The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 2: Stocking Your Holiday Bar & Drink Suggestions

November 17, 2018*


*(This post was originally slated to be online yesterday, but I was a bit under the weather. My apologies for the delay.)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide, which covers stocking your bar as well as drink suggestions for entertaining to help you and your guests beter enjoy your Holiday 2018 parties and gatherings.

Two Critical Rules To Celebrate By

Whatever else you do this holiday season, here are some critical rules for a safer and happier holiday.

1) DRINK & SERVE ALCOHOL RESPONSIBLY!

This should be a no-brainer, but almost all of us have violated this rule at some point. The problem arises from continuing to do it just because you got away with it before. Eventually, it’s like playing Russian roulette – somebody’s going to get hurt. Don’t take the risk this holiday!!!

• If you suspect a guest has consumed too much, don’t let them get behind the wheel. Call them a cab, an Uber or have them sleep it off in your spare bedroom or the sofa in the den. (Not only could they end up in an accident or arrested for DUI, but you could be liable as well!)

• When serving punch, don’t make it too strong! Often when alcohol is mixed in a punch, people don’t realize how much they’re drinking.

• Carefully consider your guest list and avoid inviting “problems” if you can.

• Pace yourself! You can’t be a very good host/hostess if you’re wasted!

2) CELEBRATE WITHIN YOUR MEANS!

We all tend to overspend during the holidays and usually end up regretting it later on. So, this year, plan to stay within your budget when stocking your bar and hosting get-togethers. It’s actually easier than you think.

• Instead of a multitude of expensive parties, invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to a single holiday open house with appetizers, snacks and a punch, themed drinks or wine.

Don’t use expensive liquors in making punches. It’s a waste because very few people will ever know the difference.

Avoid offering an open bar unless you’re entertaining a very small group (1 – 3 couples). Otherwise, it becomes an expensive hassle.

• When stocking your holiday bar, think about who you will be entertaining and how much you can really afford to spend. You don’t have to buy the most expensive brands. In most cases, there are more affordable options that will easily fit the need.

How To Stock Your Holiday Bar

First of all, there are as many options for stocking your holiday bar as there are holiday traditions. However, here are some basic guidelines you can follow to get started. Every decently stocked personal bar/liquor cabinet should contain the following:

 Whiskey/Whisky
(Watch my video on this here.)

Bourbon
(Maker’s Mark®)

Scotch
(Johnnie Walker® Black Blended and/or
Glenfiddich® 15-Year Old Highland Single Malt)

Irish Whiskey
(Black Bush®)

Vodka
(Watch my video on this here.)


(Svedka® and/or Ketel One®
 depending on budget and usage)

(Tito’s® if you need gluten-free)

Gin

(Tanqueray® or Bombay Sapphire®)

Basic Liqueurs & More

Irish Cream

Kahlua®

Cognac

Dry Vermouth

Additional Liqueurs
(if available)

All-natural and gluten-free, the following liqueurs are made locally in Hartford, Connecticut, and gaining ever-increasing distribution around the country.

Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur

Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur

These alcohols offer a good basis for making a wide variety of popular drinks as well as providing a good flavor where it is especially critical. From this base, you can expand your bar to include rum, tequila, flavored vodkas and various liqueurs as budget and taste allow.

In addition, you will need tonic water, limes or lime juice, and olives. Various fruit juices also come in handy for mixing with the vodka.

***NOTE: I have omitted Tequila and Rum from the basics for stocking your Holiday Bar, because they tend to be more appropriate for spring and summer drinks.  At the same time, if you or friends enjoy Tequila (it’s frequently a liquor of choice for me), then I recommend 1800® Silver as a reasonably-priced, good quality brand. As for Rum, which tends to be more frequently used in seasonal punches and eggnog than in holiday cocktails, I recommend Bacardi® Gold.)

Holiday Drink Tips

Here are some time-saving and enjoyable drink options for various holiday situations.

For a holiday brunch:

• Set up a Bloody Mary bar where guests can make their own drinks with vodka, low-sodium V8, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco® sauce, lime wedges, black pepper and celery stalks.

Mimosas are popular and easy to make with orange juice and champagne, prosecco, or an Asti.

Screwdrivers (OJ and vodka) are easy to make in advance so you can just shake/stir and pour as needed. (I recommend that you mix them at a ratio of 4 or 5 parts OJ to every 1 part of vodka so that no one gets “surprised” by the effects.)

For large parties/open houses:

A red fruit-based punch with vodka or rum
(I typically use Ocean Spray Diet Cran-Mango and Diet Cran-Pineapple in equal parts with a liter of lemon-lime seltzer and Svedka® vodka in the ratio of 4 or 5 parts of non-alcoholic punch mix to 1 part of vodka. The size of your punch bowl will determine how much to make at a time. Also save some of the punch before adding alcohol for anyone who prefers their punch unleaded.)

• Depending on the weather in your area at this time of year, mulled wine or warmed apple cider with brandy can be tasty options.

Small sippers are shot glass sized servings of something smooth and sweet like my Twisted Pilgrim
(Mix equal parts Bailey’s® Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream and Pinnacle® Whipped® Vodka.)*
I suggest that you serve these early and limit the quantity.
*(I have not seen Bailey’s® Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream in my area this year so far. If it’s not available in your area, try mixing a ratio of 1 part Irish Cream with 1/2 part Captain Morgan™ Jack-O-Blast Pumpkin Spiced Rum and 1/2 part Pinnacle® Whipped® Vodka. If you prefer it less sweet, replace the whipped vodka with vanilla vodka.)

• And, of course, there is the traditional eggnog which you can spike in advance with either whiskey (usually bourbon), rum or brandy/cognac. Again, I recommend a ratio of around 4 or 5 parts eggnog to 1 part alcohol if you’re serving guests.

Hopefully, this will help make your holiday entertaining easier and more enjoyable.

Also, look for a unique gift-giving idea in Part 3 of our guide which should be online Tuesday 11/20!

In This Week’s Post … A Bison Bar Stands Out From The Herd in South Windsor … Green Fire Heats Up In Popularity … The Dark Diva Gets Fired Up For A Hot CT Whiskey … And More!

August 19, 2018

Hope you’re enjoying this magnificent Sunday in Connecticut as we get our first real break in like “forevah” (I lived in Mass, for 13 years!)from the tropical heat, humidity and monsoon rains. I actually cut off the AC units in my apartment and opened the windows to get some fresh air while writing this blog post. And, since we’ve got a lot to cover, let’s jump right into it.

Friday Happy Hour Bar Review:
Slip Away from The Herd at Ted’s Montana Grill in South Windsor

The exterior of Ted’s Montana Grill at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor, CT.

Okay, so I should probably apologize for the herd puns, but I know you’re secretly laughing at them. Anyway, in my quest to find distinctive Happy Hour venues and offerings, I ended up this past Friday at Ted’s Montana Grill at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. Online, it said their Happy Hour ran Monday – Friday from 3 PM – 7 PM, so I decided to go early and avoid the crowd. It definitely worked, because I was the only customer at the rather long bar when I got there at 3:30. Apparently, the early starting time was a fairly recent change. Combined with folks trying to get things done outside before the storms were supposed to hit, it assured a quiet afternoon, at least while I was there. I’m not complaining, though, since it’s sometimes nice to relax and unwind without having to fight for a seat or get jostled, squeezed and generally have your personal space invaded by latecomers trying to get a drink.

A Bit Of The Old West In Central Connecticut:
It’s Also A Bit More Polished, So Bring Your Manners Not Your Spurs

Aside from noting the crowd (or lack thereof), one of the first things I always

A view at ted’s Montana Grill, including the bison head. (Unfortunately, my phone camera had a delay glitch so that the picture didn’t take until I was moving the phone. THIS WAS BEFORE I HAD MY FIRST DRINK!)

focus on is the look and feel of the bar area. Made of dark wood, the bar itself and the liquor shelving behind it had a definite western vibe going on. It even extended to the bison head mounted on the wall at the end of the bar. All in all, it felt upscale, thematically and corporately in alignment with their image, but maybe just a bit too masculine for my tastes. (That’s a very subjective judgement, so take it with a grain of salt.)

Not Your Typical Chain:
Limited Happy Hour Menu Still Has Some Unique Offerings

One of the biggest drawing cards for me was a chance to try bison (affordably)to see if I liked it. I was excited to try the Buckland, a 3 oz. burger made with either beef ($6) or bison ($7), which I selected. It arrived cooked to juicy perfection and stacked with lettuce, tomato and red onion on a fresh bun. Messy to eat, it was absolutely one of the best burgers I have ever eaten (and I have eaten a lot of burgers). The meat was slightly sweet and just different enough from beef to make it quite interesting. I definitely recommend it as something you should try at least once! In addition, it came with fries and a giant salt and pepper onion ring that were also quite tasty.

Ted’s Montana Grill Happy Hour menu.

There are only 3 other food items on the Happy Hour menu – Bison Nachos featuring bison chili, Salt and Pepper Onion Rings, and Homemade Chips. Since I do not like and cannot eat cheese (except for mozzarella on a pizza), I skipped the nachos, while I tasted the onion rings (which I also recommend)as part of my BucklandBison Burger.

Of course, since this is a bar review, drinks are quite important. Again, the offerings are limited to 4 mixed drinks, 4 different wines and select beers. I opted for the Hendrick’s Mule, since it was something I had not tried before. Cold and refreshing, it went down smooth. Infused with florals and botanicals, Hendrick’s gin is a premium gin from Scotland that does not have the strong juniper flavor prevalent in London dry gins.

No Limits On Excellent Service:
It Starts And Ends With A Smile

As you know from my previous reviews, I consider the quality of service the single most important aspect in making a bar a good choice to patronize or a place to definitely avoid. It’s the pivotal factor that too many places don’t get right. However, Ted’s Montana Grill in South Windsor excelled in this area. Colleen, who was tending bar during my visit, was friendly and smiling all through my time there, and even spent some time in conversation between prepping the bar for expected crowds for later.

Plus, when the kitchen failed to leave the cheese off my burger as I had requested, she was very apologetic and put my fries and onion rings on a fresh plate, so I could eat them while she took the burger back to get me a new one. It was not a long wait – just long enough to be sure it was cooked correctly (not underdone).

I rarely complain about mistakes if they are properly acknowledged and promptly corrected with a genuine interest in my ultimate satisfaction. When I become perfect and never make a mistake (I’m almost there … NOT), then I will make a much bigger deal out of a mistake. The point is that Colleen corrected it promptly with a sincere apology and no issues at all, which is what keeps customers happy and coming back. And that’s what I consider another essential element of service that can be sadly lacking in too many places.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

Side view of Ted’s Montana Grill from the rear parking lot. There’s an outdoor seating area along the walk.

Although it is part of a chain and has a somewhat limited Happy Hour menu, I still feel that Ted’s Montana Grill at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor deserves my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***! As far as I know, the Buckland Bison Burger and Bison Nachos are something you won’t find on any other Happy Hour menus in this area. The drink menu features at least one premium liquor drink. And, the service ties it all together nicely. (I also recommend taking advantage of the lack of a crowd early, while you can, for a very relaxing Happy Hour.)

You can visit their website at tedsmontanagrill.com to get hours, directions and check out all their menus as well as to find location near you, if the South Windsor location is not convenient for you.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Discovering Chartreuse Liqueur:
From A Potent Oddity To Bar Essential,
Green Fire Is Spreading

Way back in the Dark Ages, when I was in college, I read about Chartreuse liqueur but could not find in a liquor store in Virginia or D.C. at the time. Over the years I had forgotten about it until several years ago, when I started spotting Chartreuse on a few liquor store shelves. However, since this before I really got into the business of mixology, it was quite an expensive investment (around $30 for 375 ml) for something I wasn’t even sure I would like.

My bottle of Green Chartreuse has been emptying rather rapidly!

Once I committed to being a mixologist, that all changed. I had to have adventurous taste buds, so I splurged several weeks ago on a Friday and bought a bottle at Joe’s Fine Wine And Spirits in East Windsor, my local go-to package store. I learned a valuable lesson that night – I do like Chartreuse very much, but it is very easy to over indulge as my hangover the next day proved. It’s called green fire for three reasons –- the chartreuse green color, the fact that it’s 110 proof, and the fact that it will consume all sense of reason in an instant.

Made from a recipe of 130 different plants and flowers known only to two Carthusian monks who belong to The Order of Chartreuse (hence the name), this French liqueur is supposedly the only liqueur in the world that is naturally green in color. Used for many years in France primarily as a “digestif,” Chartreuse found its way into modern mixology starting in 1860, when it became the featured ingredient in the “Bijou” cocktail. Today, it appears in more and more recipes as mixologists strive to create unique drinks.

Tasting somewhat like Galliano on steroids, Chartreuse has a very distinctive flavor profile that works surprisingly well with a variety of different liquors and liqueurs. I also enjoy sipping it straight at room temperature, although it’s also supposed to be quite tasty when served cold. Depending on how adventurous your own taste buds are, it might take you several encounters to acquire a taste for it. Or you may want to start with Yellow Chartreuse, which has a lower proof and milder flavor.

Here are some very recent cocktail recipes I’ve created using Green Chartreuse that you may want to try for yourself.

Twisted Green Fire Voodoo Whiskey

The Dark Diva’s gonna put a spell on you this witch’s brew.
In an 8 oz. glass with ice, mix:
• 2 oz. Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey
• 0.25 oz. Green Chartreuse Liqueur
• 0.25 oz. Mathilde Pêche (Peach) Liqueur
Stir, sip and surrender your will to me! Cheers!

The Martinique Bonfire

It’s going to be a hot time in the West Indies tonight with this concoction! You’ll get the fire down below (remember the Bob Seeger song?)with this simple, but potent drink. In a small snifter, mix:
• 2 oz. Bacardi® Gold Rum
• 0.5 oz. Green Chartreuse Liqueur
Stir and toast the night when love burns! Cheers!

The Wild French Labrador Rose Martini

Ooh la la! You simply must try this Dark Diva martini concoction! A potent, but delicious blend, it’s as wild and untamed as you want to be!
In a glass with ice, mix:
• 1.5 oz. Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Labrador Noon Vodka
• 1.0 oz. Wild Moon Rose Liqueur
• 0.5 0z. Green Chartreuse Liqueur
Stir, strain into a chilled martini glass and let your inner wild child bloom! Cheers!

The Dark Diva Uncorks Connecticut Firewater:
Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled
Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey Comes to the “La-bar-atory”

Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey

I first tried this several weeks ago during my tasting and tour at Waypoint Spirits Craft Distillery in Bloomfield, CT. At the time, I knew I had to add this unique whiskey to the ingredient collection in my “la-bar-atory” soon for some very unique cocktail recipes. You can see my video introducing this whiskey and my first recipe using it – The Twisted Hartford, here.

Here are two more recent recipes, you might enjoy:

The Old Scratch Chocolate Twist
AKA New England Dark Fire

Here’s a sweet burning kick right in the taste buds that you’ll come back for again … and again! In an 8 oz. glass with ice, mix:
• 1 oz. Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey
• 0.25 oz. Patrón Citrónge Orange Liqueur
• 0.5 oz. Trader Vic’s Chocolate Liqueur
Stir and then toast your soul good-bye! Cheers!

Queen Cayenne’s Enfield Firewater

A homage to the town in CT I call home, this is one spicy sweet indulgence that will light you up and burn you down! And you’ll be singing, “let it burn!”  In an 8 oz. glass with ice, mix:
• 1 oz. Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey
• 0.5 oz. Patrón Citrónge Orange Liqueur
• 0.25 oz. Extra Dry Vermouth
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon Lime Liqueur
• 4-6 Drops Angostura Bitters
Stir and then burn, baby, burn! Cheers!

Don’t Miss These Dark Diva Videos From Last Week:

TDDR (The Dark Diva Rules)
National Rum Day Video 8 16 18

TDDR (The Dark Diva Rules)
Gin Comparison Video 8 16 18

 

Well that does it for this week’s blog post. Thanks for checking it out!
As always, we welcome your comments, questions and suggestions (including places you’d like The Dark Diva to review).

Have a Great Week!