Review: Magnum Exotics Coffee

magnum exoticsMagnum Exotics recently debuted its new line of coffees in California, with a national expansion on the way. The company behind these products is a major private label coffee supplier, but this is its first original brand being marketed directly to the public. Thoughts on two of these offerings follow.

Magnum Exotics Organic Fogcutter Dark Roast – Relatively mild, in fact I was surprised to see this described as a dark roast. Fruity, with a touch of cocoa bean on the back end. I enjoyed this brew quite a lot more than I expected. While I normally drink coffee with a touch of sugar, the fruity character in Fogcutter gives it enough balance for me to forgo any sweetener at all. A-

Magnum Exotics Kona Blend Medium Roast – A simple coffee, lightly nutty with a little cocoa bean element to it. Moderate bitterness and mild acidity offer interest to the palate, but the somewhat thin body seems to ask for cream. B+

each $10 per 10-12 oz. bag / magnumexoticscoffee.com

Review: Blue Crab Bay Co. Bloody Mary and Margarita Mixes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlue Crab Bay is an artisan food company on Virginia’s Chesapeake coast, and just a few of its products are non-alcoholic cocktail mixers. We tasted them all, both with and without spirits.

Blue Crab Bay Snug Harbor Bloody Mary Mix – Extremely thick. The nose is earthy, like a big beefsteak tomato, with mushroom notes. On the body, big and chewy tomato character, without vodka it’s almost pastelike. It starts without a whole lot of spice to note, just a hint of pepper and maybe some celery salt, with just the faintest touch of heat on the lips… but not on the tongue. This builds over time as you sip it to a decent level of burn — think a typical medium salsa. It’s a good choice for Bloody fans who find tomato to be the most important ingredient. B / $10

Blue Crab Bay Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mix – Adds clam juice to the Snug Harbor formula (this is often called a Clam Digger, Red Eye, or Caesar, depending on where you live), which strangely makes this mixer not more maritime in tone but rather sweeter and less savory. It’s not quite as thick, either. The mushroomy notes fade away as they leave behind a character that brings some lemony citrus notes and a bit more salt to bear. This is more evident when you add vodka to the mix. While overall you’ll find this to be similar to the Snug Harbor product, I think it does make for a slightly better finished product. B+ / $10

Blue Crab Bay Jalapeno Infused Margarita Mix – Coastal Virginia is not an area I typically associate with the margarita, but hey, who’s checking. This “jalapeno infused” mixer is quite easy on the spice, so heat-a-phobes needn’t be overly concerned. The mix itself is quite mild, with restrained but authentic lime notes, modest sweetness, and just a touch of heat. Fine if you’re making pitchers for a tailgate party, but not quite developed enough for your top shelf tequilas. B / $5

bluecrabbay.com

Review: Powell & Mahoney Blood Orange and Ginger Cocktail Mixes

powell and mahoney blood orangePowell & Mahoney makes high-end, non-alcoholic cocktail mixers, and recently it’s expanded its lineup to a full 10 different bottlings. Today we look at two of the latest expressions.

All of the company’s mixers are made with natural juices, cane sugar, and a smattering of natural flavors, making them a convenient yet high-quality shortcut to cocktaildom when you’re short on time. (It happens!)

Thoughts follow.

Powell & Mahoney Blood Orange – Made with blood orange, (regular) orange, and tangerine concentrates. Brisk and tangy, but not specifically “blood” orange in either taste or color. Standard Valencia orange is more the order of the day, with sub-notes of lemon and grapefruit. Still, this is a mixer that’s easy to drink and which makes for a mean screwdriver… or, dare we suggest, a Harvey Wallbanger? A-

Powell & Mahoney Old Ballycastle Ginger –  Ingredients include ginger, fennel, elderflower, and milk thistle. An odd idea. If I want ginger in my drink, I add ginger beer, or Canton, when punch is desired. P&M’s ginger provides that punch and bite of ginger, sans the alcohol or the fizz. Some earthiness starts this mixer out, then that heavy, authentic ginger bite grabs you. There’s a light lemon character on the finish that helps temper the ginger’s spice (perhaps from the elderflower), but otherwise this is both straightforward and authentic. Anyone looking to spike a cocktail with a touch of ginger — without adding alcohol — will find this a good option. A-

each $9 / powellandmahoney.com

Review: Dry Sodas

DRY-Soda-5-can-lockupDry Soda is a company making a business out of soda with no high fructose corn syrup, less sweetness, lower carbonation, and an overall healthier approach to drinking the stuff. Its products all famously have just four ingredients — water sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. A 12 oz. can typically hits between 45 and 65 calories. Nine versions are available. We tasted five for review.

All take a little getting used to, but damn if you don’t feel like a better person for drinking on instead of popping open a Mountain Dew.

Thoughts follow.

Dry Vanilla Bean Soda – Mild, not really flavorful enough. Vanilla tastes authentic, but there’s just not enough of it. The overall impact is a slight cream soda character, though not nearly as mouth-filling. B-

Dry Blood Orange Soda – There’s enough fruit flavor here to give it a little more oomph over the comparably dulled Vanilla Bean Soda. It comes off a bit like an upscale orange crush that’s been left with ice to melt, but that’s not an entirely bad thing. B

Dry Apple Soda – A success. Solid apple on the nose and on the palate. Good carbonation level, which balances the apple, offering just a touch of vanilla on the back end. B+

Dry Ginger Soda – My favorite, a simpler spin on ginger ale, with a modest bite but clear ginger notes, touched with a little citrus character. I’d have no trouble mixing with this or drinking it straight. A-

Dry Cucumber Soda – An oddity, just as it sounds. Mild cuke notes, with a kind of lime kick to it. Relatively refreshing, but just not as enjoyable as some of the others in the series. B-

$15 per 12-pack of 12 oz. cans / drysoda.com

Review: Zone 8 Honey Lemon Tea

bottle_honey_bgZone 8 is an Illinois-based company looking to bring high-end bottled tea to the masses. It launched on Kickstarter this summer, and though it didn’t meet its funding goals, its future seems unclear.

The company is making one expression — Honey Lemon — at present, with seven potential ones to come.

This is a blend of black tea, white clover honey, and organic lemon juice. It’s a product that expresses itself piece by piece rather than all at once. The attack is very sweet, with distinct honey notes. The tea — dense and earthly — follows, then comes the lemon. The citrus has a bit of an orange character to it — almost like Meyer lemon. Sweetness returns, almost as a hint, for the finish. It’s easy to like, though I think it’s a bit over-flavored; I’d like the tea component to shine through a bit more clearly.

135 calories per 12 oz. bottle.

B / not yet available / drinkzone8.com

Review: Camus Coffee

camus coffeeWe love Camus’ Cognac. Now the company is doing a brand extension unlike any other I’ve ever seen: into coffee. Per the company:

Coffee is a natural next step for CAMUS:  similarly to Cognac, coffee is an agricultural product strongly influenced by terroir, judicious harvesting, fermentation, application of heat, and – most of all – blending.  Cyril Camus explains:  “As I started to appreciate the diversity in coffee and learn about the complexity of its production, I realized how much similarity there is between creating a great Cognac and creating a great coffee.  In both cases, a great product is the result of lasting relationships with growers, extreme care in crop selection, skilled craftsmanship in the production and transformation processes, experienced and intuitive blending, and an unmitigated drive for the best.  I came to see that the abilities and attitudes that have become part of us over nearly 150 years of making Cognac are directly applicable to coffee.  At CAMUS, we have a passionate drive for quality, and as a family business we have the long-term view and freedom to apply this to everything we do.”

So, we don’t review much coffee, but we had to take a stab at these expressions. I wonder if Cyril was inspired by this quote from fellow Camus, Albert?

Thoughts in the coffees follow.

Camus Coffee Signature Blend – A mild roast, clear nut characteristics and ample acidity. A simple, everyday roast with modest bitterness and a moderate to long finish, though the body is a bit on the thin side. B / $22 per 17.6 oz box [BUY IT HERE]

Camus Coffee French Roast – Bolder, though again quite nutty on the palate. On the whole more satisfying, with a somewhat earthy richness to the body that gives it more heft and a longer finish. A- / $22 per 17.6 oz box [BUY IT HERE]

camuscoffee.com

Review: Perrier Flavored Sparkling Waters

perrierDID YOU KNOW: Even Perrier has jumped into the flavored waters business? In addition to the classic, heavily mineral-infused sparkling water, you can also sip on three fruit-flavored versions. Give them a try in lieu of club soda or tonic water in your favorite cocktail to see how things change. Thoughts follow.

Perrier Lemon – Slightly medicinal aroma, more of a bitter lemon peel character than I was expecting. Lots and lots of mineral character shining through. Might make an interesting tonic substitute. B

Perrier Lime – A considerably stronger citrus presence than lemon, with clearer and more persistent character. Slightly sweeter, it would pair well with a mild gin. B+

Perrier Grapefruit – Very strong nose, almost like a grapefruit soda. Much milder than expected on the body, which comes across as more orange than grapefruit. Probably the most natural tasting of the bunch — it blends the best with Perrier’s heavy minerality. Probably my favorite of the group. Works very well in lieu of a splash of club soda in an Aperol SpritzB+

each $3 per 750ml bottle [BUY IT HERE] / perrier.com

Blind Review: SkinnyGirl Margarita vs. SmarteRita

skinnygirl magarita If you’re unfamiliar with the SkinnyGirl phenomenon, either you don’t go down the booze aisle at your grocery store or you’re a dude. SkinnyGirl is one of the fastest-growing brands in the spirits (and wine) world, and its vast array of “low-cal” alcoholic beverages have ladies’ night positively abuzz.

It was only a matter of time before SkinnyGirl hit the margarita world, and this pre-mixed margie is already drawing competition. One of those competitors is called SmarteRita. It may not roll off the tongue, but really we’re more concerned about how it fares going the other way.

We put the two cocktails head to head to see how they shaped up. Both were tasted blind. Notes follow.

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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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