Holiday Hooch 2014: a Gifting Guide

Tuesday Revews-Day

Oh it is that time again, folks. Time to answer the question of what to give who and when. I’ve said it before and I’ll very likely say it again, wine makes a fabulous gift both for close friends and casual acquaintances (providing they drink, of course). Now, we all have favorites that we like to share, but just in case you’re looking for something different to try, here are a few bottles I’ve recently had the opportunity to sample.



[yellow tail] is always a good wine for its price point and the Big Bold Red is a a good, solid table wine. Flavors of rich fruits and a bit of spice make this a very easy-drinking wine that will pair well with most rich, hearty meals and was especially tasty with grilled steak the other night.

The Calling was a new brand to me but hails from the Alexander Valley in California. We’re not usually Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, but we paired The Calling’s Cab Sauv with baked ziti and it blended perfectly. So if you’re heading to a big Italian-style feast for Christmas Eve, this is the bottle to bring. Their Chardonnay features fruity notes of melon, lemon, and nectarine as has been aptly described as luscious. Pair it with rich, buttery seafood dishes.

For something a bit more festive, the Eppa SupraFruta Sangria is just what you want for a casual gathering of friends, tapas optional. Super-fruits are still very in right now, so would  make a great gift for the wine drinker who likes to infuse even cocktail hour with a dose of power-foods. The red sangria includes pomegranate, blueberry, blood orange, and acai juices, while the white includes mangosteen, peach, mango, and blood orange again. It also features certified-organic grapes, which explains why I saw it prominently displayed at our local Whole Foods.

And for the countdown to 2014, a little bubbly would not go amiss. While French Champagne is still highly regarded, Prosecco is a wonderful alternative (as we’ve already discussed). The Enza Prosecco pictured would be wonderful for toasts at midnight while carrying you through to mimosa’s in the morning to start the year off right. They say eating 12 grapes is an old Italian tradition for predicting which months will be sweet–I wonder how that counts if you drink them?


So maybe you’ve got friends who are more cocktail-oriented than wine. While I would suggest a bottle of Velvet Cinn for those friends, sometimes you want something other than a bottle to gift. In that case, I have two books that might just fill that need.

From the same pen that brought us Savory Pies, Greg Henry has now turned the sweet cocktail trend on its ear and compiled and created 100 savory cocktails recipes that run the gamut from sour to umami and all points in between. In fact, that’s exactly how the book is organized, with cocktails that share tingling taste-buds buddying up in the pages. A pleasure to read, Henry’s Savory Cocktails features plenty of newsy notes throughout the book and, as befitting a professional photographer, gorgeous photos of the cocktails as well.

Fashionable Cocktails

On the other end of the spectrum is The Fashionable Cocktail, 200 recipes compiled by Australian fashion journalist Jane Rocca and accompanied by the delightful watercolor illustrations of Neryl Walker. If you’re expecting cocktails inspired by fashion icons and wardrobe staples, you’re shopping in the wrong store. Instead, Rocca categorizes the cocktails she’s collected from bars in Melbourne, Syndey, and New York City bartenders by the type of girl most likely to drink them. Chapters include The Vintage Girl, The Luxe Label Girl, and The Hipster Girl, to name just a few.

Bottom line? As long as the gift comes from the heart, it will always be in good taste.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!


I received the above-mentioned books and bottles for purpose of review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.


AlcoHOLidays | Carnival & Mardi Gras | King’s Cup


King's Cup Cocktail for Carnival (aka Mardi Gras)

Following right on the heels of the Christmas season–when most people are beginning to experience the post-holiday doldrums–certain parts of the world have one thing in mind: continuing the party.

For most areas, Carnival starts somewhere between January 6th (Twelfth Night or the Feast of Epiphany) and just before Lent, flowing merrily onward for a month or more, culminating in Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (I know a lot of people refer to the entire festival as Mardi Gras, and I suppose these days it’s not entirely wrong to do so, but technically Mardi=Tuesday Gras=Fat or thereabouts, so take what you will from it), the last day of feasting and indulgence before the aforementioned Lent begins with it’s fasting and restrictions.

Regardless of the extent of debauchery that an area’s Carnival parties may or may not have, the prevailing goal is truly to eat, drink, and be merry–since rich meats, fat, and sugar are traditionally prohibited during Lenten observances that follow. In some lower-key celebrations, like Shrovetide, pancake flips are a common party-theme. The celebrations I’m most familiar with, though, include rich seafood dishes, the meat and cheese-filled muffuletta sandwiches, and King cakes decorated in green, gold, and purple (colors symbolizing faith, power, and justice, respectively).

Because Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, and Easter is a movable holiday, the exact date of Fat Tuesday also varies from year to year but usually falls at some point during February. In 2013, Fat Tuesday falls on February 12th.

And, yes, while most people in the United States consider New Orleans the place to be for Mardi Gras, it’s American seat is actually Mobile, Alabama (and their celebrations start in November!). Of course Mobile was originally settled as the capital of French Louisiana, so the state still has ample claim to the tradition.

When it comes to a Carnival cocktail, there are plenty to choose from. Hurricanes, made famous (or, perhaps, infamous) by Pat O’Briens, make a great party punch for this time of year. And then there’s the Absinthe-laced Sazerac, born in New Orleans.

But you know I can do more than just post a cocktail everyone else has already seen, right?

So I set out to concoct something on the savory side, a foil to some of the sugar-laden goodness that the holidays are known for, and kept going back to the muffuletta sandwich. Those savory flavors have formed the basis of today’s cocktail,

The King’s Cup

1 oz Dry Gin
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz Galliano
1/4 oz Agwa de Bolivia
1 barspoon Garlic-infused Olive Oil
splash Olive Juice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass half-full of ice and shake like you’re trying to get a Krewe-members attention. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a spear of 3 olives (or one large olive, preferrably stuffed with blue cheese).

The King’s Cup takes the idea of the dirty martini and turns it on its ear. After all, the muffuletta is just an Italian sub sandwich until you add the amazing olive salad, redolent with garlic.  Yes, I’m serious about the garlic-infused olive oil–it’s fabulous to cook with, so you won’t have to worry about it going to waste, the garlic flavor is pronounced but not overpowering and the oil gives the drink a velvety smoothness. The grapefruit juice keeps the gin and herbaceous liqueurs from making the drink overly strong without sweetening it up too much.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!*


And we’re back! Thank you all for your patience while Sips & Shots (and the rest of the Helper Monkey Network) took a much needed break during January. A lot of the work we did was behind-the-scenes, but if you read these posts in a feed reader, you might want to head on over to Sips & Shots and take a gander at the front-of-the-house sprucing-up that has gone on, too! As always, we welcome your feedback and hope you’ll share the posts you like with family and friends.

*(That’s “Let the good times roll” for those who don’t speak Carnival!)