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BB Bottle Neat GlassWe went into tasting Berentzen’s Bushel & Barrel after having tried a number of other whiskey-apple combinations. Unfortunately, that was the wrong approach, as the spiced-apple spirit Berentzen has made is completely unlike any other brand out there.

For starters, it’s much stronger than some. While Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack – billed as a Tennessee cider – ranks at about 15% ABV, Bushel & Barrel rings in at 30%. This is also substantially less than others, like Jim Beam’s Red Stag Hardcore Cider and its cough-inducing 40% ABV.

The small difference – more than one but less than the other - actually lends to Bushel & Barrel’s drinkability. Winter Jack can stands on its own with ice or warmed up because It IS a cider and there’s little alcohol to note. Red Stag on the other hand tastes like a flavored whiskey (which is what it is), the apple is only the supporting character and even then its role is minimal.

But Bushel & Barrel splits the combination right down the middle. On first sip you get huge apple flavors that compete immediately with Kentucky Bourbon. It’s a really flavorful combination that seems to wrestle at the outset, but then the two flavors make peace and the result is a great, edgy drink that is perhaps more flexible as a result.

Unlike Winter Jack for example, Bushel & Barrel can be added to warmed apple cider on a cold night. Winter Jack would simply get lost – it’s so much more apple than anything else that you couldn’t tell it’s even there. And Red Stag, while great to sip, really overpowers the delicate cider it’s added to – little cinnamon or clove will come through, just whiskey with an afterthought of apple.

Bushel & Barrel, on the other hand, is just strong enough to remind you it’s there. Added to warmed cider it cuts the winter air and quickly warms you up. On ice it’s strong enough to sip as a decent stand alone. Mix it with something like ginger ale, and you have a great tasting apple fizz (even better, use it in your next Washington Apple).

Of the three we have to say that Berentzen’s creation is probably the best all-around whiskey cider we’ve tried. And really that’s no surprise considering the age and history of the maker (Berentzen’s been around for a couple of centuries now and is known for their liqueurs).

Any of these three choices would be great selections for a cold night this winter, but the next time the snow's falling we’ll probably reach for the Berentzen Bushel & Barrel.

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national daiquiri dayI can vividly remember my wife’s favorite drink when she was 21 years old. It was the frozen strawberry Daiquiri. She ordered it all the time. It was simple. The bartender poured some red syrupy goop into a blender, added rum and some ice, and then blended the whole thing together. Pour into a pint glass and serve. The fancy places, like maybe Applebees, garnished with a strawberry!

What a laughable drink. I couldn’t stand it at the time – it was sickly sweet and left my mouth coated with a thin film of sugar (or corn syrup or whatever it was).

I grew contemptuous of the Daiquiri and scoffed when people ordered it. But then I found out that it was one of Hemingway’s favorites. And Hemingway prided himself on being tough, being a “real” man. His other favorite after all, was the martini.

In other words there had to be more to this drink.

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tequilalogoIt's National Tequila Day!!!  And few three syllable words strike as much fear and loathing into the hearts of some, and yearning and happiness into the hearts of others. So what is tequila? Where did it come from? And most importantly, what is it good for (besides shots and Margarita's, which are good uses already.)

Tequila started its life in present day Mexico with the ancient Aztec, Otomie and Nahuatl tribes fermenting agave juice for use in ceremonies, though at the time it would have been known as octli or pulque. It wasn't actually called tequila until sometime in the 16th century, and no one knows exactly how it got that name. The ceremonies and rituals would have included anything from human sacrificial ceremonies to orgies, and it was even worshiped as an earthly image of a goddess who had 400 breasts used to feed her 400 children.

Similar to the tequila of today, this pulquw was made using the agave plant but various different processes and parts of the plant were used that aren't used today. That all changed when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 1500's and quickly ran out of the brandy they brought. They immediately began distilling alcohol from the native Agave plants and used a distillation process similar to that of traditional brandy, which in turn created a spirit similar to present day tequila and mezcal. This all occurred near the area that is presently the center of tequila production and close to the town of Tequila (though the town wasn't established until 1656).  

Demand for the new alcohol grew rapidly and the the first mass producing distillery opened in 1600.  Later, in 1758, the King of Spain granted Jose Antonio Cuervo the first license to commercially produce tequila and the now popular Jose Cuervo brand was born.

Today Mexican law states that tequila can only be produced in specific states of Mexico, a law the United States, along with most of the world, agrees with by only recognizing tequila distilled in Mexico as----tequila. The spirit has become popular the world over, with 43 million gallons consumed annually and the U.S. accounting for 30% or 13 million gallons of that yearly total--nicely done USA!!! 

So on National Tequila Day grab some tequila, mix it up in your favorite cocktail -- or use one of the tasty recipes below -- and lift a glass to tequila, its history and the great Mexican distillers responsible for making the tasty spirit.  (Hint: To limit hangovers when over indulging look for higher percentage agave, the closer to 100% the better!!)
 
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Classic Margarita

OK, I know I said I was going to come up with something besides a Margarita to use tequila in but it is simply too hard to steer away from this tried and true classic.  The recipe below uses the classic 3-2-1 recipe and is more in line with the original Margarita versus the sugary concoctions you'll find at most neighborhood cookie cutter bars. 

Ingredients:
  • 1.5 ounces of tequila
  • 1 ounces of a good triple sec (Cointreau)
  • .5 ounce fresh lime juice
  • Salt for rimming

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake.
  2. Pour into a chilled martini glass with salted rim
  3. Garnish with lime
  4. Enjoy!!
Paloma

The Paloma is a light and fruity tequila drink perfect for a warm summer afternoon.

Ingredients:
  • 2 ounces blanco or reposado tequila
  • 1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt for rimming (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Preparation:

  1. Rim a Collins glass with salt
  2. Add lime juice, grapefruit juice and sugar, stir until sugar has dissolved
  3. Add tequila and fill with ice
  4. Top off with soda water
  5. Garnish with grapefruit wedge
  6. Enjoy!!
Brave Bull

This tequila version of a Black Russian may sound weird at first but give it a try and you'll be pleasantly surprised.  (Simply add cream or milk to make it a Tequila Dirty Bird.)

Ingredients:
  • 2 ounces of blanco tequila
  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur

Directions:

  1. Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice
  2. Add tequila
  3. Add coffee liqueur
  4. Enjoy!!
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GrandMarnierGrand Marnier®!!! Most anyone familiar with cocktails or bars probably recognizes the name in some way or another, similar to the way you may recognize a face you simply can't place.
 
But for most the knowledge stops there. 
 
So the questions have to be asked, especially on Grand Marnier® Day 2014, what exactly is Grand Marnier®? Where did it come from? And, most importantly, what can you do with it?

The History:

The story begins in 1880 France when Louis-Alexandre Marnier decided to blend cognac with a Caribbean orange known as "citrus bigaradia".  The experiment created a tasty orange flavored liqueur he initially dubbed Curacao Marnier. It wasn't until later that same year Louis shared it with Cesar Ritz, long time friend and hotel tycoon, who exclaimed "Grand Marnier®" that the name was born.
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