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!

The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 1: Make The Season More Fun Without The Stress

November 12, 2018

(Note: We’re actually a day ahead of our usual Tuesday posting for a change. Can’t guarantee it will happen again anytime soon. Haha)

Wow! It’s hard to believe that next Thursday is Thanksgiving already! How is it that the holiday season seems to take us by surprise every year? I think there are a couple of dynamics involved starting with the fact that Christmas gets promoted earlier and earlier to the point that we try to ignore it out of contempt until it’s suddenly upon us and we go into panic mode. At the same time, our lives are so busy we can’t seem to find the time to prepare too far in advance for anything beyond getting through tomorrow.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter how we got here, since we are here. The key is how to cope with the holidays and make the most of them. And the first step is to rethink your expectations.

#1) The Holidays Are Perfectly Enjoyable
When You Don’t Strive For Perfection

Still life of large blue Christmas ornaments and strings of red beads.

Say what? Think about it. We spend so much time trying to create perfect holiday moments that we’re too stressed out to enjoy ourselves. In fact, we can end up making the holiday memorable for all the wrong reasons. So, change your mantra to “let’s have fun without obsessing about it” this year. And part of that is recognizing that there are limits on your time, your budget and your mental/emotional stamina. The first two are fairly obvious, but also remember that we all have limits to how much we can plan, prep and socialize before we start to overload. And we all have different limits. The key is to plan fewer things and enjoy each one more or plan more things while making them all simpler.

Watching your budget is pretty important, because it is ridiculously easy to

Christmas wreath on door.

overspend on social events during the holidays. And that can lead to a holiday financial hangover as well as relationship issues. Allow yourself one social event “splurge” without going overboard. This will make staying within budget feel less constraining. Plus, follow my tips for having more affordable holiday fun.

The same idea applies to not overscheduling your time. Allow for one or two major parties/events, while spreading out other events over the whole season and making them smaller and simpler.

#2) Celebrate Holiday Happy Hours
As An Alternative To Parties/Dinners

Bistro on Main in Manchester captures the spirit of French bistro — warmly intimate atmosphere and some very tasty treats.

Meeting friends or co-workers at Happy Hour during the holidays is a good way to socialize and celebrate the season without spending a lot of time or money. If you stick with the Happy Hour food and drink specials, you can get by for an average of $15 – $30 per person (before tip) for 2 drinks and 1 – 2 food items from the Happy Hour Menu.

Compared to dinner out with friends, Happy Hour allows you to explore different venues and try more interesting cocktails and foods for l

The Lamb Cigars ($2 each) at Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen in West Hartford offer a deliciously fresh perspective on Happy hour foods!

ess money without having to worry about making reservations (which can be difficult to get in the first place) around schedule conflicts and having to cancel/re-schedule reservations due to last-minute emergencies. Plus, you have time to shop afterwards or go home and just relax.

Compared to hosting parties, there’s no cleanup (before or after) when you meet friends at a

The “too much thyme” cocktail at The Cook and The Bear in West Hartford is a deliciously surprising blend of tequila, thyme, blackberry and lemon!

Happy Hour. You also don’t have to plan a menu and drink options, worry about spending for a lot of food that will go to waste, or deal with intoxicated guests or guests who won’t leave. You can show up for Happy Hour, share some holiday cheer and leave when you’re ready. (Also, most Happy Hours only last 2 to 3 hours, so that’s always a great excuse to leave.)

For those of you in the greater Hartford area of Connecticut, the following Happy Hour venues have earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!.

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

Another nice thing about the Holiday Happy Hours is you can get started right now with your get-togethers!

Hope you’ve found Part 1 of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide to be helpful in making it easier to enjoy the season this year. Coming up in Part 2 on Friday, I’ll offer recommendations for stocking your holiday bar as well as some general drink recommendations to make entertaining easier. And in Part 3 next week, we’ll present some gift ideas for those in your life who appreciate spirits with a twist!

Be Safe, Happy and Relaxed This Holiday Season!

Don’t Make A Sad Mistake! Check Out These Friday Happy Hour Reviews Before Making Plans for Tomorrow … Plus The Queen Puts A Sizzlin’ Twist On Hot Apple Pie … And The Diva Jazzes Up Royal Street!

August 20, 2018

As part of our new blog format, here’s part two of this week’s blog to get you primed for the weekend.

Give Your Happy Hour Plans A Fresh Twist This Friday

Get out of the usual Friday Happy Hour rut and try someplace new tomorrow. Check out my past reviews for recommendations!

Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford

Ted’s Montana Grill in South Windsor

Mill On the River in South Windsor

Burtons Grill & Bar in South Windsor

The Republic in Bloomfield

The Cook and The Bear in West Hartford

Queen Cayenne’s “RED🔥HOT” Apple Pie Martini

Just when you thought it was safe, The Dark Diva’s alter ego has gone wild in the “la-bar-atory” to createthis spicy fall concoction!
It ain’t your mama’s hot apple pie!

In a glass with ice, combine:

• 1.5 oz. Full Moonshine Apple Pie
• 1.0 oz. Waypoint Spirits Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey
• 0.5 oz. Cruzan®Vanilla Rum
• 0.25 oz. La Belle Orange Gran Orange Liqueur
• 2 Dashes Tabasco®Original Pepper Sauce

Stir well, strain into a chilled martini glass and toast the sweet heat!

The Royal Street Jazz
AKA King’s Twisted Blues!

The Dark Diva’s at it again with another recipe celebrating #NOLA and #NCISNewOrleans. This lethal cocktail consists of:

• 1.0 oz. Sazerac®Rye Straight Rye Whiskey
• 0.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
• 0.25 oz. La Belle Orange Gran Orange Liqueur
• 6 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Mix ingredients together in an 8 oz. glass with ice, stir and jazz up the moment with a toast to Royal Street!

 

Have a great weekend!

The Weekend Preview – What’s Fresh, What’s Twisted & What’s Even Wilder Than Miss Bri

August 23, 2018

Okay, I admit that I lied in the headline. There’s nothing wilder than Miss Bri, because I know no limits! Haha! However, aside from that, my friends at Hartford Flavor Company (makers of all the Wild Moon Liqueurs I use in my recipes) sent me these events to get your weekend started off right!

Parkville Block Party – This Saturday 8/25 all day until Midnight 

One of Hartford’s newest and biggest parties!  Come partake in this neighborhood-wide festival and experience art, music, food and entertainment all day long at Parkville’s numerous cultural venues.  We’ll be open for tours/tastes/cocktails from 1-5pm at which time the Underwood Afterparty will begin with great live music at our space and at our next door neighbor, Real Art Ways.  Click here for more information about the entire day’s events.

Other upcoming events include:

Friday Night Flavor Music Series:  back by popular demand is our Friday night music.  Sip on a delicious Wild Moon cocktail and support the local music scene. Our standard tour/taste/cocktail starts at 4pm before the music starts, so come for that and bring your own food bites.  More info here:  Friday Night Flavor.

Check Out My Uniquely Recommended Friday Hours

Be sure to get your weekend started where The Dark Diva has been before and given her top rating …
Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford and …
Ted’s Montana Grill at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor
The exterior of Ted’s Montana Grill at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor, CT.
Tell them the Dark Diva sent you!
Have fun and be safe!!!

If the World Is My Oyster, Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford Just Might Be The Pearl!

August 13. 2018

Hot and wet is the basic story of summer in Connecticut this year. Lately, rain has been a constant feature in our weather. Fortunately, I found a break in the weather pattern Friday afternoon and ventured down to West Hartford to visit the Happy Hour at Max’s Oyster Bar. (As an aside, I hate I-84 so I took the supposedly longer way through Windsor and Bloomfield and avoided some nasty traffic.)

Max’s Oyster Bar is located at 964 Farmington Ave. West in West Hartford Center, which means parking can be a challenge. I followed recommendations and parked in the Brace Road public parking lot. It cost me $2.25 for a little less than 1.5 hours. It was also easy get in and out without traffic issues.

The fourth restaurant opened by Richard Rosenthal’s Max Restaurant Group. Max’s Oyster Bar launched in 1999 and has apparently never looked back. Having had friends go there and rave about it, I decided it was time for The Dark Diva to do a bar review, especially since I love shellfish. For a variety of reasons, I opted to evaluate the Friday Happy Hour, since it both marks the end of the week for many folks and sets the tone for their weekend. By that standard, ending your week at Max’s Oyster Bar should assure a stellar weekend.

The Simple Things Make The Biggest Difference

I arrived a few minutes early and found a seat at the bar, which was still fairly full, apparently from a late lunch crowd. Alysa, who would be my bartender, brought me a Happy Hour menu and explained that Happy Hour would be starting in just a few minutes, so I informed her I would wait. In reviewing any bar, the bartender really sets the entire mood for your visit, good or bad. Fortunately, Alysa was spot on in making sure that I was served efficiently without long waits and always with a smile. (It was an important reason for the rating I gave Max’s Oyster Bar — you would be surprised at how often those simple keys are totally missed by some supposedly high-end bars.)

A Menu Made To Order

Cool, refreshing and pleasantly different, the $5 Happy Hour Pom Margarita was a nice choice to start my Happy Hour!

While perhaps not overly large, the Happy Hour menu is easy to navigate and offers a number of appealing options at the prevalent $5 price-point with a few exceptions, like 3 oysters on the half-shell for $4, buck a shuck clams and a $4 oyster shooter. It includes mixed drinks, beer and wine plus selections from the raw bar, oyster bar classics, snacks and street tacos. As a mixologist, I naturally gravitated to the $5 mixed drink selections, choosing a Pom Margarita (El Jimador tequila, lime juice and pomegranate juice). It was quite tasty, albeit maybe a bit sweet (as to be expected with pomegranate juice), but still a very enjoyable way to start my weekend.

I had been too busy eating my oysters (they were very good and I was hungry), so that I had to hurry up and grab this shot right before the plate got replaced by the calamari (which is why it’s bit blurred).

For my first course, I chose the 3 for $4 oysters which arrived with horseradish sauce and disappeared in a blur (I love oysters and I was quite hungry). The oysters were of decent size and appealing quality. I followed up with an order of Point Judith calamari, which was lightly fried with hot peppers and served with both a red sauce and a white sauce. Being something of a calamari connoisseur (I love calamari and have tried it all throughout New England as well as outside the region), I found this version to be delicious. In fact, the calamari disappeared almost as fast as the oysters. (Sadly, neither Happy Hour dish was around long enough for me to take a decent picture. Haha!)

The Max Manhattan was a good choice with a nice smoothness as the sweet vermouth and orange bitters perfectly mellowed the taste of the whiskey.

Upon finishing the Pom Margarita, I opted to try a Max Manhattan (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Dolin sweet vermouth and orange bitters). Part of my rationale for selecting this particular drink was that I had never tried a Manhattan before. This was an excellent introduction with just the right amount of sweetness to temper the whiskey.

The Best Ambiance Includes Smiles and Conversation

Even though I was at the very end of a long, busy bar, there were enough bartenders so that Alysa could give those of us at my end the attention we deserved. She never gave the impression of being harried, overwhelmed or anything except a readiness to take care of our needs with a smile.

Speaking of smiling, I also judge a Happy Hour (and bars in general) on the friendliness of their customers. If people are willing to say hello and maybe strike up some basic conversation, I consider that a tribute to the type of people the bar/Happy Hour attracts. And I wound up talking to a number of folks at my end of the bar.

Over a little less than 1.5 hours, I had a very pleasant Happy Hour experience while enjoying two not-so-common mixed drinks, fresh oysters on the half-shell, some excellent calamari and some good conversation at a total cost before tip of $20.20. Not bad at all.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

Max’s Oyster Bar Happy Hour earns my highest rating as being ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** for its excellent service, delicious Happy Hour menu with good value and overall ambiance. It’s definitely worth a trip to West Hartford to check it out. Their Happy Hours are 4-6pm Monday-Saturday and 3-6pm Sunday. You can find their menus, directions and more on their web site at maxrestaurantgroup.com/oyster.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

An Inspired Dark Diva Is A Dangerous Thing

It’s not often that I find myself truly inspired by somebody else’s drink recipe. While I have developed a number of popular pomegranate martini recipes on my own, none of them had started with tequila.

Meet the Dark Diva Twisted POM-arita-tini! It was inspired by the Pom Margarita I had at Max’s Oyster Bar during my visit on Friday, naturally with a few lethal Dark Diva twists! In a glass or shaker with ice, mix:

• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Silver Tequila
• 0.25 oz. Skyy Infusions® Citrus Vodka
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

After mixing, strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy (carefully). Cheers!

Want to live over the edge? Hide your keys and get ready to tango with the dark side with The Twisted Tango POM-arita-tini AKA The Aztec Death Wish! First, make out a will and leave any valuables to me. (Hey, you can’t blame a girl for trying.) Next, in a glass or shaker with ice, mix:

As you may have noticed, I don’t just push the envelope. Oh, hell no, I like to shred it!

• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Silver Tequila
• 0.5 oz. Patrón Citrónge® Extra Fine Mango Liqueur
• 0.25 oz. Skyy Infusions® Citrus Vodka
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

Strain into a chilled martini glass, arrange pillows on floor to cushion your fall and enjoy! Cheers!

Here’s to Your Health:
How The Gin & Tonic Helped Fight Malaria

Say what? That’s right, back in the 1800’s when the British Empire stretch practically around the world, lending credence to the term “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” malaria was the scourge of the British military and civilians in the more tropical regions. While quinine had been discovered to be an excellent preventative as well as a cure, it was extremely bitter. Though it was mixed with tonic water, people hated the taste so much they’d rather take their chances with malaria.

Based on a very simple recipe, the gin and tonic is a classic drink, especially for summer. At the same time, I like to try it with different gins, and add liqueurs like Wild Moon(R) Cucumber for something uniquely refreshing.

Then a remarkable thing happened. Since gin was extremely popular with the British, someone came up with idea of mixing it with the heavily quinine-laced tonic water to produce a much more palatable means of getting people to take their quinine. The addition of the lime comes from the Royal Navy which always carried limes to help fight scurvy among its sailors (which accounts for how “limey” became a slang term for a British sailor and later the British in general). The Royal Navy had discovered earlier that lime helped improve the taste of the quinine tonic water, so it was natural to keep it when they added the gin. And this is how the gin and tonic we know today was created. (Today, however, there is virtually no quinine in tonic water.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my medicine! Cheers!

NOTE: I had originally planned to talk about Chartreuse Liqueur in this post, but I have some more things to check out first. I’ll let you know when it’s posted.

Thanks for reading Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog. Please let us know what you think about our posts, ask questions or suggest places you’d like us to review. And please share the link with your friends!