Vermont Part 1 – Stowe – More Than Meets the Eye

When traveling, I always try to think about what you readers would want to see and learn about, so I will frequently include a travelogue for you as a jumping off point for your own travels. On a recent trip to the northeast for a wedding, we made sure to take in as much of the local area as possible and Stowe, VT was one of our stops.

The Alchemist – Stowe

When The Hubs realized that Stowe was just a short drive from Burlington where we flew into, he became downright giddy. He would actually have the opportunity to visit, and purchase from, a somewhat mythical brewery for those of us on the west coast – The Alchemist. If you live anywhere other than Vermont, and you are not a beer geek, you have probably NOT heard of them. Their beer is NOT available outside that area. If you get the chance to try one, you absolutely MUST. They specialize in unfiltered IPAs, but also do a bang up job on other styles as well. Because the beer is unfiltered means you have to keep it cold to preserve flavor, and several of their beers have a note to the drinker on the can that says “Drink From the Can”. And it is true! The best flavor can be achieved by drinking my favorite, Heady Topper, from the can. Yes, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. Check out the pic below.

Each day at the brewery in Stowe, there is a list of what is available and how many 4 packs (16 oz cans) you can purchase of each beer. We bought the entire allotment for John, plus my allotment of Heady Topper. We had to buy collapsible coolers and ice to transport it to the wedding where we shared half of our stash at the rehearsal dinner. We “smuggled” the other half in our checked bags and our son’s checked bag to come back to Vegas. Pro Tip – did you know you can pack as much beer in your checked bag as you can clothes? Yes, that’s right. You can put 50 lbs of canned beer in your checked bag.

Other than great tasting beer, the brewery in Stowe is really cool! They have great merch and the artwork throughout is flat out fucking amazing. Because we have so much cool “beerware” we have to pick and choose what souvenirs we pick up and I selected one of the hoodies with the badass Heady Topper logo.

The artwork throughout the brewery was amazing! The fermenting tanks are recreations of the cans and you can see the directive to “Drink From the Can” written across the top.

I was drawn to all of the imagery, colors and graphics at The Alchemist.

Von Trapp Family Lodge

From there we went to the Von Trapp Family Lodge that is just outside of Stowe. Well, we didn’t actually make it to the lodge. We stopped in at the Brewery & Bierhall instead. Being a fan of The Sound of Music and all things Julie Andrews, I wish we had taken a few more minutes and gone up to the actual Lodge, but I am thrilled we stopped at the brewery. Of course there was beer…and pretzels, and the best burger I have eaten all year. The cattle are raised on the property and the meat is for exclusive use of the Von Trapp Family Properties. Truly “farm to table” in every sense of the word.

You simply cannot have a beer without a pretzel – it’s kinda one of the Hubs’ rules.

This is a SERIOUSLY good burger! The beef is raised on property and is solely for the use of the Von Trapp property.

Ben & Jerry’s

On our drive to The Alchemist we passed the original Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury. Yes, the headquarters, and stopped there on our way back to Burlington. My sole reason for going was to see the Flavor Graveyard. Yes, really. In 1999 Ben & Jerry’s retired my all-time favorite flavor and I knew there was an actual graveyard, complete with headstones, to memorialize retired flavors. Three of my faves are in there – Rainforest Crunch, Dastardly Mash and Wavy Gravy. It would please me to no end if they did a limited release on any or all of those…just for me. I did however have a delish scoop of a salted Bourbon Caramel ice cream…I was there anyway. And of course I picked up some new “spoon” merch including a tasting spoon engraved with “I Like to Spoon”.

My whole reason for wanting to visit the Ben & Jerry’s HQ – I had to pay my respects!

My forever fave. This was on regular rotation while I was pregnant. Sadly I can only dream of it now…unless I try to recreate it!

I love this little tasting spoon! You can find more of the crafter’s designs at

Of course there is so much more to see in Stowe, and RIGHT NOW is the time to go! The leaves are changing and the hills are a riot of fall color. Sadly we didn’t have the chance or opportunity to visit a “sugar house” where they make the maple syrup, but that’s the plan for the next trip to that neck of the woods.

Deez Nuts – Perfect Cocktail Party Snack

I can make a meal out of appetizers and snacks and I am always on the lookout for something different. These nuts fit the bill! Sweet and slightly spicy, these nuts hit all the right notes. Incredibly easy to make and simply addictive, they are perfect any time of year, but are really fantastic during the holidays.

Our old neighbor in South Carolina, Mackenzie Sholz, gifted me with these delightful mouthfuls in 1994 and I begged for the recipe. The original called for walnuts and corn oil, but Mackenzie used pecans so I have always made them that way. I switched up the corn oil with coconut oil and the flavor is even better than the original. I do caution you, however, as Mackenzie did me, “Make two batches at once because you’ll find yourself digging in while they are cooling.”


1 lb pecan halves

1/2 c sugar

2-1/2 T coconut oil

1/2 t salt

1/4 t pepper

1/4 t cayenne pepper

1-1/4 t ground cumin

1/4 t coriander

1/2 t ground ginger

1/4 t ground cloves

1/2 t chili powder (pick your favorite – I’ve used Ancho, Aleppo and “regular” chili powder all with success)


Preheat oven to 325.


Mix oil and sugar in a large bowl that has a lid. It will look like a paste.


Blanch nuts in boiling H2O for 1 minute and drain well.


While nuts are still hot, dump into the lidded bowl with oil and sugar and stir or shake well to coat the nuts.. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.


Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet (wash the bowl and dry it, you’ll need it again).  Bake 30-45 minutes depending on your pans (heavier pans require longer baking time), stirring every 10- 15 minutes. The nuts should look dark golden brown and all of sugar syrup should be crystallized.


While the nuts are baking, blend the spices. I use whole spices whenever possible and grind them freshly for each batch. It really makes a difference. If you want to go the extra mile, slightly toast your whole spices in a dry skillet and allow to cool before grinding to release even more flavor.


When nuts are brown and crispy, put into the lidded bowl with the spices.  Put the lid on the bowl and shake to coat the nuts.


Spread nuts in a single layer to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks – if they last that long.

Curried spiced pecans are easy to make, and disappear quickly.

Take a Beer Vacation – Almost Anywhere

I am not saying you should take a vacation FROM beer. I am saying that you should turn your vacation into a Beer Vacation. With the growth of the craft beer scene all across the country, this is much easier than it sounds. Living with a home brewer, as I do, the task takes on even greater ease! He is willing to do all of the research into finding local breweries and craft beer bars in any area we travel! Consequently, each vacation lately has become a beer vacation for at least one of the days we are traveling. Sometimes we take a guided tour of the brew house; sometimes we just enjoy a flight of whatever happens to be on tap.

Beer Vacation – Hitting Up as Many Breweries as Possible

Vibrant craft beer scenes in the Pacific Northwest are a great place to start. We have made Seattle and Bend, Oregon into craft beer vacations, hitting up as many breweries as possible. (For Bend, go to the “Visit Bend” site and get all the info you need to take a great beer hike around town.) Another great option is the San Diego area. There are dozens of microbreweries there and a few really big ones too – like Stone, Green Flash and Lost Abbey off the top of my head.

Northern California is a Treasure Trove

Last year, attending the wedding of a friend, I had the good fortune to take some of my gal pals on a tour of Sierra Nevada in Chico. None of them had ever done a full blown brewery tour and they will forever be ruined for all others! I have been on dozens of tours, and this one is the BEST I’ve ever taken. The building is Lied Certified and they do all sorts of next level shit in there to help the local community, environment and the craft brew scene. All of Northern California is a treasure trove of amazing taprooms and breweries. The San Francisco area boasts a Rogue taproom, 21st Amendment Brewing and  Speakeasy brewing just to get you started.

On our most recent trip (you can read about it in four installments here on the site) we had the great good fortune of making beer vacation days out of Bamberg, Vienna and Frankfurt. But the biggest happy accident of the trip was finding a small local brewery in Amsterdam. After chatting with the barmaid at VOC Café where we enjoyed bitterballen, we asked about a nearby brewery, Brouwerij De Prael. She warned us that it was small, but we weren’t deterred. Size doesn’t always matter. Great beer does! It was close by so we trekked on over to check it out. We weren’t disappointed!

A Rabbit Warren of Small Rooms

After walking down a cobblestone alley where no car could have driven, we walked into a wild scene of “bingo night” where the grand prize was a scooter. Brouwerij De Prael was packed to the rafters with loud contemporary and 80’s pop music blaring and everyone was having a good time. The building itself is a rabbit warren of smaller rooms. A taproom in the front, several small dining rooms, and an American style bar menu featuring burgers, dogs and sandwiches. Because it was so busy, finding a place to park ourselves was a challenge, but we found a couple of seats at a shared high-top table in the front room near the door and tucked in for a good time. Of course John mentioned to the door man, Nelis, (pronounced NAY-liss) that he is a home brewer. Nelis then proceeded to give us a private guided tour of the brew house, complete with meeting the local homebrewing club! What a Happy Accident!

Clockwise from top left – beer aging in Ardbeg casks, the only burger I ate on the entire 2 week trip – cooked perfectly rare, Hubby John (in the red shirt) with the local Amsterdam Home Brewers Club, Nelis and I in the brewhouse, drinking beer in the taproom, Hubby John’s NotaBrau sticker in the brewhouse with other brewers’ stickers.

Resources to Get You Started

Intrigued? Wanna try it out for yourself? There are several great references out there. Of course you can go to the Chamber of Commerce or tourism site for any city you are visiting. Beware, they don’t always have great info on craft beer bars or breweries, unless the area is known for their craft beer scene, like Bend. Online be sure to check out Beer Advocate. Go to the “places” tab and select “directory”. They list breweries, bars, brew pubs with food, home brew supply stores, and stores with great beer selections. While you are there, subscribe to the magazine! Check out Lonely Planet and their collection of Global Beer Guides, available in print and digital formats. I prefer Lonely Planet travel guides over others because there are always quirky little things they find that aren’t in other guidebooks. You can select individual chapters for just the area you are traveling to, but WHY? Get the whole damn book so you are prepared for your next adventure ($20 in hardback)!

Buy Lonely Planet’s Global Beer Tour book  here in digital or print formats (photo from Lonely Planet website)

Another great book is this one by National Geographic. As with all Nat Geo products, the photography and content are first rate. It is a larger format book, a fantastic “coffee table book” for the beer lover on your Holiday gift list. ($40 in hardback.)

Buy Nat Geo’s Atlas of Beer here direct from National Geographic           (photo from Nat Geo website)

Finally, talk to the bartender at your local craft beer bar, beer goddesses at beer festivals or your local home brewers’ club. Those folks know where it’s at when it comes to craft beer and can point you in the direction of fab bars and breweries. Definitely do this AT your destination. Find one great taproom and the kind folks there will lead you to others. And ALWAYS – drink responsibly and don’t drink and drive!

Bartenders, Butlers and Bubbles – All the Drinking – River Cruise Part 3

Drinking is a mainstay on all cruise ships. After all, when you are on vacation you feel freer to enjoy a cocktail at any hour. That has been true on our river cruise as well as ocean cruises we have been on. The difference is the quality, not the quantity of drinking. The bar was stocked with brand names you recognize and civilized beer, not only on tap, but in bottles (no Bud, Miller or Coors). And I have to admit, I was drinking more wine and champagne on this trip than I have all the rest of this year. I normally avoid both because of migraines and hangovers in the past, but I had no issues at all in Europe. Was it the wine, or that I was relaxed? I am crediting the wine – perfection!

Each evening we had regional wine pairings created by Sorin our head bartender who is working toward his Sommelier certificate (a little more challenging with his mobile work venue) and has 13 years of experience working in the beverage industry. I am not an expert on wine, by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like and can tell you that the wines were delicious. Each region we sailed through had us drinking a different type of wine. In Budapest we had Hungarian wines, Austrian wines in Austria and of course, crisp and clean Riesling and Pinot Blanc were what we were drinking through the German wine regions.

Drinking My Vodka and Soda in a Daiquiri Glass

Without exception, the entire bar staff on the ship was exceptional, starting with Sorin, Stoyan, and Bruno. What makes a great drinking experience for me is that the bartenders knew what I wanted after just a few visits to the bar. We pesky Americans LOVE our ice and I personally love a tall or large glass. These guys had it figured out in just a few days and started serving me my drinks in daiquiri glasses because they held the most ice and liquid by volume. I may have looked a little ridiculous drinking my vodka and soda in a daiquiri glass, but, “Frankly I don’t give a damn.” And Agnes (the only woman on the food & beverage service team) in the dining room had my number too. I asked for a “large glass of caffeine” in the form of a Diet Coke at lunch and she made that happen in a red wine glass, the largest they had in the dining room.

City-side Drinking Experiences

And of course there were the city-side drinking experiences. We hit 5 breweries in 5 hours in Bamberg, found a brewery and a fine American style cocktail and cigar lounge in Vienna, and a craft beer bar in Frankfurt where we were having such a good time drinking with the locals that we skipped dinner on the ship! There were so many opportunities to enjoy local adult beverages and we took advantage of them all!

Bamberg – Five Breweries in five hours! Wish we had more time in this city! Currywurst, pretzels and beer.

Vienna – Left – Beer at a little bar, Kruger American Bar cocktail lounge, 1516 Brewery with the best coaster of the entire trip. Right – all the goodies from Demel Cafe – Amaretto coffee, Sachertorte and the House Specialty torte.

Frankfurt – L – R Mispelchen, Calvados brandy and a special breed of apricot. You do it as a shot – chew the apricot and then drink the brandy, tagliatelle with in season chanterelles, local craft beer, all at Naiv bar; the hilarious trashcans in the touristy city center.

Remember how I mentioned that John upgraded our room to a suite? Well, yeah. The suite came with an honest to goodness butler who has been trained by the head butler to the royal family in England. It is part of the corporate structure of Uniworld and Red Carnation Hotels (sister companies) that the butlers are all trained in classic English tradition. Our butler, as mentioned before is named Panche and I’d love to take him home just for the little details (he folds laundry like it was meant to be folded). John has a sweet tooth and always has some sort of chewy candy on or in his nightstand at home. John had been grabbing a small glass and filling it with gummi bears from the lounge snack bar stash and leaving it on the nightstand. Panche saw this and replaced the offending glass with a proper canister for his chewy treats! We, of course, had a great chuckle over that one! I mentioned how much I have always wanted to learn how to “saber” a champagne bottle and he provided me with an instruction sheet and a lesson using a bottle of bubbles given to us by British Airways as a celebratory gift for our 30th Anniversary. It’s the details kids…it’s the details.

After the sabering lesson, Chef Daniel treated us to caviar complete with accompaniments and fruit.

81/82 Partner Jason “JRoc” Craig

Jason Craig (JRoc to his friends) and partner Ryan Labbe are taking Las Vegas’ nightlife scene by storm. The duo’s company, 81/82 has partnered with Andy Masi and the Clique Hospitality Group. After the recent opening of the Clique Lounge at the Cosmopolitan, they are preparing more new venues with exciting contemporary twists to bring new flavor to Vegas and San Diego nightlife. I sat down with JRoc to learn a little more.

JRoc moved to Vegas as a teen and went to UNLV. He spent his youth in athletics, specifically boxing, which is where his nickname came from and he continues to box and is a self-proclaimed “gym rat”. After UNLV, JRoc did a tour with the Marine Corps in Iraq. No mean feat there. The military experience provided him with a unique view and mindset about business. He is driven to be the best version of himself. He’s reliable, on time, gets the job done and says, “[After that] I feel I can do anything I put my mind to. I can figure it out on my own or [find the right people to help me].” Immediately upon his return to civilian life, he entered the nightlife industry where he met his now business partner Ryan Labbe.

JRoc on the right and business partner Ryan Labbe of 81/82. Photo courtesy of Fingerprint Communications

JRoc on the right and business partner Ryan Labbe of 81/82. The brains behind Clique Lounge
Photo courtesy of Fingerprint Communications

Partners Ryan Labbe and JRoc both are veterans of the Vegas night life scene and have worked at top spots throughout the city including The Palms and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. They have done everything in the industry including event management, talent management and event planning. They make a great team because they have different life experiences and skill sets that complement one another. Ryan is strong on the operations side and JRoc is strong on the marketing side and both have excellent client relations skills to make 81/82 a hot player in the nightlife market. The team has their finger on the pulse of what is on trend and what is going to play to any given market. In addition to their partnership with Clique Hospitality group, JRoc and Ryan also work with 50 Bleu Vodka and ResQwater in marketing and public relations capacities for their launches and cross market promotions. JRoc, independent of 81/82, works with Stitched menswear in marketing. You can find their store at the Cosmopolitan.

Having come of age in Vegas, JRoc has seen a lot of changes in the way business is done here for the nightlife industry.

He worked as a bartender, manager and marketing professional before starting 81/82 with Ryan in 2012. As a nightlife entertainment professional, JRoc has seen the advent of specialty cocktails, hand crafting of house specific ingredients and watched the microbrewery industry explode. We talked about trends, and he cited gin as a big trend in the cocktail world. Clever uses that even someone who doesn’t like gin’s strong flavor can get behind. When asked about food trends he feels, like I do, that “old school” is getting ready to make its voice heard. Going back to basics, getting away from the complicated and keeping it simple, elegant and almost homey in flavors if not in presentation. He cited Carbone as a recent star on the scene that is doing exceptional personalized service with old school flavors that he sees as coming to the forefront.

Expansion is the goal of 81/82, working with the Clique hospitality group and independently in the future. They are taking it one step and one venue at a time so all of the details are perfect, unique to the venue and exciting for regulars and tourists alike. They know in markets with tourism as a major part of the business, that locals can’t be left out; expect to see seasonal drinks and menu items appear to keep the spaces fresh and inviting for everyone.  Near future plans include a nightclub here in Vegas with an additional venue in the heart of the Gaslamp District of San Diego. The San Diego location will have a small bites menu like Clique Lounge and plans are to open within 2016. The nightclub will of course be more focused on cocktail and music cultures and current plans are to see an opening next year. With Clique as a barometer of things to come, anything 81/82 does is sure to be a success and a fun venue in which to spend time.

When you go to Clique Lounge, be sure to experience the table side cocktail service.

It is unique, fun and you get a cocktail, a show, and you will learn something new. Currently they are featuring a smoked cocktail which is right on trend. Also offered are table side infusions and fired cocktails.

Try this cocktail from the table side service cart. Yes, that is a banana in the smoke.

Try this cocktail at Clique from the table side service cart. Yes, that is a banana in the smoke. 


For the Love of Cocktails – Meet the Masters

Four of the greatest minds in cocktails come together for one incredible night.

There are few things in life more civilized than a nattily dressed bartender mixing up fantastic cocktails in a gorgeous lounge setting. The experience is made even better when you are being served by the top mixologists in the world and you learn something too. That is what the Meet the Masters event is all about. This event is part of For the Love of Cocktails (FTLOC), February 10th – 12th in Las Vegas. Four smartly dressed, exciting professionals behind the bar at one time mixing up specialty cocktails created specifically for this event as well as cocktails on demand. Of course each cocktail will feature your favorite premium brands, fresh ingredients and precise techniques.

Salvatore Calabrese

Salvatore Calabrese

I am a showman and plan to make sure that all who attend leave having had a cocktail experience like no other!! – Salvatore Calabrese

Salvatore Calabrese, The Maestro, has won dozens of awards in the field. He most recently was awarded the Industry Legend Award by Imbibe Magazine in 2015. He is perhaps most well-known for creating the world’s most expensive cocktail at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, London. At a whopping £5,500 per glass, including spirits with a combined age of 730 years, it is indeed an experience. In addition to several books, Salvatore is responsible for creating some of the most sought after cocktail experiences in the world from the Amalfi coast to our very own Bound by Salvatore in the Cromwell, the site for this exceptional event.

Tony Abou-Ganim

Tony Abou-Ganim

Las Vegas is perfect because of the bartending community! FTLOC is an opportunity for us to showcase our wonderful profession and the bartenders who make it so special.  – Tony Abou-Ganim

Tony Abou- Ganim, The Modern Mixologist, is a familiar face if you watch cooking and cocktail competitions and demonstrations.  He has made countless television appearances on programs ranging from Good Morning America to Iron Chef. The author of two cocktail cookbooks, his instructions are simple enough for a novice to follow (and end up looking like a rock star!), with complex flavors that experienced professionals can appreciate. Alongside his innovative mixology, he is also the founder of the Helen David Relief Fund (HDRF)*. The HDRF is the charity recipient of FTLOC and provides financial assistance to bartenders and their families that have been afflicted with breast cancer. His most famous cocktail, The Cable Car, was created for Harry Denton’s Starlight Room at the top of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.

Julio Cabrera

Julio Cabrera

My passion is my best tool. My smile, my secret ingredient – Julio Cabrera

Based out of Miami’s Regent Cocktail Club, Cuban native Julio Cabrera offers his unique spin on bartending. He labels himself a cantinero which is a professional bartender in Cuba with certified education in the field. In fact, he started the Cantinero Education program here in the states with Bacardi and has plans to expand it across the country. Growing up in the hospitality industry, he didn’t anticipate being a cantinero, but when the opportunity presented itself, he took it. His 25 year career has spanned the world and he is, in part, responsible for the renaissance of the cocktail scene in Miami. Like his fellow Masters, Julio is highly regarded, having multiple awards to his resume. He is however, the only GQ cover model in the bunch (Most Imaginative Bartender of the Year 2013). Julio says, “In Cuba to be a cantinero or bartender you have to go to school for one or two years. It’s a profession, when you go to school to be a cantinero it’s for life.”

Francesco Lafranconi

Francesco Lafranconi

We are fine promoters of civilization. – Francesco Lafranconi

Francesco Lafranconi, the Executive Director of Mixology and Spirits Educator for Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada rounds out the all-star slate of top-tier mixologists. Dashingly dressed and supremely sophisticated, he is a favorite of A-listers and fellow professionals because of his passion for the craft. Multiple award-winning, with an incredible career spanning Europe and the US, he is a fixture in the Las Vegas cocktail scene. His proudest achievement is founding the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, a 12 week program designed to imbue cocktail professionals with the same enthusiasm and perfect technique he brings to every cocktail. His motto is, “We’re not drinking, we’re learning.”

Watch four amazing cocktail presentations, each designed by a Master and take advantage of one on one time with each Master, get books signed, and make great conversation. Start the evening with a one-of-a-kind experience at Bound by Salvatore at the Cromwell and continue the evening of outstanding flavors with a five course dinner and rare wine pairing at Giada. Seating is limited at this extraordinary, once in a lifetime event. For more details, the menu and ticketing, visit the FTLOC website. To sweeten the deal, half of your ticket price will be donated to the HDRF.

*The Helen David Relief Fund is administered by the USBG National Charity Foundation, a U.S. registered 501(c)3 nonprofit

Photo of Julio Cabrera courtesy of Julio Cabrera, used with permission

All other photos courtesy of BackBar USA, used with permission.

For the Love of Cocktails by Bar Back USA

Does your sweetheart love good cocktails? Are you looking for something fun, different and exciting to do for Valentine’s Day in Vegas? Would you like to give to a charity AND attend a stellar event with the love of your life? I have a great idea for you!

The gorgeous Skyfall Lounge at The Delano offers jaw dropping views of Vegas

For the Love of Cocktails, produced by Back Bar USA, is a jam packed three day cocktail extravaganza culminating on Friday February 12th with the Grand Gala at Skyfall Lounge at The Delano, presented by MGM Resorts International. Imagine attending a swank Happy Hour at 5 pm at the Franklin in the lobby of The Delano. Then soar 64 floors to the top of Las Vegas to the Skyfall Lounge for even more festivities. Stunning views of the Las Vegas Strip, delectable food created specifically for this event by acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse and 25 Master Mixologists crafting cocktails all in one evening? Where do I sign up?!

Your Favorite Mixologists serve up your favorite brands in exciting new Cocktails

For the Love of Cocktails Mixologists

For the Love of Cocktails Mixologists

Live music and entertainment form a backdrop to the tinkling of ice cubes. Mixologists from all over the country entertain as well with stories and info on the cocktails they are serving. You can expect every possible flavor profile to be present – sweet, spicy, savory, sour, smoky and more. Look for Las Vegas based cocktail professionals from your favorite cocktail lounges on the strip as well as brand ambassadors from all over the world. Of course your favorite premium spirits and bubbles will be featured – Knob Creek, Tito’s, Veuve Clicquot, Hendrick’s, Campari, Avión and more than a dozen others.

A mixologist appears at For The Love Of Cocktails' Grand Gala at the Delano Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Friday, February 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (Photo by David Becker)

A mixologist appears at For The Love Of Cocktails’ Grand Gala at the Delano Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Friday, February 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (Photo by David Becker)

General Admission tickets for the Grand Gala are still available at $150 and more than half of that price goes to the Helen David Relief Fund (HDRF). Founded by world renowned Master Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim to honor his cousin Helen David (famed Brass Rail Bar Maven of Port Huron, Michigan) the HDRF provides assistance to women in the bar industry in their fight against breast cancer.* Helen David beat breast cancer twice and the fund in her name helps provide financial assistance with screening and treatment to women in the bar industry all over the country. This is a heart tug for me because my sister is a breast cancer fighter and survivor. Could this event get any better? If you really want to WOW! your Valentine, a limited number of VIP tickets are still available for $375 giving you all access passes to all the events for three full days with half of that going to the HDRF.

For the Love of Cocktails - Tony Abou- Ganim and friends.

For the Love of Cocktails – Tony Abou- Ganim and friends.

What to wear? For the Grand Gala, semi-formal cocktail attire is suggested. For complete details on the events, check out the website.

*The HDRF is administered by the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) and is a 501c3 organization.

Bar Back USA is the leading beverage marketing force in Las Vegas.  Back Bar USA provides creative, cutting-edge, marketing and promotional campaigns for the nation’s leading suppliers, wholesalers and retailers.  Back Bar USA produces For The Love Of Cocktails in association with MGM Resorts International, Downtown Project, Caesars Entertainment, and the Las Vegas Visitors & Convention Authority.

 All photos in this piece are courtesy of Bar Back USA used with permission

The Best Damn Bloody Mary Mix? Make It At Home!

Happy New Year! All through the blogosphere, writers are sharing how to be a better you and ideas for New Year’s Resolutions. Quit Smoking. Clean Eating. Exercising. Learning something new. Being a better homemaker. Eating less. Drinking less…Yeah. Okay. That’s fine for THEM, but my readers expect something else, so…here is a little something to whet your appetite for the New Year. Drink more Bloody Marys! They have vegetables; that means they are healthy! The recipe for the best damn Bloody Mary mix you can make at home is at the end. There are some incredibly over the top versions out there with bacon, sliders and shrimp cocktail attached to the rim of the glass in addition to, or in place of, the traditional garnish of celery. I actually like pickled veggies with mine. Olives, asparagus, okra, string beans, caper berries and cornichons all have made appearances on my cocktail skewer. As Friend Danielle says, “It’s like a salad in a glass!” I’m healthy that way. Friend Lynn says she doesn’t need “the salad” and opts for just a cornichon or olives.

The Bloody Mary, the hangover cure of choice and brunch staple started out simple enough but has changed and morphed into so much more. The first time I saw a Bloody Mary bar I giggled with glee. They are quite common here in Vegas, but sadly the best one has disappeared with the closing of Kerry Simon’s joint at The Palms. If you have never been to a brunch Bloody Mary bar, here is the gist of it: the house pours your vodka on ice and you saunter up to a buffet of ingredients to make your Mary the way YOU like it. Think hot sauces, horseradish, lemons, limes, veggies and tomato, V8™ and Clamato™ juices. At Simon it was a “bottomless” add-on to your brunch, but most places it is priced per drink.

This is easy to do at home for a get together. Recently Friend Lillian and I hosted a baby shower for fellow blogger Apryl and had a Mary & Mimosa bar. In our house we love pint glasses for everyday use because they are sturdy and we “borrow” logoed ones from bars (See the photo above? It’s a Modelo glass). The bonus is that each one has a different logo, so the glass itself acts like a “wine charm” so you know which glass is yours if you set it down someplace.

For the holidays I have discovered that I like to gift folks with something made by me if they are local (shipping is not my forte and I often send digital gift cards to out of towners so I don’t have to deal with the Post Office or other shippers). This year my Posse received Bloody Mary Gift bags, complete with handmade gift tags, a bottle of vodka, cocktail napkins, homemade Bloody Mary mix and house pickled veggies. All were canned by me (except the vodka…duh!) including the Bloody Mary mix (recipe follows with instructions for canning).

Everything was made by me except the Vodka - DUH! (L - R - Pickled Padron Peppers, Mary Mix, Pickled Curried Cauliflower)

Everything was made by me except the Vodka – DUH! (L – R – Pickled Padron Peppers, Mary Mix, Pickled Curried Cauliflower)

The original recipe was created by Chef Michael O’Donnell of T.W. Garner, the makers of Texas Pete™. He designed it to be used for Bloody Marias where you replace the vodka with Tequila. I have tweaked it a smidge to MY liking. FYI – it tastes great on its own too.


  • When using the Mary mix, you can choose vodka, gin or tequila as your booze of choice and it will taste great no matter what.
  • The recipe doubles and triples easily and if you are canning it, you really want to double or triple it because the main recipe makes about 6 cups.
  • When choosing your salsa, go for medium, you can always add more hot sauce to your glass. Whatever salsa you choose will slightly change the flavor of the final product (DUH!). For my gifts this year, I used Texas Pete™ commercial salsa (no, you can’t buy it in stores, so yours will not taste EXACTLY like mine).
  • I love horseradish in mine, but I wasn’t sure how it would work out in the canning process so I add it at time of service.
  • For your vegetarian friends, they do make anchovy free Worcestershire sauce. Most “store brands” are vegan, just read the label. No need to pay a ton for vegan sauce.


The Best Damn Bloody Mary Mix 

Basic ingredients for the Mary Mix

Basic ingredients for the Mary Mix

Serves 6 – about 6 C

Your favorite salsa                                                      2 cups or a 16 oz jar

Vegetable juice cocktail (like V8™)                        4 cups

Worcestershire sauce                                                 2 Tbsp

Lemon juice, freshly squeezed                                  2 lemons

Lime juice, freshly squeezed                                     2 limes

Celery salt                                                                     2 tsp

Texas Pete™ Garlic Hot Sauce                                 2 Tbsp

Put everything except the vegetable juice in the canister of a high powered blender. I use a Blendtec®. Process until smooth. If using the Blendtec® choose “Whole Juice” option. You can also do this with a hand blender.

Combine vegetable juice with the mixture from the blender. Chill and serve or proceed with canning.

To Can: follow the basic “hot water bath” canning instructions HERE. Process for 30 minutes. NORMALLY you process tomatoes for 45 minutes, however since all of the products have been canned before AND there is high acid thanks to the citrus, you can safely process for a shorter time.

Chilled mix keeps about 5 days in the fridge and canned will last 6 months in a cool dark place. Shake or mix well before serving.



Holiday Entertaining? Kickoff with Boozy Punch

Right now, all around the world, people are sharing recipes for the holidays. Making baked goods for friends and family. Bringing casseroles to potlucks. Creating homemade gifts for loved ones. There are so many opportunities to get together with friends during the month of December. If you are the host, there is always the question, “What the hell will I serve?” When it comes to food, you usually have a plan – I hope – but when it comes to drinks many people are left baffled. How much to buy and what to serve are always tricky. I typically have beer on tap because John brews at home and we have a kegerator (honestly), but I also have a self-serve bar and a premixed cocktail in a punch bowl to get the spirits flowing.

To help you out with some answers, here are a few guidelines, a recipe and a few tips from Aunt LeAnne:

  • 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks per hour per adult guest is about right. I plan on more JUST IN CASE. Remember, not everyone will imbibe because someone has to be the driver.
  • Keep the drinks separate from the food or everyone will be congregating in the same area. You want people to mill about and chat with folks they don’t know.
  • Only put in view booze you are willing to part with. For example, DO NOT put the $100 bottle of scotch on display unless you are prepared to serve it or have someone bastardize it with soda or worse.
  • Find a fun bucket, tub or other large receptacle to hold ice, beer and sodas. In the summer use a small baby pool, in the winter, find a galvanized or tin tub and place it outside on the patio.
  • Keep soft drinks and alcoholic drinks separate, that way you can monitor minors who might be trying to drink booze on the sly. (Moment of Truth – I think the 21 drinking age is bull shit. If you can vote and serve in the military at age 18, you should be allowed to buy a beer.)
  • If someone is already loaded, offer them soda, water or coffee so they don’t embarrass themselves or you. I have had to politely cut folks off. Yes, really.
  • A premixed cocktail or punch bowl is always a good option. Guests don’t have to mix their own and it takes some stress off YOU because it can be made the night before or earlier in the day depending on the ingredients. Check here for some summery options.

Recently I attended an It’s On Me cocktail party at the Velveteen Rabbit and had a TERRIFIC cocktail called the Bronze Bell. After chatting with the bar tender and getting the ratios on their version, I created THIS punch bowl version for a crowd with some of the same ingredients. A punch bowl traditionally was nearly all booze; however, I find incorporating non-alcoholic elements is the way to go.  Enjoy!

Bronze Bell-ish Boozy Punch

Here are the cocktail basics for the punch

Here are the cocktail basics for the punch

Makes 1 gallon, serves 32 – 4 oz portions

4 C Bulleit Rye

2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice (DO NOT sub with that shit from the green jar)

2 C Aperol

2 Tbsp pure maple syrup more or less to taste (organic if you can find it)

Several shakes of Cherry Bitters to taste

2 C club soda or seltzer

2 C 7-up or Sprite

Combine all ingredients except the sodas, mix well and put in the fridge to chill. I chill overnight. At this point you can serve it as is and it will be a boozy cocktail. My sister in law prefers it this way.

To serve – My punch bowl will only hold ½ gallon at a time with an ice ring, so…measure 2 C of the boozy mixture into the bowl and top with 1 C each of the sodas.

An ice ring made with a ring mold of your choosing is a huge plus. I slice a lemon and put that in the water before freezing just to be pretty. An Ice ring keeps the punch cold without diluting it too much and saves you from having to have an ice bucket nearby.

Sometimes you are the host, sometimes you are the invited guest. If you are a regular reader, you have seen the blogs below, but always a good reminder. If you are a first time reader, welcome! Check out the links below.

How to be a good guest during the festivities

Thoughts on RSVPing

Opening Soon at the Cosmopolitan – Clique Lounge

Press Release:

The highly anticipated Grand Opening of Clique Lounge, the latest venue from Clique Hospitality Group, will take place in mid-December. Already projected to be another triumph by restaurant and hospitality impressario Andy Masi, Clique Lounge will introduce to the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino the only lounge to serve food as well as a bar cart offering table side, premium cocktail service from expert mixologists who will talk to guests about featured fresh pressed juices, smoked garnishes, and other spectacular preparations. The cocktail menu is a diverse one with high-end spirits and experience-driven presentations. The menu by Chef Brian Massie presents small plates that are approachable and yet an inventive, explosion of multi-ethnic flavors.

Clique’s Signature Cocktail features Spring 44 Gin, Aloe Vera, Watermelon and Lime – shaken to perfection and garnished with ribbons of cucumber delicately resting on an art deco collins glass. Pictured above.

Chicken Skewers are served with Harissa Yogurt, spiced and refreshing; Lettuce Cups offering raw, dressed vegetables to add at your leisure; and Fattoush: seasoned and toasted pita bread to enjoy with the rest. Clique Chicken