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!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Red Heat Tavern Looks to Fire Up The Local Happy Hour Competition In South Windsor/Manchester

November 6, 2018

***Today is Election Day in the U.S., so please go vote!***

This past Friday, I visited Red Heat Tavern at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. While aware that it was relatively new, I hadn’t realized they had just opened in June of this year until talking with Manager Taylor O’Neill at the end of my visit. If I had known beforehand, I might have elected to postpone my review. However, based on my experience Friday, they didn’t need a break.

Part of the Burtons Bar & Grill chain , which also has a location in Evergreen Walk, Red Heat Tavern has four other locations (all in neighboring Massachusetts) while positioning itself as a place where “… passion for great food is fueled by fire, flavor and friends.” So, how did they do when the Friday Happy Hour heat was on?

Sparked By Smiles,
Service Was Smokin’

Upon arriving around 4 PM on Friday, the seats at the Red Heat Tavern bar were already starting to fill up. Fortunately, I found a few empty seats at the far end next to the service bar area. (The décor was a somewhat similar to that of The Cook and the Bear in West Hartford – what I call urban rustic. It’s an eclectic mix of modern, industrial and classic BBQ joint all rolled into one that actually works well.) Nikki*, my bartender, was bubbly and enthusiastic during my time there. She easily answered all my questions about the drink and food choices (the Happy Hour menu doesn’t elaborate enough on the offerings —  a point I raised with the manager), cheerfully responded to my request to make my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix, and made an excellent suggestion for my second drink by recommending the Jim Beam Black Mule.
*(Unfortunately, her shift ended, and she left before I could get a picture or the correct spelling of her name.)

Red Hot Deals,
Icy Cool Drinks

The $5 Happy Hour Margarita at Red Heat Tavern. (Made to my order with lime juice instead of mix.)

A $5 price point for mixed drinks is essentially the popular Happy Hour standard. What makes the price hot or not is what you get for that price. Red Heat Tavern offers Sangrias, Margaritas and Mules that have some telling differences. While I ordered my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix to avoid heartburn, you can get various flavors of the mix. (My Margarita was a bit tart and could have used either a touch more Triple Sec or some agave, but it grew on me.)

The Jim Beam Black Happy Hour Mule for $5 at Red Heat Tavern. (A surprisingly different and tasty mule.)

The Jim Beam Black Mule, on the other hand, was a totally unexpected pleasure. While I’m normally not a big fan of base bourbon brands like Jim Beam* and Jack Daniels, the Jim Beam Black is extra aged compared to regular Jim Beam (8 years vs. 4 years) which results in a smoother taste that works very well with the sweetness of the Mule to create an intriguing and enjoyable libation.
*(I should, in the interest of full disclosure, note that my typical bourbon of choice – Maker’s Mark, is a small-batch bourbon made by Jim Beam.)

If You Love The Heat,
Order From This Kitchen

Whether you call them bar bites, appetizers or small plates, the food offerings at Happy Hour should serve two purposes. First, they soak up some of the alcohol, so it doesn’t make you too buzzed too quick (assuming you are limiting your intake and not pouring drinks down). Secondly, depending on the offerings, it can be a good (and cheaper) way to test a restaurant’s menu to see if you want to eat a regular meal there.

The Happy Hour Dry-Rubbed Boneless Chicken Wings ($1 each) at Red Heat Tavern. (Nice heat and the meat was tender!)

At Red Heat Tavern, the mesquite-marinated wings are the best example of what they mean by fire and flavor. Priced at $1 each, your wing options consist of bone-in or boneless with a choice of Dry Rubseasoned with 11 herbs and spices, Buffalo, and Sweet Thai. I selected 3 of the boneless Dry Rub wings, which came out with a nice coating of seasoning that was flavorful with a slow-building heat. The slow heat lets you savor it and enjoy it longer versus the immediate fire of a Buffalo-style sauce. The chicken wings themselves were tender and moist, from first bite to last.

Happy Hour Fried Pickles at Red Heat Tavern. (A lot fried pickles for $5, so it’s plenty for 2 people.)

For my second choice, I tried the Fried Pickles for $5 served with a sriracha aioli. As soon as they arrived, I realized that this is an option best suited for two or more people because they do not skimp on the quantity. I ate and ate, but it still looked like I hadn’t even made a dent in the number of fried pickle chips in front of me. These house-made, battered bread and butter pickles were nicely fried for a crispy texture and brought the heat both from being freshly fried and from the batter itself.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

While I do feel like the Happy Hour menu could use some additions and some better descriptions of the offerings, Manager Taylor O’Neill said they are planning to make some enhancements now that they’re been up and running for a while. However, that discussion really didn’t factor into my evaluation. At this point, based on my experience, I feel the Friday Happy Hour service, drinks and food offerings at Red Heat Tavern worthy of my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Visit the main web site at redheattavern.com for more information, including the full menu, hours, etc. Then drop by this Friday from 3 PM – 6 PM to check out their Happy Hour for yourself and let me know what you think!

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!