With frigid temperatures gripping most of the nation, the last thing most people want is an icy drink. But soon it will be game day, when margaritas and piña coladas are part of the party. To make them, you need a blender that crushes ice like a champ, such as the winners of Consumer Reports’ icy drink and ice crush tests. And for the beer drinkers in the crowd, we have the results of our craft beer taste tests.
Tied at the top of our blender tests, with 91 points each, are the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 and the Vitamix 5200. Both were excellent on the ice tests and also got top marks for puréeing and durability. Where they differ is in the price. At $60, the Ninja is a CR Best Buy. The Vitamix 5200, which has its own fan base, costs $450. It’s one of the few blenders in our tests that makes hot soup.
Of the other 12 blenders in our top picks, only one, the Ninja Professional NJ600, $100, aced both ice tests. It’s a bit larger and noisier than its brand mate. You can find frozen drink recipes on such foodie websites as Delish, the Food Network, and Serious Eats, among others.
Best craft beers
If mixed drinks aren’t your thing or you’d rather spend your time in front of the TV instead of working the blender, craft beers are another crowd pleaser. In our blind taste tests of 23 ales and lagers, 11 made our list of top beer picks. Our top ale is Stone IPA, an intensely fragrant, floral, and fruity pale ale with a powerful and lingering bitterness. We also recommend ales from Dogfish Head and Samuel Adams.
Our top lager is Brooklyn Lager, which is complex and fruity, with a good balance of dark malty and hoppy notes. We also like lagers from Samuel Adams and Anchor Steam. When planning your party menu, remember these beer basics: With intensely flavored, bitter beer, eat bold, fatty foods. (Fat helps to temper a beer’s bitterness.) A steak, ripened cheese, or a flavorful dessert works well. Lighter, simpler beers pair well with a wide range of foods.
—Mary H.J. Farrell