Category Archives: Vodka

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

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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


#DrinkingwithSusie: @Natalie_Keinan of The Fashion Hour

I have some really fun friends.  I thought the other day that it’s a damn shame that I don’t get to show them off more.  Enter: #DrinkingwithSusie!  I’ll be hanging out with some of my foodie/fashion/fit friends to bring you fun recipes and introducing you to some Dallas movers and shakers.  Stay tuned for more next month!

My first #DrinkingwithSusie victim is Natalie Keinan.  I was lucky enough to meet Natalie about a year ago and knew we would be great friends right off the bat because, well … we both love happy hour.  Natalie runs the popular fashion and happy hour blog, The Fashion Hour–a lot of fashion and a little booze!


When we got together to make our cocktail, she had requested the following: no tequila, nothing bitter, and something light and refreshing.  Oh, and it had to have champagne in it … and she wanted to use the copper pineapple I’d given her for Christmas.  (The pineapple just happens to be a part of a gift set offered by Absolut Elyx, and for every one sold they donate a week of clean water to people in need!)

So, what did I come up with?  A lotta bit of Elyx, a little coconut water, and plenty of champagne.  (And that’s how life should be.)

3 parts Absolut Elyx
1½ parts sparkling wine (I chose Veuve Clicquot)
3 parts coconut water
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part honey syrup
Garnish: Coconut shavings

Either shake or stir the Elyx, coconut water, lemon, and syrup with ice until chilled.  Fill pineapple with fresh ice and strain contents over ice.  Top with sparkling wine and garnish with coconut shavings.  (Bonus: mound shaved ice on top of cubed ice.)

Protip: when pouring the champagne into the pineapple, since it’s opaque, it’s hard to see when the level rises and the sparkling wine can bubble over.  To avoid spilling, pour slowly.

How and when did you decide to start The Fashion Hour?
I created The Fashion Hour in October of 2013 after kicking the idea around for several months and doing a lot of googling. I started it as a creative outlet from my job in corporate America where I would share good deals on clothes I found along with my favorite happy hour spots. It has grown quite a bit since then but both of those topics are still the core of what I write about!

What are you must-have items for Spring?
My must-have items for spring are: a pair of retro sunglasses (I love these clear and tortoise shell Illesteva ones), a straw hat, and turquoise jewelry like this spike bib necklace!


What clothing trends do you see being hot this spring?
Anything off-the-shoulder, frayed denim, necktie scarf/bandana, overalls, fringe, pom poms … is that too much?

What’s your go-to spring outfit this year?
I always gravitate towards simple and casual so my go-to spring outfit is a pair of skinny or ripped jeans, basic tee, and this suede moto jacket (I seriously wear it over everything).


Where is your favorite happy hour in Dallas?
That is HARD. There’s just so many so it’s impossible to choose a favorite, but I am pretty excited about the new House of Blues patio. Who doesn’t love food and drink specials before a show?!

Follow Natalie around Dallas (and some other fabulous destinations) for her style tips, sale scoops, and, from time to time, boozy recipes!

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Susie-4040Natalie’s Outfit:
Suede Moto Jacket, Nordstrom
Black Skinny Jeans, Nordstrom
Tank, T.J. Maxx (similar: Nordstrom)
Necklace, BaubleBar
Shoes, Nordstrom Rack

Susie’s Outfit (like it matters …):
Denim Dress (similar: Bloomingdales $78, Asos $47.77, Macy’s $62.99)
Flip Flops, Nordstrom Rack
Bracelet, Cartier

Copper pineapple,, $98
Copper Japanese Style Jigger, Cocktail Kingdom, $19.95
Copper Barspoon, Cocktail Kingdom, $25.95
Copper Strainer, Absolut Elyx (similar: Cocktail Kingdom, $18.95)
Mixing Glass, Absolut Elyx (similar: Williams-Sonoma, $29.95)
Wooden Muddler, Amazon, $4.09
1oz Glass Bottle with Dropper, Specialty Bottle, $0.84

Photography by Adam Stewart

Mardi Gras 101

Let’s start here … Mardi Gras isn’t just a big party.  There’s a lot more to the holiday than strong drinks and a good great reason to party on a Tuesday.  Let’s start with some basics …

  • Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French
  • It’s celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday as a last hurrah before Lent begins (this year, that’s February 9)
  • The first Mardi Gras celebration can be traced back to medieval Europe to the House of the Bourbons (I won’t go into all of the history, but if you want to read it all … check it out here.)
  • The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold–purple for justice, gold for power, green for faith.

I have an unexplained love for Mardi Gras. (I think it comes from my dad receiving a King Cake each year from a friend in New Orleans.  Since my dad had a job that took him to New Orleans during the week for a few years, I apparently attended parades before I could walk.)  Each year, I try to bring the spirit of the Big Easy to Dallas in a small way for some friends.  Here’s how I do it …

DRINKS … you can’t miss hurricanes, the quintessential Mardi Gras drink originally created by Pat O’Brien’s in NOLA.  This year I borrowed a recipe from a NOLA-born chef, John Russ of Lüke San Antonio that he demonstrated at his seminar at the SACC this year.  For my group of heavy-hitters, I made the recipe x10.  I also like to add a little pineapple juice and just a bit of cherry juice or grenadine to add a red hue.  They’re quite strong, so make sure to warn your guests and provide something to dilute it a bit like soda or Sprite.  I also use an orange slice and cherry for garnish.

Katrina’s Folly (Recipe from Chef John Russ of Lüke San Antonio)
2 oz Bacardi light
1 oz 151 Bacardi
2 oz Kraken spiced dark rum
2 oz orange juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz passion fruit juice
crushed ice

Combine and stir. Serve chilled, preferably in a tall glass or red Solo cup.

Since a party cannot exist on a single drink alone, I laid out a bevy of usual suspects so people could make their own concoctions if desired. To really get the party going, I also offered shots of Pinnacle King Cake Vodka (the best of the king cake vodkas I’ve tried–which is a lot … dedication, y’all) and Abita Beer (brewed an hour from New Orleans in Covington, Louisiana).  The kind cake vodka is surprisingly easy to drink and it has a nice sweetness without being overpowering.  The party shared many a round of shots to toast the night.  I chose two Abita brews–their most popular Purple Haze and their seasonal Mardi Gras Bock.

Sustenance at these parties is key.  This year I offered homemade jambalaya, Zapp’s Potato Chips, hushpuppies, a King Cake, iced sugar cookies from Pokey O’s, and Cafe Du Monde beignets.  Each has some significance …

  • Venison and Chicken Jambalaya – because … yum.  I’ve adapted the recipe so it can be made ahead of time and cooked in a crock pot.  (Send me an email if you’d like the recipe!)
  • Zapp’s Potato Chips – they’re made in Gramercy, Louisiana and are “New Orleans kettle-style chips”. I got individual bags from Potbelly along with their Voodoo flavor (nice and spicy) from Tom Thumb.
  • Hushpuppies – sometimes it’s important to know your limits when hosting a party.  I haven’t ever made hushpuppies … so I left it to the experts and had three dozen delivered by Favor from Dodie’s Reef, complete with remoulade sauce.  I should have gotten four dozen because they were the first thing to run out!
  • King Cake – the aforementioned friend in New Orleans sends my dad a cake–for years they have been shipped to us from Manny Randazzo’s and are always the traditional flavor that tastes just like a cinnamon roll … only 15x better.  This year, my good friend Meryl’s family also sent me cakes from Caluda’s.  Many bakeries in NOLA will ship their cakes, by my favorite has been the maple bacon praline version from Caluda’s (it was a flavor of the week option and isn’t available all the time).
    The tradition says that a small, plastic baby is placed in the cake and the person who gets it in his piece is “King for the Day”.  (It’s also said that he has to bring the cake to the next year’s party.  Like that ever happens.)
  • Pokey O’s Iced Sugar Cookies – because they’re delicious and festive.  (I added the little, plastic babies myself to add a bit more fun.)  Call ahead to make sure they have them or to preorder.
  • Cafe Du Monde Beignets – it has been a goal each year to make beignets for this party and, this year, I finally did it!  The mix that you can get in most stores made it quite easy to throw them together and they were freaking delicious.

Other fun touches I like to add are handing out beads (earned or not) and adding a little fun decor.  (My plaster deer head is always festive at my parties …)  In past years when I’ve lived in apartment complexes, we’d make sure to throw beads from the balcony, but now that I’ve moved we didn’t have anyone to throw them at … but do that, because it’s a blast.

P.S. Upon walking into my living room this morning … I came upon this scene.  It must have been a good party.


Product Review: Willa Vodka

Low-cal vodka? Don’t mind if I do. Willa vodka is touted as a “natural, healthier, lighter premium craft vodka”, and it being low in calories means it’s lower in alcohol content than other vodkas (70 proof compared to the industry standard 80 proof).

01_willa_bottleEven better that the lower calorie count? Willa is all about advertising to women. (Even though it was created by two men!) “Independent spirits for independent women” is their tag line that scrolls across the top of their website … but don’t let that fool you, guys. (You won’t lose your man card for buying this.) Anyone who is looking for a more health-conscious vodka, this is the one. I let some guy friends visiting my boyfriend try it … and let’s just say it wasn’t just me who liked the taste.

It was awarded the silver medal for best “Small Batch Craft Vodka” at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2012. In 2013, Willa brought home the gold medal for both taste and bottle design at the SIP Awards.

This non GMO vodka has a smooth taste and a great price. It’s made with 100% organic Italian wheat and the water used for distilling is from the Nantucket Aquifer. The nose has a bit of citrus and just a slight bit of charcoal. The taste was smooth (thanks to the lower proof) and had the same citrus notes, but was incredibly clean.

The Willa brand is in the process of expanding. They have started a Fundable page looking for investors to help expand into flavored vodka, gin, and rum. I look forward to what is to come for this new brand.

Lemon Drop
Lemon Drop

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~$29 for 750mL

Here are a couple of the recipes that Willa suggests:

Lemon Drop
2 parts Willa Vodka
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/4 part stevia simple syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.


3 parts Willa Vodka
1 part cranberry juice
3/4 part fresh lime juice
1/4 part fresh orange juice
1 barspoon of light simple syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a an orange twist.


***Willa gave our team a bottle to try out.***

Going Green with 360 Vodka

I’m not sure where 2015 went, but the past couple months have been a blur. With the onslaught of holiday parties and football gatherings, drinks are something that seem to be ever-present. A generous box of spirit(s) arrived on my doorstep at a pivotal moment in this season’s madness to provide me the essentials of holiday cheer.

I’ve noted in the past that I tend to be wary of vodka, but when distilled just right and mixed with the right ingredients, it becomes my drink of choice. In particular, 360 Vodka (produced by Earth Friendly Distilling Company, a division of McCormick Distilling Company, Inc. … don’t cringe) comes distilled four times from American grain using column distillation process and filtered five times featuring proprietary charcoal coconut filter system. The smooth, earthy finish  of this grain vodka along with a mild bite and subtle lavender notes, makes it an easy choice to mix in any cocktail. 

This vodka’s clean taste is echoed in the company’s eco-friendly attitude from development, production, to distribution. The bottle (commonly reused by consumers for water and olive oil) is made from 85% recycled glass, giving each bottle a unique green hue.  The label on the bottle is made with 100% post-consumer paper with special water based inks that won’t harm the environment; and the swing‐top closure comes with a pre‐paid envelope empowering Americans to return it for reuse and have $1.00 donated to a local environmental organization. Additionally, McCormick, with the assistance of the Missouri Department of Conservation, launched FOREST 360, an effort to plant indigenous trees on 40 acres of the land around the distillery.

Essentially, consumers can grab a super-premium bottle of vodka at a reasonable price and give back to the environment – as if you needed an excuse. And, with the recent trend in all things organic and green, 360 Vodka makes for the perfect holiday bar staple or hostess gift. The range of flavors can seem somewhat overwhelming with options like Georgia Peach, Sorrento Lemon, Buttered Popcorn, and even Glazed Donut.

Personally, I took advantage of the crisp fall season to mix up a vodka-forward version of Susie’s Cool Weather Punch* with the original 360 Vodka.


ABV 40% / 80 Proof
Retails for around $35 per 750ml bottle



Shaken … Not Stirred

My favorite lothario spy, Bond, James Bond is known for ordering his iconic “vodka martini … shaken, not stirred” since the days of Dr. No (ahem, 1958).  In his last four films, we’ve seen Daniel Craig’s Bond shake it up a bit.  In “Casino Royal” he ordered the Vesper (recipe below), and in the recently released “Spectre”, he opts for another new concoction.  This time, his paramour in the (latter part of the) movie, Dr. Swan, orders a dirty martini … and he does, too.  (I know … mind blowing.)  Check out a recipe for the martini inspired by the movie, the Belvedere Spectre 007 Martini.

Belvedere was kind enough to treat me and some other Bond lovers to a sneak peek of the most recent Bond flick, complete with (dirty) Belvedere Spectre 007 Martinis.


2 oz. Belvedere Vodka
1/3 oz. Dry vermouth
1/6 oz. Sicilian green olive brine
1  Sicilian green olive

Gently muddle olives in base of mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients and shake hard with ice. Double strain into a chilled martini glass.


With Bond’s noticeable departure from his expected vodka martini, I should note that change is still inevitable, December is still 31 days, and the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west.

If you make one of Bond’s cocktails, tag me and make sure to include the hashtag #ShakenNotStirred!

Vesper Cocktail
Three measures of Gordon’s
One measure of vodka
Half a measure of Kina Lillet

“Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”

Ironroot Republic Launch Party

I love supporting up-and-coming businesses and brands; especially when they are local, and especially when they have a truly awesome product. Ironroot Republic is a new craft spirits distillery, located right in our back yard, in Denison, TX.  I had the opportunity to attend Ironroot Republic’s launch party last month, where I met the Likarish brothers, co-founds and distillers at Ironroot Republic, who were as friendly as they were interesting to chat with. Oh, and they brought us some really tasty booze to try. And plenty of it. (Gotta love that.)

Jonathan and Robert Likarish practice their art by employing a “grain to glass” philosophy. Ninety percent of the ingredients used in Ironroot Republic products are grown within 60 miles of the distillery. Take, for example, the lemongrass grown by Head Distiller Jonathan Likarish himself, or the coriander grown by the distillers’ MOM (I’m sorry, but how adorable is that?). Additionally, Ironroot mashes, ferments, distills, barrel ages, and bottles all of their product on-site.


Currently, the brothers are offering three diverse and exciting labels:

  • Blue Norther Vodka: created using a non-chill filtration process, and made from the finest hand-selected Texas grains; crisp citrus and caramel essence, followed by honey sweetness, and a rich, silky mouth-feel. Full-bodied with a long, vanilla finish.
    80 proof; ABV 40%; suggested retail price $25
  • Carpenter’s Bluff Moonshine: Texas corn whiskey at its finest, made from rare heirloom red corn; hints of fresh honeydew, white peach, and dragon fruit, followed by lychee nut, dark berries, and a lingering sweetness.
    90 proof; ABV 45%; suggested retail price $25
  • Texas Drought Gin: grain to glass, made from local juniper, European juniper, lemongrass, and coriander. The finish is long and sweet due to the caramel wheat malt base.
    80 proof; ABV 40%; suggested retail price $25

I was treated to a number of delicious cocktails featuring the full lineup of Ironroot Republic spirits, and each and every one was delicious. The brothers were kind enough to share recipes with us, and I can assure you, they ALL bear recreating. Standouts in my opinion included the Martinez, which was delightfully complex, and the Mexican Martini, which was the crowd favorite of the evening.


1.5 oz. Texas Drought Gin
1.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
0.5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (Seriously, just hunt down the Luxardo. Don’t even bother with cheap imitations.)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange peel. 

Mexican Martini
(pictured as featured image)
2 oz. Carpenter’s Bluff Moonshine
1 1/2 oz. Orange Liqueur (i.e. Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
2 oz. Margarita Mix
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1 Splash of Sprite
Jalapeno Stuffed Olives, for Garnish

Pour the Moonshine, orange liqueur, margarita mix, lime juice, and sprite in shaker. Fill will ice and shake. Pour into martini glass, and garnish with jalapeño stuffed olive. 

The Iron Word

The Iron Word
0.75 oz. Carpenter’s Bluff Moonshine
0.75 oz. Green Chartreuse
0.75 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur
0.75 oz. Lime Juice

Shake with ice and strain into chilled coupe glass.

Denison Donkey
1.5 oz. Blue Norther Vodka
4 oz. Ginger Beer
1/6 oz. Lime Juice

Combine vodka and ginger beer in a copper mug or highball glass filled with ice. Add lime juice, stir gently, and garnish with a lime slice. 

Denison Donkey

One final thing you should know: the Likarish brothers have some really awesome stuff going on at the distillery, above and beyond what you would expect from your requisite Saturday afternoon tour. Yeah, they’ve got that, too, but here is a full lineup of all of the awesome goings on at the Denison distillery:

  • Friday evenings: the distillery bar is open from 5-9 PM; a tour is available at 6 PM.
  • Saturdays: the distillery bar is open from 2-9 PM; tours are available at 2, 4, and 6.
  • First weekend of every month: Bloody Mary bar with 20+ ways to dress it up. (personally, I am very excited to check this one out!)

Distillery tours cost $5; tours have a 20 person max. Your $5 ticket goes toward your purchase of Iroonroot Distillery swag! 

A huge shout-out to the bartenders at Alamo Drafthouse Richardson for expertly preparing these tasty libations; I always forget how awesome the patio is here. I would go here just to drink, no movie attached. Seriously. 

Ironroot Republic
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3111 Loy Lake Road, Denison, TX
(903) 337-0495

Available at all DFW and Denison-area spirits retailers, Alamo Drafthouse, and Brix in Plano

Product Review: Equality Vodka

written by Kevin Craft

Fall is coming, which means Dallas Pride is just around the corner! For those of us that that it means our favorite event of the year is coming, you’ll need an impressive cocktail to serve at your pre-pride festivities. I got you covered with Equality Vodka.

I wasn’t sure about taking on a new Texas Vodka (I’ve been a Tito’s fan for a while now), but Equality was very smooth, and pairs with almost any mixer you’ve got in your fridge. Equality Vodka for sure found staying power in my liquor nook.

The best part? Finally you can drink as much as you want and know you’re supporting a good cause. (Because that was what was holding us back, right?) For every bottle purchased, Equality Vodka will make a donation to a nonprofit organization recognized for advancing the equality movement for LGBTQI communities.

I created this cool refreshing cocktail recipe that’s perfect to celebrate before hitting the parade and as simple as it can get.


Equality Vodka® Rainbow Sour
2 parts Equality Vodka
3/4 parts Lemon Juice
Water or Club Soda
1 slice of lemon
Food coloring, three colors max

First step: (PROCRASTINATOR ALERT! You’ll need to do this the night before.) Make at least three colored ice cubes in an ice cube tray. You won’t need yellow … it comes into play later.

Second step: When life gives you lemons … slice them and use them as the perfect pop of color in your drink! Lemons not only add flavor to the cocktail, but they’re totally photogenic. (Perfect for any Instagram addicts out there.)  Put the ice cubes in a clear glass, add Equality Vodka, the lemon juice, and the water/or club soda in that order.