Squirt Soda: The Perfect Summer Mixer

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jul 10, 2023 at 3:13 PM

When it comes to creating delicious summer cocktails, finding the right mixer is essential. One beverage that stands out as the perfect companion for crafting refreshing and vibrant summer drinks is Squirt soda. With its unique blend of citrus flavors and effervescent bubbles, Squirt soda adds a delightful twist to classic cocktails, elevating the experience to new heights. Join us as we delve into the reasons why Squirt soda is the ultimate summer mixer and explore its fascinating history.

The History of Squirt Soda:
To truly appreciate the allure of Squirt soda as a summer mixer, let's dive into its intriguing history. Squirt soda was first introduced in 1938 by Herb Bishop, a Phoenix-based citrus farmer and entrepreneur. Inspired by the growing popularity of grapefruit-flavored sodas, Bishop set out to create a beverage that captured the zesty essence of citrus. With its unique combination of grapefruit and citrus flavors, Squirt soda quickly became a hit among consumers.

Nostalgic Squirt sign "Yippee! Here's Squirt, the drink with the happy taste"

In its early years, Squirt soda was primarily distributed in the southwestern United States, where grapefruit production thrived. However, its popularity grew steadily, leading to broader distribution nationwide and eventually gaining a loyal following worldwide. Over the years, Squirt soda has remained true to its original recipe, maintaining its signature blend of grapefruit and citrus flavors, making it a standout mixer for summer cocktails.

In my family history, gin and Squirt was always the summer drink of choice for my parents. Easy to make, it was perfect at home or on one of our annual summer camping trips.

A Burst of Citrus Paradise:
At the heart of Squirt soda's appeal lies its distinctive citrus profile. This refreshing beverage boasts a delightful blend of grapefruit and citrus flavors, providing a tangy and invigorating taste that perfectly complements summer cocktails. The zesty notes of Squirt soda bring a burst of freshness to mixed drinks, awakening the palate and offering a tropical escape with every sip.
Versatility for Creativity:
One of the key advantages of Squirt soda as a summer mixer is its incredible versatility. Whether you're concocting classic cocktails or experimenting with your own creations, Squirt soda pairs well with a wide range of spirits, allowing you to unleash your creativity behind the bar. From tequila-based Palomas to vodka-infused Citrus Fizz, the vibrant flavors of Squirt soda effortlessly blend with various liquors, opening up a world of possibilities for refreshing summer libations.
A Cooling Sensation:
Summer cocktails are not just about taste; they also provide a much-needed respite from the scorching heat. Squirt soda, with its effervescent bubbles, adds a delightful fizziness to cocktails, creating a refreshing and cooling sensation on the palate. The carbonation of Squirt soda uplifts the overall drinking experience, making it the ideal beverage for those hot summer days and balmy evenings.
A Tropical Escape:
One of the great joys of summer is the feeling of being transported to a tropical paradise. Squirt soda's unique citrus flavors capture the essence of a sun-soaked getaway, infusing your cocktails with a vacation-like vibe. Close your eyes, take a sip, and let the vibrant taste of Squirt soda transport you to a sandy beach, complete with swaying palm trees and turquoise waters.
Perfect for Signature Cocktails:
Squirt soda's distinct flavor profile also makes it an excellent choice for creating signature cocktails that will impress your friends and family. Whether you're hosting a backyard barbecue or enjoying a cozy evening on the patio, Squirt soda can be the star ingredient that sets your drinks apart. Mix it with your favorite spirits, add a splash of fresh citrus juice, and garnish with colorful fruits for a visually stunning and delicious beverage embodying summer's spirit.
Wide Availability and Accessibility:
When it comes to selecting mixers for your summer cocktails, accessibility plays a crucial role. Fortunately, Squirt soda can be found in most supermarkets and convenience stores, ensuring it is readily available for cocktail adventures. Its widespread availability allows you to experiment with Squirt soda in the comfort of your home without needing specialized ingredients or trips to specialty stores.

Squirt in two glasses with ice and a cut grapefruit

Squirt soda's rich history and refreshing flavor profile make it the ultimate summer cocktail mixer. From its humble beginnings in the citrus orchards of Phoenix to its widespread popularity today, Squirt soda has continued to captivate taste buds with its unique blend of grapefruit and citrus flavors. Whether you're looking to craft classic summer cocktails or create your own signature libations, Squirt soda's versatility and vibrant taste make it the perfect companion for a refreshing and invigorating beverage experience. So, the next time you plan a summer gathering or simply want to indulge in a delicious cocktail, reach for a bottle of Squirt soda and let your imagination run wild.

Cheers to a summer filled with delightful moments and unforgettable flavors!

Port and the U.S. Open Whiskey Championship

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on May 02, 2023 at 11:17 AM

Earlier last month, Tom and I were lucky enough to be judges for the second time U.S. Open Whiskey Championship. It’s part of a series of competitions that also includes the U.S. Open Beer, U.S. Open Seltzer, U.S. Open Cider, and the U.S. Open College Beer Championships.

Almost every competition, the judges and stewards receive a piece of glassware as a thank you. As we received the ones for this year, I happened to mention that the glasses were perfect for drinking port. Immediately, everyone else at our table was happily sharing their love of port. So much so, that U.S. Open Head Honcho Dow Scoggins heard us talking and brought over a very special bottle of port.

Dow's Boardroom Aged Tawny Port

If you are unfamiliar with it, Port (or Porto) is a fortified wine. It is typically higher in alcohol content than unfortified wines (typically 19-20% alcohol). It is also usually sweeter, heavier, and richer. This is accomplished by stopping the fermentation process when only about 50% of the natural sugars have been processed. Port houses do this by adding a distilled wine-brandy.

Much like the restrictions on what can be called champagne, real Port wine can only be made in Portugal, usually the northern region. Port is available is several styles including red (or ruby), white, rosé, and Tawny Port which is an aged style.

The name Dow’s has been connected with fine Port for over two centuries. It comes from the vineyards of the Upper Douro Valley. The current owners, the Symington family, are the third family owners of Dow’s and previously worked at the Dow’s vineyards for generations.

Dow’s is not available at Cincinnati area liquor stores, but you can get it at wine.com or Total Wine & More. We were lucky enough to pick up three different types of Dow’s at a Total Wine & More location last week.

Sandeman Fine Ruby Port

Later that weekend, I remembered that we had a bottle of Sandeman Port (which I had discovered at the 2019 Cincinnati International Wine Festival) at home. We poured it in our new glasses and enjoyed it with some pecans. One of the best desserts you can have.

Recently, we were dining at Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort as part of Tom’s birthday celebration. After a wonderful meal, I really wanted some port. Alas, as a French/Italian restaurant, Topolino’s didn’t have any port. But they did have this:

Angel's Envy Aged in Port Wine Barrels

I’m new to drinking whiskey and bourbon straight (thank you, U.S. Open judging!) but this is now my sipping bourbon. The folks at Angel’s Envy blend this version twice, both before and after their secondary finishing. They describe finishing it in port wine barrels as adding “subtly distinct flavor nuances that enhance the whiskey without challenging it.”

So cheers and here’s to better beers and beverages (especially port and bourbon)!


That Old Faithful IPA

Posted by JR on Apr 25, 2023 at 12:11 PM

I had myself a birthday a few weeks ago. Actually, it was one of those milestone birthdays that really make you scratch your head and contemplate both the road behind and the ever-shortening road ahead. Such rumination is clearly best done with an adult beverage, and when I began considering my options for the evening, it was probably somewhat inevitable that my thinking about both life and beer would overlap.

What sage epiphanies did I have then, you might ask?

I realized that, sweet baby snorkeling jeebus, I'm old. My knees hurt for no reason some days. Last weekend I tweaked a muscle in my back reaching over my lazy Great Pyrenees mutt while attempting to unload the dishwasher. I could go on, but the list is long and no one wants to hear an aging Gen X-er complain.

The cool thing about aging, though, is that while, sure, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, it also brought some experience (and experiences) with it. What's any of that got to do with beverages? Simply this: I've been drinking craft beer for a long time, longer than I can almost imagine. Over all that time, I've got a lot of craft beer-related memories.

I remember drinking a Moerlein winter ale in the mid-90s, before Moerlein was sold out of town in 1999.

I remember a time when drinking Sam Adams was effectively ones only option for a draft beer of anything that wasn't pale yellow.

I remember my first sip of Arrogant Bastard Ale, somewhere in Arizona, long before Stone made its way to Cincinnati.

I remember the first craft beer boom in town in the mid to late 90's, that fizzled somewhat before the whole local industry rose like a really pissed off phoenix from it's not-quite-yet cold ashes.

I remember quite a bit. There's probably even more more I don't remember. Admittedly, it's quite possible that some of my memories aren't representative of what really happened. That's a fun part of getting older, too.

I definitely do remember when India Pale Ales first started gaining in popularity, though, and that is not a subject I recall clouded by the fuzziness -- or fizziness -- of passing years.

Interestingly, I don't actually remember what I thought of my first sip of IPA, which almost had to be Stone. I can't recall if I was appalled, as so many people tend to be when they first try the hop-forward, bitter style, or whether it was love at first sight. Regardless, IPAs found their way into my heart, and it has been my go-to style for years.

And what years they've been! I would be hard-pressed to name one single style of beer that's been through so many different innovations and interpretations (hell, there were a few actual fads mixed in there, too) in the past 15 or so years. West Coast IPA! Juicy IPA! Double IPA! New England IPA! Imperial IPA! Dark IPA (Mmmmm, dark IPA)! Hazy IPA! Cold IPA! I'm half expecting some clever brewer to find a way to kill yeast and then revive it somehow so we can have a true Zombie IPA.

And let's not forget the endless litany of different hop that have, from time to time, taken center stage in the IPA world. I've had IPAs proudly boasting everything from the humble Cascade to Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra, Centennial, Galaxy, etc. I honestly stopped paying attention to hop varieties around 2015, I think. There's probably a hop named "Your Mom" out there by now, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn I tried it in a pint last week.

The point, Gentle Reader, is that over the years, I have been up and down India Pale Avenue countless times, and often even crossed from one side to the other. And after all this time, and all those brews, there's one IPA I keep coming back to, Bell's Two-Hearted IPA.

Why that particular one, you might ask? Why do I repeatedly fall back on a beer brewed in Michigan when I live in a city with dozens and dozens of excellent local breweries, nearly all of which produce one (usually more) IPA offering? Well, because it's very nearly my platonic ideal of what an IPA should be.

Bell's Two-Hearted is clean, bright, a beautiful color, sharp but not mouth-assaultingly bitter, and is incredibly well-balanced. At least, that's how it hits my palate, anyway. I'll allow that taste is obviously a very subjective thing, and if you disagree with me here, I'm happy to allow you to go your merry way continuing to be wrong. Heh.

Two-Hearted is also readily available year-round at pretty much any beer, liquor, or grocery store I might stop in. Oh, and did I mentioned that it's frakking cheap? I can typically buy a 4-pack of 16oz cans for $8.99. And, no, I swear I'm not writing this under that influence of the four pack I recently bought as, um, research for this article.

See? Eight dollars and ninety-cents, in a world where I can't even get a burrito for that anymore. For an IPA sporting a impressive 7% ABV that is absolutely delicious, it's a modern day marvel, and I will continue to occasionally pick some up for as long as it continues to be available.

Oh, and there's another thing you begin to realize as you turn 50 years old and round the corner towards "wondering how long until your kids pack you up for Shady Acres". One day you'll notice that everything costs more than it did when you were 20. Too damn much more, you'll say, shaking your fist at the passing clouds.

With all that in mind, seeing that familiar cube of Bell's Two-Hearted on the shelf in the beer case typically brings a little smile to my face, and reminds me that the more things change (come on, Zombie IPA!), the more they sometimes stay the same.

Cheers and happy hops!


Just Say No... to Green Beer

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Mar 17, 2023 at 1:42 PM

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Or, as I like to call it, one of the two holidays from other countries that we Americans have turned into days for drunken debauchery.*

According to my Ancestry DNA results, I'm 4% Irish. Of course, they also point out that it really means that it could be anywhere from 0-9% Irish, and my heritage could be from the Channel Islands, Faroe Islands, France, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, or Scotland. So who knows?

But, as someone who is nominally Irish, I have one wish... For the love of everything Sláinte, could we please stop drinking green beer on Saint Patrick's Day?

Say No to Green Beer

The phenomenon of green beer is not a new trend. Professor Thomas H. Curtin is generally credited as being the "creator" of green beer in 1914 in New York. The story goes that he noticed all the green decorations at his clubhouse and decided that the beer should be green too. Since the beer that was mostly being drunk was a lighter yellow, rather than adding a green coloring to the beer, he simply added a blue dye to it. Specifically, he added laundry bluing to the beer. If you are not familiar with laundry bluing, it is "a colloidal suspension of a very fine blue iron powder and water." Great for making your whites whiter but not exactly something you want in your beer. Take that people who think clarifying beer with isinglass (made from the swim bladders of fish) is weird.

Nowadays, green beer is created by adding green food coloring to pale yellow fizzy beer usually from a macro brewery. Sometimes the coloring is added to the keg and sometimes it's added to the glass by the bartender before filling it with beer. This can result in green "milk moustache" if the bartender gets too zealous with the green food coloring.

Instead of green beer, try drinking an Irish beer or beer style. The most famous Irish brewery is Guinness, located in Dublin. Their dry Irish stout is their flagship beer and is known worldwide. Usually served on nitro, it has a creamy head and mouthfeel. Though its dark color can make some macro beer drinkers think it's a heavy or higher alcoholic beer, it's actually a thinner stout, and the ABV is 4.2% which is the same as Bud Light. There are only 125 calories in 12 ounces (just remember that the traditional Guinness pint glass is an imperial pint, which is 20 ounces).


If you can't bring yourself to drink a stout, Guinness also makes Harp (an Irish lager), Smithwick's (an Irish red), and Kaliber (a non-alcoholic lager). American versions of Irish styles include Great Lakes' Conway's Irish Ale, Thirsty Dog's Irish Setter Red, and Listermann's Pot O' Gold Shamrock Shake Stout which is a golden oatmeal Irish cream stout with coffee, cacao, chocolate, and lactose.

So, as you go out to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day this year, just say no to green beer and have an Irish beer instead!

Sláinte! Cheers to better beer (and beverages)!

*Tom and I have been known to go to a Mexican restaurant on March 17th and then to an Irish pub on May 5th, which is definitely not Mexican Independence Day.

Define a Style: Cold IPA

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Mar 08, 2023 at 1:34 PM

The India Pale Ale (IPA) beer style has long been a favorite of craft beer drinkers. With its bold and hoppy flavors, it’s the perfect beer for those who like a bit of bitterness in their brew. But a new kid on the block has been gaining popularity in recent years: the cold IPA.

A Cold IPA is meant to be a showcase for hops. It contains adjuncts like flaked rice or corn (or a combination of the two). Caramel malts are not used since the goal is medium-to-low malt character. While Cold IPAs are brewed with lager yeast, the temperatures are higher or warmer than the usual lager temps.

Many times, a Cold IPA is defined by what it is not. It is not an IPL. It is definitely not a hazy or New England IPA. In fact, sometimes it's described as the antithesis of a New England IPA.

Brewmaster Kevin Davey of Wayfinder Beer in Portland, Oregon has been at least informally credited at the creation of the Cold IPA. In his article on "What is a Cold IPA? on NewSchoolBeer.com, Davey describes it this way:

"What we ended up with is decisively unique from IPL or Dry hopped lager. It has a magnificent hop aroma, clean assertive bitterness and a bold, clean finish that makes the drinker crave another sip. I felt it needed a name to differentiate it. So it’s a bit Wester than West-coast, it’s crisp and sessionable, but strong and sneaky. It’s Cold IPA."

Last year, Sierra Nevada started brewing a Cold IPA which is part of their Torpedo line. It was included in their Hoppy Sampler Pack and hopefully will be back in the pack this summer.

Cold Torpedo Cold IPA

Several Cincinnati/NKY breweries have Cold IPA offerings. Grainworks Brrr is a Cold IPA that is a nod to the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Available from August through December, it is 6.5% ABV and includes Citra, Simcoe, and Centennial hops.

Grainworks Brrr

Rhinegeist has two Cold IPAs on their beer roster. Pixel - This seasonal offering is available on draft or in cans as part of their Hop Box Variety Pack. It is 7% ABV and uses Centennial, talus, Cascade, Mosaic, Simcoe plus Pilsner, Dextrose malts. It is not currently available.

Rhinegeist Pixel Can

The other one is Cold Fiction. This one is 6.7% ABV. The malts are Pilsner malt and Jasmine rice, and the hops are Motueka and Nelson Sauvin. While the Rhinegeist website lists it as available, no local better beer locations have it listed on their beer lists.

Rhinegeist Cold Fiction

A local Cold IPA offering that is currently available is Wooden Cask's Altered State. This was my first one, and it made a really good impression. The ABV is 6.2%, and it's 61 IBUs. The featured hops are Bravo.

Wooden Cask Altered State

The Cold IPA is a style that is perfect for the warmer weather that is just around the corner (crosses fingers). Check one out soon!

Cheers and here's to better beer (and beverages)!

The Joy of Beer-Clean Glassware

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Mar 01, 2023 at 2:35 PM

I went to a work-related event at a local brew pub late last year. It had been a while since I had been there, and I was curious to see what it was like. My first disappointment came when not one but two different bartenders told me that a beer I was asking about was a "light beer." (It was actually a Belgian wit.) The second disappointment came when I was served my beer.

Dirty beer glass

I know I shouldn't have been surprised that bartenders who don't know beer styles don't know how to properly clean beer glassware, either. I gave my other drink ticket to someone else and left. Life's too short to drink beer in dirty glasses.

As a Hoperative, you know that the experience of drinking a beer is just as important as the beer itself. From the aroma to the color to the taste, every aspect of the beer should be enjoyed and appreciated. While drinking a beer in the proper glass is preferred, having that beer in a beer-clean glass is essential.

First, let's define what we mean by "beer-clean" glasses. A beer-clean glass is a glass that is free from any residue, stains, or odors that can affect the taste and aroma of the beer. This includes anything from soap residue to old beer stains. When a glass is not beer-clean, it can affect the head retention and lacing of the beer, as well as the overall taste and aroma.

One of the main reasons for using beer-clean glasses is that it ensures that the beer is presented in the best possible way. For example, a dirty glass can affect the color of the beer, making it appear cloudy or dull. This can make it difficult to appreciate the beer's color and appearance nuances.

Another important aspect of beer-clean glasses is that they ensure that the beer's aroma is not affected by unwanted odors or flavors. A dirty glass can retain the aroma and flavors of previous beers, affecting the beer's overall aroma. For example, if a glass is not properly cleaned, it may give off the aroma of a previous beer, such as a sour beer, which can affect the aroma of the new beer being served. This can make it difficult to appreciate the beer's range of aromas and flavors.

Dirty or stained glasses can also affect the taste of the beer. A dirty glass can hold on to unwanted flavors and odors from previous beers, which can affect the overall taste of the beer. For example, if a glass is not properly cleaned, it may retain the flavor of a previous beer affecting the taste of the new beer being served. This can make it difficult to appreciate the beer's full range of flavors and aromas. Imagine drinking a pilsner in a dirty glass after a pastry stout.

Dirty vs clean beer glass

As this graphic from the Cicerone Certification Program illustrates, there are several ways to tell if a glass is beer-clean. Some can be seen when the glass is full, and some are noticeable as you drink the beer.

In the photo above, the way the bubbles are inconsistently clinging to the inside of the glass is the indication. If the glass was clean, there would be no bubbles on the inside of the glass.

As you look for those tell-tale bubbles on your newly poured beer, there are several other things to check out. Is the glass rim free from leftover lipstick or nicks and cracks? Is the head of the beer as you would expect it to be, or is it collapsing faster than you've experienced before?

If you see any of these indicators, send the beer back. No, don't just drink it. Send. It. Back.

Beer-clean glass from Oga's at Galaxy's Edge

If you are drinking a beer from a beer-clean glass (like the one above from Oga's Cantina in Galaxy's Edge in Disney's Hollywood Studios), you will see as you drink each sip, lacing will appear on the glass. To be honest, it's one of my favorite things. It makes me more likely to order another beer. I'm sure my tips are higher at better beer locations with beer-clean glasses.

Unlike dirty beer glasses, beer-clean glasses encourage head retention. The beer's appearance and aroma are as the brewer intended, and the beer-clean glass enhances that.

Basically, a beer-clean glass is a thing of beauty.

During the month of March (with all of its beer-centric events like Bockfest and St. Patrick's Day), take a moment to consider your beer glassware. Send us pictures of the beer-clean and beer dirty glasses, and we'll share them on our social media. You can tag us on Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, TikTok, or YouTube or email us at socialmedia at hoperatives.com.

We may even surprise the better beer locations with beer-clean glassware with a certificate of appreciation. You know us... we like to surprise people.

Cheers and here's to better beer (and beverages)!


Unmasking the Past: The Colorful History of the Ojen Mardi Gras Cocktail

Posted by Michelle Lentz on Feb 21, 2023 at 10:09 AM

[Editor’s note: This week’s cover story was co-written by Hoperatives writers Michelle Lentz and Monika Royal-Fischer. At this time, our CMS is only showing Michelle’s byline, but it definitely was a collaboration. As they say in Hollywood, we’ll fix it in post. 😁]

gold mardi gras mask

Laissez les bon temps rouler! What comes to mind when you think of Mardi Gras? Likely your imagination immediately goes to New Orleans and lively celebrations, parades, beads, masks and colorfully costumed party-goers. But have you heard of the Ojen Cocktail? This centuries-old mysterious drink has a fascinating origin story that takes it from southern Spain to the streets of New Orleans, where it’s become the beloved unofficial cocktail of Mardi Gras.

Ojen, pronounced oh-hen (although some are said to pronounce it oi-yen) is a licorice-flavored liqueur, similar to absinthe but less alcoholic and sweeter. Ojen was first produced in the 1830s by the Pedro Morales family distillery, in the Andalusia region of Spain. Morales made his fortune in other ventures, but wanted to create a superior anise-flavored liquor, which led him to open a distillery to create Ojen.

At this point in history, licorice, aka anise, flavored liqueurs were not popular in Spain, so in 1883, 50 cases of Ojen found their way to Paul and Oscar Gelpi’s liquor distribution business in New Orleans. The Gelpi brothers were the enterprising sort, and they immediately began marketing Ojen to Americans as “superior to absinthe,” which was a savvy move for the time. In the late nineteenth century, absinthe was considered medicinal, and aligning Ojen this way made for easy mass appeal and profit.

Paul Gelpi continued his rise to prominence, leading to his inauguration in a gentlemen's organization called the Boston Club in 1886, when the actual Ojen Cocktail recipe was created as part of the ceremony. Someone, a bartender, Gelpi ... we’re not really sure, mixed Ojen with Peychaud’s bitters and soda water over ice, producing the signature pink louche. Over the next few years, the Ojen Cocktail continued to gain in popularity. In 1912, the drink received an unexpected boost when absinthe was banned because officials believed it to be hallucinogenic and dangerous. Ojen, with a similar flavor, proved to be a worthy, if less alcoholic, substitute, much to the relief of bartenders across the city.

The last Ojen distillery in Spain closed in 1920 and legend has it that the last male heir of the Morales family took the secret recipe for the liqueur to his grave. But, a twist! In 1960, Juan Espada Fernandez, whose father he claimed was an employee at the original Morales distillery, had a recipe, bought the Morales still and relaunched production of Ojen. Sadly this story ends in the 1990s, when the last of the Fernandez family ceased production of Ojen due to poor sales. Before shutting down, they fulfilled one legendary final order for Martin Wine Cellar in New Orleans which, in a panic, ordered 6,000 bottles.

In 2016, the Sazerac Company reverse-engineered the recipe from the last of those 6000 bottles. (Sazerac produces, amongst many other things, Sazerac Rye and Buffalo Trace bourbon.) Ojen is one of the local bottlings made by Sazerac, and you can buy it in New Orleans at the Sazerac House. (Ojen is also sold in limited quantities in IL, CA, NY, TX, and WA.)

The classic Mardi Gras Ojen cocktail (still the cocktail of the Krewe of Rex) calls for

  • 2 oz Ojen
  • 5 oz Peychaud’s bitters
  • .25 oz Simple Syrup
  • Twist of lemon
    Mix, stir, and strain into a cocktail glass. Use oil from the lemon on the rim and float the twist.
    pink ojen cocktail in a coupe glass

Like absinthe, Ojen can be prepared a la louche, which is the cloudy, lavender state that occurs when you combine it with water. Mixing it with Peychaud’s bitters, as in the classic cocktail, gives it a lovely pale pink color, making it the perfect drink for Mardi Gras as we close out winter and get ready to welcome spring.

A 2020 Food & Wine Magazine article compares the flavor profile of Ojen as in “the same range as sambuca, ouzo, and arak, so any cocktail you would make with those liqueurs is a good candidate for swapping in Ojen.” Other New Orleans establishments, such as Cure, have created their own twist on the traditional Mardi Gras cocktail, including the frothy Ojen Frappe. A dash of absinthe adds a bit of rock and roll to a classy gin & tonic, and I think the sweetness of Ojen might make for an intriguing take on that classic.

Instagram Post from NOLA Cure

An absinthe rinse is an easy way to add unique flavor and aroma to a cocktail without necessarily adding alcohol content. You can easily switch out absinthe for Ojen. A popular drink for an absinthe rinse is a French 75, but in this case, an Ojen rinse would complement nicely.

A simple way to add a rinse is to just chill a glass with ice (or use a pre-chilled glass). Once the glass is cold, swish or slow-roll your favorite anise-based liqueur until it coats the glass. You only want to use a little bit, because you’re then going to dump it out. From there, mix the drink as you normally would. No matter how you do it, you are adding additional nose and character to your cocktail, and yes, maybe just a bit of kick. Given the opportunity, there is quite a rabbit hole to go down, following the flavor profile and sweetness from Ojen and matching it with the botanicals in various gins.

Fun Facts about Ojen:

  • Pablo Picasso,featured Ojen in two of his paintings - the 1912 Spanish Still Life and the 1915 Bottle of Anis del Mono
  • Ojen is famously featured in Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel, To Have and To Have Not, in which protagonist Arthur Gordon knocks back three glasses of Ojen in a Havana gambling room.
  • In the 1950s, at the famous Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, you could order an Ojen Cocktail for 70 cents!

Hoperatives Guide to Aphrodisiac Cocktails

Posted by Monika R-F on Feb 14, 2023 at 11:15 AM


The dictionary defines an aphrodisiac as “something (such as a food, drink, or drug) that causes or increases sexual desire.” They are aptly named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. According to ancient Greek legend, Aphrodite was born from the sea and arrived on land carried on either an oyster or scallop shell. This helps to explain why we hear that oysters and shellfish are thought to be aphrodisiacs. But what about drinks? Can cocktails be aphrodisiacs? In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let’s find out!

Hearts in flute glasses

Legend goes that strawberries originated from the heart-shaped tears of Aphrodite after she learned of her lover Adonis’s death. Today, we/I think of strawberries as the quintessential Valentine treat best served dipped in chocolate, which makes it a delicious aphrodisiac. Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants that promote blood flow which are good for the libido and the sex drive.
Try: Cherub’s Cup Cocktail (thespruceeats.com/cherubs-cup-cocktail-recipe-761026)

Chili peppers are one of the strongest aphrodisiacs out there, thanks to their high amount of capsaicin, AKA the stuff that makes them spicy. Capsaicin stimulates nerves on your tongue, kicking in your adrenaline, which releases endorphins…your natural “feel good” hormones.
Try: Hot in Rio (liquor.com/recipes/hot-in-rio)

Rumored to be Cleopatra's favorite fruit, figs have long been considered an aphrodisiac in almost every culture. Figs are a true sensory experience with their fruity sweet smell, soft texture, and luscious flavor. Figs are high in amino acids, which can boost your sexual stamina and libido, hence their aphrodisiac status.
TRY: Sexy Fig & Lemon Fizz (mydiaryofus.com/blog/2014/7/31/sexy-fig-and-lemon-fizz)

The ancient Greeks believed that honey was the nectar of Aphrodite. As far back as 500 BC, Hippocrates (Greek physician and father of modern medicine) prescribed milk and honey for sexual activity – like a primitive Viagra. Honey contains boron, which can help regulate hormone levels, and nitric oxide, which can trigger arousal.
TRY: Wicked Behavior (imbibemagazine.com/recipe/wicked-behavior-bourbon-cocktail)

Keep in mind the science behind aphrodisiacs is inconclusive at best, and it’s entirely possible that they are nothing more than the power of suggestion at work. Regardless, if you find a certain aphrodisiac particularly inspiring - it can’t hurt to indulge!

The All-Important Pizza Wines

Posted by Michelle Lentz on Feb 08, 2023 at 9:39 AM

Since launching The Grape Gatsby back in the fall, I've started to feel a lot of pressure (self-induced, of course) to always drink higher-end wine. But here’s the thing - sometimes a girl just wants a “pizza wine.” And for me, pizza and wine is a pairing that is meant to be.

Photo by The Nix Company on Unsplash

With the Super Bowl coming up on Sunday, this seems like a perfect time to talk about two of my favorite pizza wines.

Rus Jimenez Manchuela
Spain, 2020
14% AbV

This is a weird grape; are you ready? (I love weird grapes.) It’s the Moravia Agria grape, which is obscure even in its Spanish homeland. This is a vibrant and juicy wine with bright fruit flavors and a lively acidity. On the nose, it boasts aromas of red cherries, raspberries, and a hint of spice. On the palate, it is medium-bodied with a smooth and silky texture, and a fresh, crisp finish. The tannins are soft and well-integrated, making it an approachable and easy-drinking wine. This Moravia Agria red wine is a versatile choice for a range of food pairings, but it paired quite well with my pepperoni pizza.

Hahn Estates GSM
14.5% AbV

A GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre blend) is an absolute classic pairing with a cheese and marinara pizza. You simply cannot go wrong. The Hahn GSM boasts a flavorful harmony of boldness. The Grenache adds fruity, spicy notes, while the Syrah provides full-bodied structure, and the Mouvedre offers a touch of earthiness. The result is a rich, smooth, and well-balanced wine with a long finish. The tannins are firm but not overpowering, and the fruit flavors are ripe and juicy. Overall, this wine is an excellent choice for those looking for a full-bodied, flavorful blend and, in particular, the perfect pizza wine.

My team (the Bengals, of course) didn’t quite make it to the Super Bowl this year, but whomever you are rooting for, may your team win!


Origins: The Hot Toddy

Posted by Monika R-F on Feb 01, 2023 at 10:54 AM

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling sick or the weather is cold and gray, there’s only one drink that will chase away the chill – a warm, cozy hot toddy. Nothing says comfort like a mug of bourbon (my fave), honey, and spices, with their toasty goodness.

But what makes the hot toddy the beverage of choice on cold winter nights? Interestingly, the origins of the hot toddy are as varied as the recipes to make it. Maybe part folklore, part fact? You decide.


Our first story starts in British-controlled India in the early 1600s. There, we find a beverage called the Indian tadi, which is a room-temp fermented drink made from the sap of the toddy palm. Brits added spices to liquor to try to recreate the flavor of the tadi, which lent its name to the drink and ultimately became the toddy. One source says that by 1786, taddy was officially written down and defined as a “beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices.”

The next origin story takes place in England in the 1830s begins the use of the hot toddy as a medicinal drink, thanks to Irish doctor Robert Bentley Todd. Dr. Todd is remembered for prescribing his patients the “Potion de Todd,” which consisted of hot brandy, cinnamon, and sugar. Some think the name hot Toddy is a riff on his last name.

Further securing the hot toddy as the widely recognized cure for the common cold, in 1837, the Burlington Free Press ran an article called “How to Take Cold,” which recommended,

“If your child begins to snuffle occasionally, to have red eyes, or a little deafness; if his skin feels dry and hot, and his breath is feverish — you have now an opportunity of doing your work much faster than ever before,” the unnamed writer states. The first step is to avoid calling a doctor. Next, feed the child excessive amounts. Finally, make him drink. “Ply him well with hot stimulating drinks, of which hot toddy is the best,” the writer recommends sagely.

Our last origin story introduces the hot toddy as the premier cold-weather cocktail and takes us to 1700s Scotland. Or the pubs of Edinburgh, more specifically. As it is said, the first hot toddies were made there by mixing Scotch whiskey with a dash of hot water to help patrons ward off the Scottish cold. An important fact, the water in the hot toddy was said to be sourced from Tod’s Well, the largest well in the region, which lent its name to the drink.


Depending on which of the origin stories you believe, the name “hot toddy” comes from a Hindu drink, is the namesake of an Irish doctor, or is named after a famous well. One additional source says that toddy is thought to be derived from the Hindi word “tārī,” meaning “sweet. The earliest printed recipe for a drink named the hot toddy is from Jerry Thomas’ “The Bar-Tenders Guide” of 1862, which included a tiny amount of sugar, a “wine glass of brandy,” some hot water, and a little grated nutmeg.


National Hot Toddy day has passed (January 11th), but it’s still cold outside, so make yourself a hot toddy and let me know if you have any creative twists on this classic recipe!

  • hot water
  • bourbon (or whiskey)
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Start by boiling some water, then pour the water into a mug. Add a shot of whiskey or bourbon, two teaspoons of honey, and two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Include the optional spices if you like. Stir the ingredients and enjoy!

Hot Toddy

What We're Drinking Right Now (Jan. 27, 2023 edition)

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jan 27, 2023 at 6:32 PM

Once a week (or so), we post a beverage (or two) that we are enjoying right now. These aren't long reviews analyzing the drinks, just what it is and a sentence or two about why it's our go-to right now. We may even talk about the foods that pair well with those beverages. You never know!

[This article may contain affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.]

Carla and Tom - Certain restaurants will always be special. One of them for us is St. Elmo Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis. A few years ago, they added a foods sideline that included a St. Elmo branded bourbon that is cherry-vanilla infused. Carla actually stumbled upon it at the tiny liquor store across the road from us. It makes a great Manhattan, or you can add a splash of cola to make your own Elmo Cola.

St. Elmo Cherry Vanilla Infused Bourbon

JR - Pretty much every day, I drink an unsweet Iced Tea from McAlister's. They offer a Monthly Tea Pass for $6.99 or something ridiculous, which lets me get one tea or lemonade every day for a month. And occasionally, I even buy a Brookie while I'm there for one of my kids.

McAllisters Iced Tea

Julie - I’m obsessed with the pistachio cream cold brew from Starbucks. Basic? Maybe. Delicious? Absolutely.

Michelle - We had lost power in the snowstorm, and as it was getting cold, I opted for something that would warm me up inside. I had a glass of Heaven’s Door Highway 61 blend bourbon poured over one slow-melting clear ice cube. Heaven’s Door is the bourbon created in partnership with Bob Dylan out of Nashville. The Highway 61 blend is no longer available but was a unique yeast strain made with each partner location. My bottle came from Total Wine & Spirits in Atlanta.
And it did the job of warming me up!

Heaven's Door Highway 61 bourbon blend

Non-Alcoholic Spirits: Why Not Whisky?

Posted by Julie Niesen on Jan 25, 2023 at 8:20 PM

NA Whiskeys

It’s been six months since I’ve had real whiskey.

Maybe my palate has changed– but the NA spirits being introduced today are shockingly good. None of them quite duplicate bourbon (okay, maybe my palate is just right) but if you’re looking for a substitute, there are some pretty decent options. I’ve recently tried three different “whiskies”, from three different “distillers”.

A quick warning about all NA spirits: they are not meant to be consumed neat. Not a one of them. I assure you, you will not like the results. They are all intended to be mixed either with other NA spirits, as a part of a cocktail, or with mixers.

Lyre American Malt: Made in the UK, this is my favorite of the NA whiskies I’ve tried. It comes in two different forms: a premix (with cola) and “straight”. Admittedly I had some issues getting the “straight” bottle here – their shipping for small quantities is not well padded, so it took three tries to actually get me a bottle that hadn’t shattered either from shipping or from the subzero temperatures we had in December. The flavor on this is a Tennessee whiskey: a little sweet, lots of caramel notes. With a diet Coke (my preferred mixer), it almost feels like I’m drinking the real thing. When made into a Manhattan, my favorite cocktail, it’s not bad – not quite the same as a real Manhattan, but the flavor is right. The issue with using these in cocktails is that you have to use quite a bit more: I’m no scientist, but having the alcohol in an actual cocktail controls the rate the ice melts, and shaking or stirring a cocktail with NA spirits can very easily get watered down. Mixed with ginger ale or a coke, though? Fantastic.

Undone Not Whisky: If you’ve ever wondered what liquid smoke would taste like in a drink, just try Undone. The Germans, while good at dealcoholized wine and creating some great NA beers, seem to slip a little bit in whiskies. The bottle says "This is not whiskey." The warning is not needed: you won't mistake it for your favorite bourbon or scotch. Flavor-wise, I think they were attempting a blended Scotch, but fell pretty short: mixed with a diet Coke, it tastes like.. Barbecue diet Coke? This is a thing that should not exist, and I say that as someone who likes barbecue anything and can also opine at length on why McDonald’s diet Coke is the superior form of diet Coke. Needless to say, I did not try this in a Manhattan because of the heavy, smoky flavor. This might be nice in something like an old fashioned, where the smokiness can be cut with orange peel. And yes, the bottle is mostly gone because I really kept trying to like it.

Ritual Zero Proof Whisky: Ritual is the NA spirit that gets a lot of press– they were one of the first, and they also make a tequila, a rum, and a gin. This one is smack in the middle, flavor-wise: not as sweet as the Lyre and nowhere near as smoky as the Undone. Since it’s a little more balanced, lends itself well to cocktails, but the flavor isn’t really memorable on its own.

Honestly, all of the NA spirits I’ve tried so far are less than ideal if you’re trying to make a drink that is traditionally spirit-forward: think of them as more of a flavoring instead of a feature. Don’t worry: I’ll come back with some ways to use NA spirits as a flavoring in a future column.

For now: if you miss whiskey, go for Lyre’s American Malt. Just try to pick it up at your local bottle shop – at least until they have small package shipping worked out.

What We're Drinking Right Now (Jan. 20, 2023 edition)

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jan 20, 2023 at 3:10 PM

Once a week (or so), we post a beverage (or two) that we are enjoying right now. These aren't be long reviews analyzing the drinks, just what it is and a sentence or two about why it's our go-to right now. We may even talk about the foods that pair well with those beverages. You never know!

[This article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.]

Carla and Tom - We went old school this week. Some times, a diet Cuba Libre just hits the spot. With a tip of the hat to Carla's post earlier this week, this drink comes in at only 2.5 carbs. Our version calls for caffeine-free Diet Coke, 1/3 ounce of lime juice, and 1.5 ounces of Myers's Original Dark Rum.

JR - Stone Ruination IPA. It's not exactly local, but it's one of the first double IPAs I ever tried, and it made me a little sad when they stopped making it regularly. They brought it back for a limited time only, and I was not about to miss the chance to catch up with an old, seriously hoppy friend.

Julie - Ghia soda is a take on an aperitif— notes of lemon balm, rosemary, orange peel and gentian for bitterness. It comes in aperitif that you can use as a mix, or premixed in cans.

Ghia soda

Michelle - Currently in an amazing bar in NYC where Ludwig Bemelman did all the art on the walls (author of the children’s Madeleine books).
I ordered a vesper and it literally came with a spare.

Vesper cocktail
Madeline mural from Bemelmans Bar
Dachshund detail in mural from Bemelmans Bar

Monika - For fun, what I'm drinking now is this exotic beer I found at a local hibachi grill.

Ice cream options listed under Domestic Beer

Beer and Being Diabetic

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jan 18, 2023 at 4:25 PM

I remember parts of the phone call vividly. “We got your test results. You’re diabetic.” I managed to let the medical assistant from my doctor’s office know that I appreciated her calling and I would discuss it more with the doctor at my appointment. I said good-bye and hung up. Then I sat there for a bit and then I told Tom. “My A1C is 7 and I’m officially diabetic.”

I said “officially diabetic” because I had been pre-diabetic for years. My A1C had been hovering in the 6.3-6.5 range for so long that I thought that was just where it was going to be. If you keep doing the same things, you’re going to get the same results, right? (Waves hands in the air, trying to shoo away reality... which doesn't work either.)

This was Tuesday and my doctor's appointment wasn't until Monday so I did what any former academic would do: I threw myself into research. I started with the Mayo Clinic website for a quick overview of treatment possibilities and to refresh my memory on the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes (I'm Type 2). Then it was on to the American Diabetes Association website for a deep dive.

Eventually, with my doctor's guidance, I decided to both take the medication she prescribed plus count my carbs. I'm luckily enough to have a close friend who is a dietitian who specializes in diabetes patients (Hi, CJ!). She suggested that I aim for 45 carbs per meal. That was different for me. As a long time dieter, I was used to having so many calories per day. But it made sense. You want your glucose levels to be stable without huge peaks or valleys. That means moderating your carb intake throughout the day.

As luck would have it, my diabetes diagnosis came just a few weeks before I was scheduled to speak on a International Women's Day panel at Yellow Spring Brewery. Crap! Was I going to be able to drink any beer? Their Captain Stardust is one of my favorites and I knew it would be hard to resist.

Back into the research I went. This time, it helped that I am a ServSafe Alcohol instructor and taught classes on the effects of alcohol on the body.

First of all, it is important to remember what a "drink" is considered. It can be one and a half ounces (or a jigger) of 80-proof spirits, five ounces of most wines, or 12-ounces of your standard macro beer (about 3-4 ABV). But, even though those three are considered the same alcohol wise, they are very different in carbs.

Spirits = 0 grams of carbs, wine = 3-5 grams, beer = 11 grams

That doesn't seem too bad, but if you're reading this and consider yourself a Hoperative, you are probably not drinking a standard macro beer. Consider the number of carbs in some of your favorite non-macro beers:

Grams of carbs in popular beers

It's important to remember that these numbers are for 12 ounces. Depending on the style and ABV, the glass you may be served that beer in could be larger or smaller than that. A pint glass in the US holds 16 ounces and an imperial pints holds 20.

The American Diabetes Association points out that alcohol (especially when consumed while taking certain medications for diabetes) can increase your risk of hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar).

Blame it on your liver. This organ stabilizes glucose levels by storing carbohydrates and releasing them into the bloodstream between meals and overnight. It’s also the body’s detoxification center, breaking down toxins like alcohol so the kidneys can easily flush them away.
Trouble is, it’s not great at multitasking. Your liver will choose to metabolize the alcohol over maintaining your blood sugar, which can lead to hypoglycemia. The liver often makes this choice when you drink without eating food—so consider snacking while you sip.

By the way, contrary to popular belief, foods high in carbs are not the best at slowing the absorption of alcohol. Instead, choose foods that are high in protein and fats like cheese. And as we like to point out, alternate a glass of water with any alcoholic beverage. Keeping hydrated is always a good thing.

You can enjoy beer (and other types of alcohol) as a diabetic. You just need to count your carbs and decide which carbs are worth counting. For me, I’d much rather have one truly great beer than numerous bottles of a low carb, low flavor one.

Cheers and here’s to better beer (even if you’re diabetic)!

The Best Part of Waking Up

Posted by JR on Jan 11, 2023 at 9:00 AM

They say the path to Hell is paved with personalized Instagram ads.

Wait, no, it's "good intentions," isn't it? I always get those two things mixed up.

Don't get me wrong though, in general, I 100% do believe that personalized ads on social media are effectively the opening of the rabbit hole that's sooner or later going to lead the Alice in all of us down into a dark, corporately-controlled, advertising Wonderland. But that's a rant for another time (and probably a whole other place).

Rail as I might about personalized ad content though, I have to admit that it's popular with the people who sell stuff because, well, it genuinely sells stuff. Case in point, I give you Crio Bru, a company that produces several versions of roasted ground cacao that you brew and drink just like coffee.

A few months ago, I was mindlessly scrolling my photo feed (or Shorts or Stories or Reels or whatever the kids call them) in the never-ending search for pictures of smoked meats and/or whatever Cincinnati Bengals content I could find when I saw an ad for Crio Bru, and I was immediately intrigued. For years now, I've been into trying to find the perfect expression of coffee for me. I've coarsely ground, finely ground, dripped, French Press-ed, Chemex'd, and cold brewed some of the tastiest coffee beans I could get my hands on, but I never really found the brew that sang to me. In fact, for the past year or so I've mostly been drinking cold brew almost exclusively, because the flavor is less sharp and, to my palate, generally offers more subtle, dark notes of chocolate in the brew. That's important, because over time I've come to realize what I really want is more chocolate flavor, good chocolate flavor. Distinct, dark chocolate flavors.

So when the Holidays began to peek at us around the calendar this year, and my wife asked me the annual dread question, "What do you want for Christmas?" I was excited to have a suggestion. Usually I shrug at her in reply, because the things I want are either expensive enough that I'm waiting for the Powerball to hit $2 Billion again or it's a $10 spherical ice mold I can order at my leisure with two-day shipping.

Yeah, I'm that guy when it comes to gifts, but let's put a pin in that for now. We can dissect my personal failings later.

Anyway, sometime over the fall I sent her a link to a Crio Bru starter pack and forgot all about. Luckily, she did not, and this year there was a box of ground cacao samples packs gift wrapped just for me under the Christmas tree.

Crio Bru brewed cacao

Now, before anyone cocks their head, wags a finger, and clucks, "My guy, you're making hot cocoa," let me assure you that this is not Swiss Miss. There's no sugar, no tiny processed dehydrated "marshmallows", and you can't just mix two teaspoons of this stuff into a mug of water and stir rapidly. What comes in the little bags is pure ground cacao beans (which may or may not officially be nibs, but the roughly 17 seconds of online research I put into the question failed to provide a definitive answer) which, like coffee beans, have been roasted to one of several familiar degrees: light, medium, dark, and French. The lighter roasts tend to be sweeter and slightly floral, while the darker get more earthy and toasty.

There is one potential downside to this stuff, though, if you're used to getting a daily jolt from your java. Brewed cacao is effectively caffeine free (99.9%).

Hey, where are you going? Wait, wait! Just hear me out!

So, yeah, it's basically caffeine free, but it's packed instead with theobromine, a molecular compound from the same family as caffeine. Both are stimulants, but theobromine gives a milder boost without the potential for the jitters or the bouncing-off-the-walls-I-can-smell-purple effect its cousin can deliver. Cacao is also considered a "superfood" and comes with a whole host of health benefits, including the potential to reduce blood pressure (try that caffeine), improve insulin sensitivity, and even enhance one's mood. There's not much to feel guilty about with this stuff, except maybe not sharing it.

Opening the bag and inhaling for the first time reminded me of cracking the wrapper on a bar of 70% dark chocolate. And while I'll admit that brewing does require a little more patience than I'm used to compared to coffee (I love it in my French Press), the resulting elixir is exactly what I've always wanted from coffee but could never previously find, an adult dark chocolate brew.

I still can't believe it came from an Instagram ad. Next thing you know someone will be demanding I admit that maybe, possibly, targeted personalized ads aren't always the Devil's work.

Maybe I'll brew another cup of cacao and think about it.

-- JR

What We’re Drinking Right Now (Jan. 6, 2023 edition)

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jan 06, 2023 at 2:19 PM

Once a week (or so), we post a beverage (or two) that we are enjoying right now. These aren't be long reviews analyzing the drinks, just what it is and a sentence or two about why it's our go-to right now. We may even talk about the foods that pair well with those beverages. You never know!

[This article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.]

Carla - The last few years, we’ve really gotten into coffee. During the pandemic,lan Happ (former UC Bearcat drafted by the Cubs) created a coffee blend with Connect Roasters in one of the suburbs of Chicago. Part of the money goes to area food banks. Since then, they've done a Lockout blend that supported the players' fund during the lockout, an All Star blend in celebration of lan making the AS team, and a Gold Glove blend for his latest honor. Plus a custom Chemex.

Ian Happ signed Chemex

Chris - I am currently exploring the exciting world of the MobCraft Advent Beer Box my sister gave to me. I am clearly not on schedule since I have only drank about 9 of the 24 beers and it is January 5th but have been pleasantly surprised by most of the beers in the variety pack. My favorite so far is probably the Vanilla Wafer Porter.

Mobcraft Advent Calendar beers

Jared - So far during my planned dry/damp January, I'm enjoing Twinings Orange and Cinnamon Spice herbal tea and LaCroix Mure Pepino (plum cucumber).

Twinings Orange-Cinnamon Spice Herbal Tea and LaCroix Mure Pepino

JR - In the lamest, most half-assed fractional Dry January attempt ever, I'm not drinking beer at home this month (and possibly longer, but we'll see). It's bourbon for me now, either neat or on a ball of ice and with a splash of soda (I heart my SodaStream). I made my first (delightful!) Manhattan over the weekend and have grown up barware on order, so we'll see what kind of cocktail shenanigans I get up to in the coming month. The other exciting thing I've been drinking is brewed cacao instead of coffee, and I think this could be a permanent switch for me.

Julie - I picked up some Lyre’s Dark Cane and made a Dark & Stormy – they also sell this as a premix. I prefer diet Gosling’s (the premix is too sweet for me). This is darn close to an actual Dark & Stormy– Lyre’s does a great job with these spirits.

Lyre's Dark and Stormy

Monika - I'm drinking Bota Box Breeze Pinot Grigio - it's my go-to during the week so that I can have a glass (or two) of wine while binging some HGTV show to get inspiration for our upcoming reno, but can't afford a headache in the morning.

Tom - I'm coding a website (this one!) so I'm drinking anything I can get my hands on at the end of the day.

2023: (Not Just) Dry January

Posted by Julie Niesen on Jan 04, 2023 at 7:09 PM

Happy 2023!

If you’re someone who’s doing a Dry January– you’ve come to the right place.

Yes, I know this is Hoperatives.

Yes, I know we focus on better beer.

But in 2023, those of us who are sober, sober-curious, reducing our alcohol consumption or just want to have some other options? Well, we finally have them.

The last time I went dry was in 2017. And honestly, there just weren’t many options, and the ones we had were pretty bad: sparkling cider tastes nothing like Champagne. Mocktails were mostly sour mix and Sprite. O’Doul’s: well, let’s just not talk about it.

Now, the options are endless. Fewer Americans drink: in 2021, 60% of those 21 and up reported to Gallup that they drink, down from 65% in 2019. According to NielsenIQ, in 2022, non-alcoholic beverages (including beer, wine, and spirits) sales increased 20.6% and alcoholic beverage sales went down 6.7%. Craft beer sales have gone down 7.2% but hop water– often produced by craft breweries– was up 43%.

This isn’t just because people are going completely dry: 78% of non-alcoholic beverage buyers also bought alcoholic beverages. There is a move toward more moderation and healthier beverages– without sacrificing flavor.

Most telling, to me, was sitting at a local bar and music venue one nice summer evening. Of the eight or so people I was with, only one of them was drinking alcohol. The rest were drinking soda or one of a couple of varieties of Athletic non-alcoholic beer– including a beer rep!

I stopped drinking on July 16, 2023– I’ve almost hit six months without drinking alcohol. The first couple of weeks were hard– some of my favorite places are bars!-- but it’s gradually become easier. It’s helpful that my partner and I are doing it together, and that we both like to discover new non-alcoholic beverages, too.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past few months:

  • No one really cares that you’re not drinking. Seriously. We actually were mildly concerned that our favorite bartenders would be disappointed that we weren’t spending on alcohol like we used to. Our friends definitely don't care, and many of them have told us that they are also cutting back or don't drink.
  • When they do care, it’s usually because they’re sober or sober curious themselves. The number of times we’ve had people say “Oh, I’m taking a break too!” or “Oh, I drink a lot of NA stuff!” was a pleasant surprise. And people who are drinking craft NA beverages remind me a little bit of craft beer people when the movement first started: willing to share tastes of NA drinks and share tips on where to get them. I thought it would be hard, being someone who socializes a lot in the restaurant and bar industry, but I know so many sober chefs and bartenders, which I think is driving part of the surge of NA options. Even Grant Achatz has an entire book dedicated to the NA cocktail program at Aviary.
  • If you’re out and about, ask if a restaurant or bar has NA beverages. Sure, sometimes you’ll be stuck with club soda, but the more businesses hear that there’s a demand, the more they’ll be likely to carry NA beverages. Or, you might be surprised– we’ve had many bartenders make us impromptu mocktails (that were imaginative and delicious!) and several places had NA beverages that hadn’t made it to the menu yet. Just on New Year’s Eve, we went to dinner and didn’t see anything NA– so we asked. Turns out they’d just brought in some Athletic, and the owner was recently sober, so they had Einz Zwei Zero NA sparkling wine. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
  • One day at a time. I am not in any formal program, and I don’t know if I will continue to be completely sober (I haven’t found a great NA red wine to pair with cheese, which is what I really miss). And that’s okay! It doesn’t always need to be either/or. At first, I just wanted to see how long I could go, and I said oh– I’ll definitely drink on Thanksgiving. I didn’t. Christmas? Nah. New Year’s Eve? I was too excited about the NA spirit’s I’d purchased and wanted to experiment. If you try to do Dry January and end up having a drink? It’s okay. Start over the next day.

The stories you’ll see from me at Hoperatives will focus on craft, non-alcoholic beverages– everything from NA spirits, to dealcoholized wine, to craft beer. It’s an exciting time in the industry to try them!

If you have suggestions on some great NA beverages to try, email me at julie@hoperatives.com.

Hoperatives: the 2023 Edition

Posted by Carla Gesell-Streeter on Jan 01, 2023 at 12:00 AM

Exactly fourteen years ago, a brand new bouncing baby blog was born. And though there was a test post before it, that was indeed the title of the first post on Hoperatives. It started like this:

Welcome to Hoperatives, a place for believers in better beer. What's better beer? It's not just the beer you like, it's the beer you love. It's the beer you'll search for far and wide, the one you'll drive long distances to sample and buy, the one you'll hoard for yourself or grudgingly share, but only with friends who get it. That's what this site is about. It's about the beer, the places that make the beer, the places that sell the beer, and the places that serve the beer. Most importantly, it's about the people. The people who make the beer, and the people who love the beer.

Hoperatives v1.0
Hoperatives design 1.0

So much has changed in those thirteen years. Things that we were told would never happen actually did (like Samuel Adams opening a tap room in Cincinnati). Things that we thought were going to be flash in the pans took hold (good on you, Hanson Brothers Beer Company, and your Mmmhops IPA). And things that would get better often took one step forward and two steps back every year (like the relationship between women and beer plus the need for diversity in the brewing industry).

I vividly remember the day we decided to stop publishing Hoperatives. It was June of 2021, and we were driving home from a night at the BrewDog Hotel after attending the quarterly meeting of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. Tom had been approached about a new job, and that possibility made us spend the time driving back, assessing what we were both doing with our lives at the time.

As we discussed the pros and cons of Tom taking the job, I finally said out loud what I had been thinking about for several months: it was time to shut down Hoperatives. It just didn’t make sense to have a blog when we weren’t creating content for it. And I just didn’t have to energy to scour Facebook and websites for beer events anymore. With the boom of breweries and better beer locations, it wasn’t as simple or easy as it had once been. And, more importantly, it was no longer fun. And so one day in the summer of 2021, Tom put the website into "maintenance mode," sort of a zombie state where there's only one page that said ‘thanks and goodbye.’ He said it made him feel like he shot Old Yeller.

You see, that was the thing that kept Hoperatives going those first ten years or so. It was fun! We went to better beer locations that enthralled us. We had beers that we would dream about later. And we met people who became dear friends. And many of those friends became contributors to Hoperatives or stronger supporters of the work we were doing.

Alas, to paraphrase the old saying, for every hill, there is a valley. As we got older, so did our bodies. Health issues meant changing our beer intake. We also moved my dad to NKY in the fall of 2017, and we were busy helping him as best we could. And there was the pandemic which had an impact on everyone, but especially the hospitality industries like brewing.

We started to reassess our decision to shut down Hoperatives in late 2022. Since 2015, we’ve been involved in the U.S. Open Beer Championships, and this past year, we took over the US Open College Beer Championship portion of the organization. On a beautiful October day, we met with Aaron Ross of Kalamazoo Valley Community College to present KVCC with their 2022 Grand National Champion plaque. As we sat in their tasting room enjoying some of their students’ beers, we talked about all things brewing: breweries in Kalamazoo that we should visit, breweries in Cincinnati that he should visit, what trends we saw in the industry, and more. It was like being back on a Hoperatives research trip, as we used to call them. It was great.

Afterward, we stopped for lunch at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe. While enjoying fresh Two Hearted and burgers, I broached the subject: what if we brought Hoperatives back? What would need to change? What would need to stay the same? We had a long drive home the next day, and we spent most of it discussing different possibilities. And we decided to do it.

So what is the new Hoperatives going to be like? The new tagline of “Believers in Better Beer (and Beverages)” hints at some of it. First of all, we will no longer be concentrating on just beer and the brewing industry. Bring on the wine, spirits, cocktails, and more! Basically, if you can drink it, there is a strong possibility that we will be writing about it.

Second, while we are still based in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, we are not limiting ourselves to that area. We’ve always had Traveling Tuesday posts, but this change will be expanding our focus to where our writers are.

As we mentioned on Cincy Brewcast, we are pivoting from a newspaper model to more of a magazine model. Expect one in-depth article from us every Wednesday. Consider it our cover story. There may be shorter ones on other days of the week (like this one), but the focus is on that weekly Wednesday article.

We will not be chasing down breaking beer news in order to be the first to publish it. We will cover news but in a more analytical way. We will take our time.

In addition, we will not be concentrating on beer events as we did in the past. We’re not saying that we won’t ever write about them, but no more “This Week in Beer” or “Tastings and Tappings Report” posts. If you are looking for that kind of beer news, we highly recommend you follow the Gnarly Gnome.

As we mentioned in that very first blog post, Hoperatives is about the people. We’ve been lucky enough to have some great people who make Hoperatives better (and more fun) by writing for the website. Jared Whalen, Chris McGreevy, J.R. Andrews (a.k.a. Pud’n), and John Lavelle are returning as core contributors. In addition, Michelle Lentz (of The Grape Gatsby newsletter and My Wine Education blog), Julie Niesen (WineMeDineMe), and Monika Royal-Fischer (RedKatBlonde) are joining the writing staff to help with the expanded coverage.

In order to make Hoperatives simple, we’re kicking WordPress to the curb. Instead, Tom is building a custom blogging platform for Hoperatives that is called CrankybearPress. As you can see, it gives Hoperatives a clean design that loads quickly. No extraneous WordPress plug-ins that slow down your viewing while they suck up your data. And we promise no popup ads at all. We might consider sponsors, but that would just mean a logo or such in the sidebar to acknowledge their support. We want to keep things fun for all of you too.

At first, we’re going to try out a lot of different topics and types of articles. We are going to play around with different social networks like Mastodon, TikTok, and YouTube plus old standbys like Facebook and Instagram. We will keep what works for us (and you) and drop what doesn’t.

We had our first Hoperatives staff meeting this past week, and the question came up about Hoperatives Happenings. We may try setting up another one, but not for a while. We want to get our feet underneath us first.

Another question was about the old Hoperatives posts and pages. They will be coming back at some point and will be marked as archive posts. We originally thought about deleting all of the “This Week in Beer” and other dated posts, but we know enough historians, librarians, and archivists to release that wasn’t a wise idea. Among those pages coming back will be the Hoperatives Numbers page, but it may take a while to recreate.

Something old that is coming back as new is the Hoperatives Guides to Beer at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and the Disney Cruise Line. These were always some of our most popular pages. With Hoperatives’ new focus, we may branch out to guides for wine and spirits too. We’ll just have to see.

So that’s where we stand on this first day of 2023 and the first day of the Hoperatives relaunch. In Monique Judge’s The Verge article “Bring Back Personal Blogging,” she points out that:

At the end of the day, we don’t know what is going to happen next with Twitter or any of these platforms. We don’t know what changes Web 3.0 is going to bring to the internet. We do know that we will all still be here, wanting to share our thoughts, talk about anything and everything, and commune with our people. Personal blogging is the simplest and fastest way to do all of that.

There was a time when blogging was considered a bad word. Tech journalist Mike Elgan once referred to bloggers as “floggers”. Of course, the flogger type of bloggers would now be called influencers (and I know some of you felt your skin crawl just reading that word).

It’s time to take back blogging (either individually or with people you enjoy). And it’s time to get back to what Merlin Mann and John Gruber at SXSW Interactive described as the three things a successful blog needed: “obsession + topic + voice.”

Blogging is back. And so is Hoperatives.