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!

Escape From The Weekly Grind At This Mill’s Friday Happy Hour … And Queen Cayenne’s Voodoo Cocktails Bring The Heat!

August 27,2018

Welcome to Monday as we start the final week of August with the forecast for a heat wave … ugh! After living in New England for 13 years, this is the first year I can truthfully say that I am actually looking forward to the cooler weather of fall. Of course, one of the best ways to beat the heat is with a cool libation, especially when it’s served in the right environment. And that leads to this week’s Friday Happy Hour Bar Review.

The Mill On The River:
Friday Happy Hour Bar Review

Past and Present Mix Perfectly
at this Spot on the Podunk River

Yes, there is a Podunk River (named for the Podunk tribe of Native Americans), which flows through South Windsor, CT. It was here that colonists first built a mill and damn over 250 years ago. The original mill was destroyed by a flood in 1750, then rebuilt in 1775. Eventually, over the years it fell into disrepair before being rebuilt into The Mill On The River restaurant that exists today.

I will admit that I had been there for dinner twice several years ago and twice last year for their Sunday brunch. On all four occasions, the food and the service were excellent. But this past week marked my first time there for Friday Happy Hour. Not to prolong the suspense, it did not disappoint!

The outdoor dining area at The Mill on the River border Vintons Millpond.

Located on Route 30 (Ellington Road) in a quiet residential area, The Mill on the River offers an appealing vista with Vintons Millpond, water cascading down the face of the mill dam and the covered footbridge above the dam leading to the entrance. Inside, it’s classic New England colonial charm with the dark wood and stone décor, lots of windows and a sense of history. Yet, there are just enough modern accents, especially around the bar so that it feels fresh at the same time. It’s a juxtaposition that works very well. Inside the bar, windows on two sides provide plenty of natural light and pleasant, relaxing views of the outdoor dining deck, millpond and grounds.

The Bar was Hopping,
but the Staff Never Missed a Beat

The entrance to the covered bridge above the mill dam.

By the time I arrived around 4:20, Happy Hour had already been going for a while (it starts at 3). The bar was reasonably crowded, although there were still a few seats available. It was an interesting mix of couples and small groups of various ages that were all chatting happily and giving a convivial rhythm to the noise of the conversations that made the place feel alive and inviting.

Behind the bar, Greg (the bartender) had his own rhythm going in juggling the acknowledging of each guest, taking their orders, mixing/pouring their drinks and never dropping the ball so to speak. He’s apparently quite experienced, because there was a smooth flow to every action. I never felt like it was taking too long for my drinks or my appetizer to arrive. It was exactly what you want … and should expect. A little bit after my arrival, he had help with service bar and the regular bar as it got even more crowded. Still, everything worked in perfect harmony.

Happy Hour Food Left Me Smiling …
And Full

One of the things that has consistently impressed me on my Happy Hour rounds has been the variety, quality and value of the food specials, and The Mill on the Riverwas certainly no exception. Not having had clams for quite some time, I opted for their Crisp Rhode Island Fried Clam Strips for $5.

The clam strips were quite tasty and disappeared quick!

What I got was a generous portion of perfectly fried clam strips with just the right amount of batter and very little grease. They were served with both remoulade and tartar sauce, which were delicious, although I found that I preferred the remoulade better. A nice touch was the bit of cheesecloth over the accompanying lemon half, so the seeds didn’t squirt out. I ate almost all of them, before reaching my limit. Definitely praise worthy on all counts!

Happy Hour Drink Deals Worthy of A Grin,
And Not Much More

I started with a Cosmo made with their well vodka. It tasted good, but it felt it could have been priced just a bit lower since it was made with a very inexpensive vodka.

Unfortunately, if there was one area where the value was a bit questionable, it was in the cocktail prices. I realize I’m being somewhat picky, but since the drink deals are the centerpiece of Happy Hour, at least for me, I feel justified in my pickiness. Cocktails made with liquors from the well are $6, which I consider a bit high considering my Cosmopolitan was made with McCormick’s vodka. Now, I will say it was made well and tasted fine. Plus, I am not a believer that price is always indicative of quality. However, McCormick’s is still very inexpensive, so it feels like drinks made with it should be less than $6.

Their private label cabernet was a more reasonable deal for Happy Hour.

 

The $5 deal on their own private label wines felt more reasonable. I chose the cabernet which was smooth and pleasant, but nothing extraordinary. It was also a generous pour, which contributed to making it feel like a relatively better value.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

Despite my reservations about the Happy Hour cocktail pricing, The Mill on the River sets a very high standard with the service, the food and the extraordinary setting. I am compelled to give their Friday Happy Hour my top rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** because in many ways there’s nothing else like it.

For more information, visit The Mill On The River website..

Check out their Friday Happy Hour and tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

 

The Heat Is Always On At
Queen Cayenne’s Red-Hot Gator Club

Queen Cayenne is The Dark Diva’s alter ego, inspired by a love of New Orleans, Tabasco®hot sauce, Cholula®hot sauce, spicy cooking (especially Cajun), hot blues and jazz music, and sultry dark magic. But a word of warning … when you mess with Queen Cayenne, you are definitely playing with fire. She will light you up, burn you down, and leave what’s left for gator bait!

Here are some of Queen Cayenne’s favorite recipes for her Voodoo potions … er … cocktails, which have been recently featured on The Dark Diva Rules Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram:

Queen Cayenne’s Sweet Hellfire Whiskey

The perfect accompaniment when you’re grilling, this cocktail brings sweet heat. When you’re hot … burn, baby, burn! In an 8 oz. glass with ice, combine:

1.0 oz. Waypoint Spirits Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey
1.0 oz. Maker’s Mark®Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
0.5 oz. Patrón Citrónge®Extra Fine Mango Liqueur
0.25 oz. Mathilde Pêche (Peach) Liqueur
Splash Wild Moon®Lime Liqueur
2 Dashes Tabasco®Brand Pepper Sauce

Stir ingredients, sip carefully and start cooking … before you light the grill!

Queen Cayenne’s Cajun Gator Bite

Feeling mean? Try tangling with this cocktail that bites back … it’s green whiskey fire with serious teeth! In an 8 oz. glass with ice, combine:

1.0 oz. Waypoint Spirits Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey
1.0 oz. Full Moonshine Circa 1797 Neutral Spirits
0.5 oz. Green Chartreuse Liqueur
0.25 oz. Patrón Citrónge®Extra Fine Orange Liqueur
4 Drops Tabasco®Brand Pepper Sauce

Stir ingredients, sip carefully and hope you don’t end up as gator bait … chomp!

Queen Cayenne’s French Devil
(AKA Twisted Triple 6)

This is a new one for those who’ll try anything once … maybe twice if they survive the first time. After a hard day of wrestling cantankerous reptiles (whether in the swamp or at the office), you’re ready to play with some serious fire! In a brandy snifter, combine:

1.0 oz. Green Chartreuse Liqueur
1.0 oz. Landy Cognac V.S.

 Stir, sip carefully and feel the burn! Beware the beast …

Thanks for reading this blog post! Please let us know if you have comments or questions. Also, feel free to offer suggestions of any Happy Hours you’d like to see us review!