August 12, 2010

Powell & Mahoney Cocktail Mixer Review

powell_and_mahoney.pngGenerally speaking, there are three pillars to making pretty much any cocktail - finding the right balance of sweet (e.g., sugar, simple syrup), sour (e.g., citrus), and strong (e.g., booze). This is one of the most important (and sometimes most difficult) aspects of mixing a cocktail is getting that balance right, which is a big reason why people often rely on pre-made cocktail mixers. They're quicker, you don't have to round up a ton of ingredients, but the trade-off is you're pretty much trusting someone else's taste for the balance.

That's why we were interested to review Powell & Mahoney's pre-mixed offerings for some cocktail mainstays - the Mojito, the Margarita, the Cosmopolitan, and the Bloody Mary, as well as a Ginger-flavored mixer that had Dark & Stormy visions running through our head. The labels promised high-quality ingredients and delicious flavors, so we rounded up the proper bottles of hard stuff and waded in, with mixed results.

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July 26, 2010

Beefeater Summer Edition Gin Review

beefeater_summer_resized.jpgIt's just dawned on us that we might be at risk of letting the summer slide by without posting our review of the Beefeater Summer Gin the company sent along to us a couple weeks ago, so please allow us to rectify this situation. So, without further ado we'd like to unveil our new 4-B reviewing method (Bottle, Bouquet, Bite & Bottom Line) and apply it to Beefeater's summery London Dry gin.

The bottle has the same profile we've come to expect from Beefeater, but the label features less of the yeoman warders of the brand's namesake in favor of something airy, floral, and summery. The bouquet is similar to what we'd expect from a London Dry, with a juniper smell, but it's rounded at the edges by the elderflower, currants, and hibiscus flowers that join it in the botanicals.

The bite is softer and smoother than you might expect, and we were pleasantly surprised by how well the summer-oriented botanicals mixed with a dry gin, allowing the juniper to take more of a back seat. Part of this smoothness comes from the fact the Summer Edition is a bit underproof compared to regular Beefeater (80 proof, or 40% ABV, instead of 94 proof), but the delicate summer botanicals add a sweetness you might not often find.

So what's the bottom line? We didn't detect an enormous difference between the Summer Edition and standard Beefeater, but the lower proof, floral notes, and mellower flavor profile make it a winner for any summer party or backyard barbecue. The materials we got with our bottle suggested cranberry juice or tonic water as excellent mixers, and we agree with that - we also had great success making perfect martinis (with or without a drop of rose water), and it was equally delicious mixed with lemonade.

Beefeater Summer Edition retails for about $20 for 750ML; keep an eye out in your local liquor store if you want to pick up a bottle.

Beefeater.com

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June 14, 2010

Given Tequila Liqueur Review

given_liqueur_bottle.pngWhen we first heard about Given tequila liqueur, we weren't quite sure what to make of it. A Mexican spirit, fiddled with in France, and to top it all off, it's apparently not pronounced "given," it's pronounced "jee-vahn." Well, given that the folks from Given sent us a bottle, we decided to give in to the temptation and we're glad we did, since it's frickin' delicious.

The Look: The Given bottle is sleek and black with splashes of red, with a flat profile...all in all pretty good-looking.

The Nose: We got a lot more tequila than we expected when we sniffed Given, combined with a nice citrusy tang. It smells like a perfectly-mixed margarita, showcasing a bit of tequila's fire, tempered with tartness.

The Taste: Mostly citrus, with a faint tinge of tequila on the back end. We tasted a lot of lime juice, with very little sweetness. This isn't a heavy, syrupy liqueur, trying to overpower cheap booze with too much sweetness - it's nice and light on the palate with a nice long finish. If you're looking for a strong tequila flavor you're gut of luck, but this is a nice alternative.

The Verdict: Color us pleasantly surprised by Given. It's not going to replace tequila in our liquor cabinet, but it's got a nice citrusy flavor we can see working extremely well in a lot of cocktails.

We can also see ourselves sipping it on the rocks on a hot day, and seems like a good alternative when you want something margarita-esque with a lower alcohol content, or using it in citrus-based drinks to which we want to add some zing. We're seeing pricing around thirty dollars for a bottle, and you can check the Given website for tips on where to find a bottle.

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June 11, 2010

The Beer Trials Book

beer_trials_cover.jpgWe just opened our mailbox to find an unexpected package, and when we opened it we found a copy of The Beer Trials: The Essential Guide to the World's Most Popular Beers. Compiled by Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein, this book is a ratings guide features over 250 beer reviews. One of our usual concerns with a book like this is that they focus on tiny microbrews we'll never get to taste without some kind of pilgrimage, but this book does a nice job of featuring both micro- and macro-varieties of beer, all rated on a 10 point scale with notes.

It's not every day you'll find a book with ratings of Aventinus Weizenbock (9) cozied up near Big Sky Moose Drool (6) and Icehouse (4). After leafing through this book we have to say we warmed up to it immediately, and we've made it a personal goal to attempt to sample all the beers that got good ratings, if not all the beers period.

The Beer Trials is available at Amazon, and if you swing that way, the same folks also made a similar book called The Wine Trials 2010.

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June 2, 2010

Vesica Vodka Review

vesica_bottles_grey_bg.jpgWelcome to our review of Vesica Vodka, a triple-distilled Polish potato vodka that's looking to stand out in the glut of vodka brands with interesting packaging, reasonable pricing, and a distinctive flavor. But were they able to create the true triple threat? We put the three bottles the folks at Adamba importers sent us through their paces to find out.

The Look: Vesica definitely hit a home run with the shape of their bottles, with more than just the labeling to make it stand out. The only "traditional" bottle was on the 1L bottle, with the 750ML bottle taking more of a crescent moon shape. The 1.75L, instead of going for a traditional "handle" format, is shaped like two bottles standing next to each other, giving it a sleeker profile (as well as living up to its Vesica name).vesica_piscis.jpg

The Nose: Slightly tart and even a bit grassy or herbal (in a good way) when we sniffed it from the bottle, this mellowed right out when we chilled.

The Taste: We've had potato vodkas in the past that were like an assault on the tongue, packing a huge wallop and bringing out a grimace from those not expecting it. Vesica doesn't have that, and offered a restrained mellowness that would be hard to beat. We enjoyed it in vodka martinis, and found it very sippable when served shaken over ice with a twist. It's got a smooth, snappy finish no matter how we tried it, and never failed to impress.

The Verdict: We think Vesica is immensely drinkable, especially considering it's a potato vodka, which can be a notoriously cantankerous spirit. The mellow flavor, combined with damn good price (around $10 for 750ML, $12 for a liter, and $20 for a 1.75L) put Vesica into the must-try category, especially for folks who've been scared off by potato vodka in the past. If you see it at your local liquor store, don't be scared off by that low price thinking you're buying paint thinner...pick up a bottle and you won't be disappointed.

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April 5, 2010

Thatcher's Coffeehouse, Blood Orange & Yumberry Review

thatchers_flavors.jpgA couple weeks back, we took shipment of three Thatcher's Organic flavors - Coffee, blood orange, and yumberry to be exact. Now that we've fought our way through a cold the likes that God has never seen* we can actually smell and taste it, and give you our two cents on the proceedings. So...here we go!

Coffeehouse
Coffee is the flavor we're most familiar with among these three, considering the fact we suck down at least a cup of the stuff every day, and Thatcher's doesn't disappoint. It looks and smells exactly like a cup of real, honest to goodness coffee. When you hold it up to light it goes a bit amber, just like real coffee, and doesn't have the syrupy blackness we see in some coffee liqueurs. The smell is similarly on point - evoking a fresh-brewed cup of joe which smells even better because we know it has booze in it.

The mouth feel is light and not too syrupy, with a lingering coffee taste that's not too sweet and not too bitter. We can see ourselves mixing up a perfect Black Russian, or maybe even a White Russian, and saying to ourselves "You make a mean Caucasian, Jackie!"**

Blood Orange
The blood orange is a striking fruit, the sanguine tint of its flesh making it live up to its name. Thatcher's Blood Orange does so as well, with a scarlet tint when you hold the bottle to the light. The nose is delicate, with a tinge of citrus and fruit hinting at its mysterious flavor.

Thatcher's Blood Orange has a solid orange taste without veering into Tang territory, and the finish is incredibly long, with complex citrusy notes that lasted a long while after we tasted it. This would be excellent in any citrusy cocktail, and the Thatcher's website suggests mixing it into a margarita. Don't mind if we do!

Yumberry
Yumberry was the liqueur we were most eager to try, mostly because we haven't had much exposure to yumberries. In fact, we're pretty sure we wouldn't be able to pick one out of a lineup. Thanks to good old Wikipedia, we know it's a fruit that grows predominantly in Asia, and that it has some purported medicinal values. The liqueur is bright, just this side of hot pink...definitely on the racy side.

The nose is all berries all the time - the closest we could approximate is a more complex strawberry. Sweet without being syrupy, it's delicate full of berry punch. Delicate but long-lasting, we can see this in a slew of berry-based cocktails, and we're thinking about putting it into a gin fizz to see how it holds up.

More info at Thatcher's Organic; get the full scoop on all eleven flavors. We are incredibly impressed with what we've tried so far, and highly recommend you pick up a bottle if you can.

* You are the Kiwsatz Haderach if you picked up that Dune reference.
** Big Lebowski reference...we're throwing rocks tonight!

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December 15, 2009

Bacardi Superior 89 Proof Rum Review

IMG_0098.JPGThe folks at Bacardi sent us a bottle of a special 89 proof version of their famous Superior Rum - a slightly overproof version of the white rum you're probably familiar with, which is rumored to be closer to the original Cuban formulation of Bacardi's flagship product. We gave it a taste on your behalf - our notes are below.

The bottle looks very similar to the one you might see at your local liquor store, and might be hard to differentiate from a distance. It is slightly different, however, even beyond the fact it's all in Spanish. "Ron Superior de Bacardi y Cia" has a pretty cool ring to it, though. That and just holding the bottle made us feel very Hemingway, without the gift for prose or the suicidal urges.

The nose was very mellow in comparison to Bacardi as we remember it (and most other white rums we've tried), even though it has a higher-than-average proof, and had a light, sweet, sugary smell. The taste at bottle strength was similarly mellow, with some hints of molasses, and was much dryer than expected. As you might anticipate, we were able to mix some daiquiris that curled our toes, and packed just that little bit of extra punch.

It's more expensive than your typical Bacardi Superior, weighing in at close to $50, but we think this is a must-have for rum enthusiasts and those who want to taste a bit of Bacardi's heritage, and a great gift idea. Don't take our word for it - head over to Bacardi.com for more information; otherwise, this rum should be available at your local liquor store.

* PS we apologize for the chintzy iPhone photo of the label...it was the best we could do and hopefully it'll help you recognize the bottle.

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November 25, 2009

Review: Chivas Regal 18 vs Johnnie Walker Blue

Remember the Pepsi Challenge, back in the 80s? When people would be offered a blind taste test to see which they liked better between Pepsi and Coke? We just had the opportunity to do one that was way, way better than soft drinks. The folks at Chivas sent us a bottle each of their Chivas Regal 18-year-old and Johnnie Walker Blue, daring us to try both and see which we liked better.

We, of course, were up for the challenge, so we got out our tasting glasses and set to it after asking an intern to pour so we didn't know what was in each glass. We did the tastings blind, and then once we were finished we paired up our notes with the proper whisky. In the verdict below, we give more info about our thoughts before we knew which was which.

chivas_regal_18.jpgChivas Regal 18 Year Old
Blended Scotch
80 Proof (40% ABV)
Typical Price: About $60

The Look: Squat, clear bottle that's different than a lot of the scotch brands we've seen. In the glass, it's light amber, looking a bit like honey.
The Nose: We smelled very little peatiness, with the major notes being caramel, toffee, and spices.
The Taste: Still very little smoke or peat until we added a drop of water, and then we got a hint. There were more caramel notes, with citrus peels and the dryness of oak. Big oaky finish, long and complex.

johnnie_walker_blue.jpgJohnnie Walker Blue
Blended Scotch
80 Proof (40% ABV)
Typical Price: About $150 at the lower end

The Look: Signature Walker bottle, in green glass. The whiskey looks like honey in the glass.
The Nose: We smelled a bit of caramel, with hints of smoke, peat, and the sea, with some dried fruit in the mix as well.
The Taste: Big and round, with a lot of smoke once we added a drop of water. Continues the peat and sea theme, with almost no sweetness. Notes of malt and spices.

Overall Verdict: Both of these are fine whiskies, and ones we wouldn't hesitate to order for ourselves or recommend for the blended scotch lovers in our lives. The Johnny Walker had the big smokiness and bold flavors we want sometimes, but at triple the price tag. We were impressed with the Chivas, with its nice soft notes and delicate sweetness, and we felt it held its own against the Blue.

Never having had either, we would have been hard-pressed to say one scotch was better than the other in our blind taste test. We tend to like a smokey whisky, so we liked the Blue, but there is definitely something to be said for the fruity mellowness of the Chivas Regal (and being Scotsmen ourselves, we're extremely interested in that significantly smaller price tag).

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November 12, 2009

Akvinta Vodka Review

akvinta_vodka.jpegAkvinta Vodka
Triple-distilled organic super-premium vodka
80 Proof (40% ABV)
Review Sample Supplied By: Avkinta Vodka
Typical Price: About $40
Available in: New York, New Jersey, California

The Look: The Akvinta bottle is pretty striking, shot through with crimson and gold on the label and a cool little bronze button on the side. In the glass, Akvinta looks like, well, vodka.

The Nose: Lemon and other citrus peels.

The Taste: Citrusy with some pepper and an herbal bite. Very dry mouth feel, almost astringent, which we liked. Once we chilled it some of the sharper edges went away, and we were left with a very smooth, drinkable vodka.

The Verdict: We thought this was a tasty vodka - hell, maybe they're onto something with their crazy "Quintuple Filtration" idea. They run this stuff through birch charcoal, marble, silver, gold, and platinum, which may sound like overkill but it seems to work. We liked it chilled and on the rocks with a twist of lemon, and it would be a darned good fit for any citrusy cocktail if you ask us, as long as you can foot the super-premium price tag.

They include some pretty fancy Akvinta cocktail recipes on their site, and we're dying to try the Croatian Breakfast, so it looks like we're going to have to round up some orange marmalade and egg whites.

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November 9, 2009

Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum Review

cruzan_single_barrel_estate_rum.jpgCruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum
Dark St. Croix Rum
80 Proof (40% ABV)
Website: CruzanRum.com
Typical Price: Around $30
Available online at Internet Wines & Spirits

The Look: The bottle is tall and slender with black and gold labeling, getting away from an island party vibe to something a little more classic. In the glass, the rum is a smooth brown color reminiscent of whiskey...not too dark, not too light.

The Nose: The nose was full of caramel and brown sugar and molasses, and there was a hint of nuttiness there too. No huge alcohol burn, but not too sweet either.

The Taste: This rum is on the dryer side, not too sweet, with nice sweet flavors in the mix that don't overpower. There was maple and spice, nutmeg and vanilla, and the faintest hint of dried fruits on the back end. Very nice at bottle strength, but we liked it even more once we added a splash of water.

The Verdict: This is a good rum, period. It's not too spendy at around thirty bucks, and we were really impressed with the effects of blending various rums of various ages into a single cask and aging them another year. Don't step on this one with cola - this one's a sipper for after meals, and would make some excellent cocktails as well.

Many thanks to the Cruzan Rum folks for sending us our review bottle.

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