Review: Wild Sit Russ and Wild Docta’ Alcoholic Sodas

wild-docta

Two new alco-pops (that is, alco-soda-pops) from the Wild company, which produces Wild Ginger and Wild Root. Let’s explore.

Wild Sit Russ Alcoholic Citrus Soda – Sit Russ (bad name or the worst name?) An alcoholic version of Sprite, though the color is closer to Mountain Dew. The flavor of this one is surprisingly clean, without much of that weird malt beverage overtone so common in these types of drinks. Instead, it offers a fairly clear lemon-lime character (heavier on the lime) but quite sweet through and through. Carbonation is decidedly minimal; it could definitely benefit from more, and would help to mask a slightly vegetal finish. But on the whole, the simplicity of this concoction is its strength, and it makes for one of the better installments in this series. 4.5% abv. B+

Wild Docta’ Original Rock & Rye Soda – Rock and Rye? Let’s make it clear: This is a Dr. Pepper clone, right down to the maroon shading on the can. Tastes like it too, particularly on the nose, which nails the raisiny-pruny character of Dr. Pepper, pelting it with just the right amount of vanilla. As the palate evolves, however, it loses steam, fading back into simpler notes of molasses with the characteristic plum/prune more as an afterthought. Fair enough to enjoy, though! 5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com

Review: Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company Juices and Lemonades

natalie's

Florida-based Natalie’s Orchid Island makes fresh juices and lemonades, packing them in those familiar, squared-off, plastic pint bottles. These products are “gourmet pasteurized” but contain no preservatives, and must be kept refrigerated at all times. Is upscale juice worth the splurge? We checked out six varieties of juice and lemonade. For your consideration:

Natalie’s Orange Juice – A touch sour, but otherwise this is a reasonably credible orange juice that leans a bit toward the grapefruit/lemon end of the flavor spectrum. B

Natalie’s Orange Mango Juice – Light on the mango, which gives this blend a bit of a banana character — complete with a creamier body, almost smoothie-like at times. A-

Natalie’s Orange Beet Juice – Appropriately “beety,” it tastes awfully healthy, although the intense vegetal character of the beets makes this hard to drink a full pint of. I love beets, but beet juice — even when cut with a bit of orange — remains an acquired taste. (It’s worth noting that orange juice is the first ingredient, however.) B-

Natalie’s Lemonade – Nothing to complain about here. This lemonade nails the sweet and sour balance perfectly, with a slight lean toward fresh lemon, just as it should be. A

Natalie’s Strawberry Lemonade – Well-sweetened, with a nice balance between lemon and strawberry notes. Refreshing and tart, with a slight creaminess on the finish. B+

Natalie’s Lemonade Tea – The Arnold Palmer is a simple drink, but the majority of the time it is made, it tastes like garbage. Why is this so often screwed up? Good news: Natalie’s nails it. This is just about the perfect mix of lemonade and tea, starting off with that tart lemon kick, then settling down to finish with that gentle, sweet tea that lingers on the palate. That said, there are 48 grams of sugar in a pint, so perhaps drink only occasionally. A

$NA per 16 oz. bottle / orchidislandjuice.com

Review: Cocktail & Sons Switchel and Haymaker’s Punch

cocktail and sons

Two new seasonal mixers made by our friends at New Orleans’ Cocktail & Sons — both based on 18th century cocktail ingredients and built around ginger. Let’s dive in.

Cocktail & Sons Switchel – A citrus syrup made with ginger, Louisiana honey, and apple cider vinegar. Intensely spicy ginger dominates this syrup, with a smattering of lemon trying to push through the best it can. That lingering heat is a showcase of real, natural ginger root, which can be hard to come by in cocktail mixers. The Switchel syrup shines when mixed with aged rum (I tried it with Cruzan Single Barrel), which makes for a refreshing and dazzling two-item cocktail, the ginger serving as a lovely companion with the sweetness of the rum, coaxing out chocolate notes, coconut, and baking spice. It’s almost like a quickie tiki drink, sans the umbrella. A / $15 per 8 oz. bottle

Cocktail & Sons Haymaker’s Punch – Take the Switchel and mix it with lots of red Rooibos tea and you’ve got a long and less intense version of the above that comes in a soda-style 12 oz. bottle, complete with a crown cap. This dulls the ginger quite a bit, though the tea influence isn’t as strong as you might expect. Just a touch fizzy, it can be consumed on its own as a nonalcoholic highball, or you can mix it with booze: 4 oz. of Haymaker’s Punch with 1 1/2 oz. of your favorite spirit and you’ve got a summer sipper that mixes tea and ginger with whatever gets things going. Again it seems tailor-made for rum, though I wasn’t quite as enchanted by it as I was with the stronger Switchel. B+ / $12 per four-pack of 12 oz. bottles

cocktailandsons.com

Review: Pickle Juice Chaser

pickle juice

Want the flavor of pickles but without those troublesome brined cucumbers? Good news, now you can, thanks to Pickle Juice, brought to you by The Pickle Juice Company.

Pickle Juice has one legitimately known use in cocktailing: The Pickleback. The Pickleback has no known origin, but the name was coined only in 2006 in Brooklyn. The ingredients are awfully simple: shot of whiskey (often bourbon or Irish), chased by a shot of pickle brine. It’s a simple formula: Sweet followed by sour and salty.

Pickle Juice isn’t exactly the runoff from pickle-making. It is a rather simple blend of water, vinegar, salt, dill flavor, plus some preservatives and yellow #5. On its own, it tastes like a reasonable facsimile of pickle juice, though not an exact simulacrum. It’s hard to put a real finger on, but it feels like the recipe could use more variety in the herbs aside from dill. Maybe some garlic and black pepper to liven things up a tad? Pickle Juice just sort of sits there and wallows in its dillness when what you’re looking for is a big, acidic bite — the equivalent of biting into a lime after a rotgut tequila shot. Too bad it smells better than it tastes, which is a bit of a letdown.

Ultimately this is the kind of product that is designed for folks (bars, let’s say) that simply can’t keep enough pickles on hand in order to serve their Pickleback-drinking regulars. If you’re out of actual pickle juice, Pickle Juice Chaser is a reasonable substitute — provided you’re OK with the fact that it’s just not really the same thing.

C+ / $5 (1 liter) / picklepower.com

Review: Cocktail & Sons Fassionola Syrup

Fassionola bottle shot

Fassionola is an old school tiki syrup, blood red in color, made from who-knows-what back in the 1920s. The idea was probably a lot like grenadine: Give a drink some bright red color, and in this case, a punch of sugar, too. Some authorities have compared old scchool fassionola to syrupy Hawaiian Punch.

There’s no evidence that ancient fassionola was anything remarkable, but today that is changing. Our friends at Cocktail & Sons have given fassionola the artisan upgrade, fashioning a modern version out of pineapple, mango, passion fruit, hibiscus flowers, strawberries, and lime zest. The result: A bright red concoction that can sub into everything that needs sweetness, fruit, and a little (or a lot of) crimson.

The C&S Fassionola is an intense beast. Those strawberries are what come through the clearest on the palate, boiled down plenty and giving the syrup a sticky, almost overpowering berry character. The remaining ingredients take the back seat. While a slight floral element emerges on the palate, the tropical components are legitimately hard to pick out in the wake of a strawberry overload. All told, it’s a solid addition to your cocktailing arsenal — though you may need to reference some more obscure or historical recipe guides to find it referenced.

That said, one of fassionola’s most essential cocktails is the Hurricane, and if you want to try making it without relying on a powdered garbage mixer, give it a whirl with fassionala. It’s easy:

Hurricane
1 1/2 oz. silver or aged rum
3/4 oz. fassionola
1/2 oz. lime juice

Stir ingredients in a rocks glass with ice for 15-20 seconds and serve.

B+ / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com

Review: BG Reynolds Tiki Cocktail Mixers

bg reynolds

Tiki drinks are some of the most iconic cocktails anywhere, but they’re so complicated to make that few people bother at home. The typical Mai Tai has five or six ingredients. The Zombie: More than 10. I never make these drinks myself, and it’s my job.

So, how about a shortcut, courtesy of syrup-maker BG Reynolds? BG is expanding its repertoire from simpler syrups into more complex but (almost) alcohol-free tiki mixers — just add rum ad you’re ready to go.

Each is made in small batches from natural ingredients (which you’ll note during the considerable amount of settling each undergoes after a few days of sitting idle). Shelf stable at purchase, the 750ml bottles can be refrigerated for up to 90 days after opening.

Thoughts on the three inaugural mixers follow.

BG Reynolds Mai Tai Cocktail Mixer – A mix of sugar, orange juice, lime juice, almonds, and various flavorings. Straight up, it showcases lime-heavy citrus and lots of gooey almond/marzipan notes, which together give it an interesting banana kick. Fortunately, the orange juice (not a Mai Tai ingredient, though orange liqueur is) doesn’t overwhelm the beverage. The addition of rum (I used Cruzan Single Barrel) tends to dominate the mix, so dial it back and shake well, which lets the vanilla in the rum shine alongside the almond sweetness. While the color is a bit too mustardy (due to the OJ) vs. the typically brown shade of the usual Mai Tai, the drink is full of flavor and tastes surprisingly authentic, making this a huge winner that works well. A- / $16

BG Reynolds Zombie Punch Cocktail Mixer – A mix of sugar, grapefruit juice, lime juice, pomegranate juice, Angostura bitters, overproof rum, and spices/flavorings. (The mixer is still under 0.5% alcohol, despite the inclusion of rum in the mix.) On the palate, cloves completely dominate — which is odd, because the traditional Zombie does not have cloves in the recipe. They’re so prominent it’s hard to taste much of anything else, but some vague citrus later on at least recalls grapefruit. Mixing with overproof rum as specified (I used Cruzan Clipper 120) turns this into a Christmas monstrosity, overflowing with cloves and gingerbread and the pungent petrol that overproof rum usually brings. I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not a Zombie that I recognize, nor anything that I could imagine drinking a full glass of. C- / $16

BG Reynolds Jet Pilot Cocktail Mixer – A mix of grapefruit juice, sugar, lime juice, Angostura bitters, overproof rum, and spices/flavorings. The functional flavor here is allspice — a cinnamon/clove mix that is pungent but is immediately more approachable than the Zombie mix. Standard, not overproof, rum is specified as the mixer here (I used the Cruzan Single Barrel again), and its addition brings the cocktail to a more satisfying balance. The cinnamon still dominates, but the tart citrus gives it some backbone. That said, the herbal aftertaste is enduring and a bit much, after a while. B / $16

bgreynolds.com

Review: Cannonborough Beverage Co. Sodas and Mixers

cannonborough

Charleston-based Cannonborough Beverage Co. started making its fresh fruit sodas in 2012, where they are sold for drinking soda and for use as cocktail mixers. These all-natural sodas come in 750ml bottles (the crown caps can be a problem unless you’re preparing drinks for a party or a punch bowl), and can be purchased online from the company.

We tasted all three varieties of the Cannonborough lineup. Thoughts follow.

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Grapefruit Elderflower – Sweet elderflower hits the nose, and with a sip the grapefruit quickly takes over. The sugar-meets-flower notes of the elderflower do battle here, with sweetness shining brightly for a second, before the sour grapefruit finishes things off. My clear favorite of the bunch, I’d love to mix with this versatile product. A-

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Honey Basil – Herbal and sweet on the nose, but the earthy, spicier basil notes run the show on the palate. Seemingly built for mixing with gin, it’s a combination that works very well — as a sweeter alternative to a gin and tonic. Less fun on its own, though. B+

Cannonborough Beverage Co. Ginger Beer – A complex mixer compared the relatively straightforward remainder of the lineup, made with ginger, habanero, vanilla, and cloves. Quite foamy, and much sweeter smelling than I was expecting. Sweet citrus notes — sugared lemon/lime, primarily — hit the palate first, with the racy ginger — crushed bits of ginger root are readily visible in the liquid — providing a fiery, bracing finish. A bit scattered. B

each $10 per 750ml bottle / cannonbevco.com

Review: Owl’s Brew Tea-Infused Mixers

owls brewTea and booze? They mix, and surprisingly well — in fact, if you look at any number of classic punch recipes, you’ll see that tea is a popular ingredient.

Owl’s Brew is a line of various bottled teas designed as cocktail mixers, each with a flavor or sweetener added (sometimes minor, sometimes a lot). The mixers are designed to be used in a 2:1 ratio of mixer to booze. Which booze? Well, it depends — two that we reviewed (seven varieties are currently available) are designed for The Famous Grouse or The Black Grouse specifically. Others offer a wide variety of spirits you can pair with.

Either way, once you open them, you better drink up quick. They’re good for only two weeks in the fridge after that. Maybe using these for punch is a better idea than expected.

Thoughts on the three varieties tested follow.

Owl’s Brew The Famous Mint Tea – Peppermint tea with lemon; designed for The Famous Grouse Scotch. This is a surprisingly good combination. The malt and honey flavors of the whisky really come through, as does the lemon and gentle tea notes. What’s lacking, by and large, is oddly the peppermint. It’s a vague afterthought that barely peeks through but comes on a touch stronger on the finish, along with some light chocolate notes. B+

Owl’s Brew The Smoky Earl – Lapsang souchang and Earl Grey tea plus honey; designed for The Black Grouse Scotch. Distinctly smoky, with notes of cherries, some tropical fruit, and salted caramel. Again, some light chocolate character emerges as the cocktail fades. B

Owl’s Brew White and Vine – White tea, pomegranate, lemon peel, and watermelon; designed for vodka, gin, tequila, or wheat beer. My least favorite of this bunch, both intensely fruity and herbal at the same time, making for a bit of a cacophonous experience. It’s the watermelon that is the most jarring component here — not quite Jolly Rancher but simply too strange a component in this conflagration. No spirit combo worked well; vodka did nothing to cut the fruit and gin swayed things too herbal. Tequila is your best bet, but try just a splash of Owl’s Brew instead of the suggested 2:1 ratio. C

$17 per 32 oz. bottle / theowlsbrew.com

Review: Wild Root Original Alcoholic Root Beer

wild_root_can_renderOur first foray into alcoholic root beers met with mixed results — but now we have a third option to add to the mix. The company behind Wild Root makes an alcoholic ginger beer that we’ve previously reviewed. This is their foray into a more soda-like concoction.

The flavor of this beverage is heavy on the sweetness to the point where it initially comes across more like a cola. It isn’t until a flick of malty alcohol hits and begins to fade that the more traditional bittersweet sarsaparilla notes of root beer really arrive in earnest. They remain relatively muted — but give the beverage some time in the glass and they’ll start to percolate into the aroma, courtesy of that carbonation bubbling up.

This is a solid product, but it’s one that could use a somewhat punchier level of flavor to really seal the deal.

5% abv.

B / $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com

Review: Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers – Tonic, Lemon Tonic, and Seville Orange

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Made in Puerto de la Santa Maria, Spain, Indi lays claim to being the world’s first line of distilled botanical mixers. Made with 100 percent natural ingredients, with no artificial colorings or preservatives — including real quinine bark and local herbs, lemons, and oranges — Indi’s sodas and tonics are clearly labors of love. To produce the mixers, Indi macerates its raw botanicals separately for four weeks, resulting in dense concentrates. These are blended, then distilled, and finally blended with water, sugar, and/or fruit juice depending on the final product being made.

The company currently makes seven different products, most of which are packaged in single-serving bottles and sold in four-packs. We got three of the company’s offerings to check out. Thoughts follow.

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Tonic Water – Tons of citrus here to balance out the not insignificant quinine bitterness, leaving behind a crisp orange peel to chew on alongside a very lengthy, astringent finish. It’s in-your-face and bitter as hell — but tempered with a touch of fruit — just about a perfect example of what tonic water should taste like. Excellent with both vodka and gin. A

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Lemon Tonic – Ultra-citrusy from the get-go; the aroma is akin to Mountain Dew, with both lemon and juicy lime notes hitting the nose. The body offers again a more indistinct lemon-lime character and it’s significantly sweeter than the straight tonic water. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does put a much different spin on your cocktail. The finish does veer awfully close to a standard lemon-lime soda, though. Considerably better with vodka than gin. A-

Indi Distilled Botanical Mixers Seville Orange – Classic orange soda, but light years ahead of Orange Crush. The flavor of freshly juiced orange is intense and authentic, lightly sweet and full of classic citrus notes. Easily gulpable with modest carbonation and a nicely sweet, almost floral finish, it’s a top-shelf orange soda in a world where I didn’t think such a thing existed. Best on its own rather than as a mixer, actually. A

each $10 per four-pack of 200ml bottles / indidrinks.com

Review: Cocktail & Sons King Cake Syrup

Cocktail and Sons King Cake Syrup Limited Edition 2016Cocktail & Sons is still a new operation, but the New Orleans syrup manufacturer is already out with its first limited edition line extension: King Cake Syrup.

If you don’t know King Cake, you need to get your butt to New Orleans, stat. This sweet treat is rarely seen outside of NOLA (at least in the U.S.) and comes in many shapes and sizes, but generally it’s formed into a ring, features a cinnamon-spiked dough, and is dusted with technicolor sprinkles (and stuffed with a “good luck” plastic baby — long story).

Anyway, now it seems you can have your cake and drink it, too.

The nose of C&S’s King Cake Syrup is pretty heavy on the cinnamon, which is downright bracing as it wafts out of the cocktail glass. The body folds in the pecans and just the right amount of sweetness — the only thing lost is the citrus, though that’s hardly an essential component in my mind. Those not in the know will probably assume this is a straight-up cinnamon syrup, but careful consideration will reveal the deeper charms within. That said, even if it was just a cinnamon syrup, it’d still be a damn good one.

Baby included.

Available through the end of February 2016.

A- / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com

Review: Old Limestone Mixing Water

OldLimestone_750ML_Bottle (2)If you’re a huge Scotch nerd, you’ve probably seen the ultimate in geek mixers: Water imported from different regions in Scotland that you’re supposed to add to whisky from that region – the ultimate complement for your high-end hooch.

Now Kentucky’s getting in on the game, with Old Limestone Mixing Water, sourced straight from Bourbon country.

Old Limestone has two selling points. One, it’s limestone-filtered (limestone is everywhere in Kentucky). Two, it’s free of iron. This latter point is often touted by Bourbon makers – and Jack Daniel’s never shuts up about its iron-free water – because it is said to impart negative qualities to Bourbon.

I put Old Limestone side by side with some filtered tap water from my (California) house and, tasting them blind, I couldn’t taste much of a difference, if any. Both were quite neutral, dead flat, with a hint of mineral notes. But then I put a good sized splash into some Bourbon, and damn if I didn’t like the Old Limestone version a bit better. The tap version was fine, but the Old Limestone-doctored whiskey was a little creamier on the palate, with clearer, brighter flavors.

8 bucks for a glass-bottled liter of water might be a bit much (a cheaper, plastic-bottled version is also available), but compared to the price of a premium spirit, it’s really a drop in the bucket, ain’t it?

A- / $8 / oldlimestone.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]