Category Archives: spirits

Crown Royal Vanilla greets the new year

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Crown Royal vanilla in a hearth- and heart-warming drink
Crown Royal vanilla in a hearth- and heart-warming drink

Crown Royal’s Canadian blended whiskies offer something for almost everyone. Its Signature series includes smooth Deluxe, Rye and Black. Its high-end Master series features XO and XR and more. And its Flavor series includes apple, maple and, now, a lovely vanilla-scented and -flavored version that mixes beautifully – and simply sings on its own. Maker’s tasting notes for Royal Crown Vanilla: “Rich vanilla bean with delicate hints of oak. Creamy vanilla on the palate with a smooth, light whisky finish that’s viscous and warming with a Crème Brulee aftertaste.” Yikes. No wonder we love this new version with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla! Makes us feel in some ways like we do when we sip a fine long-aged rum.

The company’s new tag line is especially meaningful in our world today. “Live generously and life will treat you royally.” In sending a sample for review, the company lived up to its motto by sending not only a bottle of the new vanilla-flavored Crown Royal to taste but also a bottle of the original Crown Royal. Each was nestled in a signature Crown Royal drawstring bag – one reading “One to keep” and the other “One to give.”

This kind of attitude in a business is admirable. We all know that corporations are in business to make a profit. So it stands out when a company takes a higher road in its advertising and then lives up to that position in other ways.

And if you like smooth sippin’ whiskey, you’re bound to love one or more of Crown Royal’s sophisticated blends. Get ’em at Binny’s or your favorite spirits merchant.

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Cognac is hot – for sipping and mixing

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The spirits fates can be fickle. Remember the great vodka wars – Ketel One, Grey Goose, later Tito’s, etc. – “What does your vodka say about you?” Nowadays Cognac is the new favorite cocktail base for many bartenders and consumers. Sophisticated palates appreciate sipping it to enjoy the many subtle layers of flavors to be found in various iterations of the spirit, including in the gradations of VS, VSOP and XO.
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Cognac Rémy Martin
Cognac Rémy Martin

Rémy Martin Cognac, for example – a name well-known among aficionados – recently set up pop-up “experiences” in major cities in the U.S., Chicago included. Titled “La Maison Rémy Martin,” the pop-up included 80 minutes of workshops and masterclasses in which consumers met and interacted with some of the world’s preeminent progressive thinkers from music, fashion, cuisine and art – for example, French Kinetic Artist Vincent Leroy who was commissioned to create a piece and to design the box featured at La Maison Rémy Martin experience. All the while participants learned about the process of making Cognac and got to blend their own. Cool, eh?

Curious about the new popularity of this spirit, we asked Mixologist Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago a few questions about the phenomenon:
 
How would you explain the cocktail sensation going on in the U.S. today? 
The cocktail Renaissance going on in this country lately has to do with the evolving tastes of the consumer. Nowadays people are much more informed about what they put into their bodies, even when it comes to cocktails. Many people now expect fresh juice in lieux of sour mix, all natural ingredients, and house-made custom recipes. It’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
What is it about Cognac that mixologists like and why is it becoming so attractive to cocktail lovers?
I think Cognac has always been attractive to cocktail lovers. Some of the best classic cocktails – Sidecar, Sazerac, and Vieux Carre’ – all call for Cognac. The more educated modern bartenders become about the history of the craft cocktail, the more often they’ll reach for a bottle of Cognac. Cognac is a form of brandy, and brandy has been a bedrock in cocktails for a long time.
Cognac is unique in that it is an appellation and can only be distilled in one specific place, using Ugni Blanc grapes from a handful of regions in France. That makes for a very specific flavor profile that can be mimicked, but not replicated. Of course, there is still some diversity within the variety of Cognacs, based on the terrior where the grapes are grown, how long it’s aged, etc. That exclusivity of region and production method is really what sets Cognac apart, providing bartenders with a unique flavor for their drinks that they cannot get anywhere else. One of my go-to premium mixing Cognac is D’USSÉ™ VSOP. It has a full-bodied, bold taste that’s versatile and adds a unique twist to classic drinks.
Are some generations more into this trend than others?
Younger generations today grew up with more options than ever before – particularly Millennials. Instant gratification is the norm now; everything is one Google search away. A side effect is that these tech-savvy consumers tend to be more aware of current options that help them make more-informed choices. As an example, we recently had an older woman come in for a Gimlet and specifically request Rose’s Lime juice – something we simply do not carry. I suggested she try it instead with fresh juice, and she was over the moon for it. For us as bartenders, it’s really about taking that first step with a guest without being pretentious.
Which cognac-based cocktail do you recommend for newbies to the spirit? Or does it matter – since expertly crafted cocktails sometimes mask the strength/sensations of the main spirit?
Rather than mask anything, expertly crafted cocktails should showcase the flavors of the main spirit in a balanced and appropriate way; that’s how I approach it. I think the perfect Cognac-based cocktail for a newbie would be the classic Sidecar. It’s very easy to make, very well balanced, and always seems to please. My go-to build for it is 2 oz D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac, 3/4 oz of fresh (always fresh) lemon juice, 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao, shaken, up, in a half sugar rimmed cocktail coupe.
Among classic cocktail recipes with Cognac, which are your 3 favorites:  
My favorites are The Sidecar, Sazerac and Vieux Carre’, all of which pair well with the unique flavor profile of D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac.
SIDECAR
  • 2 oz of D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 3/4 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao

SERVE: Shake and strain all ingredients into a sugar-rimmed coupe glass.  GARNISH: Lemon peel and a sugared rim. TIP: To create a unique take on the Sidecar, substitute the triple sec with ¾ part of Giffard Framboise to create the D’USSÉ™ Framboise Sidecar.

THE SAZERAC
  • 1 ½ oz D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • ¼ oz Absinthe
  • Half a tea spoon demerara sugar
  • Three dashes Peychauds Bitters

SERVE: Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. GARNISH: Lemon Peel.

VIEW CARRE’
  • 1 part D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • 1 part rye whisky
  • 1 part NOILLY PRAT® Rouge Sweet Vermouth Dash Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Dash Angostura® Bitters
  • ½ part BENEDICTINE® Liqueur

SERVE: Combine all ingredients, stir and pour into a glass of choice. GARNISH: Lemon peel.

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5 beverage ideas for fall

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Every change of season is a good excuse to broaden your repertoire of wines and spirits. And, hey, it’s finally fall in Chicago (well, except for those 72-degree days). To warm yourself in cooler temps, consider these unique beverages to help you enjoy the glorious November weather: a fabulous red wine born of a partnersip, a cognac finished in bourbon casks, a plummy gin, a light prosecco (with punch recipe), and a ‘fiery’ red wine finished in whiskey barrels.
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“Collaboration” ***** is an absolutely stunning red wine that we would happily drink with anything – from rich cheeses and hearty stews and roasts, to pork, sturdy fish like salmon and, well, just about anything. For serious red-wine lovers, it might even work as an aperitif with appetizers just because it’s so complex and rich and delicious. This wine is the remarkable result of a cooperative effort (thus, the name “Collaboration”)  between Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants and Buena Vista Winery. And the catch is, you can’t buy it in stores, and you can only buy it online if you are a member of the Cooper’s Hawk wine club.

Cooper's Hawk Collaboration - love it!
Cooper’s Hawk Collaboration – love it!

Here’s what the winemakers have to say about it: “A rich, deep wine loaded with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, plum and baking spices, it has firm and well-rounded tannins and an exceptionally long finish that can stand up to any beef dish. Beautiful to drink now, it’s expected to age well for another four to six years.”

Jean-Charles Boisset, who added Buena Vista to the Boisset Collection in 2011, says Collaboration “makes the wine world vibrate and brings a transcendental vision to people’s emotional style, taste, and senses… This wine is about power and a vortex of energy that has never been felt before.” We actually don’t think that’s too strong a statement. Visit www.buenavistawinery.com.

Cooper’s Hawk is a unique combination of restaurant, winery, Napa-style tasting room, and artisanal retail market with 24 locations throughout Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin more on the way next year. They partner with some of the best grape growers in the world to craft the highly praised Cooper’s Hawk wine collection. And they have a wine club that offers exclusive wines, events, and privileges. CEO/Founder Tim McEnery first opened the company in Orland Park, Illinois in 2005. Visit www.chwinery.com. Must be a wine club member to purchase Collaboration.
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Martell Blue Swift Cognac finished in bourbon barrels - Photo used with permission of Martell
Martell Blue Swift Cognac finished in bourbon barrels

Martell Cognac, the oldest of the great cognac houses, recently announced the launch of Martell Blue Swift, the first-ever Martell VSOP finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks and packaged in a beautiful bottle. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem represents the legend behind the brand. This bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, and the story goes that Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente. Martell was the first to ship its cognac barrels from France to the United States and now, more than 230 years later, they’re still doing it. This new and unique Eau de Vie de Vin is a product that is born “When Cognac meets Bourbon.” SRP ~$50.
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TuB Hoppy Plum Gin
TuB Hoppy Plum Gin

TuB Gin‘s Hoppy Plum gin. This unique hoppy, fruity gin with plum spirits came out on November 1 as a limited 4-month release from Peach Street Distillers, the folks known for using crisp, local ingredients in their spirits. And this one is a really special spirit that starts out with their renowned citrus-forward gin and is then married with Palisada Plum Eau de Vie and macerated Colorado hops. The end result is a hoppy, softly spiced spirit so smooth you could even drink it straight. If you do, the flavor explodes in your mouth and the aroma opens your nose, and the whole experience warms you, lifts your spirits and sets your tongue a-tingle. A great surprise gift for the spirit lover who likes to expand horizons.
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Astoria Prosecco
Astoria Prosecco

Astoria Prosecco DOC is a classic brand from Italy that comes in a cut-glass bottle that’s lovely enough you might even want to re-use it. Semi-dry with a crisp taste and generous bubbles, you’ll notice pear, apple and floral notes. It’s a light, easy-to-drink wine for a toast or to pair with appetizers or a light main dish or even with desserts. And if you’re still grilling – it’s not snowing yet, right? – whether it’s burgers, steak, chicken or fish, consider this flavorful punch from Astoria Wines. It combines their Prosecco DOC with lemonade and just a few other ingredients. It’ll let you and your guests hang onto the feeling of summer. SRP varies ~$8 to $12.

Lemonade Prosecco Punch

  • 4-6 cups prepared Lemonade
  • 1/3 cup citrus vodka (regular is fine, too)
  • 1 pint blackberries (or your favorite berry), frozen
  • 3 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 750ml bottle Astoria Prosecco DOC, chilled

Stir lemonade and vodka in a gallon pitcher or punch bowl. Add berries and mint. Let the berries macerate for an hour or more. The longer it sits, the more the blackberries and mint infuse the flavor. Add the Prosecco, stir gently and serve over ice. Store leftovers tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
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Apothic Wines is one of the wineries and spirit makers who’ve embraced the exciting new technique of melding aging processes. Their new Apothic Inferno – recently released as a limited edition – is aged in barrels that originally contained a completely different product – whiskey. We enthusiastically endorsed this melding phenomenon originally with Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz and Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon (review here).

Crafted in California and put up in bottles emblazoned with a raging-flames-inferno label, each batch of Apothic Inferno undergoes a time-intensive, barrel-aging process. The barrels – cut, shaped, and bound by steel before being charred with flames – were first used to age whiskey for a few years prior to becoming the home of Apothic’s new red blend. Some palates may find the strong whiskey “soul” of the resulting red challenging; others may embrace it wholeheartedly.  If you’re one of the latter, order some soon as quantities are limited. In any case, try it with a hearty meat dish and some whole grain bread to stand up to the flavor. Check for it in your favorite restaurants in Chicago. SRP ~$16.

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Rabbit Hole bar and restaurant – a new Old Town hangout

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It’s officially open: The Rabbit Hole bar and restaurant, 1208 N. Wells St., right off Division St. in Old Town. It’s a small storefront with a roomy interior and a stage for live music. The walls, painted to make you feel like you’re following the White Rabbit down the hole in Alice in Wonderland, and the many craft and draft beers, whimsical cocktails and wines are an invitation for you to go ahead and fall in.
Hot Karaoke live band
Hot Karaoke live band

On opening night they had a live band for karaoke. Seriously. If you are a wannabe singer, singing with real musicians behind you and the words in front of you has to be – as the saying goes – the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And on top of that, they serve elevated bar food that includes sharable appetizers, hearty salads, “grabbers” (otherwise known as meat-heavy platters), and an assortment of sides. Chicken Wings come with your choice of house buffalo, shogun sweet chili, Chef Diablo’s habanero or pomegranate BBQ, served with tri-colored carrots, jicama, house made ranch or bleu cheese. Other items: marinated Steakhouse Minis, The 1951 Burger, Queen of Hearts salad, and Jabberwock Angus Sliders. Try starting with Candied Slab Bacon – thick cut, Applewood smoked slab bacon, grilled and glazed with maple syrup. rabbit-hole-chicken-wings

And what fun that they have games – like large-scale Pictionary – you can play with your friends any and every night of the week. The Rabbit Hole has set a goal to become the new favorite go-to spot for everyone in the ‘hood. It’s certainly off to a grand start.
Craft and draft beers include 24 beer taps and a host of canned and bottled brews. Cocktails by beverage director Carlos Guerra have memorable monikers like the smoky White Rabbit on a Dirty Mule with Mezcal, ginger beer, lime juice, Jägermeister, and grapefruit juice, or the delicate yet complex Tweedle Rum with rum, rye, coffee vermouth, coconut, Fernet Dogma and cinnamon, to name just two.

A sports-friendly bar, with ten large screen TVs, it also serves as a distinctive backdrop for the viewing of any game. Live Band Karaoke on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9pm.

Open 4pm to 2am weekdays and 11am to 2am Fridays & Sundays, and Saturday from 11 to 3am. Happy Hour 4 to 6 weekdays, and brunch on weekends. Visit therabbitholechicago.com or follow @rabbitholechi.
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Chicago Loop welcomes The Kimpton Gray Hotel

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Cool seat in the Kimpton Gray Hotel lobby
Cool seat in the Kimpton Gray Hotel lobby

The Kimpton Gray Hotel, 122 W. Monroe St. at LaSalle, is the newest upscale lodging option in the heart of the Chicago Loop’s legal and financial district. Located on the second floor, the lobby – known as “The Living Room” – welcomes guests with coffee, tea and muffins in the morning and wine and cheese receptions each evening. Naturally, the Wi-Fi is free. The huge arched windows, framed with floor-to-ceiling black velvet draperies with gold headers, let in natural light and spotlight views of bustling Monroe and LaSalle Streets.

Just off the lobby guests can join locals for lunch, dinner, drinks and more in the bar and restaurant Vol. 39, so named because it refers to the legal volumes that fill the bookcases surrounding the eating area. Handsome lighting and luxurious seating arrangements are perfect for intimate meetings, whether business or pleasure.
The new hotel is the dramatic result of a complete rehabilitation of the former New York Life Insurance building, originally built in 1894. A sweeping marble staircase leads from the entrance to the second floor lobby – graced with the sound of a jazz quartet at the grand opening. Many of the hallways in the 15 floors are still lined with the original marble. At the grand opening designers made dramatic use of lighting – electric, multi-colored, candles, spots and more – to showcase decorations and finishes. A large section of the meeting room space was strikingly decorated with candles and complementary yet completely different items to hold candles and flowers.
The elegant modern bar at Steadfast
The elegant modern bar at Steadfast

Besides Volume 39, guests and locals can select breakfast, lunch or dinner available at Steadfast, the restaurant and bar located at 120 W. Monroe and situated within the main floor of The Kimpton Gray. Its menus offer unique items like duck liver mousse crostini and a laminated brioche sandwich with Serano ham, Manchego, quail egg and caviar.

Check out unique menu items at Steadfast
Check out unique menu items at Steadfast

The presidential suite was beautifully appointed with sleek modern fixtures in a gray/white/black theme and was, well, presidential in its grandeur – easy to picture a president relaxing there. Other size rooms and suites were equally handsome though somewhat smaller, of course. On the 15th floor the rooftop restaurant/bar BOLEO offers a menu with a South American flair and a comfortable place to take in some unique views of downtown. The grand opening featured a hot-tempo video/DJ combo and soulful trumpet by Kafele playing along.

Kafele playing hot licks in the cleared-out dining space of Boleo
Kafele playing hot licks in the cleared-out dining space of Boleo
Elegant. Understated. Service-oriented. Kimpton always does a great job. And now The Gray is a new top pick among the Chicago Loop’s eat-drink-and-stay choices.
Even the powder rooms are cool at The Kimpton Gray Hotel
Even the powder rooms are cool at The Kimpton Gray Hotel
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Experience virtual Louisville KY at Binny’s tonight

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English: Montage of Louisville Ky
English: Montage of Louisville Ky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have relatives who live in Louisville, KY so we’re happy to give the city a little boost here. Check out a few points of interest.

Spirits Boom: The bourbon continues to flow in Possibility City. Angel’s Envy’s downtown distillery will open this fall; in addition, moonshine purveyors Lucky and Kentucky Peerlesshave begun distilling their spirits in downtown Louisville.

A Neighborhood for Everyone: Whether it’s bar hopping in Nulu, savoring culinary creations in Butchertown or taking in Germantown’s deep European ties, there’s distinct character waiting to be discovered in each of the city’s many neighborhoods.

Refreshed Museums: The Speed Art Museum reopened this year, debuting a new building and expanded exhibits following a $50 million renovation. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft also reopened recently, offering an in-depth look at the region’s folk art.

BOURBON, BLUEGRASS & BASEBALL. Binny’s Lincoln Park is hosting an evening of Kentucky-themed cocktails and Southern-inspired hors d’oeuvres tonight, with live bluegrass music by Hickory Vaught and Bourbon education from expert Bernie Lubbers, Heaven Hill Global Whiskey Ambassador. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and the Louisville Slugger Museum will also be in attendance, providing a series of experiences for guests.

Binny’s Beverage Depot
1720 N. Marcey St.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
5 to 8 p.m.

 

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Eat haute and help inspire new chefs – Charlie Trotter Project

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Chicago always inspires
Chicago always inspires

Eat at a gourmet restaurant any day between today, Thursday August 17 and Sunday August 21, select a Charlie-Trotter-inspired menu item, and know that proceeds will benefit the Pillars of Excellence Mentor Program of The Trotter Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire, train, and provide opportunities for aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals.

Special thanks to United Airlines, the official airline partner of The Trotter Project that will donate $1 for every Choice Menu Bistro on Board item sold on all domestic flights, August 17-21, 2016.

Stay up to date with menus and new restaurant additions to Charlie Trotter Day: follow @TrotterProject on Twitter and @TheTrotterProject on Instagram, LIKE us on Facebook, and join the conversation with #CharlieTrotterDay. And go visit one of these fine restaurants in the city:

  • A10
  • Acadia
  • Ampersand Wine Bar
  • Appellation Wine Bar & Restaurant
  • Balena
  • bellyQ
  • Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area
    Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area

    Brindille

  • The Bristol
  • Formento’s
  • Goddess and the Baker
  • GreenRiver
  • GT Fish & Oyster
  • Intro
  • The Lobby at The Peninsula Chicago
  • mfk
  • MK the Restaurant
  • Naha
  • Salero
  • Swift & Sons
  • Taus Authentic
  • Yusho Hyde Park
  • Yusho Logan Square
    * All restaurants are in Chicago
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Want to lose the booze? New sparkling drink options

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Heard about the “Dry January” campaign in the UK? The idea is to go a month with no alcohol and see how you feel. Some data indicate people tend to drink less, then, over the following six months. Others say there’s no evidence it changes anything.
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A recent book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life, by Annie Grace, talks about an intelligent way to change your mind about how much you drink. Her approach, which explains our unconscious bias in favor of drinking and also brims with facts about the extraordinary dangers of alcohol – like it’s literally poison (ethanol) and that it is progressively addictive to anyone who drinks it, not just to so-called “alcoholics” – is based on the highly praised work of Dr. John Sarno in helping people rid themselves of chronic back and other pain.
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Those who choose to forego alcohol or indulge only sparingly have always been hampered by a lack of sophisticated drink alternatives. Club soda with a lime is okay, but it gets boring fast. Most flavored club sodas have a distinctly unpleasant metallic and fake taste. And some diet soda sweeteners are under severe scrutiny. So what’s a non- or light-imbiber to do?
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The fruit juice/sweetened variety and the organic-only sparkling option
The fruit juice/sweetened variety and the organic-only sparkling option
A newcomer to the market known as Cascade Ice Water sparkling beverages sent some samples recently. The brand comes in 30 lightly carbonated flavors, all of which are sodium, sugar, caffeine and gluten free. The zero-calorie flavored sparkling variety is made with 1% fruit juice and, honestly, we would love to know how they manage to make the aroma of fresh apples greet your nose when you open the McIntosh Apple. Seriously, it’s reminiscent of standing in the cellar-temperature apple shack we used to trek out to every October in Cleveland, Ohio to see the magnificent fall colors and buy apples.
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And how do they get the Strawberry-Orange-Mango to smell and taste like that when the only fruit-related ingredient is pear juice? These guys clearly have some blending magic tricks under their cloaks. By the way, if you’re still drinking red wine, mix some into that Strawberry-Orange-Mango water and you’ve got yourself instant sangria.
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The flavors in this line are lightly sweetened with sucralose, an artificial sweetener considered safe by the FDA. We found it refreshing, not too sweet and at the same time affording some unique flavor sensations. And then we happily realized we’d consumed no sugar or caffeine and hadn’t been dosed with aspartame (said to contribute to cancer, stroke and other risks).
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Another variety of Cascade Ice is its zero-calorie organic sparkling fruit waters. These are lightly carbonated and contain no sugar, caffeine or artificial sweeteners of any kind. Ingredients in the organic waters include only purified water, carbonation and essences from fruit oils and extracts. We were truly surprised and delighted by the clean, fresh, non-fake taste of the flavors of the samples of this variety. Talk about healthy alternatives!
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Cascade Ice’s zero-calorie fruit sparkling waters are made with small amounts of various fruit juices as well as a few traditional long-name ingredients like potassium benzoate (a preservative) and artificial colors. The zero-cal organic water comes in a multitude of mixed fruit flavors like blueberry-acai-pomegranate, coconut-mango, pink grapefruit, raspberry lemonade and 15 others, but keep in mind, these are not sweet. They’re nice-flavored sparkling waters made with organic fruit essences.
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Zevia - sweetened only with all-natural stevia
Zevia – sweetened only with all-natural stevia

And if you want a regular soda that’s just sweet and fizzy without any artificial sweeteners, check out Zevia, soda sweetened with all-natural stevia. It comes in a bunch of flavors. The only ones we’ve tried were black cherry and ginger ale. The black cherry was too strong and too sweet for us, but we like the ginger ale for just plain sipping.

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Two red wines and a unique spirit to spark your holidays

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Parties, feasts, holidays and more celebrations. It’s always good to have something special to enjoy before, with or after your meal – especially this time of year. Below are a few ideas we highly recommend.

Elegant dry Nero d'Avola Morgante Sicilia DOC
Elegant dry Nero d’Avola Morgante Sicilia DOC

A beautiful wine from Sicily is sure to please the dry-red-wine-loving souls with a place in your heart or your holiday plans.  I was recently able to sample Morgante and Mandrarossa, two delightful wines from Sicily with Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) designations. These two fine dry red DOC wines make perfect complements to meals, at home or eating out in a restaurant. The Mandrarossa is fresher (more acidic) and the Morgante smoother and deeper. Read more about these two Sicilia DOC wines here.

Nero d'Avola dry red Mandrarossa Sicilia DOC
Nero d’Avola dry red Mandrarossa Sicilia DOC

Whatever wine you choose from Sicily, make sure it has the DOC label so you know it’s made with the careful growing conditions and the attention to detail that are required to earn that designation. Read more at http://winesofsicily.com/.

Look for the DOC label on all your wines from Sicily
Look for the DOC label on all your wines from Sicily

 

 

 

And how about something truly unique? We’re hearing more and more about this spirit distilled from Peru’s national spirit, Pisco. Portón is an even finer distillation of that spirit into a colorless brandy that mixes beautifully with rich drinks like eggnog and/or gives a shot of sweet complexity to other creamy spirits such as SomruS or Irish cream liqueurs.

Pisco Porton makes a fabulous holiday libation
Pisco Porton makes a fabulous holiday libation

Pisco can boast what only a handful of other spirits enjoy: a Denomination of Origin. That means all pisco must be made in vineyards along the south western coast of Peru and must be distilled from any of eight specific aromatic and non-aromatic grape varietals under the strictest of guidelines. Just for fun this holiday, try making this elegant creamy recipe: CASPIROLETA with Pisco Portón.

 

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Last-minute spirits gift guide – and a cure for too much

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Okay. You didn’t finish shopping. Many stores are open today, but what if you can’t think of anything good to get? Serving special drinks is a great way to celebrate end-of-year holidays – and giving the spirits themselves is a fabulous solution for quick and easy gifts that tend to be much appreciated. Below are a few ideas for your giftees – or for yourself:

Rum-te-rum-rum

Caliche brand rum comes honestly by its cachet as a super premium white rum. Rande Gerber, one of the original pioneers of South Beach nightlife, partnered with Destileria Serralles in Ponce, Puerto Rico – a long-time producer of fine rums – to produce Caliche in response to the nuances and preferences of cocktail consumers. My take: it’s a fairly smooth, clean-tasting rum that’s suave enough to serve alone if you’re a rum lover, but it also goes well with just a dash of something creamy. Ice cream and eggnog are wonderful pairings, but even half-and-half works. This clear, white Caliche Rum is also great in mixed cocktails. A bottle goes for around $25, depending on where you shop.

Captain Morgan, another well-respected maker of rums, put out a commemorative version of spiced rum this year that’s just delicious – neat or in creamy or other cocktails. Called Captain Morgan 1671, its unique blend of spices makes it festive (all year!) with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, caramel and oak. Finished with Spanish oak to deliver a smooth and refined drinking experience. Around 20 bucks a bottle – they made only limited quantities, so get one soon.

Sparkling wine – can’t-label-it-champagne-but-it’s-bubbly

Pasternak Wine Importers carry a number of delightful sparkling wines that will surprise and delight you and your gift recipients. Here are a few for your consideration:

  • Domaine Lucien Albrecht, Blanc de Blancs, Brut – Distinguished by a fine and elegant bead, a beautiful straw color; a light, delicate palate. It is delicious at any time of the day and with many foods.
  • Domaine Lucien Albrecht, Rose, Brut – Strawberry and wild cherry fruit, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Well-balanced with dry, crisp acidity and complimented with a creamy texture and long finish.
  • Valdo, Oro Puro Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Brut – Floral with fruity aromas of strong pear and golden apple. The palate is refined and harmonious, with lingering aroma and savoriness.
  • Valdo, Prosecco DOC, Brut – Well-balanced structure, matched with its flavorful and aromatic fruity fragrance make it the perfect pairing with starters and particularly with delicately flavored dishes and especially seafood. Excellent as aperitif due to its distinctive characteristic of being “easy to drink.”
  • Valdo, Rose, Brut – The bouquet has fine and elegant blossoms, with a consistent presence of raspberry. The palate has a tickling fine perlage of minute bubbles; pleasant round warm flavor with a charming fruity aroma.
  • Lady of Spain, Brut – Fine, delicate and very clean, with lightly toasted pastry notes and syrupy fruits. Fresh and fruity, well structured, crispy, balanced carbonic and good persistence. Light recall to pastry and fresh fruits

Another nice, light bubbly is Ruffino Prosecco – Intense sensations of apples and peaches drive a pleasant aftertaste with fruity and floral aromas. Ideal as an aperitif and a versatile food companion. Around $11, 11% alc.

Vodka for every occasion

English: Picture of an old Smirnoff Vodka 375m...
English: Picture of an old Smirnoff Vodka 375ml bottle standing up found in my grandparents garage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always been a Smirnoff vodka fan, even as fancier brands have taken the cocktail scene by storm. I found out not long ago that Smirnoff regular won big in a blind taste test. That made me happy. Then recently I found out that Smirnoff has a huge line of flavored vodkas – I mean an amazing array. I haven’t tried them all yet but did like some a bit more than others. Some of the flavors tasted a little artificial when drunk neat. The aromas are strong, but I think that’s intentional because these flavored guys turn out to be wonderful for mixing with other ingredients.

The first broad category of flavors is the trademarked Smirnoff Sorbet® collection – a series of reduced-calorie, fruit-flavored vodkas (all triple distilled as is the original Smirnoff) like Light Mango-Passion Fruit, Light Pineapple-Coconut, Light White Peach, Light Summer Strawberry, Light Lemon and more. I thought the White Peach had a strong aroma and was a little artificial tasting when I tried it neat, but this was cured easily by mixing with  club soda. Then later I tried some of the flavors with ginger ale and with half-and-half, and they were lovely.

Then there’s the Smirnoff® Confections series. Kissed Caramel® – nice aroma, sweet taste, delicious mixed with half-and-half or poured over vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Cinnamon Churros – great aroma, excellent taste – like many other of these flavors, great with something bubbly or creamy. Whipped cream – I wanted to love this one, but it was a little too chemical-tasting for me. But again, this improves dramatically when you mix it with something creamy. This series includes Fluffed Marshmallow, Root Beer Float, Vanilla and more. Don’t you want to go out and get some of these flavors right now? I’m taking a bottle of Smirnoff® Kissed Caramel to my family Christmas eve gathering tonight. You ­­­can’t go wrong.

Hangover remedies

And in case you or your companions overdo things in this department, there’s a quick help for the day after called “Hangover Naturals.” These lozenges are drug-free and fortified with Vitamin B and C. They come in a box of six in a variety of good-tasting flavors: ginger, raspberry, or lime. They were created by a registered nurse named Noni who focuses on helping people with healthy lifestyles.

For your edification, here’s the list of ingredients: dried cane syrup, corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors (made with essential oils) and natural colors. They taste – you guessed it – sweet, and low blood sugar is one of the effects of drinking alcohol. When I checked their store finder, I didn’t see any retail locations in the Chicago area, but you can get these bad boys in the online store, so you should be able to get some in stock for possible upcoming New Year’s needs.

In case you want to try curing a hangover with stuff you’re likely to have around the house, check out these 7 natural hangover cures.

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