The Spice Lab Brings Color to Cocktail Rims

Cocktail-SaltsSalt-rimmed margaritas (or salt-rimmed anything, really) may be currently out of favor, but here’s one idea if you want to bring the trend back at your home bar: Use colored salts instead of boring old white ones.

The Spice Lab, which markets over 180 types of sea salt alone, has recently launched three sea salts designed specifically for margies. Available in blue, yellow, orange, or magenta, these brightly colored salts have no added flavor (hence no review, it’s just straight salt), but are artificially and naturally colored to put some pigment on the rim. (Warn guests in advance that it isn’t sugar!)

$3 gets you a 4 oz. bag (which is plenty of salt for even a large party of margarita guzzling).

Review: Fresh Origins Hibiscus and Cilantro Crystals Cocktail Rimmers

Herb Crystals CilantroFresh Origins, the maker of a unique set of herb-flavored cocktail rimmer crystals, is back at it, with two new “MicroGreens” flavors that are on the rise in the cocktailverse: Hibiscus and Cilantro. As with its original four flavors, these are natural flowers and herbs mixed with cane sugar crystals, creating crunchy, edible garnishes for your cocktail glass rims. We put these two new versions to the tongue to see how they measure up as ingredients of your next cocktail creation.

Fresh Origins MicroGreens Hibiscus Crystals – Quite sweet, with the hibiscus notes understated. The flavor comes across as more of a cherry/strawberry mix than a floral one, though hibiscus is always a tricky flavor to work with. This would be exemplary on a Cosmo or other fruit-focused cocktail. A-

Fresh Origins MicroGreens Cilantro Crystals – Appropriately bittersweet, but the addition of sugar makes cilantro tough to pick out. The attack is more akin to celery or perhaps even artichoke, but even that is quite muted compared to the sugar component. The company suggests pairing this with a margarita, but rimming a shot of Cynar with it is also interesting. B+

each $10 per 4 oz. jar /

Review: Crazy Steve’s Bloody Mary Mixes

ghostshipCrazy Steve is making Bloody Mary mixes, dry spices, salsas, and pickles in the heart of New Jersey. (He’s also trying to help out the damaged Jersey Shore, so give him a hand.)

Our focus today however is on his two Bloody mixes (made with fresh cucumber, celery, onion, and jalapeno) and their rimmer companion. Thoughts follow.

Crazy Steve’s Badass Barnacle Bloody Mary Mix – Thick, with enticingly meaty overtones. Almost a gazpacho in a glass, it offers notes of garlic, onion, bouillon, and a bit of mixed garden vegetables. Moderate heat — it burns the lips but not the belly. All in all, there’s a great balance of flavors here, all coming together in a viscous yet easily drinkable package. Good on its own or spiked with vodka. A / $9 per 32 oz. bottle [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Crazy Steve’s GhostShip Bloody Mary Mix – Spiked with ghost peppers, aka “the hottest pepper in the world,” hence the name. Smells great. Peppery, like black pepper, atop the garlicky tomato notes. The body at first comes off much like the Badass Barnacle, but the heat builds quickly and steadily as it settles into your gullet. GhostShip quickly rises to the level where it seems like you’re going to break into a sweat, and your tongue is starting to prickle with an uncomfortable level of heat… and then it breaks. A seasoned (ha!) heat-seeker can handle GhostShip without a beer or milk chaser, but it’s more comfortable with a little something on the side. A- / $9 per 32 oz. bottle [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Crazy Steve’s Shot Over the Rim Spicy Bloody Mary Salt – Made with salt, red wine vinegar powder, chili powder, jalepeno powder, onion powder, cider vinegar powder, cumin, garlic powder, and some other stuff. I really like it. Most Bloody Mary rim salt is too heavy on chili powder, too light on salt. Crazy Steve has the balance right — plenty of salt (though not too much), with a kind of smoky, chipotle kick behind it. Good heat, but not overdone. Who knew that vinegar powder would be a killer secret ingredient? A keeper. A / $6 per 6 oz. container [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Fresh Origins Herb Crystals and Flower Crystals

mini herb crystalsBacon salt rim? Boring. How about a basil rim on your cocktail? Or fennel?

Fresh Origins, a micro-greens and edible flowers creator, is launching Herb and Flower Crystals, a sort of freeze-dried herb-meets-sugar idea that results in colorful, exotic, and wholly unique crystals that can be used as cocktail garnishes. Two sizes of the crunchy crystals are available, a coarse grind that is mainly intended as a flavoring ingredient for culinary recipes, and a finer grain that can stick to the rim of a moistened cocktail glass.

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Review: Tillen Farms Garnishes

At long last high-quality Grenadine is widely available. (If you’re buying Rose’s — which is just red corn syrup — you’re missing out.)

But who mourns the death of the Maraschino cherry? Once a reference to a Croatian marasca cherry preserved in maraschino liqueur, Maraschino cherries are now chemical-laden monstrosities that remain a staple of even high-end bars.

Hey, you don’t have to have loads of FD&C Red #40 in your Maraschinos. Check out Washington-based Tillen Farms’ no-dye, no-corn syrup cherries, which we consider here alongside three other garnishes from these artisan producers. All of these products are alcohol-free.

UPDATE: Tillen Farms is offering all Drinkhacker readers 25% off on all purchases. Just use promo code “DRINKHACKER” at checkout on the website.

Tillen Farms Merry Maraschino Cherries – It’s hard to believe that these bright red orbs contain no red dye. Sweetened only with cane sugar, these are traditional Maraschinos: Very sugary (and sticky as hell) with just a dusting of fruit flavor underneath. There’s more depth here, though, than in the the typical Maraschino, and more importantly, no nasty, chemical aftertaste. A- / $7 per 14 oz. jar

Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries – When you’re ready to upgrade your cherry, jump for these bad boys: Real (and large) Bing cherries in syrup. The effect is much like a brandied cherry, without the alcohol. Rich, earthy, and a bit sour, these cherries are still plenty sweet enough to give a Shirley Temple a bit more pop. Great for a Manhattan, even better for muddled cocktails when you really want to amp up the flavor. A / $7 per 13.5 oz. jar

Tillen Farms Hot & Spicy Crispy Beans – These pickled green beans are obviously of high quality, with nary a blemish. Long and authentic, these string beans are pickled with lots of dill, garlic, and red pepper flakes. They pack a spicy punch, but not overbearingly so. Decent green bean flavor, too, but there’s not too much of it — which is probably for the best. B+ / $7 per 12 oz. jar

Tillen Farms Crispy Asparagus – Again, very high-quality, thin, and crispy asparagus spears are pickled with plenty of garlic. These are mild, however — a spicy version is available, too — and there’s a good balance between the vegetal character and the pickling spices, but the overall results are distinctly asparagus. Not bad at all, assuming, as with the beans, you’re using these in a Bloody Mary. One of the company’s two original products, dating back to 1984. B+ / $7 per 12 oz. jar

tillen farms Bada Bing cherries

Oddity of the Week: Benny’s Bloody Mary Beef Straw

You love beef. You love straws. Now you can get the two together, in the form of Benny’s Bloody Mary Beef Straw.

As the name implies, this unique “straw” is designed to accompany Bloodies, but enterprising cocktail types will likely find myriad uses for it — not the least of which is simply consuming them plain. Essentially a Slim Jim with a hole drilled through it lengthwise (and yes, I know Slim Jims are made from chicken, but you get the idea), this all-beef stick is perhaps the most eye-catching garnish I’ve ever seen.

I tried it as intended — to sip a Bloody Mary — and found it didn’t impart any significant flavor as it zipped through the straw, but the real fun is, of course, in noshing on the garnish. The Beef Straw is big: This is far more substantial than a stick of celery in your glass, and if you’re a carnivore you’ll doubtlessly finish off the straw well before you consume the drink. The straw itself tastes pretty good: Meaty, but with a sausage-like texture, not tough and chewy like a Slim Jim is. Once a pack is open, it will last up to a week in the fridge.

The look may not lend itself to sophistication — particularly once you start chewing on the end — but it’s one of the biggest (and beefiest) cocktail conversation starters I’ve yet to encounter.

$34 for three 10-packs /

benny's beef straw

Review: Whipahol Whipped Lightning

Sadly we don’t have a category for this: Alcohol-infused, flavored whipped cream.

That crazy conjecture is what Whipahol’s Whipped Lightning is: Flavored cream (and it is cream, not non-dairy topping), injected with alcohol and compressed air to fluff it up. It’s available in nine flavors, none of which are “whipped cream.”

That’s because you need flavoring to cover up the heavy, heavy alcohol character here. 36.5 proof doesn’t sound like much, but for some reason in whipped form it’s overbearing. Dip a tiny tip of a spoon into Whipped Lightning to taste it and you’re likely to grimace from the Sterno-like alcoholic burn.

The idea of course is that you spray this stuff atop your Bailey’s or chocolate-flavored novelty shot (or, who knows, take it to the beach for co-ed betting purposes), making the drink’s presentation all the better while spiking the alcohol content further. Ultimately it’s more for show than for anything it adds to the flavor of a cocktail.

Mileage varies considerably for each flavor. Of the six versions I tried, Spiced Vanilla was the easiest to handle, while Tropical Passion was my least favorite of the bunch. To be sure, all the varieties are relatively muted when it comes to the flavors printed on the canister. In all forms, alcohol is the primary characteristic, and any secondary flavoring agent takes a backseat. A chemical aftertaste is common, which I suspect is due mainly to both the alcohol and the propellant.

I’m not giving this one a rating; the idea is too brain-addling to even fathom one. And yet, if you’re really out-there with your mixology and abuse to your liver (refrigeration is not required nor even recommended), why not keep a can on hand. You know, for kicks?

$10 per 375ml can /

What Does a $20 Bloody Mary Look Like?

Like this.

San Francisco’s Waterbar serves this $20 “Ultimate” Bloody Mary, which largely speaks for itself. The garnishes — bacon and two jumbo boiled shrimp — steal the show, but the Bloody itself is darn good, too. Belevedere Vodka — not my favorite on its own — works fine with this superb blend of tomato juice and spices, and the ratio is spot-on. Drink through the straw or get an extra pepper kick by sipping from the glass, which is rimmed with more spicy goodness.

Be warned: That’s a whole pint of Bloody Mary, and it packs a serious wallop that had me napping for most of the afternoon. Awesome concoction.


Review: Cholives

Garnishing a dessert drink with chocolate is the natural thing to do… but how exactly do you accomplish that? Drop a chunk of Hershey bar into the drink? Serve with a Twix swizzle stick?

Enter a solution: Cholives.

Much to my disappointment, Cholives are not chocolate-covered olives. They are simply medium-hard shelled dark chocolates (55% cocoa) surrounding a soft ganache center. Shaped like olives, they are concave on the bottom, which allows you to stick a skewer through the shell and into the ganache, so the whole thing sticks onto the end of a pick. The result looks a lot like an olive on a skewer like you’d drop into a martini.

They taste pretty good (the company also makes “Chruffles,” which are pretty much standard truffles), they don’t melt or break down in a cocktail, and they look impressive as a garnish goes. The amount of work required to skewer a Cholive is minimal, too, so you can have one ready in a flash.

Depending on how many you buy, you’ll pay between 50 cents and a dollar per piece, which is on the high side. That said, I expect you won’t use too many, so for special occasions, it might be fun to have a jar or tin sitting around, just in case.

A- / $45 for 90 Cholives /


Review: Griottines Brandied Cherries

Brandied cherries are essential for a proper Casino, but finding them is surprisingly difficult.

The normal variety I use are quite large and though they taste great, they can get mushy, which is hardly the way you want to cap off a quality cocktail. Griottines are smaller, and quite tart. Macerated in Kirsch liqueuer, these wild Morello cherries are different than other brandied cherries and — of course — miles away from cloyingly sweet Maraschino cherries. Keep the sourness in mind if you use them in cocktails, but I found them quite delightful in the aforementioned cocktail and as a garnish to a Kir Royale.

A- / $25 per 11.8 oz. jar / (also available at Epicure Pantry)