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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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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A Farm-to-Table Peruvian Pisco Dinner at Latin Bites

Photo by Mai Pham
Exemplary: Gazpacho verde, grilled green cauliflower, purple cauliflower with passion fruit smoke, dry broccoli, pickled beets, micro mint.

I distinctly remember the first time I met Johnny Schuler, master distiller for Pisco Portón. Schuler, known to Peruvians and pisco aficionados as "Pisco Johnny," is a TV personality in his native Peru and the world's foremost authority on Peruvian pisco. It was April 2011, and we were meeting because Houston was one of the first four markets selected for the brand's new product launch -- an ultra-premium pisco called Pisco Portón (I was the first to write about its debut in Houston here).

Fast-forward to 2014. Pisco Portón, a mosto verde premium pisco, is now the number one pisco exported by Peru. It is also the number one pisco in its category of ultra-premium pisco. Schuler was recently back in Houston as part of a worldwide tour, and he spent one of his evenings at Latin Bites for a Pisco Portón pairing dinner.

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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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Caracol: Go for the Oysters, Stay for Delicious Drinks and Desserts

Photo courtesy Caracol
Save room for dessert at this coastal seafood restaurant.
For last week's cafe review I visited Caracol, the new Mexican seafood restaurant from Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught, and noted that while there are some truly stellar plates on the menu, the sheer number of items being prepared in the kitchen is perhaps resulting in some dishes being less than they could be, quality-wise. Some things seemed to get lost in translation between the menu, the kitchen and my table, with several items not living up to what I've come to expect from Ortega and Vaught, who also own Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe.

Still, much of the food is very good, and the desserts and drinks are stellar. I don't always mention desserts and alcohol in my reviews unless the restaurant has a very clear focus on them. In my review of Caracol, I simply ran out of space, but I definitely think that the pastries by Ortega's brother Ruben Ortega, and the wine and cocktail menu by Sean Beck, who's been with the company for more than 14 years, are in perfect focus.

Here's why I'd recommend not leaving Caracol without dipping into a few drinks and the majestic El Coco.

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Review: A Happy Accident Leads Saint Arnold To Create A Great New Summer Beer

Categories: Booze

Joey McKeel
A glass of Saint Arnold Boiler Room, poured fresh from the tap at the brewery.
If you're a local beer lover, there's no doubt you're familiar with Saint Arnold, the granddaddy of Houston's craft beer scene, and you might have already heard a bit of the story behind the creation of their newest beer, Boiler Room. A boiler-room mistake (hence the name) meant a batch of Lawnmower was made with half the proper amount of malt, and brewer Stephen Rawlings decided to experiment with it rather than dump it out. He added a Belgian beer with lots of bacteria, let it sour, then boiled and fermented it.

This fortunate combination of accident and open-minded experimentation led to the creation of Boiler Room, Saint Arnold's first new year-round release since 2012's Endeavor double IPA. The beer was released to bars on March 19, and 22 oz. bombers went on sale in stores yesterday.

So a good story is nice, but what's the actual beer like? We went to the brewery this past week and spoke to Lennie Ambrose, marketing and events director for Saint Arnold, while sipping on some Boiler Room.

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Laphroaig Affinity Cocktail for Your Inner Scotsman

Categories: Booze, Recipes

Photo courtesy of Nikole Flores/Laphroaig
The Laphroaig Affinity Cocktial

With all of the ballyhoo surrounding St. Patrick's Day, it's easy to forget there's another cultural group in the British Isles with funny accents and a penchant for whisky.

No, no, I'm not talking about the Welsh, God bless them. Rather, the Scots, those venerable tartan-wearin', bagpipe-playin', sheep-intestine-eatin' folks who can party just as hard as the rest of them when given the chance.

As a hat tip to the Scottish people, so often overlooked -- especially in March -- and in anticipation of National Tartan Day (April 6), Scotch whiskey distillery Laphroaig has created a heady cocktail with a sweet edge.

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Recap: Houston Whiskey Festival 2014

Categories: Booze

Marc Rosenthal
The first Houston Whiskey Festival gave hundreds of people a chance to taste dozens of whiskeys from around the world.

The first Houston Whiskey Festival is in the books, having taken place downtown at the Julia Ideson Building on McKinney this past Saturday. An unexpectedly rainy day proved to be a harbinger (and a partial cause) of some complications inside. While we loved the setting and were able to sample enough food and whiskey to our satisfaction, we spoke with and heard from a number of attendees whose complaints and attitude regarding the event ranged from "annoyed" to "irate." Let's talk about the good, the bad and what can be done in the future to make the festival better.

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