Review: Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cocktail Bitters

PeychaudsBarrelAged5ozXThe original Peychaud’s Bitters date back to about 1830. In New Orleans cocktailing, they’re an indispensable part of numerous drinks, including the classic Sazerac Cocktail. Now owner Sazerac (parent company of Buffalo Trace) is launching a version of Peychaud’s with a twist, aging the classic bitters in Sazerac Rye whiskey barrels for 140 days.

I tasted the new barrel-aged Peychaud’s against the classic version, side by side, to see how the duo stack up against one another.

They’re remarkably different products. Classic Peychaud’s offers complex notes of earth, charred nuts, cloves, watermelon rind, licorice root, and charred vegetables, with a distinct, semisweet rhubarb character — particularly on the nose. In contrast, the new Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters are less complicated and initiatially, and somewhat counterintuitively, a bit sweeter. They don’t take on the charry woodiness of the wood but rather some of the vanilla and baking spices of the rye. As the bitters hit the palate, that rhubarb turns much more toward cherry fruit, with notes of gingerbread and Christmas spices on the back end.

Of course, despite all the secondary characteristics described above, both expressions are still bitters, and the finish of each is lasting and powerfully representative of the term. Both pair beautifully with whiskey but I have to say that the new whiskey-barrel aged expression lends more of an intense, fruity liveliness to a cocktail. The cherry components particularly stand out, even against the punch of bourbon or rye. No, it won’t ever replace the original, but its presence does make the cocktailer’s arsenal all the more interesting.

35% abv.

A / $17 (5 oz.) / thesazeracgiftshop.com

Review: Koma Unwind Relaxation Beverage

koma unwind

Koma Unwind is another one of these newfangled beverages designed not to turn you into a bon vivant but rather into a slumbering snoozer. This canned, sparkling beverage includes mostly familiar active ingredients: B12, milk thistle, valerian root, rose hips, and melatonin. These goodies are dropped into a rather familiar soda format — sweet and (mostly) grape juice flavored — technically labeled “Berrylicious.”

I tried Koma before bed and went to sleep with no trouble. I slept straight through the night until about 6am, when wild and lucid dreams roused me. I’m not sure if Koma aided my sleep quality, but it didn’t seem to have damaged it at all.

Koma tastes fine for what it is — spiked purple stuff — but I have to wonder about the wisdom of adding 45 grams of sugar to a beverage that’s called “koma” and is designed to get you to go to sleep. (The 12 oz. can’s ingredients label is misleading, as a “serving size” is only 8 oz.) There’s a sugar free version but it suffers from the same bitter edge that most diet sodas do… though it’s nonetheless probably a smarter choice before bedtime. A shot-based version (not reviewed here) is also available.

B / $2 per 12 oz. can / komaunwind.com

Review: RIPE Bar Juice

ripe bar juice

Sure, there’s nothing better than fresh-squeezed juices you press yourself. But fresh, cold-pressed, pre-bottled juices run a pretty close second.

RIPE makes a line of seven fresh-squeezed juice-based mixers — all refrigerated, natural, unpasteurized, lightly sweetened with agave nectar (all except the Bloody Mary mix), and uncut with preservatives. Essentially RIPE is a juice company, but with its eyes on the bar, not the breakfast table.

We tried six of the company’s mixers, and are itching to pour them by the liter into this year’s holiday punch. Thoughts follow.

RIPE Cranberry Cocktail Bar Juice – Made from cold-pressed Ocean Spray cranberries. Tart, but lightly sweetened, just about perfect for cocktail use if you want actual cranberry flavor to come through — rather than vague sugar and red color. Flavorful, but not too punchy, though drinkers accustomed to sweeter mixers might find it not sugary enough. B+

RIPE Classic Cosmopolitan Bar Juice – Take the cranberry mixer above and mix in lime and orange juices and you get this, highly appealing, straight-up pink number. The Cosmo has a bad rap — OK, a terrible rap — but this mixer is really appealing, featuring a melange of super-bright fruit and that kick of real lime (which grows stronger and stronger on the back end, finishing clean and crisp). A-

RIPE Agave Margarita Bar Juice – Take the cranberry out of the Cosmo mix and you’ve got this appealing blend of lime and orange juices, lightly sweetened and ready to go in any quality margarita. Just add tequila, and you’re good to go with a cocktail that offers powerful — but not overpowering — lime character. The agave is stronger and more noticeable on this one (as opposed to cane sugar), but that suits a margarita just fine. A-

RIPE Agave Lemon Sour Bar Juice – Lemon and agave, a simple sour mix that offers versatility and bright lemon notes. Sweeter than some of the other mixes, and less focused on the specific fruit than, say, the margarita mixer. B+

RIPE Bajan Punch Bar Juice – This “tiki sour” includes lime, pineapple, and orange, and is spiced with Angostura Bitters and fresh nutmeg. The most complex of these juices, it’s an instant tropical drink in a glass — even the nutmeg comes through clearly and expressively. Not overdone one bit, it’s perfect for when you need a ready-to-go punch. A

RIPE San Marzano Bloody Mary Bar Juice – Naturally there’s a Bloody Mary mix, and this one includes San Marzano tomatoes, celery and lemon juice, horseradish, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, sea salt, pepper, and cayenne. A thick one, and in many ways sweeter-tasting than anything else in this lineup, thanks to the power of those tomatoes. Racy, but not too hot, with maybe a bit too much lemon flavor on the back end. Still a highly credible and delicious Bloody Mary mix. A-

$10 each per 1 liter bottle / drinkripe.com

Review: Urban Remedy Detox Juices

afterparty_1

Some time ago, I wrote about my experience on a three-day juice cleanse with Urban Remedy products. Recently the company contacted us to inquire if we would be interested in covering a handful of its products that are suitable for post-holiday revelry — detoxification, curing hangovers, and the like. It’s a happy new year, so why not?

The four juices below are all designed for getting you back up and running after some hard living, and what with all the New Year’s Resolutions out there, what better time is there than the present to dig into the stuff? (You might also check out the company’s tiny detoxifying tinctures, alcohol-based essences that you can mix into your juice or drink in a single, painful shot.) Since we last encountered Urban Remedy, the company has switched from glass bottles to plastic and now says that its fresh, cold-pressed juices will last for seven days in the fridge instead of just three.

Here are some detailed thoughts on each of the four juices we sampled. Get in there and detox! Or, you know, don’t.

Urban Remedy Soothe – Made from cucumber, celery, apple, spinach, parsley, ginger, and lemon. The celery hits first and hardest, but the ginger and lemon are effective at masking the intensely vegetal flavor. The result isn’t exactly refreshing, but for a muddy-looking green juice, it’s about as close as it gets. B

Urban Remedy Clean – Cucumber, celery, spinach, parsley, kale, burdock root, dandelion green, and lemon. Not much sweet stuff in this one, and yeah, it’s very “green,” with only that hint of lemon to brighten up a juice that is heavy on spinach and parsley notes. With 230% of my daily Vitamin A, 130% of Vitamin C, 25% of calcium, and 30% of iron, thank god this is really, really healthy. C+

Urban Remedy After Party – Carrot, apple, beet root, ginger, and lemon. There’s a nice balance between sweet and savory here, the carrot and beet offer garden freshness while the apple and lemon give it a more palatable body. Apple juice ain’t exactly healthy — there’s 34 grams of sugar in this — but I presume the other ingredients more than compensate. B+

Urban Remedy Boost – Turmeric, lemon, stevia. Minimalist faux lemonade, with a spicy edge. The color approaches Sunny Delight, but the flavor recalls a Moroccan bazaar. Best in smallish sips, lest the turmeric really start to grind away at your throat. B

juices not sold separately; cleanse programs run about $75 per day (for 6 pints of juice) / urbanremedy.com

Preview: Cocktail & Sons Cocktail Syrups

cocktail-sons-bottles

You can’t buy Cocktail & Sons spirits — yet — because the company hasn’t launched officially. As I write this, it’s about $8,000 of the way into a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign, so if you want to get these syrups for yourself, you should kick a few bucks into the startup.

We tasted the complete lineup from the fledgling company — but as these are not the finalized versions of the products, we aren’t officially grading them. However, I can say, unilaterally, that all four 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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Review: Master of Mixes “Chef Inspired” Bloody Mary Mixers

bloody mary mixers

Brunch season is here (isn’t it?), which means it’s Bloody Mary time for millions. Few of us bother to make our own mix when there are plenty of solid, ready-to-go mixes on the shelf.

Master of Mixes is a brand that’s been around forever, producing the usual Pina Colada, Margarita, and Bloody Mary mixes to make home cocktailing easier. But while MoM has traditionally focused on the lower end of the scale, it has recently partnered with the Food Network’s Anthony Lamas to produce three slightly more upscale Bloody Mary mixers. (If you’re looking for these, check to ensure you’re getting the “Chef Inspired” versions; MoM makes several other Bloody mixers, some with the same names even, but which are not inspired by anyone.)

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Classic Bloody Mary Mixer – Quite “juicy,” not ketchup-chunky like so many products in this category. There’s plenty of Worcestershire flavor here, and a surprisingly pungent amount of celery in the mix, too. As the finish takes hold, it’s the celery salt notes that easily wins out, going down with plenty of that spice gripping the palate and lingering for minutes. B

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Loaded Bloody Mary Mixer – For the Bloody fan that likes more “stuff” in his drink, this concoction is instantly much sweeter than the Classic expression, offering clear notes of cucumber and green bell pepper to get things going. Touches of carrot, garlic, sweet corn, and black pepper all emerge in the glass, creating something akin to a liquefied ratatouille. More soup than sipper, this one’s simply less effective in a cocktail. B-

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired 5 Pepper Bloody Mary Mixer – Naturally there’s a spicy one to contend with. The five peppers on the ingredient label include red pepper, habanero, jalapeno, ancho, and chipotle. Only one of those is especially hot, and for a mixer with a bunch of chili peppers on the label this one’s remarkably restrained. The attack is heavy on the tomato and black pepper notes, with heat building only as the drink settles on the palate for a while. The finish is both lip-searing and salty — just how a good Bloody should go out. While it’s the least complex of the bunch, the addition of a good slug of heat — but not quite overpowering heat — makes this my favorite. B+

each $5 (1 liter) / masterofmixes.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Mixers

cascade iceMixers are getting a bad rap of late, what with all the added sugar and extra calories they add to your glass. Here’s a new brand of no-cal, flavored, sparkling waters: Cascade Ice Zero-Calorie Sparkling Water. They all contain pear juice — but not enough to give the drinks a single calorie, about 1% — and are sweetened with sucralose, sometimes to within an inch of their lives.

31 flavors are now available. We tasted five, all of which are some shade of pink or purple. Can you really mix with these? You be the judge. (Oddly, Cascade Ice didn’t send us their actual mixers like Margarita and Mojito flavors, so you’ll just have to read about these fruit-centric ones instead.

Cascade Ice Blueberry Watermelon – Impossibly sweet, with essence of watermelon Jolly Rancher. C-

Cascade Ice Strawberry Banana – Veers more toward the banana side of things, with a sweet-tart finish. Also impossibly sweet. C

Cascade Ice Cranberry Pomegranate – Incredibly sweet, but more of a classic cocktail mixer than the other flavors here. Tastes much like any cran-whatever mixer. Used sparingly, could be acceptable in a low-cal cosmo. C+

Cascade Ice McIntosh Apple – That’s a pretty specific type of apple, ain’t it, Cascade Ice? The resulting beverage is slightly caramelly, with a touch of crisp apple coming along on the finish. Less sweet than many of those above, but still overpowering. C+

Cascade Ice Huckleberry Blackberry – Who’s your huckleberry? This easy winner in the Cascade Ice lineup, which balances the sugar with tart berry notes — though which berries are a bit tough to place. This is the only one among the group that I could drink straight, and which, used sparingly, would make for the most interesting cocktail companion with its nodes toward creme de cassis. B

each about $2.50 (17.2 oz.) / cascadeicewater.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water

fever tree 500ml Elderflower Tonic DryFor its latest trick, top-shelf mixer maker Fever-Tree is bringing forth a tonic water — its third expression, if you don’t include the diet version it also sells. As the name implies, Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water is an elderflower-infused tonic water, made with Fever-Tree’s typically high-end ingredients, including cane sugar and natural quinine.

For those who find standard tonic water too bitter, this expression is just the ticket. The bitter quinine is softer here, mellowed by sweet-and-sour citrus notes that run more distinctly toward grapefruit and lime zest than elderflower specifically. The finish is clean and bittersweet, refreshing as those citrus notes endure. The tonic water pairs well with gin and vodka, though the fruitier notes tend to get overpowered by gin’s more powerful elements. I’d aim for a more citrus-focused gin over a juniper-heavy one when choosing a companion. All in all, lovely stuff — even for sipping on its own.

A / $3.50 (500ml) / fever-tree.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute Cocktails

VeeV_StraightOn_NewBottle-LogoFix_typefooter_NOshadow_webRemember, VeeV, the “acai spirit” that rode the superfruit craze in the late zeroes, launching in 2008 as “the only açai spirit on the market?” I figured you didn’t, and that’s probably why VeeV — now an even louder VEEV — is relaunching, reformulating, and re-hoping you will get on the bandwagon of endorsing a speciously healthier alternative to drinking straight vodka. No longer labeled “acai spirit,” it’s now “neutral spirit with a blend of acai and other natural flavors.” That makes it a flavored vodka in my book — particularly since the proof level has risen from 60 proof in 2008 to 70 proof today.

But wait, there’s more! VEEV, nee VeeV, is also launching a collection of pre-made, bottled cocktails, called VitaFrute, which are of course made with VEEV, natural fruit juices, and (sometimes) agave nectar — and they’re under 125 calories per 3 oz. serving. (At first glance, the front label looks like it says 12.5 calories… now that’d be a neat trick.) And we tried all of this stuff! Thoughts follow.

VEEV (2014 Edition) – The new tagline for VEEV is “Born in Brazil, handcrafted in America.” From the nose alone, you might think it was handcrafted in a candy factory. Punchy with the nose of a typical cherry or fruit punch-like vodka, the new VEEV is closer than ever before to a typical fruit-doctored hooch. The body melds cherry with notes of blueberry, with a candylike finish. VEEV manages to keep things just this side of super-saccharine cough syrup, but there’s no doubt it’s still a sugar bomb in vodka’s clothing. If this is good for you, well, good luck selling your significant other on that one. 70 proof. B / $25

vita fruteVitaFrute Cocktails Lemonade – The simplest of the VitaFrute collection – VEEV, lemon, agave — this spiked lemonade has pulpy bits floating in the mix, so you know you’re getting something legit here. The beverage is unfortunately heavy on the agave — sweet to the point of being almost syrupy — and light on the lemons. Some rebalancing is in order to bring the tartness level up to code. What’s there is pretty spot on, though. Not boozy at all, and with a little doctoring something you could even serve to guests. 30 proof. B / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Margarita – Includes tequila, VEEV, lemon, lime, and agave. You can smell intense caramel notes up front. As this warms up in the glass those become stronger — almost taking on a burnt sugar character with touches of cinnamon. This isn’t so much a margarita as it is a wacky after-dinner drink that hints at lime notes from time to time. 30 proof. C- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Cosmopolitan – Includes VEEV, cranberry juice, and “a hint of citrus.” Tastes like VEEV and cranberry juice with a hint of citrus. Mercifully less sweet than the above, this straightforward blend is something you could easily whip up on your own, but the lazy might enjoy this pre-mixed version of any old cosmo you might otherwise spend 4 bucks on at your favorite Holiday Inn happy hour. Unremarkable but largely palatable, with tart cranberries, restrained sweetness, and a squeeze of naval orange — though its caramel hints on the finish give it a cloying finish. 30 proof. B- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Coconut Colada  – Includes VEEV, coconut water, and pineapple juice. Pina Colada-lite, this premixed cocktail sacrifices that agave sweetness for the tropical notes of pineapple and watery coconut. Not disagreeable — if you’re in a Hawaii mood, anyway — if you don’t mind it sticking around on the roof of your mouth for the better part of the next half hour. 30 proof. B / $12

veevlife.com

Review: Bittermilk Mixer No. 4

bittermilk 4It was only a few months ago when the first three of Bittermilk‘s ready-to-go, artisan mixers hit our desk. Now a fourth is already ready: New Orleans Style Old Fashioned Rouge.

This is a short mixer (one part mixer to four parts rye; I used Rittenhouse 100), with wormwood and gentian root the primary flavoring components. (Cane sugar, lemon peel, and unnamed spices are also in the mix.) Gentian root is a primary ingredient in Angostura bitters. Wormwood is of course the famous flavoring (and allegedly hallucinatory) compound in absinthe. Together they create a mixer that is bittersweet, loaded up front with flavors of cloves, licorice, burnt sugar, and anise. This works well with rye, not unlike a quickie Sazerac.

That said, it doesn’t have quite the nuance that a real Sazzy has. To remedy, I’d suggest slightly less mixer and more whiskey, but at that point you’re turning a bit into the guy that orders his martini “very, very, very dry.” On the whole, it’s a fully capable mixer, though it’s not my favorite thing that Bittermilk does.

B+ / $15 (8.5 oz.) / bittermilk.com