct-shift automatic “Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) and paddle shifters”
Rear wheel drive
143mph top speed
0-60mph in 7 seconds
17.4 gallon fuel tank capacity
22 city/32 highway MPG

Disclosure: My team was provided use of a Lexus GS200t free of charge. Opinions are all my own.

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

JARDESCA – The Perfect Opening Drink

JARDESCA is a new aperitif out of Sonoma, CA offering a blend of three sweet and dry white wines, which is then fortified with a double distilled grape brandy and ten different botanicals. I know that sounds like a lot in one product, but it all comes together to create a beautifully refreshing libation.

It’s different than your normal fruity, white wine because it is meant as an opening drink before you have your main drink with lunch or dinner. So now it’s totally appropriate to drink before you drink – especially considering it’s lower calorie! They suggest you serve it over ice as it has a light flavor profile–hints of pink peppercorn, bay leaf, and grapefruit. However, you can enhance it with your own favorite herb or fruit garnish, or follow one of their suggested recipes (see below). 

JARDESCA Garden Spritz
3 ounces of JARDESCA in a stemless wine glass
Splash of prosecco or sprarkling water
Slice of blood orange
Sprig of fresh rosemary

Pour JARDESCA over ice, then stir once. Top with a splash of soda water or sparkling wine and garnish with blood orange and rosemary sprig.

JARDESCA has recently been accepted to all the Whole Foods Stores in Texas and will be available beginning in March – just in time for those spring get-togethers! 

JARDESCA
jardesca.com
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Alcohol: 18%
Price: ~$30