Review: Saint Arnold Divine Reserve 15 Is a Stout Rich in Flavor

Categories: Booze, Brew Blog

Photo courtesy of Saint Arnold
A six-pack of Saint Arnold's Divine Reserve 15 might be difficult to find by now, but it's worth it.

On Monday, Saint Arnold released Divine Reserve 15, the latest in the single-batch series. It's a Russian Imperial Stout, brewed using a recipe originally released as DR5 back in August of 2007. The beer checks in at 10.1 percent ABV; I was able to obtain a bottle to sample this week.

Saint Arnold's website says the beer can be served "at 45°F or warmer"; for a dark, heavy beer such as this, something closer to room temperature than refrigerator temperature is better for tasting the full range of flavor. I took mine out of the refrigerator and left it at room temperature for a little over an hour before serving.

My first impressions:

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How to Support Small Batch Mexican Producers of Mezcal in Houston

Photo by Phaedra Cook
These gentlemen don't make it to Houston often because they're usually making mezcal. From left: Emilio Vieyra, Miguel Partida and Aquilino Garcia Lopez

Cuchara and The Pastry War collaborated on a dinner last week in honor of three very special guests who had never before all been in the same place at the same time in the United States. Many would not know them, but to those interested in agave spirits, these men are rock stars.

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Drink This: The Royal Flush

Categories: Booze, Recipes

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Royal Flush Cocktail

Baby, it's (sort of) cold outside.

To warm your hands and your heart, mix up a Royal Flush. This boozy berry cocktail provides a latent soothing heat that softens the hard edges of a stressful day at the DMV and provides rejuvenation after that six-hour sober baby shower.

Perhaps as delightful as the stone-fruit flavors of the Royal Flush is the double entendre contained in its name. A royal flush denotes the highest hand in poker, thus suggesting the superiority of this cocktail to other whiskey drinks, and after two or three, you're likely to sport a "royal" flush. So don't drink more than one if you're actually in a high-stakes game of cards.

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Siembra Azul: An Affordable Tequila Good Enough for Sipping

Categories: Booze

Photo courtesy Maria Cisneros of Siembra Azul
Siembra Azul offers a complete line of small-batch, organic tequilas.

Last time I wrote, I was at the Pastry War, trying a special batch of Saint Arnold 20th Anniversary Ale that had been aged in a Siembra Azul tequila barrel.

I'm more familiar with whiskey than tequila, so I wanted to get an idea of the flavors the tequila would impart to the beer-- and what better way than to sample the Siembra Azul añejo, the same tequila that had been in the barrel? Having recently begun learning more about how aging affects varieties of tequila, after the Herradura pairing I attended, I decided to try all three varieties on the menu-- and thanks to the bartender, got a sip of the extra añejo as well. (It wasn't on the menu, and I didn't see the bottle, so I didn't know which one it was.) Being that tequila requires such a shorter aging process than most whiskeys, and that good tequila is, in fact, quite drinkable un-aged, I thought taking a cross-section of Siembra Azul tequilas would give me a much better idea of how the wood affects the spirit over time.

As I mentioned last time, Siembra Azul is a small-batch distillery that uses traditional cooking methods and ages their tequila in new barrels (as opposed to used whiskey barrels). I don't know what it is specifically in that list that most affects the flavor (or if it's all of those things), but what I noticed universally was how clean the Siembra Azul tequilas tasted compared to others I've sampled. That cleanliness made the spirit tasty and refreshing in all forms; while I'm not an expert on the subject, I would describe the resulting agave spirit as juicy and sweet.

Of course, each variety carried its own unique flavors. All four of them were good drinks; here's a brief rundown of the differences I noticed.

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Laphroaig Select: A Good Value on a Well-Rounded Peated Scotch

Categories: Booze

Photo courtesy of Laphroaig
The Laphroaig Select combines single malt aged from various barrels to create a well-balanced spirit
When I last saw Simon Brooking, Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig whiskey, he was lighting a block of peat on fire at the Great Whiskey Debate. On a recent outing to Spec's Downtown to do some Scotch browsing, Brooking happened to be there again hosting a tasting of several Laphroaig expressions.

The bottles on hand included one I'd never seen before, the Laphroaig Select. The description on the bottle explains that the Scotch is a marriage of selected barrels from the Quarter Cask, PX Cask (the PX stands for Pedro Ximenez sherry casks), and Triple Wood, finished off by maturing in new American oak barrels (i.e. the same ones legally required to make bourbon).

Upon sampling the Select, I was so impressed I ended up taking a bottle home with me. Let me tell you why.

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Saint Arnold, Hay Merchant and Pastry War Collaborate on a Special Edition of the 20th Anniversary Ale

Categories: Booze

Photo by Carolyn McBride
Hay Merchant's Kevin Floyd tests the taps on the special batch of tequila-aged Saint Arnold 20th Anniversary.

"This'll be the only time you see me behind a cocktail bar for the rest of my life," quips Kevin Floyd, as he sets up the cooler and taps for the event starting at the Pastry War in a few minutes: A tapping of Saint Arnold's 20th Anniversary Ale aged in a Sembra Azul anejo tequila barrel.

The beer, an English-style barleywine, was brewed in this batch specifically for barrel aging. Floyd, one of Houston's most notable beer gurus as proprietor of the Hay Merchant, explained that, more than anything, the creation of this special batch was the result of the relationships between everyone involved (and a little bit of luck).

It started with Floyd's friend and business partner Bobby Heugel, founder of Anvil and the Pastry War, and his quest to learn everything he can about agave spirits. The Pastry War is Heugel's passion project, and he frequently visits Mexico to study and cultivate relationships with distillers.

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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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