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

indi

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]