Making Our Own Aquavit with Spiced Spirits

The ZingyAquavit is a flavored Scandinavian vodka that has as many variations as there are countries in Europe. Finding aquavit stateside is difficult, though. The few bottlings imported here are mass-produced stuff that is, unfortunately, usually not very good.

Why not make your own, then? Sounds good, but the number of spices required will probably fill a shopping bag — if you can find them — and empty your wallet. And, again, you’ll need to roll the dice when picking a recipe.

Isn’t there an easier way!?

SpicedSpirits.com to the rescue, aquavit fans. This website does one thing and one thing only: It sells bags of pre-mixed spices that you dump into spirits to flavor them. While it offers ale and mead spices, it’s the vodka ones you’re probably looking for. (You can also put them into rum.) At present, eight varieties are available (plus an option to add oak chips). The names range from “The Crazy” to “The Symphonic” — and each offers its own approach to aquavit. (You can learn more about each one on its website.) Total price, $6 to $9 a pack. (Shipping is $3 to anywhere in the world!)

SpicedSpirits sent us three to try out. We followed the instructions — 7 to 14 days of steeping required, depending on the variety you buy — then sampled the resulting concoctions. Thoughts follow, but overall this is a great way to go if you want to experiment with spicing your own vodka at home.

The Sweet – Made with lemon peel, juniper, cinnamon, and “secrets.” Inspired by an Italian recipe. Lovely gingerbread character on this, touched with allspice… plus a hearty dose of juniper underneath it. I could have done with less juniper character (which gives the finish a bitter edge) and more cinnamon and ginger notes, but overall this is a festive and surprisingly sippable beverage. B+ / $8

The Zingy (pictured) – Made with ginger, peppermint, and “22 secrets.” One of those secrets is clearly caraway, which floats to the top of the aquavit and ends up in your first few glasses. (Filter this one for best results.) Not as much depth in this one, but a little mint on the nose and the finish is what earns this product its name. But the primary character here is more akin to licorice, with a slightly weedy finish. A bit more classic stylistically when placed in the aquavit canon. B / $7

The Symphonic – 25 secret herbs and spices, dang! The company calls it “hard to describe,” and that’s somewhat fair. It has light sweetness, some orange notes, and a bit of that licorice note, too. It’s not nearly as sweet as “The Sweet,” but it does offer better balance, with very light bitterness — akin to a very mild amaro — on the finish. Frankly, I’m not one to drink much aquavit, but if I am going to get all Scandi and go to aquatown, well, this is a pretty good one to visit. B+ / $9

spicedspirits.com

Review: OM Organic Mixology Wild Cranberry & Blood Orange Cocktail

OM cranberry orangePre-mixed cocktails aren’t often a high-end affair, but Organic Mixology is trying to change that with a new line of ready-to-drink cocktails, courtesy of Natalie Bovis, “The Liquid Muse.”

Made with certified organic ingredients, no artificial flavors/colors/preservatives, lightweight glass bottles, and packaged in 75% post-consumer recycled cases (whew!), this is high-end, eco-friendly cocktailery, complete with a Sanskrit “Om” trinket attached to the bottle’s neck.

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Review: Cheribundi Cherry Juice Mixers

cheribundiForget acai and yumberries. Cheribundi is doubling down on good old fashioned cherries as a juice and a cocktail mixer. We sampled a flotilla of cherry juice-based concoctions. Thoughts follow.

Cheribundi Cherry Juice – 100% juice (mostly cherry, with a bit of apple juice added for sweetness), so you better prepare your palate for the tart rush of authentic, smashed cherries. (The company says there are 50 cherries in an 8 oz. mini-bottle. Sour-sweet, authentic, and a big rush of fruit. Use sparingly as a mixer. 130 calories. A- / $12 for four 8 oz. bottles

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Review: Just Chill Natural Stress Relief Beverages (2013 Flavors)

just chillAs “relaxation drinks” go, Just Chill is one of the better products on the market. Since its 2011 introduction, the product has been a success, and now the company is rolling out two new flavors plus a slightly revamped can design.

Each 12 oz. can is now 70 calories instead of 50, as the cans are larger, 12 oz. instead of 8.4 oz. Ingredients are the same, there’s just more of them: L-theanine (243mg per 12 oz. can), vitamins B and C, magnesium, zinc, Siberian ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and lemongrass. Sweetening is via fruit juice and stevia, and carbonation is gentle. My comments about the relaxation effect of the drink remain about the same.

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Review: Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

crabbie's ginger beerThe whole “ginger ale/ginger beer” thing is extremely misleading. As any partaker of the occasional can of Canada Dry can tell you, there’s no “ale” in there — it’s really just ginger-flavored 7-Up.

Ginger beer and ginger ale aren’t the same thing (The difference between the two is simple: Ginger ale was actually invented as a soft drink. Ginger beer is actually fermented and brewed.) But in reality, even high-end artisan ginger beer products like Fever-Tree don’t have alcohol in them.

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Review: Pomagria Pomegranate Sangria

pomagriaPomegranate remains the hottest superfruit out there, mainly because, unlike a lot of these fruity-come-latelies,  pomegranate tastes good.

Not a bad idea then to add a little super-juice to your sangria, no?

Well, Pomagria — not the best name, to be honest — doesn’t quite work, landing in a no man’s land between fruit juice and the classic wine cocktail. On the nose you’d be hard-pressed to say this was sangria at all. It smells just like the kids’ breakfast juice. Over time, some vague alcohol vapors bubble up.

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Review: Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water

Fever-Tree has a richly deserved reputation as the producer of some of the finest artisanal mixers in the business. Its Indian Tonic Water, Ginger Beer, and Ginger Ale are all top notch.

Now Fever-Tree is expanding its tonic water portfolio with a new spin: Mediterranean Tonic Water, which is made “using the most authentic strain of quinine and the finest lemon oils from Sicily as well as thyme, geranium, rosemary and mandarin [from the Mediterranean], we have created a delicious new taste experience.” I compared the new product (blue label) to the original “Premium Indian Tonic Water” (gold label).  (Fever-Tree also sells a light Indian Tonic Water and a Bitter Lemon (aka Lemon Tonic) product.)

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Review: Kahlua Iced Coffee Grab & Go Cocktails

You can pour your Kahlua into coffee, or you can get it in one-stop format, thanks to Kahlua’s new “grab & go” canned cocktails. (I’m not sure where you’re supposed to be “going” with one of these in hand, but that’s another story.)

Each of these pre-mixed cocktails are fairly self-explanatory, and each includes 100% Arabica coffee from Veracruz, Mexico. Each can contains 200ml (6.8 oz.) of cocktail and a mere 5% alcohol. (150 calories each, if you’re curious.) Here’s how the three varieties come across. All three have the appearance of dark coffee, complete with a small layer of crema on top when poured into a glass.

Kahlua Iced Espresso – Mild coffee with mild Kahlua notes, but a reasonable expression of both the constituent components. Somewhat nutty, with burnt caramel notes on the finish. Drinkable, even the whole can. B+

Kahlua Iced Mocha – Sweet, with more chocolate than coffee character, but neither is exceptionally strong. Not bad, but the thick aftertaste starts to coat the tongue after a while. B

Kahlua Iced Coffee with Cinnamon Spice – Like a Starbucks concoction, which is a bit much for my tastes. Very strong cinnamon and sugar on the nose, and plenty more where that came from as you sip. Like the mocha in the cloying department, times three. C+

$2.50 per 200ml can / kahlua.com

 

Review: Bai and Bai5 Antioxidant Infusions Beverages

The world of health-focused juice blends is an ever-expanding one, and quality is all over the map. One of the better ones out there is Bai, and we tasted a sampling of juices including both Bai (traditionally sweetened with organic cane juice) and Bai5 (sweetened with low-cal erythritol) products.

All Bai products are spiked with organic coffeefruit and white tea extract, which is one way to get the purported antioxidant goodness of both of these drinks into your diet… without having to brew up coffee or tea, and with minimal caffeine (each serving has about as much as a cup of green tea).

Thoughts on three of the infusions (there are about a dozen in total) follow.

Bai Antioxidant Infusions Jamaica Blue Berry – Good, authentic blueberry flavor, and just the right amount of sweetness and a little touch of cinnamon character on the finish. Somewhere between flavored water and juice, which suits me just fine. 10% juice. About 160 calories per 18 oz. bottle. A-

Bai5 Antioxidant Infusions Panama Peach – Very peachy, pretty authentic. Not much aftertaste, and the sweetness level is right. Good consistency, not too watery. Peach isn’t my favorite fruit but I could totally see drinking this on an occasional basis. 4% juice. About 11 calories per 18 oz. bottle. B+

Bai5 Antioxidant Infusions Sumatra Dragonfruit - Stronger in flavor, and a bit musty. The flavor is somewhere in the region of a mix of raspberry, cherry, and mango. which gives this darker, more intense beverage more of a fruit punch character. Not bad, but not as nuanced as the others. 4% juice. About 11 calories per 18 oz. bottle. B

about $24 per 12-pack [BUY IT HERE] / drinkbai.com

bai 5

Review: Vino Innovations Vino Freeze Mix

Do you like wine? Do you like Kool-Aid? Do you like Slurpees? If you said yes to all three, you’re in for a real treat (ahem): Vino Freeze Mix, which gives you the triple threat of ultra-sugary powder plus the buzz of cheap wine in a slushy frozen package.

It sounds like a joke but I assume you this is a real thing. In fact, I tried it. With my mouth.

Let’s start with what it is. Vino Freeze Mix comes a company called Old World Gourmet, so you might imagine all the Ukranian babushkas carefully harvesting the sugar, citric acid, purple carrot powder (for color), and natural flavors from the fields, then packaging it 12 ounces at a time in metallic bags and festively colored boxes to be sold in gourmet stores across the land. (A full bag of Vino Freeze Mix (10 servings) has 260 grams of sugar.)

To make your Vino Freeze — I chose the Blueberry Pomegranate flavor, but a half dozen varieties are available — you dump the bag into a pitcher, add a full bottle of “your favorite* red wine,” and another 750ml bottle of water. Stir, then freeze for 3 to 4 hours, and your wine slushy is ready.

Some problems I encountered: First, a pitcher does not promote freezing well, so you are advised to follow the “or” advice on the package and use a plastic bag to contain the concoction. In fact, my pitcher popped open in the freezer and rained Blueberry Pomegranate sleet across my fridge, which was awesome. My fault, though. Also, after 4 hours, my Vino Freeze was still mostly water. It took at least 7 hours to get anywhere near slushy status.

And once it was done, my, what a heretical beverage this was. Ungodly sweet, with a cough syrup kicker, the only thing going for this “drink” was that it was cold and the weather outside was warm. Clearly this is marketed for the daytime-drinking cougar crowd, but lord knows those tireless ladies deserve better than this.

D- / $10 per package / owgshoponline.com

* I highly recommend not using your favorite wine.