Drinking Houston Bar Review: Harold’s Tap Room

0607162129Harold’s Tap Room is a part of the Harold’s enterprise on 19th Street in the Heights. There’s Allie’s Pizzeria, Harold’s Restaurant, and now Harold’s Tap Room occupying the narrow space between the stairs and the pizzeria.

I say narrow, but really, the bar is exactly what I want. First of all, Harold’s Tap Room is actually a bar. Not a lot of seating that isn’t at the bar. I like that. When I go to a bar, I want to sit at the bar, not at a table. Call me old fashioned, but I like bars. I love it when the bar itself is the largest thing in a place.

0607162026Second, I like it that it isn’t that big. Because the bar occupies so much room, it means that the place can’t hold that many people. Even if it were crowded, it would still seem small and intimate. I like that, too.

They have a whole selection of Chef Antoine Ware’s take on bar food, but I didn’t go there for that. I didn’t even try any of it. Like I said, I like bars. When I want a restaurant, I go to a restaurant. Man, I sound like an old curmudgeon. Young whippersnappers with their fancy chef hats!

The first thing I noticed about Harold’s Tap Room, however, was the music. First, there was Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Then “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. And “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister.

It’s kind of what Harold’s is like. Not metal or anything like that. Heck, it’s not even what they normally play there. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It isn’t pretentious, thank God. If you want a craft infused cocktail, they have you covered. But if you want a freakin Budweiser, they got you there, too. It’s a bar, even if it is a nice one, and anyone can go in a get a good beer or a good drink without having their tastes shat upon.

The beer at Harold’s Tap Room

0607162206It isn’t called Harold’s Tap Room for nothing. They have a pretty good beer selection, with eight taps and about that many wine taps (yes, they have wine taps).

All from Texas: Karbach, No Label, St. Arnold’s, and two I had never heard of–Town in City and Stesti.

So of course I tried the Town in City City Porter and Amber Pale Ale along with the Stesti Bohemian Pilsner and Lager.

If you know anything about my tastes from reading this blog, you know I lean toward the bitter hops and away from the porter style. Yet the Town in City City Porter was great. It’s chewy and bready with dark chocolate and hazelnut flavors.

The surprise was the Stesti lager. I’m not even sure exactly what it was called, but I loved it. Funky and malty, yet bright and drinkable. I would definitely order that again.

I loved seeing Texas breweries that I had not tried before, and I commend the Harold’s crew for carrying local beer, especially good local beer. I also like it that they let you do a beer flight. For the same price as a 16 oz pint, they will let you have 4 4 oz glasses of any beer you want. That’s cool. I wish more beer places would do that.

The infused cocktails at Harold’s Tap Room

0607162050It may be called a Tap Room, but the infused cocktails are the star of the show. Lots of places may infuse a few spirits, but Lauren Muse, the bar manager and drink maester has built her entire program around infusing spirits.

There’s all kinds of them. Thyme, raspberry, and mint vodka, pineapple and ginger gin, cherry and apple rum. The list goes on. You can make your own cocktail by telling them which spirit to use with which mixers, too.

Me, I trusted Lauren’s muse and went for the published cocktails.

0607162027First, there’s the Alarm Clock, which uses coffee infused rum with a simple syrup of both light and dark sugars, and a bit of Ancho Reyes, a spicy and sweet pepper liqueur that is popping up everywhere. Yes, I am a fan. The cocktail is good, too.

0607162040aThen I had to try to Not So Old Fashioned, which uses peach infused whiskey, another fine drink featuring their infusions. I would recommend both of the drinks unreservedly, although I would perhaps reach for the Alarm Clock first. After all, it may wake you up. Something about the chili and coffee work perfectly.      0607162123 Overall, Harold’s Tap Room is a fine bar. Great cocktails, a good beer selection, an easy place to sit and talk while having whatever you want. They really do aim to please, and they’re doing it right.

 

 

How to use aquafaba (or aguafaba, i.e. chickpea goo): The Got to Be Kidding Cocktail

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The Got to Be Kidding Cocktail: Hornitos Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, aquafaba, lime, syrup

Basically, you use the same amount you would of an egg white, which is normally about 3/4 to 1 oz.

Wait, wait, wait. Some of you don’t know what aquafaba is, do you?

Well, it seems to be all the rage these days. I haven’t actually seen it on a cocktail menu in Houston yet, but it’s all over them interwebs.

It’s chickpea goo.

Yep. You know when you drain a can of chick peas, it isn’t just water that comes out. It’s like a goo, a thick, chewy substance that absorbs quite a bit from the chickpeas. It absorbs so much, in fact, that you can substitute it for egg in cocktails or meringues or anything.

I’m not joking.

So when you’re making some hummus with a can of chickpeas, make sure you save the goo, otherwise known as aquafaba, or aguafaba. And make some good, frothy cocktails with it!

Make a damn good whiskey sour!

Make a Sloe Gin Fizz!

Anything that requires egg whites.

For me, I wanted to go for something a little different, and something that I haven’t tried before: tequila and Chartreuse.

Sounds great, I know, but it works.

The Got To Be Kidding Cocktail Recipe

To make the Got to Be Kidding Cocktail, combine in a mixing glass:

  • 3/4 oz Hornitos Plata Tequila
  • 3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz aquafaba (chickpea goo)
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup

If you like it a little sweeter, you can up the simple syrup, but I like it more tart and herbaceous.

Dry shake it a bit without ice. Then add ice, shake the hell out of it, and strain it into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with anything leafy and herbal. Me, I used lemon balm because, well, I love lemon balm, and I have a lemon balm plant. Mint would also work.

Cheers!

Just make sure you make some hummus, too. Don’t just use the chickpea goo.

The Summer Rain Swizzle: Reyka Vodka, Creme de Violette, watermelon, mint, Angostura

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The Summer Rain Swizzle: Reyka Vodka, Creme de Violette, watermelon, mint, Angostura

Step One: Clean out the gutters. Literally.

Cleaning out the gutters has been on my mind for a while now. I don’t really know why, though. And I’m not being metaphorical here. It’s not a euphemism for an enema or anything like that. I’m talking about actually, literally, getting up there and cleaning out my gutters. Our gutters don’t do a damn thing, and they’re falling off the house anyway, but I still have to clean them every now and then. And the roof was covered in pine needles, so I figured it was time to get up there.

After lunch, though, I needed a 30-minute quiet time. You know, the thing you make your youngsters have when they’re supposed to be napping. After my short snooze, I jumped up, grabbed the ladder and climbed on the roof with a broom in hand.

No sooner had I begun sweeping off my roof then the rain started. Wait, though. Those of you who are not in Houston need to realize that it hasn’t rained in over a month. Just 98 degree hell. Yet today, the day I decide to get on the roof and clean my gutters, the rain falls. Heavy.

Oh well, that’s the hand I’m dealt. So I cleaned my gutters in the rain and swept the entire roof trying not to slip off and bust my ass.

And it felt good.

After a shower, though, it was time for a cocktail.

Time for a swizzle.

Step Two: The Summer Rain Swizzle Recipe

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After a hot summer rain, there’s nothing better than a swizzle

First, you need watermelon juice. All we do it put a bunch of watermelon in a blender, and voila! Watermelon juice. Tasty on its own, sure, but also delicious in cocktails.

To make the Summer Rain Swizzle cocktail, muddle quite a few mint leaves. Basically, as much as you think the glass can handle. Then add about half a glass of crushed ice. To that, add

  • 1 1/2 ounces Reyka Vodka
  • 2 1/2 ounces watermelon juice
  • 1/2 ounce Creme de Violette

Then fill up the rest of the way with crushed ice and add about five to ten dashes of Angostura bitters, and garnish with another mint sprig.

Easy breezy, and it goes down easy, too. My kind of recipe.

Spirit Review: Herradura’s Ultra Anejo and the Herradura Colección de la Casa

IMG_2370The Herradura Ultra Anejo Tequila

Herradura’s Ultra Anejo is unlike any other tequila I’ve had. It is a blend of extra anejo tequila (aged 49 months) with anejo, which is a bit younger. Then they put it through a charcoal filter so it’s clear like a blanco.

Why do they filter it?

Who cares? It tastes amazing! At $70 a bottle, this is not mixing stuff. This is the stuff you serve to your father-in-law after Thanksgiving dinner. This is the stuff you sip with a Cuban cigar in the other hand. This is the stuff you savor and hide from your friends who want to do shots. If I see anyone with a lime and salt in one hand a shot of Herradura Ultra Anejo in the other, I will slap the drink out of their hand.

Tis better to throw good tequila on the ground than to waste it on swine, as the good book says.

Don’t think this stuff tastes like regular tequila, though. It’s a sweet, vanilla-almond bomb. According to the press release from last year, they add a bit of agave nectar before bottling, which may be why it’s so sweet.

In fact, it has none of the typical, vegetal tequila characteristics. It has more in common with an aged rum than it does with tequila.

The finish is ultra smooth, with nary a hint of burn in sight.

The Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Tequila

IMG_2371The unaged tequila in Herradura’s newest Coleccion de la Casa is an unaged spirit bottled straight from the still at 110 proof. I, for one, have never seen a tequila with that high of a proof content.

Compare it to the Ultra Anejo, and the two are night and day. This one is much harsher, but not as much as you might think considering the lack of maturation and the higher proof.

It is still absolutely drinkable on its own, or perhaps just slightly chilled.

This Coleccion de la Casa is meant to highlight the agave and only the agave. Nothing from the barrel. Nothing filtered out. Just the pure agave spirit.

Unlike an aged tequila, this one keeps its pepper vegetable quality. The finish reminds me of roasted peppers.

If you know someone who loves unaged tequila, then this bottle’s for them. At $90, it’s a special bottle. Keep it, too, away from the margarita lovers. Don’t let them be fooled into thinking this is just another blanco.

The Herb Alpert cocktail: mezcal, tequila, lime, oregano, jalapeno

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The Herb Alpert Cocktail from Imbibe Magazine, created by Phil Ward of Mayahuel.

I was just telling my wife today that I need to find a use for the overgrown oregano plant that is trying to take over my herb garden. Even my mint can’t seem to fight it.

Enter the new issue of Imbibe Magazine, which features Phil Ward’s drink the Herb Alpert, one of the popular drinks at his New York establishment (the other one!) Mayahuel.

If, like me, you have an overgrown oregano plant and need to know what to do with it besides spaghetti sauces, here’s your drink. Or if you bought some to make spaghetti sauce with and have some leftover, here’s your solution. Either way, it’s fantastic.

How to make the Herb Alpert

Chill your coupe, and then chop about half of a jalapeno, seeds and all. Add the leaves from about three sprigs of oregano. Muddle those.

Then add

  • 1 oz Montelobos (or any other smokey, full-flavored mezcal)
  • 1 oz Milagro tequila blanco (or any other blanco tequila)
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz rich simple syrup

Shake well with ice. Really well. Then double-strain into your coupe and float an oregano leaf on top.

The original recipe calls for infusing the jalapeno into the tequila, but I find I can get a similar effect from simply muddling it.

The original also calls for 8 oregano leaves. I used about four times that much. Of course, my oregano leaves are small, but I found I needed more to make an impression on the drink. Experiment with it until you find your taste.

Why the name Herb Alpert?

The name has three meanings, methinks.

First, there’s the herb in Herb. Not that herb. The oregano herb. Literally. Oregano.

But then there’s the play on the name itself. Herb Alpert. The musician.

And third, there’s the play on the  music of Herb Alpert. He has the Tijuana Brass, after all, and this drink features both tequila and mezcal. Sure, it’s made in New York City, but Herb Alpert was from L.A., so it matters nothing.

Listen to Whipped Cream and Other Delights, and make yourself an herbal Herb Alpert.

Father’s Day Guide 2016–It’s June 19, remember?

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 2 Bottle 750ml
Nothing compares to the Balvenie Tun 1509

In case you don’t remember, Father’s Day is coming up on June 19, 2016. That’s Sunday, for those of you who don’t know your made-up holidays.

Normally, I would be against things like Father’s Day. But you know what, I’m a father, and it’s nice to have one day where you may get to do what your kids want to do for you. Sheesh. Is it still all about the kids?

Anyway, this year, I figure I will give you some advice.

What to give your father on Father’s Day

Give him liquor. Trust me here. In fact, don’t just give him liquor. Give him whiskey. Or whisky. Whichever.

The Scotch to buy

If he’s a scotch man, you can’t go wrong with the the Balvenie Tun 1509, second batch, a selection of 32 of the finest casks – 23 traditional American oak casks and nine European oak sherry casks – hand-selected by Malt Master David Stewart from the distillery’s precious aged stocks. All were transferred to Tun 1509, which sits in The Balvenie’s Warehouse 24, for several months before bottling. This is a rare interpretation of the marrying process and allows the different whiskies to come together to create a unique expression of The Balvenie that is greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

In case you’re not convinced, I’ve tried it. It’s good. It’s the stuff Anthony Bourdain called “nectar of the gods.” He’s right. At $350 a bottle, I admit it’s a splurge. And here’s a tip. That $350 is only worth it if he’s willing to crack it open while you’re there, and you can share a dram together. Perhaps with a cigar.

Good times.

Monkey Shoulder Bottle
If $350 for the Balvenie Tun 1509 is too much for you, get him a bottle of Monkey Shoulder. Almost as good, and 1/10th the price.

If $350 isn’t your style, I would go for a bottle of Monkey Shoulder. Those in the know know Monkey Shoulder. For $32, you can’t go wrong. It’s blended, yes, but it’s a blend of three of finest malts out there. I love this stuff, and I always keep a bottle on hand. With single malts, I will always try something new, but when it comes to my everyday dram, I always go for Monkey Shoulder.

The bourbon or rye to buy

Hudson Maple RyeI recommend Hudson whiskey. Everything they make is fantastic, but I especially like their Manhattan Rye or their Four Grain Bourbon. Both are excellent, although the Four Grain Bourbon is not available in 750mL. It’s still only in 350mL, which may be a deal breaker. Go for the Baby Bourbon, instead. It’s great, too.

Both the Baby Bourbon and the Manhattan Rye are $52 for the 750 mL bottles.

What to eat on Father’s Day

Sure, you could take your father to an overcrowded, overpriced brunch place on Father’s Day, but if I know your father, he doesn’t really want that. It’s a hassle, and it’s not that fun, and the food is probably disappointing anyway.

BB Butchers food4877

Instead, grill for him. These grill packages from BB Butchers look downright decadent. If I opened a package that looked like that, I would about melt. Especially if I got to grill it. Or better yet, one of my daughters grilled it for me.

Okay, so my daughters aren’t old enough to buy liquor for me or grill for me. But still, my wife could pretend.

Spirit Review: Milagro Tequila

Tequila MilagroCore Silver Core AnejoCore Reposado

I may not be a tequila expert, but I know what I like, and the Milagro Margarita made by Pico’s in Upper Kirby is pretty damn good. Not too sweet, but just enough. More lime than sweet, sour than sugar. Kind of like me.

I tend to prefer the blanco tequilas. To me, they taste the most like what is quintessential tequila. When they start aging them for years, they lose much of what makes them taste like tequila in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. I love tequila that’s been aged, too. It’s good stuff. But it doesn’t have the rich, agave, vegetal quality that makes something taste like tequila.

Milagro makes a perfect margarita, but the blanco tastes good on its own, as well. It’s one of those rare spirits that is good enough to drink straight yet priced at $36, so I don’t mind mixing with it. And it will make a damn fine Margarita. Or Paloma.

If you read about Milagro online, you will find a lot of reviews that say that it’s distilled three times. And people fault them for it. Some say it’s a good thing because it takes out the harsh tequila flavor, but others want that harsh tequila flavor. “If you can’t do it right the first two times,” these critics say, “then you have to do it three times.”

But it isn’t true. Accoring to Moy Guindi, one of the founding owners of Milagro, they only distill it twice. There was a brief time, he said, when they were experimenting with pot stills and column stills that they continued to distill twice in the pot still before moving it to the column still, but they ceased doing that years ago, and it was only for a brief time, anyway. Now they distill it in the pot still first to bring out the agave flavor before moving it to the column still to remove all of the unwanted flavors that don’t highlight the agave itself.

Also, another note, they still roast the agave in brick ovens, not in the giant stainless steel autoclaves. They may not be a small, artisanal operation, but they are attempting to make a tequila that tastes like tequila.

And they’re doing a fine job with it.

The Barnum (was Right) Cocktail: gin, apricot liqueur, lemon, Angostura bitters

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The Barnum (was Right) Cocktail: Gin, apricot liqueur, lemon, Angostura bitters

For this one, I turned back to Ted Haigh (AKA Dr. Cocktail)’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. It had such a great name that I just couldn’t resist.

And it uses apricot liqueur, too. The only other thing I have used that in is Fish House Punch. So I was happy to have another use for it.

How to make the Barnum (was Right) Cocktail

To make the Barnum (was Right) Cocktail, combine with ice:

shake well, and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

It’s not often that I turn to the older cocktails. For the most part, they seem all played out. The really good ones have been adopted as modern drinks and no longer seem foreign. The other ones, well, there’s a reason they were forgotten.

But this one is good! Really good. Notice that there’s no simple syrup. That’s because there’s an entire ounce of apricot liqueur, which really shines in the drink. I would say that it’s more of an apricot drink than anything else. It just comes through so fruitily.

So my temporal bias against the past may be misplaced, I admit. The Barnum deserves a seat at the bar.

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Don’t let anyone fool you: Barnum was right. I’ll part with my money for this cocktail, any day.

The Cantaloupe Smash! cocktail: Cantaloupe, rum, Aperol, lime, bitters

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The Cantaloupe Smash with rum, Aperol, lime, bitters, and rosemary.

My parents always had a garden when I was little, but they only grew a few things: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and cantaloupe.

We ate a ton of cantaloupe when I was a kid.

And I still love cantaloupe! It’s one of the few fruits that I truly enjoy. The rest of them are just too sweet, but cantaloupe is right there in the middle. It’s not too sweet, and it’s firm, and it feels good in the mouth.

So when Kroger had them for 99 cents each, I knew it was time to try a Cantaloupe Smash.

The Cantaloupe Smash Cocktail Recipe

Take a bit of cantaloupe, and put it in the bottom of a mixing glass. About four cubes of the stuff.

And now smash it.

Think Hulk here.

From Hollywood Nuts! at http://www.beingretro.com/2012/11/hulk-smash-and-meet-castcrew-of.html

Then add to the mixing glass:

  • 1 1/2 oz Flor de Cana white rum
  • 1 oz Aperol
  • 1/2 oz lime
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 10 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake well with ice, and strain over crushed ice in a tall glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

You can try it without the rosemary, of course, but I highly recommend the combination. The rosemary and the cantaloupe work great together.

I admit, though, that this isn’t the best drink I have ever come up with it. I tried of ton of different stuff, and cantaloupe just doesn’t lend itself to cocktails that well. It’s the lack of sweetness that doesn’t work that well, I think. Therefore, I had to add simple syrup.

But it’s still good, and the group I made them for enjoyed them, or at least they told me they did. And when cantaloupe is on sale for $1 again, you can bet I will be experimenting again.

Hmm, maybe cantaloupe mixed with pineapple juice?

Not sure about that, either.

The El Jimador Texas Margarita Trail event and how to make a true Margarita

Sometimes you can keep it simple!
The real deal Margarita: el Jimador tequila, triple sec, lime, agave

El Jimador Tequila and the Houston Press searched throughout Houston looking for the best Margarita in town. And they threw a party to celebrate it.

A huge, kick-ass party.

With lots of tequila.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetThe Texas Margarita Trail finale happened on May 3, 2016 at Winter Street Studios in Houston, and there were five featured margaritas. Each one was different, but they all featured el Jimador tequila and some even held the lime.

How make a traditional Margarita

But first, let’s make a real Margarita. A traditional Margarita with four ingredients: tequila, lime, triple sec, agave syrup.

All you have to do is combine the four. Me, I like the following proportions:

  • 1 1/2 oz blanco tequila (el Jimador is a great choice)
  • 1 oz triple sec (you can use Cointreau, but I think the choice of triple sec doesn’t matter that much)
  • 3/4 oz lime
  • 1/4 oz agave syrup

Build in a glass with ice that has a salted rim.

Beautiful.

But sometimes you want something different. That’s why El Jimador went on their quest.

The Jolly Jimador from El Big Bad

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetFirst, there was the Jolly Jimador from El Big Bad, a tequila bar and restaurant in downtown Houston that has a tequila elevator with all of their infused tequilas on display. I admit I have never been there, but I want to take a ride on that elevator pretty badly.

The Jolly Jimador, created by Zachary McClendo, included

  • 1 1/2 oz El Jimador Reposado
  • 1/2 oz fresh strawberry puree
  • 1/4 oz agave nectar
  • topped with ginger beer

It was good. The ginger didn’t come through that strongly, for it was just a splash of it, but it gave it a different texture from the rest, more of an effervescence.

The Jim Jim Miel from La Grange

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMatt Ainsworth from La Grange restaurant in Montrose featured ginger and vanilla bean in his take on the Margarita:

  • 1 1/2 oz El Jimador Silver Tequila
  • 1 oz lime
  • 1/2 oz raw honey
  • 2 slices muddled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • splash of apple cider

Tasty. I hoped the vanilla bean would be stronger, but all of the flavors came together nicely.

The Tuscan Sun from Batanga

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Anthony Taye of Batanga in downtown Houston made a traditional Margarita but then included a bit of bitters and some wine:

 

  • 1 1/2 oz El Jimador Silver
  • 1/2 oz lemon
  • splash of simple syrup
  • dash of Angostura bitters
  • layered with birbet (a red, sweet, sparkling wine)

In the little taste I had, I couldn’t place the wine or the bitters, though. I think this is a drink that has to be experienced in the larger quantity. Otherwise, the nuances get lost.

The Flor de Menta Margarita from Pistoleros

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Joel Luna’s For de Menta Margarita was one of my favorites. Luna is from Pistolero’s in Montrose, and, while I’ve never been there, I really want to go after trying his Flor de Menta. If all of their drinks are this good, we should meet there for happy hour.

 

To make one, combine

  • 1 1/2 oz El Jimador SilverProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 2 dashes peach bitters
  • muddled mint
  • 1/4 oz lime juice
  • fill with sour (lime and syrup)
  • float hibiscus liqueur on top

It was the hibiscus and the peach that made this one stand out.

Mango Habanero Margarita from La Fisheria

Steven Rodriquez-Ferreira’s Mango Habanero Margarita was the night’s winner. Of La Fisheria retaurant in downtown Houston, Rodriquez-Ferreira combined everyone’s two favorite things: fruit and spice. Man, they worked perfectly together. I would drink this thing all night.

To make your own:

  • muddle cucumber, cherry, and habanero
  • 1 1/2 oz El Jimador
  • 1 oz mango puree
  • 1/2 oz tamarindo juice
  • splash of lime
  • 1/2 oz orange liqueur

I wouldn’t hesitate to try each of these at the restaurants themselves. Let’s just hope they include them on their menus.

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Cocktails, Spirits, Bars, and Beer in Houston and all over Texas