Cleveland will always be a Pabst Blue Ribbon town. And while that's not a bad thing -- and it definitely makes for an affordable buzz -- why not branch out a little for the new year? We asked some of our favorite barkeeps for a few upscale beverage choices to help us stock the bar for our quiet little get-together -- or to help us seem just a little more sophisticated the next time we're ordering.
With a dozen gourmet beers on tap and sandwiches that make a full meal, Wilbert's Food and Music is the kind of watering hole you find yourself making excuses to visit -- and more to stay. Owner Michael Miller talks us through some popular choices for the holiday season.
Enough with the White Christmas, already
"The beer I've been telling everyone about is the Black Christmas -- half Great Lakes Christmas Ale and half Guinness. Delicious! The Guinness kind of smooths out the spices in the ale. Two of this little concoction will be plenty!"
"Anchor Steam also has a really good Christmas ale. I tried to order some but the wholesaler was already out."
"This new grape Three Olives Vodka smells like grape pop! I said to the guy at the liquor store, 'What is this -- vodka for elementary school kids?'"
A Berry Merry Christmas
"Three Olives also has a Mixed Berry Vodka. Both are excellent mixed with Red Bull -- for your grape bomb or berry bomb. Great for an aperitif as guests arrive!"
The Foundation Room at House of Blues Cleveland is the members-only wing of downtown's biggest restaurant and concert club -- a great place to go if you're in the mood to spend more than $1,000 on a Baccarat crystal bottle of Remy Martin's Louis XIII champagne. But the expert staff also have some much more affordable suggestions if you're looking for something a little ritzier than merlot or Beam & Coke the next time you're out on the town. Foundation Room Operations Manager Sean "Sully" Sullivan recommends some of his favorites.
"Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon is a Napa Valley cab, one of those wines that fits in with so many entrées so well -- it's great with our sea bass. And this is the Midwest, so everyone likes cab. It's a real middleweight, with hints of oak and cherry to it. It's not as dry as most cabs."
Roc Me Tonight
"My personal favorite vodka is Ciroc. It's made from grapes and cold-distilled. As opposed to potato-dried or charcoal-filled vodkas, this has a slight hint of sweetness."
Skyy's the Limit
"Skyy 90 is a vodka that is gaining some momentum. It might never replace Grey Goose here, but it's becoming popular. It's a 90-proof vodka that's actually smooth. I use it in my martinis, and it's really good on the rocks."
Get a Little Horse
"Blanton's is a really nice, blended, single-barrel bourbon from Kentucky. We make some incredible frozen drinks with it. It's got a nice cinnamony flavor, I think. It's great with eggnog, or any kind of vanilla ice-cream drink. And it's a great bottle to have at your bar -- it's got a little horse on top."
Nora Jean Bruso brings blues to the New Year's Eve party at Wilbert's (812 Huron Road East); call 216-902-GOOD for dinner reservations or tickets. The Foundation Room at House of Blues Cleveland (308 Euclid Avenue) hosts a gourmet New Year's Eve celebration; call 216-274-3327 for membership information.