A few years ago, I made a decision to kick my caffeine habit once and for all. This required an unexpected and unwanted amount of detox, headaches, and general unpleasantness to get through, but the end result has paid off. I was freed from drinking sludge for fuel, and it eventually led to the demise of an intense diet soda habit (you’re welcome, body). Now, my point is not to indoctrinate you with the evils of caffeine –just giving a little context. I still have soda and coffee, but if I’m going to drink it, it has to be really freaking good. I only give you this brief history to set the stage for me to review CoolBrew Coffee – both as a beverage and as a mixer.
My plan for reviewing this coffee was simple – find 3 good friends, wait for a reason to have a dinner party and grab a ton of mixers that pair well with coffee. What I didn’t expect was how long this would take to make happen, so I was able to also try the CoolBrew flavors on their own before spiking them. If you’re not familiar, CoolBrew comes in containers of concentrate that can be mixed with hot or cold water or milk. I tried a range of flavors – Original, French Roast, Vanilla, Toasted Almond, Decaf, Hazelnut, Mocha and Chocolate Almond – and was impressed how good they were on their own. I even added a bit of the Chocolate Almond to my morning smoothie for flavor (the products are all unsweetened and about 4 calories per serving) and was quite peppy far beyond lunch (although I was also asked to stop fidgeting in a meeting, so that was a onetime experiment.) If you’re just looking for a simple way to supplement a coffee habit, this is a pretty cost effective and delicious way to do it. (My iced latte-a-day fiancée has nixed her daily Starbucks run in favor of CoolBrew with milk over ice in a travel tumbler.)
Breaking: People still play Cards Against Humanity
But, you’re not here for coffee bargain shopping tips with Brian; you’re here for the alcohol. For the booze portion, we gathered ‘round and made four drinks for the group to toast the end of our Memorial Day dinner:
Iced Hazelnut coffee with skim milk and Grand Marnier
Hot Toasted Almond coffee with skim milk, Jameson and whipped cream
Iced Chocolate Almond coffee with skim milk and Frangelico
Iced Vanilla coffee with skim milk and Bailey’s
After sharing and swapping all four, it was official – these were perfect after-dinner drinks with a lot of flavor. We liked using the concentrate versus regular brewing as it was really quick to make and avoid having an extra batch of unwanted coffee afterwards (and yes, I’m aware Keurigs exist, I just don’t care.)
Like any good (yet slightly irresponsible) 16-21 year old, the apparent virtues of rum were well known to me. Girls love that shit, so it was common practice to make sure someone got a bottle of Malibu for the party or social gathering, and then maybe something better to be mixed with soda for everyone else. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with rum, but as an adult, I’ve mostly narrowed my sights on the brassiest IPAs, whiskeys and bourbons I can find, which means everything is straight, filling and/or easily mixable with soda. This is a narrow and terrible view – especially as there are now dozens of bartenders around Dallas who can easily show you the wonderful possibilities of vodka, gin and all the other “non-bro” spirits being poured today.
Still, when Susie asked me to taste a sample batch fromPapa’s Pilar, my first instinct was to outsource this to the first friend I could find from Florida, but after my calls were not returned, I realized it was time to teach myself how to really taste this stuff and see what I could find out. The rum is named for Ernest Hemingway (bet you love that clever title up there now), so I figured if anyone could teach me to give rum a chance, it’s a man who survived multiple plane crashes and was an all around badass who just happened to be pretty damn eloquent.
After doing some quick research, I learned rum tasting works a lot like wine tasting. You check the legs, you use your sense of smell, you swirl and you let it breathe. I decided I would do both straight tastings and quickly mix a Dark and Stormy to evaluate the two samples and I’ve recorded my notes below. To reset my rum pallet, I tasted a few sips of a third brand of rum to make sure I had a baseline for comparison, and then I dove in.
First, let’s take a moment to appreciate the really interesting packaging. From the wooden box to the ship style bottles, the presentation of even a simple sample was actually exciting to tear into. They provided background literature from their website that focused on their history, the distillery and the solera aging process they use for both types of rum. Even if you’re just a history nerd who plans to never drink a sip, it’s an interesting read. For more on how the rum is made, here’s one of the most direct summaries I found if you don’t feel like poking around the website.
Papa’s Pilar Three Year-Old Blonde Rum
This was very easy to drink, with a wash of fruit tastes on first sip (especially grapefruit), followed by a deeper vanilla flavor. White rum is usually not my thing, but this had just enough going on to make the sipping experience enjoyable – in fact, I ended up drinking double my planned amount after I made it through the tasting process.
I didn’t do anything elaborate – just some Reed’s ginger beer to see how a simple recipe turned out. While I had only made a Dark and Stormy with darker rums in the past, this actually made a nice and refreshing summer drink I would happily revisit as soon as Texas decides to stop having random freezes in April.
Papa’s Pilar Twenty Four Year-Old Dark Rum
First, this rum took a double gold medal at the World Spirits competition in San Francisco (and the blonde also was recognized at the Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami), so my expectation to be blown away was high. As much as I tried to fight it, once I had the glass poured, my mind kept telling my mouth to get ready for bourbon. However, the first sip was excellent and I actually had that same rush I get from a good sip of the usual stuff, with complex flavors and a smooth finish. It was spicy, but not in an off-putting way and you could tell the impact of the solera-aging process (thanks, bourbon barrels) and the influence of the different casks.
As good as this rum is neat, mixing it in a cocktail almost felt wasteful. I tried to only give it a few splashes of ginger beer, but even that was a waste. If you’re going to drink this one, neat or on the rocks is the way to go.
So, in summary, I enjoyed both of these rums immensely and recommend you start exploring cocktails with the blonde and keep the dark one on hand to be enjoyed by the secret rumelier hidden deep inside you.
New Trinity Groves Spots a Perfect Reminder of Why Some Nights, You Just Have to Leave Suburbia
Written by Brian Bianco
When Susie first approached me with a sack full of cash and a bottle of whiskey asking me to write for her, her terms were clear–stay far north and leave Dallas to her. Luckily, her busy holiday schedule opened the door for me to not only venture into Dallas proper, but also check out Trinity Groves for the first time for a media preview dinner at Chino Chinatown. It not only gave me a chance to try some highly anticipated Latin-Asian fusion cuisine, but also sample a drink menu that look good on paper.
The hip-casual ambience is set by great tunes and decor that reflects the cuisine (e.g., rockabilly geisha art – so cool). A friendly and knowledgeable bar staff is also a welcomed change … though “friendly” could mean they where on their best behavior for the press … who knows.
I’ll save you my detailed thoughts on the food since there is plenty of buzz already out there from our food counterparts, but I will say the edamame and shishito pepper dish and the chicken lollipops were both outstanding small plates to well enjoy with a few cocktails.
My biggest regret was not having a few friends with me (or my former college tolerance) to try everything on the drink menu, but I was able to sample a good amount. CC’s bar program, like a growing number of others in Dallas, was designed by Jason Kosmos, and was reminiscent of nights spent with my lady friend at the no-longer-with-us Marquee Grill (may it rest in peace).
Chino Chinatown’s introductory press release led with the Mezerac (rye, mescal, cola, cacao bitters) and Tijuana Sling (Remy Martin V, maraca, lime, seltzer), which were both good, but the 47 Ronin* delivered on the fusion promise to give me something the likes of which I hadn’t ever tasted and was, without question, the star of the show. (The bartender who served it, Adrian Verdin, wanted to make clear is a tribute to the incredibly awesome samurai legend and not the recent Keanu Reeves motion picture. This is an important distinction, because the drink is awesome, and the movie … maybe not so much.)
The bevy of drinks I tried were the Beg, Steal or Borrow (bourbon-based), The Good, The Bad, The Weird (best described as a tequila drink for the non-tequila drinker, in the most positive possible way), Between the Sikhs (Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky), and the Snake Charmer (vodka and prickly pear that is easy to drink and available by the pitcher).
In short, if you want a night of good food and a chance to explore some complex drink options, there aren’t many better destinations right now in Dallas. (Just make sure you order the 47 Ronin and chicken lollipops.)
*A few disclaimers as I review their sake – I’ve never had Japanese whisky and my sake pallet is, uh, being seasoned. Verdin was very proud of the cocktail and was happy to walk me through it as I drank (which is only slightly embarrassing in retrospect, but felt right at the time). The drink is made from Yamakazi 12 Japanese whisky, goji berry groseille, yuzu, and sake, and is a nice mixture of tart and slightly sweet flavors before the whisky takes over and brings it home. If the night had been laid out differently, that would have been my choice drink for the night, and I would have had no regrets.
We’ve all been part of the group outing where quality drinks and food are thrown to the wayside in exchange for the convenience of buckets of domestic beer and reheated frozen chicken tenders. Bowling, movie/food combos and miniature golf generally end with food regret, a half-drunk pitcher of Miller Lite approaching room temperature and a bill that does not come close to matching my level of enjoyment. With this bias admittedly in mind, I recently had the opportunity to check out the newest TopGolf location in The Colony and sample what was the beginning of an ever-changing, chef-inspired food and beverage menu.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Corporate Executive, Chef Seve Delgado, who had saved us a seat at the bar to sample their specialty cocktail menu and were later joined by Director of Food and Beverage, Mark Boyton, who was kind enough to join us straight from a flight home from a corporate F&B shoot earlier the same day. Their drink menu features craft cocktails, a house-made Sangria, a bloody mary bar and local beers specific to each location (for example, The Colony had Franconia on tap while the Dallas location features Four Corners Brewery.) They also allow bartenders throughout the company to bring new ideas based on current drink trends, which meant our first round featured Dark ‘n Stormy and a Texas Mule (because odds are even your college-aged little brother now has a copper mug and a four-pack of Fever Tree—which we’re completely cool with).
Seve told us they have to walk the line between making good drinks and being able to produce in volume, as their sales numbers are staggering*. The drinks themselves were fresh and the ingredients were strong (Tito’s vodka, Gosling’s rum, and quality ginger beer – not the mailed-in kind or coke/ginger ale sub that has ruined many a drink in other bars). Delgado told us that Top Golf’s goal is to make food and drinks as good as the game. (Success.)
She also told me this menu was just the beginning (the location has been open less than two months), and we will soon see bourbon/whiskey (please hurry on this one), tequila and barrel-aged spirit-driven cocktails. They are working on other bar items such as house-made habanero syrup and other homespun ideas. The menu will rotate every six months and will be based on trend-watching more anything else. (We were told to expect more margaritas, more flavors of vodka and other options to arrive soon.) They are also in the process of building out a defined wine selection and have been focused on finding interesting options that pair well with their current food selections. A big bold cab may not be the best fit for trying to hit the ball cart when it cruises by (come on, admit you do it), but a focus on blends will give more options to find a good wine that matches both the person ordering it and the flavor profile of the dish.
We also tried a few of the sweeter drink offerings: the Orange Dream (a creamsicle-tasting drink that is their most popular specialty cocktail and comes in a 60oz souvenir golf bag fish bowl called the Rum-Runner Up). The sweet drinks are not my wheelhouse, but my drinking companion has experience bartending at a well-known chain restaurant and could vouch for them much better than I could. My take – they were good punch-type drinks, perfect for an outdoor setting, that don’t overwhelm with the sugar taste like so many similar options do.
In fact, despite the fact that we were only there to try the drinks, we heard about flavor profiles and the food so much, they told us they had just a few dishes we had to try – which turned into one heck of a feast. Delgado told us they “don’t want to be known for common food” and they take a similar approach to their menu as they do their specialty drinks. They allow chefs at each location to introduce concepts and ideas, and then identify the best of the best when the menu rotates March of each year. We tried the Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Brisket Chili, which was surprisingly good and admittedly way beyond what we expected. (That’ll teach us to judge a book by its cover.) We also enjoyed their take on a grilled cheese (remarkably rich and hearty with a nice tomato addition), a club sandwich that went beyond the usual chain restaurant feel and chicken and waffle sliders we learned should only be eaten with gravy added to the chicken and then syrup poured over the top. Delgado stressed they make the majority of the menu from scratch in-house and the difference showed.
We spent the last part of the night talking and it was apparent that Delgado and Boyton are just getting started. Both have been with the company for about five years and were almost bashful about their impressive resumes. Both have catered for high end clients, with Boyton casually mentioning his experiences back home in the UK catering ho-hum events like the Beckham wedding as well as special events for Elton John and Andrew Lloyd Weber. They intend to keep building a chef-driven (I should have kept a counter on how often we used the term) powerhouse and The Colony location is off to a great start.
If you’re like me and have only been to the Dallas location, you need to head up north to see the three-story, wide-open building and course (which serves as the company’s new prototype). There is a large patio still under construction and we were told the existing locations will be remodeled in the coming months to match.
*Last year in DFW alone, they outsold Cowboys Stadium. They are also the largest beer account in Collin County and have similar success in other locations (we were told the Houston location also outsold Reliant Stadium, although this doesn’t factor in what it must take to get through a Texans game this season.
I’d like to introduce my new “staff writer” (can I say that?), Brian Bianco. Brian will be covering some events, places, and things up north (a.k.a. Oklahoma). Here’s a little bit about the “new guy”:
Brian has lived in DFW the majority of his life and has been drinking his way through the metroplex for a good chunk of it. He recently relocated to the Great North (Plano) and is determined to find the best options for those who have embraced the suburbs without giving up the dream of finding cool paces to drink. He prefers whiskey, bourbon, and beer, but will randomly go Dr. John Doran on you when you least expect it.