It's Passover, So I've Taste-Tested Manischewitz Sangria for You

Photo by Brooke Viggiano
It's kosher for Passover sangria, y'all!
True story: I still have Manischewitz left over from the kickass Hanukkah party my fiancé and I threw last year.

I say it was kickass because it was. The apartment complex security arrived shortly after dinner, when our game of "drinking dreidel" (we're still working on a name) got a little too rowdy. It was 8:30 p.m. on a Friday. Suffice it to say, we didn't get to pop open all of the bottles of the bottom-shelf kosher wine that our guests so kindly brought. Mostly because we had to move the party to the bar, but also because Manischewitz tastes pretty bad and there were plenty of better drinks to be had, including but not limited to an entire tub full of Dr. Brown's sodas that paired just beautifully with whiskey. Like I said, it was a kickass party.

Going into Passover, I've vowed to start and finish those giant bottles of Schewy (still working on a name for this, too). We've got a few bottles MCG -- a concord grape varietal -- and CWC -- a cream white concord wine that I didn't even know existed -- that need to be gone immediately. Since my past experiences have taught me that MCG is impossibly sweet, I though it'd be perfect for sangria. It's kind of like turning lemons into lemonade, only the complete opposite.

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Churrascos Reintroduces Diners to Classic Cocktails With a South American Twist

Photo by Troy Fields
The bar at the newest Churrascos is lit in shades of red and yellow.
In this week's cafe review, you can read all about the magnificent meat and tantalizing tres leches at the newest Churrascos restaurant at Gateway Memorial City. However, there's something else about Churrascos--and, indeed, all the Cordúa restaurants--that should not be overlooked: The drinks.

Back in March 2013, James Watkins joined the Cordúa restaurant group as sommelier and beverage director. Since then, he's overhauled the wine list and created a number of classic but uniquely Cordúa cocktails that have been wowing diners. Don't go to Churrascos or Américas expecting to fill up on steak and plantain chips alone. Sample some spirits or drink some wine, and I daresay you'll find the booze just as impressive as that classic grilled steak.

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Recipe: Nigerian Chapman Cocktail

Categories: Beverages, Recipes

Photo by Richard R. Cahilig
The Nigerian Chapman Cocktail

Now that the temperatures are finally creeping up, I'm getting more in the mood for chilled beverages. While perusing recipes for Thai iced tea, I ran across a blog post that mentioned the Nigerian Chapman cocktail. Its name immediately suggested to me some intriguing imperial concoction, so I did some research to find out about its origins as well as its ingredients.

Often called "Nigeria's signature cocktail" or "Nigerian sangria," the Chapman is actually by tradition mostly nonalcoholic, though many recipes list the optional addition of vodka. It's usually made in large batches for parties and social gatherings, and the ingredients (fresh fruit juices, soda, Angostura bitters and Ribena) reflect the convergence of native and British colonial influences.

Most recipes found on the Internet have their own little tweak courtesy of the creator, leading me to believe there is no one "standard" formula. The following recipe is typical:

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Starbucks Won't Be Bringing Booze to Houston, But Who Cares?

Photo courtesy Southside Espresso
"These are a few of my favorite things..."
Starbucks recently announced that it would be adding beer and wine, as well as an "evenings menu," to select locations around the country, after testing the plan in 26 markets during the last several years. The bad news? Starbucks booze isn't coming to Houston anytime soon. The good news? We don't need it.

Houston is home to a number of bar/coffee shop hybrids -- something I hadn't really seen anywhere else before moving here. But the fact that Houstonians want both alcohol and caffeine in one convenient location just makes me love this city even more. News outlets across the country are reporting on this Starbucks story as if it's groundbreaking.

Coffee and wine? Together?!

Please, people. We're way ahead of you, Starbucks.

Here are the best places in Houston to get your drink on and caffeinate, too.

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The Old Fashioned Cocktail Gets a Make-Under

Categories: Beverages, Booze

Photos by John Kiely
Despite the name, this drink is popular in the present.

I am elated to be living in the golden age of adult beverages. I can easily find a dozen places in Houston that serve considerably better coffee, beer or cocktails than the drinks available to my parents and grandparents, or I can visit Patrick Storfer at the Spec's Liquors on Weslayan and get a stellar bottle of wine for a price that's not astronomical.

However, there's one cocktail that's not better than it used to be, and that's the appropriately named Old Fashioned. It was originally a simple drink, made of whiskey, sugar, Angostura bitters and ice, but over the years the cocktail has become new-fashioned with some add-ons that perhaps don't ruin the flavor but can detract from the cocktail's greatness.

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Up Your Bloody Mary Game With Mixes From Austin's Bloody Revolution

Photo courtesy Bloody Revolution
Which mix would you sip?
A few weeks ago, we were hand-delivered a curious package here at the Houston Press office. It was a big wooden crate with sturdy rope handles, and it was packed full of five large glass bottles of bloody mary mix. Our administrative assistant immediately went wild over the wooden crate, which he thinks would make a great addition to his bicycle. I immediately went wild over the plethora of different bloody mary mixes, as the vodka/tomato juice/spice combo is my all-time favorite cocktail.

So I set about (with a few of my kind and brave co-workers) to taste-test all five varieties of Bloody Revolution bloody mary mix and rank them in order of deliciousness. Unfortunately, we had no vodka for this experiment, so now our esophaguses are burning and we don't even have a good buzz to show for it.

The good news is most of these are pretty darn good. Bloody Revolution launched in Austin in late 2013, and it's already available here in Houston at H-E-Bs across town. We like supporting Texas products when we get our drink on, and we've been looking for a new mix to give Zing Zing a run for its money.

Here's what we think about the five Bloody Revolution flavors:

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Top 5 Sodas to Try From Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
There's a lot to choose from.

To say that the drink selection at Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop in Rice Village is "overwhelming" is definitely an understatement. The store is like the Spec's for carbonated beverage aficionados, so be prepared to wander around in a partial daze as you take in the hundreds of different sodas. And if you're perplexed as to what to actually buy and try, you can't go wrong with these five appetizing varieties.

5. Boylan's Birch Beer Pennsylvania expats in Texas (like yours truly) especially appreciate the inclusion of birch beer in Rocket Fizz's beverage offerings. This refreshing soda, originally made with extracts of birch bark, has a truly unique wintergreen flavor. Naturally, it pairs well with hearty Pennsylvania Dutch fare, and also, strangely, Vietnamese food.

4. Melba's Fixins Strawberry & Cream Melba wasn't the first -- and probably won't be the last -- person to dream up the idea of drinking your pie. Her funky pie-inspired flavors include apple, key lime, and lemon meringue, but my favorite is the sweet summery strawberries and cream. It's great on ice on a warm day, or drop in a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream for a wonderful float.

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The Honeymoon: Just What Downtown Needs

Photos by Molly Dunn
From left: Matt Toomey, Charlotte Mitchell and Brad Moore -- business partners establishing The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar.
If you work, live or just spend all of your time downtown, you've probably noticed there aren't that many places to grab a quick bite to eat, sit down for a cup of coffee, or enjoy a casual dinner and dessert before or after a theater performance. Sure, there are lots of restaurants such as The Grove, Batanga, Artista and Sambuca; and there are lots of bars, such as Flying Saucer, Hearsay Gastro Lounge and Reserve 101. But, there's one thing missing from the downtown dining scene -- a casual place to grab a coffee, cocktail and bite to eat.

Let's face it. If you're searching for a laid-back coffee shop in downtown, or along the rail line, you'll be searching for a while. But, that problem will soon be resolved when The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar opens at 300 Main this spring.

The Honeymoon is a partnership between Matt Toomey and Charlotte Mitchell of Boomtown Coffee and Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse of The Corinthian Bar Group (Goro & Gun, Lei Low Bar, OKRA, Bad News Bar, Big Star Bar and Grand Prize Bar). The foursome believes that this establishment will assist in the revitalization of downtown.

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An Irish Cocktail With the Taste of Texas

Categories: Beverages, Booze

Photos by John Kiely
This drink isn't just for St. Patrick's Day.

One time I drank a green beer on St. Patrick's Day. Just one time, because the following year my friends and I developed the taste for Guinness Stout, which has a proper Irish look without the food dye.

That didn't last forever, as I eventually gave up beer and made the switch to spirits, for St. Pat's and any other day. It might seem to be congenital, as my Irish-immigrant grandfather William drank Irish whiskey, but my father preferred Scotch, and I took best to tequila and rum. Not until a few years ago did I buy a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey, ostensibly for Irish coffee.

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El Presidente: The Exquisite Cocktail That Neither Communists Nor Capitalists Could Kill

Categories: Beverages, Booze

Photos by John Kiely
One of the best cocktails ever, and also one of the worst.

If you make it with the right spirits, the El Presidente cocktail is sophisticated, light and dreamy. It's every bit as elegant as a Martini, and better-tasting if you're not a lover of gin.

If you make the El Presidente with lesser brands of liquor, it tastes like hairspray. Sadly, this elite cocktail fell victim to political idealism and the search for a cheap buck, but recent cocktail trends will bring it back.

The drink was born when the enemies of fun and luxury enacted Prohibition in 1919. Much of the thriving American cocktail culture, and a lot of bartending talent, went overseas to Europe and Cuba. One of those bartenders, Eddie Woelke, working at the Jockey Club in Havana, put together an improbable mix of white rum, French dry vermouth, orange curaçao and grenadine, and named it in honor of Presidente Gerardo Machado, who governed Cuba through the years of Prohibition.

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