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parking lot mixology

Tailgating has become a time-honored tradition for games, concerts, horse races or any gathering that may require a little celebration before the event. It's not uncommon to see decked-out tour buses, custom built grills and even motorized coolers in stadium parking lots these days. While I do have a great appreciation for all of these, it seems that the beverage choices are, often, kept simple and portable in this culture of extravagance. This doesn't have to be the case. Here are some upgrades to your usual tailgating beverages that will definitely get people talking.

One of my new favorite spirits for tailgating is Jim Beam's Red Stag. It's the same 4-year-old bourbon, only infused naturally with Black Cherry. It gives the bourbon a subtle taste that isn't as sweet as you might think. It's silky smooth and very versatile. My preference is to mix Red Stag with Ginger Ale and a squeeze of lime in a tall glass with some ice. It's perfect for tailgating this time of year and appeases most palates. If you really want to get into the spirit, Red Stag also makes a great marinade for grilled chicken.

One of the best conversation pieces that I have used while tailgating is my infusion jar. It's hardly a jar - rather boasting a volume of 3 gallons, but that's the proper terminology and they are available at most pottery stores for a reasonable price. Infusing spirits is easy to do and adds a lot of character to your drinks. It does take some advance planning as you will want to allow at least two days for the flavors to take hold. Infusing can be as simple as buying a frozen bag of strawberries and pouring vodka over them. Wait 48 hours and you have a slightly red, berry infused vodka. Use the same method with any of your favorite fruits, candies or vegetables. That's right: vegetables. Jalapeno-infused tequila makes an insanely good (yet spicy) margarita. Likewise, adding cucumber and celery to vodka will elevate your Bloody Mary to incredible heights. The options are endless and I've tried everything from bubble gum vodka to walnut bourbon. Aside from making a great drink, infusing will also prompt most of your tailgating neighbors to inquire about what is in the jar.

One of the flavors that always remind me of cold weather is the combo of apples and cinnamon. Hot Mulled Cider is a warm potable for a chilly tailgating party. Blending fruit and spices in a cocktail that is served warm seems to make perfect sense for this time of year. One of my favorite recipes adds cranberries, honey and vanilla to the ingredients which really makes this drink a crowd pleaser.

Hot Mulled Cider

1 qt. Apple Cider1/2 Cup of Brandy 1 Cinnamon Stick6 Whole Cloves1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries2/3 Cup of Honey1 Orange, zest only1/2 Tsp. Vanilla Extract

Heat the Apple Cider in a saucepan on low heat. Add all ingredients except the Brandy and simmer. Once the Cider starts to steam, remove from heat and add Brandy. Place in a thermos to keep warm. You can strain the mixture, but I prefer to keep everything together to increase the flavor as you drink.

If you like the idea of the winter spices, but aren't a fan of a warm cocktail, then this version of Sangria will be a great compromise. Sangria has been on the bar scene for a long time and is a favorite with Spanish cuisine. The best part about Sangria, when it comes to tailgating, is that you can make it in a large batch the day before and then serve it at the game the next afternoon. This is one of my favorite recipes for Sangria.

Sangria

2 bottles of red wine - Merlot or Pinot Noir work well1 1/2 oz. of brandy1 1/2 oz. of triple sec1 1/2 oz. of Port1 1/2 oz. of Sweet Vermouth2 Apples, thinly sliced and seeded2 Lemons, thinly sliced and seeded2 Oranges, thinly sliced and seeded1 Cup of SpriteSugar - to taste2 Cinnamon sticks3 Mint leaves

Combine all ingredients into a container. Allow the mixture to sit for a few hours stirring every so often. Ladle the fruit and wine mix into glasses (over ice is fine as well).

Everyone seems to be taking their tailgating efforts to extremes these days, why not throw in some different, fun and tasty drinks as well? The entire experience will be enhanced and these are great alternatives to reaching into an icy cooler on a cold fall day. Cheers.

Kevin Hoover, a local food and beverage manager, is engaged in the endless pursuit of the perfect cocktail and dining experience. Check out his blog at lushlifeonline.com.

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