January 8, 2006
88 proof small-batch gin, imported from Scotland
Typical Price: About $30
Available at Internet Wines & Spirits
For those of you who have never heard of Hendrick's gin, we'll tell you right up front - it's got cucumbers and rose petals in it (OK, not chunks of them, but the essence of both). When we were initially told about it by one of our interns, we almost laughed whiskey right out our noses. We prefer brown and yellow liquors, the kind usually drunk by convicts and Hell's Angels and superior court judges, and he wanted us to try a gin full of rose petals? We told him to drink his own Hendrick's, and sort his stuffed animal collection while he was at it. But this intern, who chooses to remain nameless for extradition reasons, was insistent that we try it.
The first thing we noticed was that the bottle is squat and brown and distinctive...almost a nod to gin's medicinal roots, because it looks like something you'd buy from an apothecary to align your humors or cure your gout. The second thing we noticed was that instead of crowing about how their gin is the greatest thing since polio vaccination, the little pamphlet that came with the bottle almost dared us to try it. With slogans like "It is not for everybody" and "Preferred by 1 out of 1000 gin drinkers," Hendrick's definitely stays away from typical marketing techniques, though it does say Hendrick's is "loved by a tiny handful of people all over the world." But would the gin itself live up to the quirky claims and dry humor?
Continue reading: "Hendrick's Gin Review: Wake Up And Smell The Roses"
January 2, 2006
Bottle Shotgun Device
Typical Price: $14.95 (Buy One)
We've always been fascinated by the concept of shotgunning from a beer bottle. We flirted with ideas for how to do it, including using a drill to make a hole at the base of the bottle. We always held off, however, because even in our most drunken state we were pretty sure we'd end up bleeding externally or internally. That's why we were excited when our Bottle Blaster arrived...it promised the coveted ability to shotgun a bottle of beer without coming away looking like Andrew WK.
We have three pieces of information for you about the Bottle Blaster. The first is that it's incredibly easy to set up the shotgun...you just slide the gadget down over the neck of the bottle until it's snug, and...well, that's pretty much it. The second piece of information is that the diameter of the hole you drink from is big...it's like an inch across. The third is that there is a carburetor on the side that lets you more or less control the flow of beer as it comes out of the mouthpiece.
And we have to say, that's a good thing. We've been around the block when it comes to shotgunning beer, but the first couple times we tried the Bottle Blaster, we had a hard time keeping beer from shooting out of the corners of our mouths like a lawn sprinkler. We learned to keep up through a mixture of fierce chugging and a thumb over the carb hole, but it took some practice. Intern Doug, who took part in the review, called the Bottle Blaster's rate of speed "aggressive." We call that an understatement...it's more like frighteningly awesome.
Once you master the Bottle Blaster, it's one of the coolest toys we've played with for massive beer consumption, right up there with the Shotgun 2.0. Of course, you can't hang this one on your keychain and it's a little more expensive, but it fills people with the same wide-eyed wonder. You pull out this little gadget that looks like a combination medieval torture device/periscope, slap it on top of a bottle and shotgun it, you're going to have friends lining up to try it.
Learn more about the Bottle Blaster, along with a bunch of other cool drinking products, at BottleBlaster.com.
December 22, 2005
Stretton's London Dry
86 Proof Gin, Imported from South Africa
Typical Price: About $13 for 750ml
Ever since vodka took over the reins as the most popular neutral grain spirit, we think gin has been getting a bad rap. For a lot of people looking for refreshing and palate-pleasing cocktails, the pine cone tang of juniper berries is the last thing on their minds when they belly up to the bar. We have to admit even we are guilty of falling into the gin-free category over the past few years, but our avoidance of the spirit is mostly due to pleas from our friends and family who had had enough of our pine-scented belligerence when we're one gin and tonic too deep.
So what turned us around on the spirit once known as Dutch Courage? For one thing, we found out it was originally distilled in Holland as a remedy for stomach pain, gout and gallstones, and we're all about taking our medicine, especially when it's suspended in alcohol. For two, we got our hands on a bottle of Stretton's London Dry, a South African spirit distilled from sugar cane. It came to us highly recommended, so we decided to end our gin drought and give it a whirl.
When we unscrewed the cap we were preparing ourselves for the industrial, medicinal smell we associate with gin, but instead it had a mellower, but still evergreen, scent. When we tasted it, we were impressed with the smoothness, with no bite on the back end, and it had a more complex flavor than we would have expected for the price. The label says Stretton's contains coriander, juniper berries, angelica root, cassia bark and dried orange peel...we don't know what half of those things are, but there was definitely a citrusy taste to be found. All in all a pleasant experience, and we could already tell it would be a worthy mid-range gin.
Drink Recipes: As far as we're concerned, there are only two drinks that contain gin - the martini and the gin and tonic. We made our martini extra-dry, with just a splash of vermouth, and it was really very tasty. As for the tonic, you can't really mess that one up...the citrusy taste of the gin did blend well with the tonic and lime we added, and we had a feeling we could get ourselves into a lot of trouble if we constantly had a bottle of Stretton's lying around.
Another drink we'd never had but wanted to try was the Tom Collins, and the Stretton's bottle gave us a great excuse. We found a recipe and whipped up a batch, and we can see why people like these guys enough that they have their own glass named after them.
Tom Collins Recipe
2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp superfine sugar
3 oz club soda
1 maraschino cherry
1 slice orange
In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine the gin, lemon juice, and sugar. Shake well. Strain into a Collins glass almost filled with ice cubes. Add the club soda. Stir and garnish with the cherry and the orange slice. Recipe via DrinksMixer.com.
Finishing Thoughts: All in all, we were impressed with how Stretton's measured up to other gins we've tried. We liked it better than the Beefeater and Tanqueray we typically have, and we'd be interested in doing a blind taste test against some top-shelf bottles with our gin-drinking friends. We recommend Stretton's as a starter gin for people who don't think they like the stuff, and for the price we have definitely not tasted a better gin this year.
Stretton's London Dry is imported from South Africa by Berniko, and while we couldn't find any mention of it on their website, you can try to find more information at Berniko.com.
December 18, 2005
34 proof blended liqueur of vodka, cognac and tropical fruit juices
Typical Price: About $25 for 750ml - Buy it at Internet Wines & Spirits
Initial Thoughts: We have to admit, when we picked up our bottle of Hpnotiq, it already had three strikes against it. First, it already breaks our "too many ingredients" rule right at the outset by combining vodka, cognac and a multitude of fruit juices. Second, it's bright blue and has a hip, trendy name. Third, our first impression was that it smells a bit like the alcoholic version of blue Gatorade.
We were impressed with the heavy, frosted champagne-style bottle, however, and we know the stuff has been garnering tons of buzz. All sorts of stars and heavy-hitters swear by the stuff, and according to an Hpnotiq press release, NBC called it "the drink of choice for celebrities." Hell, if it's good enough for Lil Jon, who are we to turn up our noses?
When we tasted it, we liked the fact that it wasn't as sweet as we'd expected, and the tartness of the juices made for a much more complex experience than we'd expected. It was pretty tasty on the rocks, and if you like your cocktails to feature fruit juice heavily, we say you're going to dig it. Plus, while some people do drink it straight, there are so many Hpnotiq cocktail recipes out there we realized that was probably the way for us to go.
Cocktail Recipes: We usually don't drink a lot of cocktails, preferring our liquor on the rocks or straight up. We did mix up a few cocktails we really dug, however, and we decided that at least around the Liquor Snob offices, the true value of Hpnotiq was as a mixer. There are all sorts of hpnotizing drink recipes all over the Web, and there were a coupe at the official website with superhero themes, and since we're comic book geeks we've compiled them for your mixing pleasure.
2oz Cognac (We used Hennessy)
Layer over ice in a rocks glass, let the drinker stir it up to watch the transformation...it's all the rage.
1oz premium vodka
1oz Red Bull
Combine ingredients over ice in a rocks glass. The site recommends garnishing with a lemon wedge, but we don’t because the Green Lantern's power is diminished by the color yellow (we told you we were geeks).
1oz dry vermouth
Combine Hpnotiq and vermouth over ice in a rocks glass; float scotch over the top.
We were also able to mix up an amazing batch of dumpster juice, replacing the Midori with Hpnotiq.
Finishing Thoughts: All in all, the drinks we made with this liqueur were a pleasant surprise, and we can see why the illuminati are gravitating to it. We recommend Hpnotiq when you're looking for a classy pre-mixed cocktail that will impress your friends, at your next Oscars party, or when you want to pretend to be a super hero. It also strikes us as a great wedding present (old, new, borrowed, blue...get it?), and there's a section of the site dedicated to integrating Hpnotiq into your wedding festivities. Plus, we challenge our readers to come up with tasty cocktail recipes with Smurf-related names, just for fun.
To learn more, find recipes and catch up on what people are saying about this drink, go to Hpnotiq.com.
December 15, 2005
We're big proponents of breathalyzers here at the Liquor Snob offices, because we think their judicious use can really help you keep out of trouble. One of the biggest names in the consumer breathalyzer industry is Alcohawk from Q3 Innovations, which offers a large line of these Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) testers at varying price points.
A couple months ago we covered the Alcohawk Micro keychain breathalyzer, which has been very popular with our readers, and now we've rounded up three more Alcohawk models for review and comparison. We've outlined the statistics of each model, as well as our favorite features, and then compared them to one another as well so you'll have the information you need when you buy your own.
Breathalyzer Information: On paper, all three of these units are very similar. They're all compact enough to fit in your palm, and weigh in at less than half a pound. They all come with extra mouthpieces, in case you're testing multiple people. They all use sensitive semiconductor technology in their testing, which is pretty much as accurate as you can get without getting up into the professional testers, which cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Also, they all test BAC up to 0.4, which is a heck of a lot higher than the typical legal limit of 0.08.
Typical Price: $139.95
Amazon: Q3I ELITE DIGITAL ALCOHOL BREATH TESTER
Q3ATS: Product Page
Notes: At first we were impatient with the Elite's 60 second warm-up time, because we wanted to blow into it NOW! Then we realized the wait probably had something to do with calibration, and we decided we'd rather have it be accurate than quick. We blew into it for the requisite 5 seconds, and a few seconds later it had responded with a BAC down to 3 decimal points (.027 after our first double).
We were impressed with how pimped out this thing was, with a blue LED readout and an internal thermometer to make sure your readout is as accurate as possible, not thrown off by temperature factors. The battery is good for 100-200 testings.
Typical Price: $109.95
Amazon: Alcohawk ABI Digital Alcohol Breath Tester
Q3ATS: Product Page
Notes: The first thing that struck us about the ABI was the cool protective zipper case it came in. The other two units were in disposable plastic trays with accompanying mesh carrying bags, but this guy was in a hard shell carrying case, just in case we wanted to do any EXTREME testing. Next time we use it, we'll make sure we're at the top of a mountain or jumping out of a plane.
We were also big fans of the shorter load time, closer to 20 seconds than the full minute we got from the Elite, but the ABI only gave us info down to two decimal places, so that's the tradeoff. But honestly, how many decimals do you need for what you'll be using it for? Another high point is the fact that this puppy is good for more than 300 tests on one battery. Now that's a lot of drinkin'. Oh, and plus, it comes with an AC adaptor, so you can test and drive at the same time. Just kidding.
Typical Price: $79.95
Amazon: Alcohawk Precision Digital Alcohol Breath Tester
Q3ATS: Product Page
Notes: The warm-up time on the Precision splits the difference between the Elite and the ABI, at about 45 seconds. Like the Elite, the readout is to three decimal places, but we did find that the readout on the Precision clocked a bit lower than what we got from the Elite on occasion. According to the paperwork we got with our Precision it offers the same accuracy as the other models, so it may have been drunken operator error that caused the problem.
Our Favorite: We liked all three of these products. They all felt well-constructed, and we trusted the results we got, especially the consistency. All in all, the three of them gave us a good feel for how tipsy we were, and we felt they let us guage our drunkenness much more accurately than the old "Was that girl hot 20 minutes ago" test.
If we have to pick one as our favorite, however, we have to go with the ABI as our favorite, mostly because of the snazzy carrying case and the AC adaptor. Plug it in before you go to the bar, and wind the cord around the steering wheel as a reminder for a loved one who likes to drive a little on the sloshed side, maybe? Sounds like a good idea to us.
Get more information on these and other breathalyzers, plus buy your own, at Q3 Innovations, which offers a lot of helpful information on their site, including tips on how to choose a breathalyzer. There is also BAC cheat sheet by weight, as well as info on BAC limits by state. The legal limit is .08 almost across the board, but there are some slight variations by state for BAC content and the penalties for exceeding the legal limit. You can also compare and buy breathalyzers at Amazon where you can read other consumer reviews.
December 13, 2005
JB Wagoner's Ultra-Premium 100% Blue Agave Spirits
100 proof ultra-premium tequila
Typical Price: About $60 for 750ml - Buy it at Internet Wines & Spirits
Availability: Currently California and Illinois, with Georgia, Texas and New Mexico on the way. Plus, some JB Wagoner retail locations will ship directly to you.
Initial Thoughts: Not to get too metaphysical on you, but what makes a tequila a tequila? When you're taking a sip, does it matter to you whether it was distilled in the Jalisco region of Mexico, or do you just care about the taste? That was the question we asked ourselves when we sampled JB Wagoner's Ultra-Premium 100% Blue Agave Spirits, and the answer was "Damn, this is tasty!"
That's right, JB Wagoner's looks like tequila. It smells like tequila. And we'll be damned if it doesn't taste like some of the best tequila we've ever had! If you haven't been following the story, JB Wagoner is an American who decided to bottle his own spirit from Blue Agave and call it Temequila, a pun after his home town of Temecula, CA. Only problem was, Mexican tequila makers didn't see the humor in it, and have dogged his progress every step of the way, right down to banning and ejecting him from a local tequila festival. You can learn more in our tequila archives - you'll notice we didn't put it in the "100% Blue Agave Spirits archive...take THAT Mexico!
But enough of our politicizing...what does JB Wagoner's taste like? We were impressed with almost water-clear color, and the nose was just as appealing. The taste was as clear as the color, with citrus overtones and a crisp finish. This is definitely the best American tequila we've had (wink, wink), and it's in the running for the best tequila we've had this year.
Cocktail Recipes: We loved this stuff straight or on the rocks, but one of the first things we made with JB Wagoner's was a Bloody Maria, using some of good old Dave's Gourmet mix. We were surprised at how sweet and refreshing the resulting drink was, even considering the bite of the extra-spicy Mary mix. You can find other great recipe ideas on JB Wagoner's recipes page.
Finishing Thoughts: We have to say, all discussion about whether it should be called "tequila" aside, this is some of the best agave-based liquor we've had. And not only is it great booze, the packaging is cool too, with the American flag emblazoned right across the label. And one thing to note...between the price and the smooth taste, this ain't no shooting tequila. We recommend JB Wagoner's Ultra-Premium 100% Blue Agave Spirits for your adventurous, tequila-loving friends, but also for people who have had a bad experience with tequila and say they'll never have it again. Mix them up a Bloody Maria and they'll be on the Agave bandwagon for life.
Learn more about the liquor at the JB Wagoner's site, or stick it to the man by buying your own "Temequila" t-shirt from Temequila.com.
December 8, 2005
90 proof Kentucky straight wheat whiskey
Typical Price: About $40 for 750ml - Buy it at Internet Wines & Spirits
Slogan: "Kentucky's Spirit of Innovation"
Initial Thoughts: If you're not interested in whiskey, it might be easy to wonder what's all the hubbub about Bernheim Original Wheat. "Sure," you might say, "nobody else is making it, and it probably hasn't been made since before Prohibition. But how much difference can it really make?" In fact, we might have been asking ourselves the same question a few short days ago, but now that we've tried Bernheim we know the answer...it's all about the wheat, baby!
At first blush, there doesn't seem to be too much difference between Bernheim and your typical craft Bourbon. The distillation process is similar, the crafters use the same process, and it’s not aged significantly more than a lot of other whiskeys (about five years, if you're interested). But when you pull it out of its protective little cardboard box, you start to notice the uniqueness.
When we slipped the cork out of the neck of the bottle - we have to admit, we're suckers for any whiskey that's corked instead of capped, for reasons we can't even figure out ourselves - we thought we were prepared for anything. What we weren't prepared for was the sweet, delicate aroma that wafted from the neck of the bottle...we'd expected something much more hearty. In the glass it offered up a much lighter color than we'd expected as well, somewhere between the peaty yellow of Scotch and the molasses brown of Bourbon.
When we tasted it, the flavor was surprisingly light and dry, almost refreshing. We want to say it was sweet, with honey undertones, but it wasn't syrupy at all. The flavor also hinted at nuts, with a trace of some fall fruits, and it was incredibly dry, and didn't coat our tongue like some similar whiskeys might. Once we added a small splash of water, the dryness intensified and became even more crisp.
Cocktail Recipes: N/A. We're sure Bernheim would taste great in cocktails, but we recommend it straight, with a splash of water, or on the rocks.
Finishing Thoughts: We've had whiskey that contained wheat before, because a lot of Bourbons and other American whiskeys use it in their mash, but as we said before this is the only whiskey currently on the market that utilizes wheat as the primary ingredient. We were extremely impressed with it, and we think it can hold its own against pretty much any other American whiskey we've tried. It's tasty, it's craft-distilled, it's unique, and we're still impressed with that dry finish. We think it would make a great gift for any whiskey drinker on your list, especially if they've expressed an interest in trying something different.
Read more about Bernheim wheat, along with profiles of corn and rye whiskeys, in our earlier story: Whiskey Alternatives: Corn, Rye and Wheat.
December 7, 2005
Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond
100 proof aged rye whiskey
Typical Price: About $15 - Buy it at Internet Wines & Spirits
Initial Thoughts: Rye was one of the first whiskey types to be distilled in the United States, and it was originally distilled mainly in the Northeast. After a few glasses of Rittenhouse we thought it was hysterical to think about Boston Puritans getting plastered on the stuff, and maybe going out and dumping a bunch of tea into the harbor or something.
In fact, rye whiskey does have a bit of a tumultuous history...it was the inspiration for the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The stuff remained popular all the way up until Prohibition, which is when Americans started mixing cocktails to take some of the bite out of their drink. By the time Prohibition ended, most people had sort of lost their taste for the stronger flavor of Rye and gotten used to booze with lighter or sweeter flavors, hence it becoming a bit of an alternative whiskey.
And it's a sad thing, but we keep hearing more about rye and we think it could be on the rebound. Based on what we tasted in Rittenhouse, it definitely should be. We've been Bourbon types for as long as we can remember and when we opened our bottle of Rittenhouse and gave it a sniff, the first thing we thought of was how reminiscent it was. The nose was rich and had a scent of brown sugar, and while we remember smelling rye in our earlier years and wincing, this had none of the overpowering alcoholic tang we used to associate with rye.
In the glass, we liked it even better (of course). The flavor was complex, with overtones of black strap molasses and the sweetness of caramel, and we even thought we could taste, for lack of a better term, a taste of rum and burnt sugar on the back end. All in all, very nice. Find our cocktail recipe suggestions and finishing thoughts after the jump.
Continue reading: "Rittenhouse Bottled In Bond Rye Whiskey Review"
December 3, 2005
We've always prided ourselves on enjoying hot foods...in fact, we've been known put hot sauce on everything, from french fries to sandwiches to breakfast cereal. We have a high tolerance to spiciness, but there was one hot sauce we've tried that completely stopped us in our tracks. That sauce was Dave's Insanity Sauce, made with the essence of habanero peppers, and to put things in perspective for you, according to Dave's site it was the only hot sauce ever banned from the National Fiery Food Show.
After having nearly blown a gasket on the merest drop of his hot sauce, we were a little nervous when we came across Dave's bloody mary mixes. Available in two varieties, Dave's Original Bloody Mary and Insane Mary Mix, just looking at the bottles made us sweat like a virgin at a satanist convention. But we overcame our fear and dug in, mixing drinks with various types of vodka we had around the office.
The verdict? Dave's Gourmet makes some damned good Bloody Mary mix. Both varieties have an extremely fresh taste, like you just whipped up the tomato puree and horseradish yourself. The Original variety has just the slightest kick, while the Insane Mary has a much more significant spice to it, but at no point was there smoke blowing out of our ears. In fact, we have to say this is the best pre-prepared bloody Mary Mix we've ever had.
We recommend you get your hands on some for the next time you're mixing up a batch of Marys - bottles typically run for $7-$8. Plus, if you're not a huge vodka fan, we whipped up some stellar batches of Elusive Redheads with our bottles of Appleton V/X and Rumrunner's rum. Or, if you're the tequila type, combine tequila and Insane Mary Mix to make yourself a nice, spicy Bloody Maria.
Dave's Gourmet also offers a margarita mix which we weren't able to get our hands on in time for this review; learn more about all three of Dave's drink mixers, and buy some if you can't find them locally, at the Dave's Gourmet store.
34 proof Marula fruit cream liqueur
Typical Price: Around $23 for 750ml - Buy it at Internet Wines & Spirits
Initial Thoughts: We didn't know much about Amarula when we got it, so we had to begin by judging it by the bottle itself. It comes in a swanky-looking shaped brow bottle, done up in gold labeling with a charging elephant on the front. We figured that was a good start. When we read that it was a liqueur made from "fresh cream and the unique fruit of the Marula tree," our first question was, "What's a Marula?"
According to the Amarula site, it's a tree that only grows on the plains of Africa, and its fruit is often enjoyed by elephants, which munch away on the berries whenever they get a chance. In fact, the berries are known to drive elephants a bit mad because they can ferment a bit after lying on the ground. So we know the Marula is good for getting elephants drunk (a sight we'd love to see), but how does a liqueur made from it measure up? Find out after the jump.
Continue reading: "Amarula Cream Liqueur Review"