Review: Urban Accents Wine & Cider Mulling Spices

Buying a bunch of individual spices to make mulled wine might cost you a small fortune — and prepackaged mixes of powdered mystery spice are hardly an appropriately upscale alternative.

Urban Accents, which sells various sauces and spices, offers a solution in this sizeable jar of whole mulling spices, which include cinnamon, orange, lemon, star anise, vanilla and other spices, all fully formed. (For real, I cracked open the jar and saw a whole, unbroken star anise right on top.)

To use, just fill a tea ball infuser with a scoop of spices and dunk it into a mug of warm cider or wine; let steep for a few minutes. Simply use more for larger portions.

Results: Huge anise notes on the nose, but I think the body could benefit from a bigger dose of spice than a single tea ball can supply. The flavor is just too thin, with only hints of vanilla and cinnamon — and not enough of either. Double up on the recipe — or just dump the spices directly into your wine/cider and drink carefully — to give it a much-needed boost.

B- / $10 per 4.5 oz jar / urbanaccents.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Belgarden Elderflower Beverage

Elderflower continues to rule as an incredibly popular and versatile cocktail ingredient, but short of St. Germain and a couple of other liqueurs, it’s difficult find a way to get it into your drink.

Belgarden offers a solution: a 100% organic, non-alcoholic beverage made with four ingredients: Belgian elderflower, agave nectar, lemon juice, and water. The result is a non-carbonated beverage that offers a solid elderflower character without any booze.

The drink is a capable and authentic elderflower experience, offering that unmistakably sweet yet herbal, lychee-like note right from the start. Midway in the similarly unmistakable flavor of agave — lightly pungent with a heavier earthy quality — comes to the fore, and it soon comes to dominate the experience, heading to a lingering aftertaste that dulls some of the crisp fruitiness of the elderflower proper.

That said, it’s a great option for adding this singular flavor to a beverage without having to also add alcohol at the same time.

B+ / $8 per 750ml bottle / belgardendrinks.com

Review: Tippleman’s Barrel Aged Cola Syrup

The Tippleman’s tribe is back at it with a new mixer for cocktailers looking to take their libations upscale: Barrel Aged Cola Syrup, which is an all natural, handmade creation made by “hand peeling lemons, limes and oranges, and combining the skins with freshly ground spices, natural cane sugar, and vanilla bean.” The finished product is aged in Willett bourbon barrels.

It’s a solid syrup with authentic cola flavors. If I have any complaint, it’s that it’s a bit heavy on cinnamon up front, a bit heavy on lemon-lime on the back end. Otherwise it has that richly spicy, nutty, citrus note that we’ve come to expect from a quality cola.

This syrup is an obvious match for bourbon, and it really excels when used as a whiskey mixer with a little soda water. Here the two products play off of each other’s strengths to showcase rich vanilla, more subtle cinnamon notes, and a chocolatey finish that you don’t see on the Tippleman’s when sipping it only with water. All told, it’s very nicely done, and can work wonders both for alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails alike.

A / $19 per 13 oz bottle / tipplemans.com

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

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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

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