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]

Review: Wild Ginger Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Can RenderingNashville-brewed Wild Ginger isn’t the first alcoholic ginger beer on the market, but it’s a solid selection nonetheless if you’re looking for a Dark & Stormy with a bigger kick — or simply (and more likely) a pre-mixed ginger cocktail of sorts straight from the can.

Wild Ginger is on the sweet side from the start, offering some marshmallow character that mixes with the gingery bite to offer a character that starts off like a standard ginger ale but quickly elevates into a proper ginger beer experience. The finish isn’t racy hot, though. Rather, it fades away quickly, leaving behind something of an oatmeal-like “malt beverage” overtone. It’s not offensive, but it does put a modest damper on things when they should be hitting their highest high.

4% abv.

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

Review: Four Sigma Foods Mushroom Drinks

four sigma

You’re reading that right: The newest superfood you’re about to start consuming is the good old mushroom — only this time powdered and served as a hot beverage.

This innovation is being brought to you by Four Sigma Foods, which has created no less than 12 different mushroom-infused drink packets, including flavored coffee, flavored cocoas, and more mushroom-forward concoctions. Different varieties of each are available, as are products made with different types of mushrooms.

Why mushrooms? Hell if I know. Health benefits (immunity, etc.), Four Sigma says. These beverage mixers are designed particularly for people who take mushroom supplements (who knew?) but want something more potent than off-the-rack pills.

I checked out a trio of products spanning the line. I can’t tell you if they’ll boost your immune system, but here’s a look at what you can expect from the taste department.

Four Sigma Instant Reishi Mushroom Drink is one of the company’s best-sellers, made with reishi mushrooms, star anise, mint leaf, licorice root, and stevia. Here it’s particularly hard to detect much mushroom at all, as the sweet stevia, licorice, and anise all make much more of an impact. It’s a pleasant enough beverage, though a bit sweet for my tastes — and not something I’d likely drink on a regular basis. B- / $35 for 20 packets

Mushroom is slightly more detectable in the Four Sigma XOCO Red Hot Cacao Drink Mix, which adds cordyceps mushrooms to a packet of cacao, coconut palm sugar, guarana, and cayenne pepper. The mushroom gives the hot chocolate an earthy underpinning and provides an herbal finish to the drink. If you like your hot cocoa with less sugar and more depth, it’s one to try. B / $20 for 10 packets

The Four Sigma Mushroom Coffee adds cordyceps and chaga mushrooms to coffee powder (remember this is instant, not something you brew). Bring your own sweetener. Here you’ll find the most mushroom flavor of them all, going head to head with the coffee character to create a pungent, earthy, and sultry spin on coffee. Sure, it isn’t cold pour-over, but as instant goes, it’s surprisingly palatable and intriguing. B / $15 for 10 packets

foursigmafoods.com

Head to Head: Alcoholic Root Beer! Not Your Father’s vs. Rowdy

nyfTwo makes a trend for us today, with a duo of alcoholic root beers hitting the market at the same time, one from La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Small Town Brewery, the other from Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Berghoff. Both are not root beer soda with alcohol added but rather flavored beers/malt liquors with the spices integrated into the production process. Here’s how they stack up!

Small Town Brewery Not Your Father’s Root Beer – Per the label, a flavored beer. My father doesn’t drink root beer, but he would probably find this concoction palatable. The palate offers a classic root beer structure, but with a muddier, earthier body that tends to linger on the finish. On the whole, tastes like a glass of root beer should, just with a kick! 5.9% abv.  B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles / smalltownbrewery.com

rowdy-root-beer-canBerghoff Rowdy Root Beer – Per the label, a malt beverage with artificial flavor added. Doesn’t immediately come across like a root beer, including some bitter, traditional beer-like elements on the nose, with some herbal notes dusted on top, particularly cloves and burnt sugar. These flavors integrate relatively poorly on the palate, which is a bit too sweet and a bit too thin, again letting some of those raw beer notes seep through. The finish loads up indistinct caramel and a sharp, saccharine conclusion. A major letdown next to Small Town’s rendition. 6.6% abv. C- / $10 per six pack of 12 oz. cans / berghoffbeer.com

Review: Tippleman’s Not Quite Simple Syrups

tipplemans

Our friends at Bittermilk cocktail mixers have recently expanded to the world of syrups. Bottled under a new name, Tippleman’s, these are all sweet, non-alcoholic mixers designed to sub in for the “sweet” component in your drink. We tried them all on their own and in a cocktail. Each comes in 500ml bottles. Here’s what we thought.

Tippleman’s Syrup Burnt Sugar – An organic sugar/molasses-based syrup. Dense, molasses brown color. Port wine notes on the nose. Extremely sweet, with bitter coffee and berry overtones. It immediately dominates any cocktail it’s dropped into with both sweetness and a bitter edge. I like the bold direction it goes, but use it sparingly and with the appropriate spirits. A- / $12

Tippleman’s Syrup Lemon Oleo Saccharum – 2000 pounds of lemons go into each batch of this classic oily citrus concoction. Nice balance between lemon and sugar, with herbal overtones. There’s less lemon in cocktails made with it, as the sugar tends to wash the citrus out a bit. A solid, but understated syrup. B+ / $22

Tippleman’s Syrup Barrel Smoked Maple – Old Willett bourbon barrels are shaved, remoistened with bourbon, and smoldered under organic Grade B maple syrup. A dark brown oddity that smells like charred wood, but tastes like well-sweetened barbecue sauce. Clearly invented for whiskey cocktails, this is love-it or hate-it territory, a syrup that totally dominates its cocktails, but in a fun and unique way. A- / $29

Tippleman’s Syrup Falernum – A traditional tropical syrup, this is flavored with spices and lime peel, plus ginger juice (and lots of sugar). Quite intense with cardamom and some allspice, vanilla on the finish. An easy choice for any tropical drink you want to whip up, Very similar character when used as a mixer, creating that festively tropical yet brooding, Chinatown kinda vibe that really takes you someplace else. Well done. A / $17

Tippleman’s Syrup Ginger Honey – Ginger juice plus organic wildflower honey, diluted with water. This ought to be a no brainer, but it just doesn’t come together. A nose of fortified wine and citrus dominate, but the body is closer to sweet and sour sauce than anything the above would imply. The ginger is abruptly overwhelming in cocktails, with a kind of perfumy “grandma” character that is difficult to properly describe. Funky and old-fashioned. B- / $20

Tippleman’s Syrup Island Orxata – Cracked corn and toasted sesame are soaked to make a milk-like base, then bitter almond and jasmine is added. That doesn’t sound at all enticing, and the creamed-corn nose and marzipan-meets-cream-of-wheat texture aren’t exactly inspirational, either. Not offensive in cocktails, but it adds a layer of weirdness that is tough to shake. I’d rather not think this much about my mixed drinks. B / $16

tipplemans.com

Review: Cocktail & Sons Cocktail Syrups

cocktail-sons-bottles

Cocktail & Sons is a brand new operation (we tasted the first draft of their four artisan syrups late last year) that is going national as we speak.

Here’s a look at the complete lineup from the fledgling company — all four of which are wholly worthwhile and clearly made with cocktailing knowhow. (Not into drinking? Drop a tablespoon into a glass with ice and soda and you’ve got a stellar non-alcoholic beverage.)

Thoughts follow.

Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara – Demerara syrup spiced with peppercorns and baking spices. A beautiful brown sugar syrup at its heart, it’s got a distinct gingerbread flavor to it, with a just the lightest touch of pepper on the back. I think it could use a little more of that peppery kick, but the baking spice character is spot on and really elevates standard sugar syrup. A-

Cocktail & Sons Oleo Saccharum – An unsexy name for a classic citrus-based syrup that got its start 150 or so years ago. C&S’s version adds lemongrass and ginger to the citrus. Brisk lemon/lime notes attack the palate right at the start, then that aggressive sweetness hits you. The citrus doesn’t quite hang in there for the long haul, letting the saccharum pick up the slack. I get hints of anise on the back end. A-

Cocktail & Sons Honeysuckle & Peppercorn – Floral and spice elements intermingle in this exotic concoction. That dusty honey character that always rides along with honeysuckle is unmistakable here, with a kind of nutmeg character that comes along after. Again, very light pepper notes on the finish, but it’s just a bit more than a nod in that direction than anything palate-busting. B+

Cocktail & Sons Mint & Lemon Verbena – Get your instant mint julep or mojito, right here. Nothing complicated about this one, just a slight touch of herbal character that nudges things closer to menthol than mint. Don’t worry, your Bourbon won’t mind. A

each $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com

Review: VOCO Vodka Coconut Water

voco

The VO is for vodka. The CO is for coconut. Together they’re VOCO, the world’s first luxury beverage to blend pure coconut water with premium vodka, or so the label tells us.

Sold in single-serve 12 oz. aluminum bottles, it’s an alternative to Smirnoff Ice or Mike’s Hard Lemonade, I suppose.

The overall impact is about what you’d expect, I figure. Relatively dense, sweetened coconut water — somewhat milkier than the typical coconut waters on the market — with a slight punch to it. There’s some earthiness here, sliding toward a vegetal character as the beverage warms up. Hence the suggestion on the back to drink this ice cold, methinks… I couldn’t finish more than about a third of a bottle before my palate gave up on it.

5.5% abv.

C- / $4 per 12 oz. bottle / voco.net

Review: Q Soda, Q Ginger Beer, and Q Grapefruit

q grapefruitQ Drinks is well known for its tonic, but like Fever-Tree, the company makes a wide range of cocktail mixers, all high-end products made with legitimate ingredients and botanicals. (You’ll notice the solids settling out in the ginger and grapefruit products, so be sure to gently mix them up a bit before serving.)

Thoughts on three of Q’s mixers follow.

Q Soda – A classic club soda, heavy on the fizz, with no minerality to speak of, or any other overtones. Drinks like a solid sparkling water, with large, gently foamy bubbles rather than tiny, spicy ones. A fine product on all fronts — and enjoyable on its own. A-

Q Ginger Beer – Nicely sweet up front, then this ginger beer builds to a strong, authentic ginger bite with significant, growing heat. There’s a good balance between the two components, making this an easy go-to for Dark & Stormy cocktails and other ginger-fueled libations. A-

Q Grapefruit – Very mild, with a minimal citrus bite to it. Squirt is a much bolder grapefruit soda than this, which comes across like club soda with a modest squeeze of grapefruit in it. As such, it can’t hold its own in a cocktail and quickly finds itself overpowered. C+

each $7 per 4-pack of 8 oz. bottles / qdrinks.com

Review: Scales Sweet & Sour Mix and Margarita Mix

scales

We reviewed the Bloody Mary mix from Scales a few months ago. Today we are taking a belated look at its no carb/no sugar sweet cocktail mixers, including a Sweet & Sour and a Margarita mix.

Both are minimalist products flavored with sucralose. At 5 calories, it’s hard to come up with a less fattening way to sip a tall cocktail.

Some thoughts follow.

Scales Sweet & Sour Mix – Appropriately yellow-green, lemon-lime on the nose. The body’s quite tart, not overly sweetened, with a clear bite of raw citric acid (which is the second ingredient on the list). This actually helps to tame that sucralose aftertaste a bit, making this a surprisingly palatable mixer in the ultra-low-cal space. B

Scales Margarita Mix – Paler in color, slightly sweeter smelling. There’s more of a chalky texture here and the whole thing is quite a bit sweeter on the palate. It doesn’t offer clear lime notes like you’d want in a margarita mix, but it doesn’t overly offend. B-

both $5 per 32 oz. bottle / scalescocktails.com