The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 3: Gifts For Drink Lovers Made Easy, Fun & Unique

November 20, 2018

So now we’ve reached the final part of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide with tips on unique gift ideas, including custom cocktails, for your favorite drink lovers, from those who just appreciate drinks and alcohols with new and intriguing flavors to those with discriminating taste for distilling excellence to serious mixologists.

Share The Joy (literally):
Take Them Out To A Craft Distillery
Or A Top Happy Hour

Kelly, our tour & spirit guide at Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford describing the various liqueurs we are about to sample!

What better gift to give than one you can share like a tasting at a local craft distillery or a top reviewed Happy Hour. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love this gift. It’s thoughtful, fun and can be fairly reasonable, especially a distillery tasting.

Craft Distillery Tours & Tastings

The Tasting Bar of Wild Moon(R) Liqueurs that’s part of the tour at Hartford Flavor Company.

If you’re in Connecticut, there are a number of craft distillers across the state, although not all offer tours and/or tastings. You can find a list of craft distillers here with links to more information. Create a nice, formal invitation for the recipient(s) to be your guest(s) for a tour & tasting, as your Christmas gift to them, on a specific date over the holidays (or after).

Melissa, our bartender/spirit guide, pours samples for guests at the Tasting Bar of Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield, CT!

I have visited and reviewed two of these craft distillers in the greater Hartford area, which I can personally recommend: Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford and Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield. Both offer affordable Saturday and Sunday afternoon tours

Connor was our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide at Waypoint Spirits.

and tastings, although hours may vary during the holidays. (Click on their respective names to visit their web sites for details and contact information.) It’s a great way to get acquainted with the distiller’s art and try something new. The guides do a great job of engaging guests and conveying a lot of information in an entertaining manner.

Top Reviewed Happy Hours

Grant’s Flirtini

Check through local reviews online (such as Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog) to find fresh, interesting Happy Hours, and treat special friends to a visit during the holidays. You’ll find some recommendations for Happy Hours to visit in the greater Hartford area listed here with links to my reviews. Going out for Happy Hour at some place new can be a really nice treat for everyone.

Click on the name to read my review, which also includes a link to the location’s web site:

Bloomfield

The Republic Gastropub

Manchester

Bistro On Main
Plaza Azteca

South Windsor

Burtons Bar & Grill
Mill On The River
Red Heat Tavern
Ted’s Montana Grill

West Hartford

Blue Elephant Trail
Grant’s Restaurant & Bar
Max’s Oyster Bar
Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Pour On The Thoughtfulness:
Give Them Craft Distilled Liquors & Liqueurs
As Well As Distinctive Barware

 

Want to wrap up your Christmas shopping with a twist? Then surprise your
favorite drink lover with something different – a bottle of liquid goodness from a local craft distiller. Here are just a few suggestions from craft distillers in the greater Hartford area.

The Wild Moon® Liqueurs Variety Pack

Featuring 100ml bottles of six different Wild Moon® liqueurs (Lime, Cucumber, Lavender, Rose, Birch and Chai Spice), this is a great introduction to these all-natural, gluten-free spirits that are crafted in Hartford by the Hartford Flavor Company. The variety pack and a range of other Hartford Flavor Company/Wild Moon® themed products (barware, shirts and more) are available at the Hartford Flavor Company. Visit their web site here for more details.

Waypoint Spirits

Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey

Show your friends that you are a thoughtful and perceptive person with excellent tastes by giving them one of Waypoint Spirits’ locally crafted liquors (distilled in Bloomfield), such as Labrador Noon Vodka (a very smooth, premium-style vodka), Wintonbury Gin (botanically infused, more in the mold of Hendrick’s with less juniper flavor), and Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey (the spice is right for those who like a little firewater). Visit their web site here for details.

Barware

A set of 4 initialed or monogrammed Old-Fashioned or On-The-Rocks glasses makes a beautifully distinctive and highly appreciated gift for any mixologists. A bar mat for mixing, a good quality shaker and durable bar tools also make nice gifts for your favorite mixologist. You can find them online at Amazon and Bar & Vine as well as locally at places as diverse as Williams Sonoma and Target.

Give A Gift That Is Totally Unique:
Their Own Custom-Crafted Cocktail Recipe
From The Dark Diva

Whether you want a truly one-of-a-kind gift for someone very special or a perfectly themed cocktail to take a special holiday event to the next level, nothing compares to the cocktail crafting wizardry and backstory creativity of The Dark Diva.

Here’s what a recent client said of the three custom-crafted cocktails I created for an event she planned:

“I wanted to let you know that last night was a great success especially with the signature cocktails! The ranks were split between the Velvet Voodoo Martini (… my favorite) and the Purple Magic Martini. I think the Autumn Paradise would have done better but for the literal heat wave that hit us yesterday afternoon (!) which made it hard to get in the groove for fall LOL …”

And her guests concurred:

“What a wonderfully fun evening!  How clever to have a signature cocktail tasting.  That Velvet Voodoo Martini was so sweet and smooth – I wanted to slip into a bathtub full of it!”

“Purple Magic Martini – this was simply scrumptious! Fruity without being too sweet, and I like sweet!

“Autumn Paradise Martini – As someone who hates Autumn, I wasn’t even going to try this one between the pumpkin and butterscotch, BUT, the flavors blended well, and it truly was a treat, not a trick!”

Created for a party of stressed out executive assistants, these colorfully named custom-crafted cocktails also included a short story with them. (I don’t share the recipe specifics publicly, however, since they now belong to the client which assures they will remain unique.)

The Velvet Voodoo Martini
(AKA The Karma’s A Bitch Martini)

Sometimes when you’re at the end of your rope, all you want to do is make a noose out of it and hang your boss. For anyone who is overworked and underappreciated by a ridiculously demanding boss, The Velvet Voodoo Martini is made with dark magic (Irish spirits, exotic spices and sneakily irresistible flavors) that will give you sweet velvet dreams of the moment when you just walk out and leave your boss completely helpless. And, just maybe, your boss will have the same dream. If it doesn’t scare him/her to death, it should at least scare them into showing more appreciation for all you do. (Just for fun, look up poisons on Google frequently so your boss can see it. Later, tell him/her you have to meet the exterminator at your house about poisoning some rats and ask if he/she wants you to pick up lunch for them – be very insistent. That should give them pause. Haha!)

The Diva’s Purple Magic Martini
(AKA “Beam Me Up Scotty,
There’s No Intelligent Life down Here!” Martini)

This concoction is made for those days when everyone you have deal with is an ill-tempered, impatient moron who couldn’t find their butt with both hands and directions. No matter how simply and patiently you try to explain to them that what they want is not what they need, not reasonable or just simply impossible, they have all the comprehension of a two-year-old, so they pitch a fit. While you can’t do what you feel like doing to them (unless you have lots of money, access to the dark web to hire a hitman, and an ironclad alibi), you can make them all magically disappear for a while with this deliciously sweet escape that will let you boldly go where no where no boss can find you!

The Autumn Paradise Martini
(AKA “The Leaf Me Alone, I’m Having A Moment” Martini)

Like a walk through the woods on a glorious autumn afternoon, with the fresh crispness of a cool fall breeze as the bright sunshine brings nature’s spectacular palette of scarlet, gold, yellow, green and rust to vivid life, this is a moment to savor in a New England paradise. No demanding bosses. No uncooperative co-workers. No screaming kids. No annoying spouse. Now that moment is yours in a glass with The Autumn Paradise Martini. Just forget everything and chill with every sip, after warning everyone that they might encounter the Grim Reaper if they disturb your moment (or moments) in Autumn Paradise!

Learn more about my custom-crafted cocktails for events and gifts here. You can also email me: MissBri@thedarkdivarules.com.

Act now! Don’t wait, because I expect to get booked out fast!

Hopefully, you’ve found some ideas here that will make your holiday gift-giving experience easy and fun!

Hope you have a wonderfully enjoyable and safe holiday season!

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!

Discovering Connecticut’s Craft Distillers Part 3: Following the CT Spirits Trail Out in the Country And Back in Time To Full Moonshine Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery!

August 7, 2018

Hope you’re staying cool because Connecticut is under a heat advisory at the moment! We’ve already exceeded our average number of days with a temperature of 90°F or better and still have the rest of August and September left to go. And while it’s nice to stay in the AC with a cool cocktail when you can, The Dark Diva had to suffer the heat (I’m kidding because I had the AC in my car going full blast) and follow the CT Spirits Trail to another adventure.

Full Moonshine Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery sits out in the Canton, CT countryside at 183 Bahre Corner Road.

This time the trail took me out in the country and back in time to a quintessential American tradition — sipping moonshine on the farm. To be precise, I was tasting the different varieties of Full Moonshine which is produced (legally) by Bill and Lynne Olson at Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery. Located in the countryside of Canton, CT, Hickory Ledges Farm is the picturesque New England farm and makes for a leisurely Sunday afternoon destination.

The Moonshine Mystique

It’s been romanticized. It’s been criticized. It’s been the subject of countless stories, movies, songs and more. It’s legend. And it’s a fact of life in Appalachia. But what is it really? Moonshine is the name used to denote unaged, generally clear and fairly potent whiskey distilled from corn. The name itself is most probably connected to the fact that it was usually made illegally, to keep from paying taxes on it, and often under cover of night to avoid being caught and going to jail. Depending on where you live, it’s also known as white lightning, mountain dew or hooch.

The roots of this attempt to avoid taxes on farmer-made whiskey can be traced back to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 when the federal government first tried to tax it. Originally brought to this country by the early Scots-Irish settlers, moonshine became the best way to make money from their corn crops. Converted to whiskey, the corn was more valuable and easier to transport across the mountains. So, the tax was considered an unfair burden.

A moonshine still in an undisclosed location. These stills come in a variety of sizes and types, usually with a look of cobbled together parts, which they often are.

As a result, the whole concept of moonshine as an illegal, but popular, tradition became engrained in the American psyche, especially in the hills of Appalachia. This includes southwestern Virginia where I was raised. I lived near moonshine counties like Floyd County and Franklin County, which at one time was purported to be the “Moonshine Capital of the East Coast”. What I learned back then was that, in general, it was a good idea to avoid “moonshine” if you didn’t know who made it. In addition to being illegal, some of it was made by unscrupulous people who took shortcuts like using old car radiators for condensers, which could contaminate it with anything from anti-freeze to lead. Drinking “bad” moonshine could cause serious health issues, even blindness and death,

Plus, even if you knew it didn’t have any contaminants in it, you couldn’t always count on the quality. On rare occasion, I’ve had some that was incredibly smooth albeit potent, but I’ve also tasted some that started to dissolve the paper cup I was drinking it from! It would have been good for cleaning cement, stripping paint and fueling planes. Most ‘shine fell into the latter category.

A Modern Respect for An Ancient Craft

This rustic building is where the tasting room is located. The doors open all the way across to let people and the breeze in.

Fortunately, moonshine can be legally made today as evidenced by the existence of a number of moonshine distilleries in CT and around the country. Of course, based on my experience with moonshine, I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I made my way to Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery for the Sunday tasting.

This is Jenn, who was helping Lynne behind the bar. She was quite engaging as she dispensed tastes of Full Moonshine and smiles with equal enthusiasm!

The rustic tasting room set the perfect ambiance for tasting moonshine. Completely opened up to the outside along the entrance porch, it was actually quite comfortable and inviting. It was crowded when I arrived, with a large group at a table big table and several couples at the bar. Behind the bar, Lynne Olson and her assistant Jenn were busy serving tastes of Full Moonshine, smiles and pleasant conversation. (Again, I was truly impressed by the enthusiasm and patience of the folks serving, as well as the friendliness of the people on my side of the bar.)

Lynne Olson (Left) and her husband, Bill (Right) are the very nice folks who own Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery. They are carrying on a tradition from Bills’s side of the family that dates back to 1797.

I learned in a very short time that Full Moonshine sets an impressive standard for smoothness and drinkability. Demonstrating the utmost respect for the art of making moonshine, they use genuine New England ingredients (many from their own farm) in crafting each variety in small batches and bottling it in traditional Mason jars. You can honestly taste the pride and effort that goes into their whiskey.

Full Moonshine Apple Pie

The Full Moonshine Line – Apple Pie (40 Proof), Cranberry (40 Proof), Pet’s Maple 80 (80 proof) and Circa 1797 (80 Proof). They are well worth a trip for the FREE tasting, the conversation and the ambiance!

Lynne started my tasting experience off with their Apple Pie moonshine. I was simply amazed at how much it really tasted like homemade apple pie! It was easy drinking with the incredible flavor of the fresh pressed cider (produced on the farm as well) and spices they use in making it. Not normally a big fan of apple flavored alcohol, I was hooked enough to try it in an Apple Pie Martini, which led to my buying a jar of it to bring home. I’m sure it will be a fave for concocting drink recipes this fall.

Full Moonshine Cranberry

Anything with cranberry can be difficult to get just right. More often than not, it ends up being too tart or too sweet. Not in this case. Made with native cranberries, their Full Moonshine Cranberry struck an ideal balance for a refreshingly smooth taste I can imagine in a lot of recipes.

Full Moonshine Pete’s Maple 80

Next up for tasting was the Full Moonshine Pete’s Maple 80 — the 80 refers to the proof which is double that of both the Cranberry and Apple Pie. Made with genuine Vermont maple syrup, this is Lynne Olson’s personal favorite. While it was as smooth as the others, I wasn’t as enamored with it. However, that is probably more a function of the fact that I have a love-hate relationship with maple flavor. I love maple syrup (on my pancakes) and maple-cured bacon, but I dislike the taste in most anything else. That said, it was well done in Pete’s Maple 80 and I would recommend it to anyone who likes maple.

Full Moonshine Circa 1797

These are the 2 I bought for use in making some new recipes. They came with a nice souvenir tote.

This is the real deal – genuine, pure corn whiskey made with corn and spring water. Named for the year Bill Olson’s ancestor, Uriah Case, was granted a license to distill whiskey, it’s a fitting choice to represent the family tradition. This was also a favorite of mine for its smoothness, very little burn at the end and versatility. I also tried it in Lynne’s version of a Bloody Mary and was hooked. Needless to say, I bought a jar of it, too. (You’ll also find a recipe using it later in this blog.)

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

It should come as no surprise that Full Moonshine Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** due to their friendly, welcoming attitude, great whiskey, rustic ambiance that fits the product and the beautiful location in the country. Go now and go back in the fall to enjoy the foliage. They are open with free tastings on Sundays only from Noon – 5 PM. You can find out more about them on their web site www.fullmoonshine.com. Tell them the The Dark Diva sent you!

 

Beat The Heat With My
Full Moonshine Wild Lavender Tea

From my CT Garden Party Cocktail Collection, this quite cool & tasty concoction is made completely with alcohols distilled in CT! Mix the following in an 8 oz. glass with ice:

A refreshing way to cool off in CT style!

• 1 oz. Full Moonshine Circa 1797
• 0.5 oz. Wild Moon Lavender Liqueur
4 oz. Pure Leaf Unsweetened Black Tea
• 
Splash of Wild Moon Lime Liqueur

Cheers!

 

The Battle Of The Gins Winner

A great choice to beat the heat!

In a close contest, Waypoint Spirits Wintonbury Gin of Bloomfield, CT barely edged out Hendrick’s Gin of Scotland as the best choice for use in my Cool As A Cuke Sin & Tonic. Both gins are infused with botanical and floral elements, but I found that Wintonbury added just the right touch of elements to the overall flavor profile. Try it yourself and let me know if you agree … or not.

See The Dark Diva Take The Vodka Challenge

See The Dark Diva give my taste impressions of these 4 vodkas!

If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out my Vodka Tasting Video on The Dark Diva You Tube Channel. It’s the first video I’ve done in a while and is also the first to feature more of me than my hands. In it I give my tasting impressions of 4 different vodkas. View it here.

Thanks for checking out this edition of my Fresh & Twisted Blog. Please leave your comments to let me know how I’m doing. Also, please share with friends … and the WORLD!

Discovering Connecticut’s Craft Distillers Part 2: Following The CT Spirits Trail To Waypoint Spirits!

July 30, 2018

Well I hope you had a lovely final weekend in July. Mine was very busy celebrating a dear friend’s birthday on Friday and spending a lovely Saturday afternoon entertaining my son and his girlfriend who were visiting from Florida. Both occasions gave me an opportunity to test some new cocktail recipes as well as some old faves.

Love my convertible!

However, after all the excitement of Friday and Saturday, I found myself with some time on Sunday to check out another local craft distillery on the CT Spirits Trail  – Waypoint Spirits. So late that afternoon, I put the top down on my convertible (what else would the Dark Diva drive) and cruised through the countryside to a somewhat non-descript building in an industrial park in Bloomfield, CT where Waypoint Spirits makes its home.

Big Space, Intimate Atmosphere

Melissa (L), our bartender/spirit guide, was very engaging and enthusiastic. The 3 delightful ladies on the right (Lainey, Tatiana and Luz) helped make this a fun experience!

Inside, it’s a large space that was made to feel more welcoming and intimate by the friendly staff. I was immediately greeted by Melissa, the bartender/spirits guide, who set the tone for a fun, relaxed afternoon of getting to know Waypoint and its impressive product line. At the bar I was fortunate enough to encounter a party of 3 friends (Lainey, Tatiana and Luz) who had come to celebrate Lainey’s birthday. There’s something about the informality of a small group that made it easy for us to get acquainted. Together, we enjoyed discussing the merits of each spirit we tried as well as possible cocktail recipes and life in general.

Melissa proved to be a very knowledgeable and engaging guide as she gave us a very nice introduction to each product before we sampled it and deftly answered all the questions we threw at her. (So far, I have been extremely impressed with the commitment and genuine brand enthusiasm I’ve encountered among the part-time tasting and tour guides at both Waypoint Spirits and Hartford Flavor Company.)

Raising The Bar At the Bar:
Something for Virtually Every Taste

I liked Labrador Noon Vodka enough to buy a bottle for my la-bar-atory!

We started our tasting with Labrador Noon Vodka, Waypoint’s very first product introduction. I found it to be light, smooth and easily drinkable without the typical “alcohol burn” going down. The only sensation was a nice warmth in the chest. In fact, I liked it so much I bought a bottle to experiment with at home, especially in recipes with Wild Moon Liqueurs. (This says a lot since I am not normally a huge un-flavored vodka fan.)

Next, we tried their Wintonbury Gin, which was a surprisingly pleasant departure from the typical heavy juniper flavor of traditional London dry gins. Wintonbury is lighter and more refreshing with an infusion of locally sourced botanical and floral elements. (It is more in the mold of Hendrick’s Gin from Scotland, which is an increasingly popular alternative to the London Dry gins, but at a much higher price point than the Wintonbury Gin). I am anxious to add it to my la-bar-atory and see what kind of intriguing martini recipes I can create.

For our third sampling, Melissa served us Man Overboard Spiced Rum. Now, I will confess that I am somewhat indifferent to spiced rum and normally never buy it. I may have to re-think that position after trying this one. It is lighter in color and taste than most spiced rums, which I find makes it more drinkable for me. (Of course, individual taste is highly subjective and what tempts one palate might repulse another.)

They have a surprisingly large selection to choose from and have several award winners which are displayed on the top shelf (naturally).

After the spiced rum, we moved to tasting samples of special and small batch whiskies. Their special whiskies are very limited-production experimental concoctions, while the small batch is part of their regular line, but it’s done in small batches because of production limitations. First up was a pumpkin spice Special Batch Whiskey, which I found interesting. To my tastes, it was a little harsh for drinking straight. I’d suggest trying it on the rocks with water, mixed with coffee or Irish Cream liqueur.

Our second whiskey sampling was a honey habanero Small Batch Whiskey that was my favorite (I love spicy things). Using honey that’s locally sourced and habanero peppers grown in their own little garden outside, they gave this whiskey a complex blend of sweet heat that tingles the taste buds without setting your mouth on fire. This one definitely piqued my interest for creating some adventurous recipes.

For a final whiskey tasting, Melissa served us a maple bacon bourbon Special Batch Whiskey. It was actually smoother than I expected, since bacon flavoring and scents can sometimes be overpowering with an aroma more like rancid grease. Here the bacon flavor was suitably subtle as it blended perfectly with the maple. While I found it interesting, maple bacon isn’t that high on my list of favorite flavors, especially for whiskey, although I could see it being popular with men.

Spicy XIII is Bloody Diva style vodka with everything but the juice!

Once we had sampled the various whiskies, we moved on to a unique vodka, Waypoint Labrador Noon Spicy XIII. Aptly named, it’s infused with 13 different ingredients that give it all the spicy kick of a Bloody Mary or even a Bloody Diva. Just add tomato juice, V8 or Mott’s Clamato juice (for a Bloody Caesar). Definitely not for the timid or those who have a low tolerance for spice. However, it has an irresistible appeal for yours truly.

The last sampling on our list was reserved for a recent addition to their product line – a coffee liqueur made with cold-brewed coffee made with Kenyan beans from a local roaster and combined with Labrador Noon Vodka. It was quite smooth and certainly an exciting possibility for combining with a number of different ingredients for the fall and holiday season.

In addition to the individual tastings, we were offered two different cocktails to try. The first one I tried was a punch made with Man Overboard Spiced Rum and a mixed bag of fruit juices (apparently it depends on what they have on hand at the time) that was quite tasty. Nothing extraordinary, but still enjoyable.

The second proved to be far more surprising (in a good way). It was a blend of Labrador Noon Vodka, lemonade, fresh strawberries and basil that was quite refreshing and smooth. I could have easily spent the afternoon sipping several of those.

Inside The Distillery:
A First Hand Look At Hand Crafting Liquors

Connor, our tour guide, did a great job of explaining everything as he guided through the process of hand crafting the various spirits.

Afterwards, Connor (John Taylor’s nephew) took us on a tour of the distillery itself. (Just like Melissa, Connor was very nice, patient in the extreme and a quite knowledgeable brand ambassador as he explained all aspects of the operation.) We entered a very large, open warehouse space which was partially filled with two large pot stills, a column still, fermentation tanks and lots of pipes and tubing. Connor walked us through the process of making the alcohol base, from wheat grown on a farm in Windsor, CT, and separating the ethanol (the drinkable alcohol) from the methanol and isopropyl alcohols (which they use to clean their equipment).

This is where Wintonbury Gin is infused with botanical and floral elements.

It is quite an operation and you can easily see that every product is truly hand crafted, from the carbon filtering of Labrador Noon Vodka hundreds of times to the way botanical and floral elements are infused to make Wintonbury Gin to the barrels where the special and small batch whiskies are aged. It also extends to the bottling, labeling and packing of each liquor.

Connor takes a lot of pride in helping craft Waypoint Spirits!

I came away with a deep appreciation of the spirit (pun only slightly intended) that drives craft distillers in our state. It’s apparently very much a labor of love, which is how I feel about The Dark Diva Rules, and a continuing effort to learn and improve. And there will be growing pains as well as a bit of a learning curve. I’m sure what I tasted on Sunday was a far cry from what they first produced in 2015. And I’m sure they’ll keep on tweaking formulas and coming up with new ideas.

While I am a big proponent for supporting the craft distilleries in Connecticut, I was also reminded that being craft distilled here doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. While that’s true, I have so far been fortunate to hit winners on my first two visits – Hartford Flavor Company and Waypoint Spirits.

**UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED**

I give Waypoint Spirits my highest rating of **UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED** for the friendly attentive staff (Melissa and Connor), the broad selection of creatively conceived spirits that are anything but ordinary with something for just about every taste, and a commitment to local sourcing as much as possible. They are open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for tastings and tours. Visit their web site at drinkwaypoint.com for hours and directions. You can also find Groupons for discounts. Plus, you can purchase Waypoint products at the distillery during your visit.

Tell them Miss Bri, The Dark Diva, sent you!

Coming Soon In Our Next Blog Post

Look for some new recipes featuring Labrador Noon Vodka and various Wild Moon Liqueurs!

Until Next Time!

Discovering Connecticut’s Craft Distillers: Hitting the CT Spirits Trail at the Home of Wild Moon Liqueurs

July 22, 2018

The CT Spirits Trail Passport

Hope you’ve had an enjoyable weekend so far, despite the return of humid weather to the Nutmeg State. As for myself, I spent a lovely afternoon on Saturday making my first stop on the CT Spirits Trail (www.ctspiritstrail.com) at Hartford Flavor Company (www.hartfordflavor.com), crafters of Wild Moon all-natural botanical liqueurs. It is well worth a visit!

All 7 Wild Moon Liqueurs (Thanks to Randy for lining them up for this shot.)

Having been introduced to Wild Moon Lime liqueur upon the recommendation of a staff member at Table & Vine in West Springfield, MA during a visit in early June, I found it to be a valuable addition to my la-bar-atory. It ended up being a key ingredient in my popular Twisted Purple Backstabber martini as well as a perfect additive to several other recipes. In fact, it was so good I opted to try the Wild Moon Cranberry Liqueur. Again, it has proven to be an ideal addition to a number of recipes. So, I was quite interested in visiting them and sampling the rest of their line.

WILD ABOUT WILD MOON

The bar in Diana’s Lair

Located in the back of 30 Arbor Street (Suite #107) in Hartford, it’s easily identified by a sign and an entrance deck. Upon entering, there is a small vestibule which opens into a very nice bar area known as Diana’s Lair (you’ll understand the naming once you’ve done the tour). You’ll find a full range of souvenirs (T-shirts, signs, glassware, etc,) for sale as well the Wild Moon Liqueurs themselves.

Kelly, our engaging tour guide/hostess, was a knowledgable and enthusiastic brand ambassador!

After a short wait, the tour began. There were three of us on this tour (myself and a lovely couple, Randy and Karen, from western CT who were in town for the jazz festival). Kelly, our guide, was very friendly and enthusiastic about the company and its products as she gave us a short history of the company and even explained the logo. (I don’t want to spoil the fun, so you’ll have to take the tour to find out the details.)

Botanicals are placed in mesh bags like this which are then place in barrels with the alcohol base to create the Wild Moon liqueur infusions.

The key point is that Lelaneia, the founder, started the company to provide a gluten-free option so that she and others could enjoy cocktails. (Since most spirits are distilled from grains, gluten can certainly be an issue. This is why the alcohol used as a base for these liqueurs is imported from the Netherlands – the supplier is the only place that will certify the alcohol is gluten-free.) Lelaneia also made the commitment to use all-natural, locally sourced ingredients (aside from the base) so that the liqueurs truly represent the artisanal spirit (no pun intended). In a process that is as much art as it is science, each batch of each liqueur is carefully crafted to meet Lelaneia’s exacting standards.

A MATTER OF TASTE

With each sample, Kelly would give us a description and some background. Then we would discuss our own taste perceptions, ask questions, etc. It was a very informal and comfortable environment.

The tasting portion of our tour was most interesting as Kelly would explain how each liqueur was made and offer some insights before serving us the samples. The taste of each one was intriguing and a subject for discussion among all of us (Kelly, Randy, Karen and myself) as to how we interpreted the flavors and what drinks or food recipes they might work well in.

• Wild Moon Lime, which I use frequently, is both tart and sweet for a surprisingly balanced appeal.

• Wild Moon Cranberry, seasonally available and another one I use, mellows the sharp cranberry tanginess just enough for full enjoyment.

• Wild Moon Cucumber struck me right away with its incredibly natural taste of cool, crisp cucumber. (It’s also featured in a special drink recipe at the end of this blog.)

• Wild Moon Rose was totally surprising in its complexity and intriguing character. I have a few recipes in mind for it.

• Wild Moon Lavender is another complex variety with a mix of herbal and floral influences that I am experimenting with at the moment.

• Wild Moon Birch has more of a masculine, earthiness to it which make it a natural pairing for a whiskey such as bourbon or even Irish whiskey.

• Wild Moon Chai Spice is indeed alive with the warm glow of cinnamon and other spices. It should be perfect for any fall or winter warmer cocktail as well as adding a nice touch to coffee or tea.

At the end of the tour, we each got to pick a cocktail from a menu of drinks made using a Wild Moon Liqueur as a key ingredient. My choice was the Rose Moon Margarita, which was quite tasty (except that even the very limited amount of “margarita mix” used in it managed to give me heartburn later).

**UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED**

The Sampler pack features six 100ml bottles of Wild Moon Liqueurs (all except Cranberry).

Hartford Flavor Company has earned my **Uniquely Recommended** rating which means it’s an experience that’s definitely worth your time, with excellent craft liqueurs, an inviting atmosphere and enthusiastic staff. I also recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to buy Wild Moon Liqueurs while you’re there. (I bought a sampler pack to experiment with in my recipes.) They’re open for tours and tastings on Fridays 4 pm – 7 pm, Saturdays 1 pm – 6 pm and Sundays 2 pm – 5 pm. The cost is $10 per person, which includes the tour, tastings and a cocktail. (I considered it a bargain.)

You can also find Wild Moon Liqueurs at many local package stores in CT, MA and more, including Table & Vine in West Springfield, MA and my local go-to package store, Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits in East Windsor, CT.

Keep up with Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog as we work our way around the state with reviews at each stop on the CT Spirits Trail.

A BEAT THE HEAT RECIPE

The Dark Diva’s “Cool As A Cuke Sin & Tonic”
AKA The Twisted Chiller

We found that Wild Moon mixes well with a wild hair for fun refreshment in the sun. Why “Sin & Tonic” you ask? (Seriously, if you have to ask, check your pulse because you may be dead.)

Ignore the strainer. It was leftover from a martini experiment earlier.

In an 8 oz. glass with ice, combine the following:

1 oz.Tanqueray London Dry Gin
0.5 oz.Wild Moon Cucumber Liqueur
4 oz.Diet Tonic Water (Diet? Yes, if you’re going to sin, go for sex, booze, rock ‘n’ roll, chocolate, fun stuff — not useless sugar in tonic water)
A Splash of Wild Moon Lime Liqueur

Mix well and garnish with either a slice of cucumber or a lime wheel if desired.

Thanks for checking out this edition. Please let us know what you think!