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.

Sangria Special: New Offerings from Senor Sangria and Eppa Reviewed

Summer is in full swing, and that means sangria season is here. We’ve looked at Senor Sangria’s original red sangria in the past, now the company’s back with a white sangria. Also on tap: Red sangria from Eppa with a health-conscious spin. Here’s how these offerings from Senor Sangria (made in Washingtonville, New York) and Eppa (made in Hopland, California) stack up.

Senor Sangria Classic White – A blend of fruit juices with white wine, this is heavy on orange and lemon, and in fact it could almost pass for a flat mimosa. A bit of tropical fruit — pineapple and mango, perhaps guava — adds a little more excitement. Very mild and party friendly. 8.5% alcohol. A- / $8   senorsangria.com

Senor Sangria Classic Red - Deep red, with a big wine character to it. Fruit comes along second, deep berry-inflected notes along with some apple, orange, and maybe even some lime and grapefruit in there. Spices seem evident as well, giving this sangria the feel of a chilled, mulled wine — emphasis on the wine. I’m a touch less enamored with it now than I was when I first sampled it three years ago (as it comes across now as a little on the boozy side), but it’s still a very good sangria provided you want something a little more substantial, less sweet, in your glass. 8% alcohol. B+ / $8

Eppa SupraFruta Sangria – Organic wine blended with organic “superior fruit,” this is a milder red sangria than Senor Sangria’s red, and it’s evident the company started with a fruitier wine as its base and more of a focus on strong fruit flavors. The company says that pomegranate, blueberry, blood orange, and acai juices are used in the mix, along with various citrus juices. The pomegranate is quite prominent, with blueberry close behind. The ultimate effect is a significantly different drink, something closer to a juice blend you’d have at breakfast than with your jerk chicken. Not significantly better or worse, just different. 8% alcohol. B+ / $12   eppasangria.com

  • senor sangria
  • eppa sangria

Review: The Perfect Puree New Flavors – Chipotle Sour, Thyme & Citrus, Thai Basil & Black Pepper

The Perfect Puree is back with more high-end blended mixers, this time fruit bases blended with spices to create a combination of sweet and savory components in one cocktail. Want to recreate higher-end mixological tricks without a lot of effort? Check out one of these ready-made mixers.

Chipotle Sour – a hodgepodge of lime, orange, lemon, apple, pear, pineapple, and tangerine juice, plus chipotle flavors – very peppery on the nose and spicy as hell on the tongue, cut very light by lemon/lime/orange juice character; very much in the vein of a pre-mixed sangrita, you could use this as an avant garde Bloody Mary base. B+

Thai Basil & Black Pepper – a base of pineapple, lime, lemon, and orange, with (obviously) Thai basil and pepper atop – pineapple and basil are the most evident notes, and they work well together here, almost like a sweet and sour sauce or a very mild curry; the pepper is understated and mellow; probably my favorite of this batch. A-

Thyme & Citrus – looks like the same ingredients (lime, orange, lemon, etc.) plus thyme flavors in lieu of chipotle – very herbal on the nose, though it’s hard to pick out what herb it is exactly until you taste it; there the thyme comes through loud and clear, with lots of citrus behind it; tastes like something you’d get at a newfangled bar — I had good luck mixing it with passion fruit vodka. B+

each $25 per quart (32 oz.) / perfectpuree.com

Perfect Puree

Review: Mionetto ‘IL’ SPR!Z

I’ve written about the Aperol Spritz — often just the Spritz — before. It’s a refreshing and tasty cocktail that’s incredibly easy to make. Along with the Bellini, it’s pretty much the official cocktail of Venice, and many Italian restaurants here and abroad have adopted the Spritz in their own menus.

In Italy, you can buy premade, bottled Spritzes galore in markets. Now they’re coming to the U.S. The first is from Mionetto, a major Prosecco brand, which is launching the complex-monikered ‘IL’ SPR!Z in the U.S. We got a chance to sample it.

‘IL’ is not exactly a traditional Aperol-based Spritz but rather “premium frizzante sparkling wine, natural colors and aromas, and flavors of fresh orange and select herbs.” The effect is quite authentic, orange-heavy on the nose, lightly bitter on the finish, with touches green olive and dried herbs. It may not be quite as good as a Spritz made with genuine Aperol, but it’s definitely palatable, refreshing, and reminiscent of hot days by the Grand Canal.

Note that this is bottled with a crown-cap closure and, once opened, partial bottles can’t readily be saved. 8% alcohol by volume. Available in 750ml, 375ml, and (soon) 187ml versions.

B+ / $14 per 750ml bottle / mionettousa.com