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Photo courtesy of the Butcher's Ball

Something between Cinderella and Sweeney Todd, the Fifth Annual Butcher's Ball is a must-attend weekend for meat lovers concerned with ethics and sustainability. This collaborative festival is a blow-out event featuring 50 Texas culinary talents, but despite the big names in cooking, this one is centered around farmers and ranchers no longer behind the scenes.

This will be a drive for Austinites, as the weekend takes place at Rockin’ Star Ranch in Brenham, about an hour and 45 minutes directly east of the Capital City. It’s a compromise with Houstonians, who also have to drive about an hour and 15, and who make up the majority of the lineup. Visitors from either city can enjoy a road trip out to the country venue, or relax on a $50 round-trip bus, including drinks and snacks. Eat your heart out, Greyhound.

The event kicks off on Saturday, November 12, with a hayride, a farm-to-table dinner prepared by a dozen chefs, and music by unbounded pedal steel player Will Van Horn and the metal-bluegrass Fiddle Witch. The opening bites and following five courses are prepared by pairs of Texas chefs:

  • “Fireside bites” and bread: Ara Malekian of Harlem Road Texas BBQ and Sasha Grumman of Sasha’s Focaccia
  • First course: Alex Au-Yeung of Phat Eatery and Kevin Bryant of Roma
  • Second course: Cullen Holle of Country Sunshine and PJ Edwards of Meadow
  • Third course: Jane Wild and Sarah Heard of Foreign & Domestic
  • Fourth course: Dylan McShan of Easy Wind Catering and Tony Luhrman of El Topo
  • Fifth course: Karla Espinosa of Mad and Alyssa Dole of LuLoo’s Day and Night

Sarah Heard is the only Austin chef on the Saturday lineup, while Dylan McShan travels the farthest, from Marfa. Half of the Saturday chefs are from Houston, and most of the others are from surrounding cities:

The ball itself, on Sunday, is the main event. Most of Saturday's featured chefs are competing for the "Golden Cleaver," alongside 14 other Texas chefs. Jo Chan of Chan Hospitality is visiting from Austin, along with Jack Matusek of Raw Republic Meats. The “best bite” will be determined by guest voting. There will also be non-competitive programming, like live fire cooking, butchery demonstrations, and panel discussions about sustainable sourcing.

Throughout the weekend, the ingredients are the star of the show. They’re all coming from local Texas makers, such as Marfa Meats (as famous as most ranchers get), Good Thyme Farm (just north of Austin), Whitehurst Farm (local to Brenham), and more.

All proceeds from the weekend will go to Urban Harvest to support its farmers market program, which allows more than 100 local vendors to sell in Houston year-round on Saturdays. The market has lasted 18 years so far, and grown from just 7 vendors, now sourcing goods from a maximum of 180 miles away.

There are several options to buy tickets to Butcher’s Ball Weekend events, including just the ball ($175), just the dinner ($200), and a package of both ($350). There is also a kid's cooking class on Sunday for guests 6 to 17. All tickets are available on Eventbrite.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd reveals the ultimate holiday 'death match' party game

wine guy Wednesday

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he shares his favorite way to win more wine. Take it away, Chris.

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If you’re looking to throw a killer party — one that’s unforgettable — I have an idea for you. It doesn’t have to happen during the holidays, but it will make your holiday party more fun. Let me introduce you to Wine Club Death Match.

My friend Ellen Hur, whose classmates at graduate school first started this game, introduced Wine Club Death Match to us here in Houston a few years back. It’s a game that combines things that I love — tasting wine, talking to friends, talking about wine, and, as part of a little friendly competition, you can win the ultimate prize, more wine!

“I had heard about Wine Club Death Match and thought it sounded really fun,” Ellen explains. “I started playing with a few friends in our little New York City apartments, back in 2007 or so. We liked the idea that we could entertain ourselves without having to go out all the time. Plus, if you weren’t too discerning, which we were not, or if your friends had good taste in wine, you could grow a decent wine collection pretty quickly.”

Here's how it works:

  • Every person who comes to the party is asked to bring two bottles of the same wine that fit the night’s theme (more info on that below) and the night’s price point (e.g., each bottle must be under $25).
  • When each guest arrives, one bottle is immediately stored out of sight, and the second bottle is put in a paper bag and labeled A through Z (or however you want to distinguish the covered bottles from each other).
  • As the party goes on, guests taste each wine (responsibly) and keep their own notes about which bottle they like the best.
  • Once everyone has tasted — or the tasting portion of the party is over — everyone votes for their favorite bottle. The host takes the ballots and tallies them up for the big reveal.
  • The person who brought the bottle that gets the most votes is crowned winner of Wine Club Death Match and wins the entire stash of the second bottles that have been stored away. If you have 10 people at the party participating in WCDM, the winner takes home 10 bottles of wine. Not too shabby!
  • Spend the rest of the party lobbying the winner to give you your favorite bottle (or two) as a consolation prize.

We’ve played with our friends a few times, and it’s a fun, unique way to bring a little extra excitement to a party or gathering. It’s an automatic conversation starter. Plus, there’s a lot of strategy involved. If you’re fighting to the death (or, in this case, fighting for all the wine), you’ll need to have a game plan to take home all the spoils.

A few of my favorite themes:

  • Region + Grape/Varietal or color + Price Point is always a good theme (Oregon Pinot Noir under $30, South American reds under $27, French rosé under $20, Spanish Cava under $25, or my least favorite option— Gewürztraminer from anywhere in the world at any price point—not my favorite varietal)
  • Wine from a region you didn’t know made wine.
  • Wines mentioned in music lyrics
  • Wines from a vineyard named for a person

The beauty of this game is that it’s flexible. Want to pair the tasting wines with a specific dish and make it a more hearty affair? Go for it! Want to go all champagne and deal with the consequences later? Do it! Want to tell everyone to bring magnums? Why not? Want to bring the concept to more of a dinner party atmosphere? Cool. Have fun with it, and learn something.

Let me make a few suggestions to optimize your Wine Club Death March:

  • For WCDM to operate most optimally, the sweet spot is 8-12 guests. If you live in a city like NYC, you must consider how you are transporting all the wine home. For example, 12 bottles on a subway is tough. Luckily, 12 bottles in a Houston Uber is much more doable.
  • That being said, make WCDM yours! If you want a bigger party, go for it – you can have two winners, or be creative about how to divvy up the winnings and how to make sure everyone can taste the wines.
  • Set the price point based on your guests. If your guests are bigger spenders who want to bulk up their cellars, you can have a higher price point. But I think everyone would love a solid stash of $20-$30 wines.
  • Go heavy on the apps. Even small tastes of wine can add up.
  • The wines for WCDM are for tasting, not imbibing during the party, so have other drinks available – especially if you have guests who aren’t participating in the competition.
  • Water should be plentiful, and ride shares are a must.

Let me know how this works out for you. Invite me!

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Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.

Get happy with all-day Sunday happy hour at this Galleria pub

Come on down

Some pubs have it all: great food, even better drinks, and an atmosphere you crave. Ducky McShweeney’s Pub is just such a place, offering all that and so much more.

Ducky's is the new premier gathering spot in the heart of the Galleria area. Its atmosphere and extensive list of spirits, wine, and beer have guests coming back again and again. The menu offers everything from shepherd's pie to sushi, and is open daily from 11 am-2 am.

Visitors can watch the game (or all of them!) on more than 19 televisions throughout the pub. All NFL games are broadcast, so you won't miss a single play.

And game day bucket specials will surely keep the whole table happy. After all, it doesn't get much better than a bucket of beer and a cheese pizza for $25.

The pub is not only ideal for game days, but happy hour happens all day on Sundays. Monday through Saturday, get happy from 2-6 pm, and enjoy day-of-the-week specials as well.

Monday is industry night, and has a reverse happy hour from 10 pm-2 am. Tipsy Tuesday offers $5 tequila, $3 pints, and a $5 pepperoni pie.

Wine Down Wednesdays bring trivia night, where you and all your friends are invited to win prizes. Plus, let's not forget you get half off select bottles of wine.

Thursday is steak night with live music. That includes a $25 14-ounce ribeye and specials on tomahawks and filets. On Friday, get $5 off any whiskey, all day long.

Looking for your next favorite brunch? It happens at Ducky's every Saturday and Sunday from 11 am-3 pm.

The menu includes breakfast favorites with a twist such as Paddy's Pancake Tacos, which wraps two buttermilk pancakes around scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado, maple syrup, and hot sauce; and Mother Duckin' Waffles, with four chicken wings, two Belgian waffles, black pepper berry sauce, and whipped cream. And, of course, all the boozy cocktails your heart desires.

For a more lunch-y brunch, there's the Kobe brunch burger with American Kobe beef, provolone cheese, sautéed mushrooms, greens, and a fried egg, served with fries; or Crab Fried Rice that's a savory mix of lump crab, scallions, garlic, cod roe, and fried egg.

If your mouth is already watering, head to 2025 Post Oak Blvd. any day of the week. You can learn more about the pub and see the full menu here.

Downtown's devilish new bar serves up Mexico City vibes, live Latin music, and lots of tequila

downtown's newest nightclub

A new retro-styled, Mexican-inspired bar and nightclub is coming to downtown. La Diabla Retro Bar will open next Thursday, December 15, in the former Boomtown Coffee space at 300 Main Street.

Created by La Calle owner Ramon Soriano and his business partner Fernando Villegas, La Diabla builds on La Calle’s reputation for bringing the flavors and atmosphere of Mexico City to Houston. Just as all three locations of La Calle serve street style tacos in a vibrant atmosphere, La Diabla will pay homage to Mexico City pop culture icons of the '80s and '90s through art, music, and, of course, food and drink.

“We are serious about fresh ingredients, Mexico City, music, and good times,” Soriano said in a statement. “We are '80s guys, and we love the way the music of that decade is connecting with a new generation. La Diabla is bringing the tastes and sounds of our youth back again in ways that can feel both nostalgic and new, all at the same time.”

Portraits of Mexican pop and rock icons such as Juan Gabriel, Thalía, Luis Miguel, and others will adorn the walls. Other design elements include TVs that will show music videos and a 30-foot long, 8-foot tall bar that will display La Diabla’s selection of agave spirits such as tequila and mezcal.

Turning to music, bands will perform every night La Diabla is open. Thursdays will feature balada, described in a release as “soft, romantic Latin pop,” with more uptempo Latin pop on Fridays. Latin rock will keep the party going on Saturday nights. In between sets, DJs will spin tunes that match the night’s theme.

An extensive selection of cocktails and other boozy beverages will also puts revelers in the proper state of mind. Expect La Calle favorites like margaritas, piña coladas, and micheladas along with mojitos and four flavors of Mexican candy shots. An extensive selection of tequilas and caguamas (32-ounce bottles of beer) will also be available.

While La Calle specializes in tacos and tortas, La Diabla will serve three flavors of flautas: chicken, carnitas, and papa con queso (potato with cheese). They’ll be wrapped in corn tortillas and fried.