Try These 5 Outrageously Awesome Cocktails in Houston

Previewing the 2014 Herradura Scotch Aged Reposado at Vallone's Steakhouse

Photo by Carolyn McBride
From left to right, Herradura's blanco, reposado, and Scotch Aged Reposado tequilas.
Admittedly, I don't know much about tequila beyond the basics. If you've been reading my articles regularly, you know I've spent a lot more time on whiskey, and learning about that alone has been practically a full-time job over the last year.

That said, I enjoy margaritas and trips to the Pastry War, and I'm always game to try any high-quality spirit, so when given the opportunity, I'm certainly willing to give tequila a shot. I was invited to a Herradura pairing dinner at Vallone's Steakhouse, part of their promotion for this year's specially finished release, the Scotch Cask Reposado. (This is the third in Herradura's annual series of specially-finished tequilas; in 2012 they made a reposado finished for three months in a port cask; last year, the tequila was finished in a cognac cask.)

The three-course meal contained items especially prepared to be paired with three different varieties of Herradura tequila. Ruben Aceves, Master Taster for Herradura, was on hand to tell us more about the tequilas we would be tasting, and to go into quite a bit of detail as to the process of making tequila as well.

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Space Whiskey in Space City: Ardbeg's Latest Project Lands in Houston

Categories: Bar Beat, Booze

Photo by Gary Wise
The display for Space-Aged Ardbeg simulates a microgravity field for the vial of spirit to float in.

Q: What's the only thing better than whiskey?
A: Space whiskey.

Appropriately enough for Space City, Houston has just acquired what some people are calling "Space Whiskey". Officially, it's an experimental Ardbeg distillation that's just returned to Earth after three years in space. At its premiere to the media last week at Reserve 101, 1201 Caroline Street, Gregor Mina, the Ardbeg representative present, told us more about the project.

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The 5 Best Happy Hours in The Woodlands

Photo by Omar
Enjoy stellar drinks and bar bites at some of The Woodlands' finest.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving on to the bar and restaurant-packed 'hood of The Woodlands.

Honorable Mention: Craft brews at The Refuge Bar & Bistro and Italian bites and wine at Pallotta's Italian Grille (which is located just east of I-45).

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Saint Arnold Icon Red Winter 2014

Categories: Booze

Photo by Elizabeth Sosa Bailey
Brewer Eddie Gutierrez with a bottle of the new Icon Red, in front of a creative interpretation of The Creation of Adam. No confirmation as to if the light coming from above was actually from God, bestowing favor on this new beer.

"I have to be able to drink a pint and want another."

And thus, Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewery, 2000 Lyons Avenue (713-686-9494), expresses his philosophy of brewing succinctly. No matter the style, the gravity, the strength of the beer, if having one doesn't make him want to have another, he's not interested in putting Saint Arnold's name on it. That goes for lighter styles such as the Lawnmower and Summer Pils, as well as more intense beers like the Pumpkinator: No matter how light or dark, how weak or strong, something about it has to make him want to come back.

It's that idea in part that powers this winter's Saint Arnold Icon Red. By starting with a Belgian-style Dubbel, Saint Arnold has a beer that has plenty of malty body and flavor and is strong on the alcohol (8 percent). But it's the selection of hops that really makes this beer unique: By balancing Sterling hops for bittering with Sorachi Ace hops for finishing and dry-hopping, the result is a beer that begins and ends in a much more light and refreshing manner than its other characteristics would suggest. And it's that refreshing finish that makes it easy to want more.

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On Chill Filtering and the Aberlour A'Bundah

Categories: Booze

Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
An unfiltered, cask-strength whiskey, the Aberlour A'Bundah is richly colored from its time aging in sherry casks.
Not too long ago I started noticing that some Scotches were described as "non-chill filtered." Aware of how marketing and branding works, at first I paid this no mind. I figured it could be essentially meaningless, similar to vodkas that brag about how many times they're distilled, as if past a certain point the drinker will notice anything, or, for Mad Men fans, how Don Draper came up with Lucky Strike's "It's toasted" slogan. But the more I noticed it, the more I became curious as to what it meant, so eventually I did my research. I was surprised: It's actually pretty important, and for a serious whiskey lover, it's pretty inexplicable.

Without getting into the science of it, what you need to know is that chill filtering is a process that filters out certain particulates, esters and other compounds, in the whiskey after it's aged. The purpose of this process is so that the whiskey does not become cloudy after sitting on a shelf for a while. It's simple marketing.

Some of you might be asking, "What's wrong with filtering something?" while others of you are nodding along and seeing where this is going: Those particulates are the result of the aging process, and by and large, they're what flavor the whiskey! Filtering them out is essentially diluting the flavor and undoing the hard, long work of the aging process. Why people would choose to neutralize the flavor of their whiskey for appearance's sake is beyond me, but I suppose in marketing, image and perception matter more than quality.

Now that I knew this, I couldn't look at whiskeys in the same way. From what I could tell, all the major, notable labels didn't advertise that they didn't chill-filter their whiskeys. I had to assume they did, until I found out otherwise; this list of major scotches included my beloved Macallan 12. With that in mind, I set out to find a Scotch with a similar profile to the Macallan, but that explicitly was not chill-filtered. I settled on the Aberlour A'Bundah, and bought a bottle at Spec's to try it.

Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
For a comparison of color, I've placed the Aberlour next to the Glenmorangie 10 and the Macallan 12 (in the decanter).
My biggest reservation about buying the A'Bundah is that it has no age statement, so I really have no idea how old the bottle I bought was, or how quality was maintained from batch to batch. But what sold me on it was, first, that it was matured entirely in Oloroso sherry butts, similar to the classic Macallan line and something that's rare (even many sherry-finished Scotches only spend a short time at the end of their maturation in those barrels). Second, it was not only unfiltered, but it was bottled at cask strength. These two facts meant it was about as "pure" and close to the original spirit straight from the barrel as it could be. It wasn't cheap, around $85 a bottle, but I figured that bottled at over 60% ABV, I could cut it with water to a more drinkable strength and make it go a long way.

Here are my tasting notes for the A'Bundah:

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[Video] Working Out Livers and Legs at the Brew Mile Houston

Categories: Booze

Beer and running are good friends. Sure, people may argue over the science of whether or not that post-run beer will actually help you out any, but any positive science is really just a bonus; you drink the beer because after a run you've earned it.

As such, it should come as no surprise that beer runs are a thing. Is a mid-run beer just as good as a post-run beer? That's the kind of question you can only answer through experimentation, and what better place to try some beer run science than The Brew Mile, a magical place where beer is waiting for you every 1/4 of a mile.

And so Houston got their running shoes and, in some cases, costumes, and ran that magical mile, drinking their beer along the way, their final stop the open bar party at the end.

And it was for a good cause too.

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Triniti Offers Us Sanctuari -- and Great Cocktails

Photo by Christina Uticone
Bitter, Brown, & Stirred on the left; Debutante on the right.
The only people busier than the bartenders at last week's opening of Sanctuari Bar at Triniti were the valets. Were there more people pouring through the front door than cocktails into glasses? It's entirely possible -- by 8 p.m., after our media preview had ended, the new bar space was wall-to-wall with patrons, wait staff were carrying glasses on trays held high above the crowd, and the valets were playing a pretty intense version of Tetris in the parking lot.

If you haven't been to Triniti in a while, Sanctuari Bar is certainly a good reason to return. A newly redesigned bar and lounge--courtesy of Dennis Brackeen Design Group--transforms the space, with a leather banquette and slipper chairs providing cozy seating at low cocktail tables that practically beg you to show up early for your dinner reservation.

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Starting a Liquor Cabinet: Scotch

Categories: Booze

Nath Pizzolatto
These four Scotches are an affordable way for a beginner to start a diverse, quality collection. (We didn't get a chance to photograph all of the bottles while they still contained Scotch.)

I've spent the past year drinking a lot of whiskey, as I decided to become, if not an expert on the subject, at least someone who could plausibly offer recommendations to others. Much of my work has appeared here in the Press, although I've done plenty of it on my own time as well.

As I moved along from drinking bourbon and other American whiskeys to Scotch and single malts, I became fascinated by the differences offered in flavor and texture among Scotches, depending on where they are made, how they are aged and whether the malted barley is roasted over a peat fire before distillation. (Most people think of peat when they think of Scotch, but a significant number of Scotches are not peat-smoked.)

Recently, this got me thinking about what I would recommend to someone who's just starting to drink Scotch. Here, I've put together a "starter" selection for someone interested in a Scotch collection but who doesn't know where to begin. For around $200 in total, you can get a bottle (750 ml) of all of these Scotches, each expressing a different approach to its craft.

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The Pumpkin Beer Taste Test, Part 2

Categories: Booze

Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
In Part 2 of our pumpkin beer taste test, we take a look at the stouts and dark beers. Check out what we had to say in Part 1 about the lighter pumpkin beers.

Fewer beers qualified for our stout/dark tasting than our ale competition, which is no surprise. Even so, the sheer number of strong, heavy, and dark beers we found available for our taste test is a testament to how many craft brewers are jumping on the pumpkin beer wagon and taking the opportunity to make a serious beer this time of year.

Included in our taste test were four beers from Houston-area breweries. (To my knowledge, a local brewery didn't come out with a lighter ale, at least not anywhere we searched.)

Alaskan Pumpkin Porter
Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte
Crown Valley Imperial Pumpkin Smash
Karbach Krunkin Punkin
Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale
No Label Nightmare on 1st Street
Rahr and Sons Visionary Brew Pumpkin Ale
Saint Arnold Pumpkinator 2014
Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin Ale
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
Southern Tier Warlock
Uinta Crooked Line Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin
Wasatch Black-O-Lantern

The first thing I wanted to say is that none of these beers were bad: They all had their own appeals, and unlike the ale selections, where a number of the beers tended to be too indistinguishable, these each had distinct characteristics: some tasted more of pumpkin, whereas in others the spices were dominant. Some of them were dark or even medium-brown ales (the Kentucky entry could have fit into the ales discussion), and some were double-digit ABV, dark stouts. Some had sweeter finishes, some had boozier ones. But they all had some merit.

Onward with some discussion of specific beers, and the best overall.

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