2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Booze

Walk into any liquor store and you’ll see hundreds of options. You can zero in on someone’s favorite drink when picking a gift, or you can get creative and choose something they wouldn’t buy for themselves. Also, remember that you don’t want to come to a party empty-handed, so get in the habit of at least bringing a bottle.

And for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Roca Patrón Silver

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It’s only been 15 or 20 years since high-end tequilas began to compete against Cognac and single-malt Scotch for supremacy among world-class sipping experiences, with often outstanding and highly accessible results. Already by far the best known premium tequila in the U.S., Patrón is upping their game even more with a new line of super-premium boozes, Roca Patrón, named for the stone wheels used to extract the juice of the blue agave plant. Unlike añejos and reposadas, silver (aka white) tequilas are un-aged and generally best used for cocktails and shots. At an MSRP of $69.00, however, Roca Patrón Silver is definitely no freshman-year bender fodder and a great gift for the man or woman who’s sipped nearly everything. The Patrón people describe the flavor as sweet, “with notes of black pepper, pumpkin and lime tea.” We taste mainly the honey-like flavor of the agave, but isn’t that the whole point of quality tequila? Not too stuffy to accompany a little grapefruit soda or perhaps even a perfectly a well-balanced classic margarita (shaken, not blended!), this definitely qualifies as not just the good stuff, but the very good stuff. Aged Roca Patrón Reposada and Roca Patrón Añejo are available at commensurately higher price tags.

Patrón’s Holiday Classic Cocktails Kit

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Once maligned by the ignorant, tequila has emerged as every bit the equal of whiskey, gin and, yes, Cognac, as the basis for a truly tip-top cocktail – and we don’t just mean a classic margarita either, as marvelous as those can be. Now, the biggest name in premium tequila is marketing its own variation on one of the ultimate cocktail classics, the Añejo Manhattan, which substitutes aged tequila for the usual bourbon, rye or Canadian whiskey. This set (MSRP $54.99) includes a bottle of flavorful mellow Patrón Añejo, two very sturdy, large coupe glasses (a more rounded old-school variation on today’s standard martini glasses) and Dashfire Brandy Old Fashioned Bitters. The latter is a tantalizing alternative to standard Angostura aromatic bitters with a strong accent of smokey cloves; no self-respecting Manhattan is remotely complete without bitters, and this artisanal brand is an outstanding choice. All your giftee needs to add is a cocktail shaker/mixing glass, some sweet vermouth (ideally Carpano Antica), lots and lots of ice, and we’re off to the races! A strong gift selection for any open-minded cocktail enthusiast.

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2014 Holiday Gift Guide: For Her

Whatever you decide to buy, please make sure you put some thought into it. This applies to your wife or woman that you’re dating, and even that mom or other women on your gift list. They will love if you buy something that makes them feel appreciated.

Click the links to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Brooks Running Gear

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Marathons have become increasingly more popular over the last few years, and whether you’re a serious runner or just do it for fun, having the right gear is essential. While most people tend to stick to popular brands like Nike and Adidas, it’s better to buy from a specialty company like Brooks Running, who offers an entire catalog of products designed specifically with runners in mind. Footwear options range from the PureFlow 3, a lightweight shoe with a more rounded heel and repositioned Toe Flex to better align your stride, to the award-winning Cascadia 9, which is better suited for trickier terrain thanks to its 4-point pivot posts and a BioMoGo DNA midsole that adapts cushioning to your feet and the surface beneath. Both styles come in a variety of bold colors, and the same goes for all the apparel as well, including the water-resistant Infiniti Jacket IV, the retroreflective PureProject Jacket (which is both wind- and water-resistant) and the moisture-wicking Infiniti Tight III. After giving our wives the chance to test out some of the gear provided by Brooks Running, the verdict was unanimous: if you care about function and quality, this is one brand that every runner should add to the top of their wish lists.

eCreamery.com Custom Ice Cream Pints

We’re avid believers that ice cream is great no matter what time of year it is (especially for those whose winters actually feel like, well, winter), and the folks at eCreamery.com have created the perfect gift for the holidays: create-your-own ice cream, gelato and sorbet with customized labels on the packaging. All you need to do is select your base, main flavor and mix-ins, and then give your new creation a name. We made a custom ice cream (Cinnamon with Chocolate Covered Pretzels) and gelato (Cheesecake with Strawberry Swirls and Chocolate Chunks), and both were incredibly delicious, especially the latter, which is one of the best frozen treats we’ve ever sampled. There are over 40 flavors and 30 mix-ins to choose from, and the quality is definitely a step up from your typical store-bought ice cream, but it comes at a price, with four pints (the smallest possible order) costing a whopping $59.99, and that doesn’t even include shipping. While that may seem pretty steep for ice cream, eCreamery’s custom pints make for a really unique gift that’s worth splurging for at least once.

ecreamery

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Patrón XO Cafe Incendio

Patrón XO Cafe Incendio

I love premium tequila, so naturally I’m a fan of everything from Patrón. So when I tried their delicious new offering, Patrón XO Cafe Incendio, I knew it would live up to the brand’s high standards.

This spicy and sweet liqueur is delicious and it offers a great new option whether you’re looking for a drink to savor and enjoy, or whether you’re getting a party going with shots. And we all know that few things get a party going like tequila, and this sweet drink should win over more tequila fans, particularly among the ladies.

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Blu Tuesday: 22 Jump Street, Sin City and Into the Storm

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“22 Jump Street”

WHAT: When they humiliate the police department during their latest assignment, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are sent back undercover, this time at a local city college to find the source of a new synthetic drug called WhyPhy. But when Jenko makes friends with the main suspect (Wyatt Russell), his relationship with Schmidt becomes strained as they split up to investigate different leads, which threatens to derail the entire mission.

WHY: For a while, it seemed like everything that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller touched turned to gold, adapting challenging source material into successful comedies with a flair for visual gags. But they haven’t had quite the same luck with sequels, as evidenced by recent films like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “22 Jump Street.” Striking the same self-mocking tone as the original, “22 Jump Street” skewers Hollywood’s formulaic sequels by openly acknowledging the rinse-and-repeat plotline and noticeably larger budget. Although it’s a clever approach that earns some laughs, it doesn’t change the fact that the film is still a complete retread from top to bottom. Lord and Miller inject the movie with the kind of silly, manic energy that’s become a touchstone in all their projects, but there aren’t enough truly laugh-out-loud moments, with many of the recurring jokes failing to hit their mark. Even when it starts to drag in the middle, however, there’s rarely a dull moment thanks to its two leads, especially Channing Tatum, who’s so funny as the dim-witted jock that he makes every scene more enjoyable. As a result, “22 Jump Street” isn’t entirely good or bad, but rather a perfectly mediocre comedy with just enough laughs to remind audiences what they loved about the first movie while failing to validate the need for a sequel.

EXTRAS: There’s a ridiculous amount of bonus material here, highlighted by 22 deleted scenes and an audio commentary by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Also included are four production featurettes, a collection of cast improvisations, Line-O-Ramas for five different scenes, a “Dramatic Interpretation” of the film and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

WHAT: An anthology of intersecting stories set in Sin City. Private detective Dwight (Josh Brolin) is tricked into helping out his dangerous former lover (Eva Green); a young drifter (Joseph Gordon Levitt) faces the consequences of beating Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at the poker table; and stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) plots her revenge against the man responsible for the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis).

WHY: Robert Rodriguez has been talking about a “Sin City” sequel since the first film hit theaters, so what took so long for the prolific director to finally deliver on his promise? Your guess is as good as mine, especially when he wasted that time making garbage like “Shorts,” “Spy Kids 4” and two “Machete” movies. A lot has changed in those nine years, and whereas the original was pretty groundbreaking both visually and technically, the long-awaited follow-up feels stale in comparison. Though only two of the four stories featured are from Frank Miller’s graphic novels – the titular centerpiece “A Dame to Kill For” and the Marv-centric prelude “Just Another Saturday Night” – the best of the bunch (featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s perpetually lucky gambler) is an original story written by Miller for the movie. Unfortunately, the other new segment is hands-down the weakest entry from either film, not only because Jessica Alba’s stripper is a complete bore, but because it makes a huge mess of the overarching continuity. In fact, the sequel as a whole isn’t nearly as captivating as its predecessor, and although it’s great to see Mickey Rourke reprise his role as the unstoppable brute Marv, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” lacks the wonder and excitement of experiencing something for the first time.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a high-speed green screen version of the movie that lasts about 15 minutes, featurettes on the stunts and make-up effects, and some character profiles.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Car Review: 2014 Lexus IS 250 F-Sport Convertible

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When you have a sleek luxury coupe with a hardtop that transforms it into a convertible in 20 seconds, a choice of 204-hp or 306-hp V6 engines, F-SPORT Package with 18-inch wheels and tuned suspension and Lexus Enform multimedia and Mark Levinson audio, all you can do is say “bring it on.” We drove a 2014 Lexus IS 250 F-Sport Convertible in beautiful September weather in Northeast Ohio and the days all got just a little brighter!

EXTERIOR

The IS 250 C model cuts a sharp profile, which looks sharper still with the addition of the available F-SPORT package as tested. This package’s combination of sport-tuned suspension, F-SPORT 18-inch wheels, exclusive interior trim and aerodynamic body features give the IS C models a decidedly sporty stance, with enhanced agility to match. Additional F-SPORT Performance Accessories available for the IS C models include 19-inch forged alloy wheels, suspension and brake upgrades, air intake, exhaust systems and more.

Just 20 seconds separates coupe from convertible worlds in the 2014 Lexus IS C models. That’s how long it takes for the three-panel aluminum roof to lower once the driver has pushed the switch. The coupe’s retractable hardtop disappears beneath a locking panel, with no need for the driver to secure a tonneau cover or hold-down snaps. Constructed primarily of lightweight aluminum, the retractable hardtop features an automatic front lock assembly that provides the interior security not found in most soft-top convertibles. When the top is stowed, a lock assembly engages to keep the panel in a fixed, stable position. Lexus ensured smooth, low-noise roof operation by using a lightweight aluminum four-link design. The roof even closes quietly, thanks to a roof-speed brake system that slows the roof as it approaches the end of the closing operation.

When the IS C is equipped with the available Intuitive Park Assist (IPA), roof operation will stop if an obstacle that might interfere with operation is detected behind the car. The driver will get an audible warning, and a warning light illuminates in the instrument panel. This is a sight to see and guaranteed you’ll have folks that will want to see it open and close in awe! When the hardtop drops, this car becomes one of the most attention-getting vehicles we drove this year!

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