Category Archives: Mixers

Review: Dream Dust Sleep Aid

Following on the heels of a variety of “relaxation shots” comes Dream Dust, which is not dust but rather a liquid in the familiar plastic “shot” bottle, designed to help get you to sleep. (Motto: “Better Sleep, Better Health, Better Life.”)

The composition is very similar to Mini Chill, including Vitamin B6, Magnesium Zinc, GABA, L-Theanine, 5-HTP, and — probably most importantly — Melatonin. The flavor: Light berry, a little watery, with a chalky finish. The effect: Not bad. I fell asleep about 40 minutes after drinking a 2 oz. bottle of Dream Dust and stayed out all night, with pleasant and vivid dreams. Waking at 6 a.m. I found myself groggy but fairly refreshed and overall ready to face the day, with no feelings of sluggishness as the afternoon wore on.

Dream Dust is about on par with Mini Chill for both palatability and effectiveness. It’s certainly worth a shot (get it?) if you find yourself having trouble nodding off.

B+ / $2 per 2 oz. bottle /

Review: 12 Noon to Midnight Sparkling Beverage

Never mind the name — which is proof perhaps that everything is taken by now — what exactly is a “culinary beverage,” as 12 Noon to Midnight claims to be.

I’ve yet to figure out the nuance of the term, but here’s what I can tell you: 12 Noon to Midnight is a non-alcoholic, sparkling drink, available in both white and red/pink varieties. It’s clearly intended as a wine substitute, but it is not positioned as a non-alcoholic wine. In fact, it is made out of tea (white, green, and black) and flavored with herbs and citrus “essence” — though the rouge version has actual pomegranate and red grape juice in it.

That all adds up, I suppose, to a “culinary” beverage.

The flavors are difficult to describe, and 12 Noon to Midnight is not lying when it says it is “unlike anything you have ever tasted.” Sparkling, cold, citrus-infused spiced tea? Sure.

12 Noon to Midnight Original is the “blanc” flavor, a light yellow drink with more fizz in it than you might think. The immediate kick is very tea-heavy. Black tea, mostly, and it’s prominent on the nose, too. You get spice — cinnamon and ginger — only on the finish, along with the citrus portion of the drink. Orange/tangerine, with maybe a touch of lemon. All of this comes together less deliciously than one would hope, but it’s not bad — and it’s indeed different. Lightly bitter, with a sweetish finish, it occupies more the realm of flavored sparkling waters than it does anything else. B

12 Noon to Midnight Rouge has a stronger flavor, and is a bit like the Original version in reverse. Here the sweetness is up front, a clear pomegranate juice kick, which then fades into an earthy, black tea character. You also get the tea on the nose, more so than with the Original. Rouge is a bit more straightforward but it still features a complex flavor that is at odds with the way it looks in the glass. Ultimately I like it just about the same: Pleasant and a little refreshing, but perhaps in need of more sweetness. B

60 calories per 8 oz. serving.

$10 per 750ml bottle /

Review: Spike Your Juice Homemade Booze Kit

I’ve seen some weird stuff in my day, but Spike Your Juice is pretty much the strangest of them all.

Put simply, Spike Your Juice is a system for turning ordinary fruit juice into good old-fashioned hooch. Inside the colorful box you’ll find a few little mystery packets. You pour the packets into an off-the-shelf 64-ounce bottle of fruit juice (no artificial sweeteners, no refrigerated juice — essentially that means cranberry or grape juice — and let ‘er rip. You stop up the bottle with an included airlock, and wait 48 hours. Presto, you’ve got booze.

OK, the mystery should be easy to solve. What’s in the little packet is yeast (plus a little extra sugar), and that yeast goes to work on all the sugar in the juice in relatively short order. It takes only a few hours for the juice to start bubbling and blurping a gray/purple scum into the airlock, and it’s clear Spike Your Juice is hard at work. The juice is said to reach a maximum of 14% alcohol, putting it on par with wine. That’s right folks, you’re making homemade pruno, sans the dirty socks and the trash bag.

What does the end result of Spike Your Juice taste like? It’s surprisingly fizzy on the tongue, and it has a clear alcohol bite. But it’s sweet — at least after the first two days (the company says it will become drier the longer you let it sit). At first, not unpleasant — like a really cheap red wine that’s been bottled by someone with dirty hands — and then the aftertaste gets you. Musty and funky, it’s got a kick that, as my aunt used to say, will bite you back.

I can still taste it.

Rating this one just does not make sense, as I can only see it being attempted out of morbid curiosity, a dare, or both. Supposedly hugely popular in Europe.

$10 for six packets (enough for 3 gallons of hooch) plus airlock /

Review: Tranquila Relaxation Shots

Tranquila isn’t the first “relaxation” shot on the market, but it is, to my knowledge, the first one without the word “chill” in the name.

The format is familiar: Little plastic vial holding 2 fluid ounces of super-sweet liquid.

Tranquila is available in two varieties, with quite different formulations (but both with zero calories, sweetened with sucralose). We tasted both.

Tranquila Original includes Vitamins B3, B6, B12, Folate, GABA, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea Flower Extract, Rhaponticum Carthamoides Extract, and — get ready for this one — Eleutherococcus Senticoccus Root Extract. I have no idea what most of that stuff is, but the idea is to improve overall mood, boost immune system response, and combat stress. The flavor is very tart lemon-lime, quite sweet, and not all that bad. A bit like a flat Mountain Dew with five sugar cubes mixed in. Hard to tell if I felt “calmer” or more immune to anything after consuming the concoction, but it certainly didn’t hurt. C

Tranquila PM has a much different makeup: Vitamin B6, Zinc, Magnesium, Phenibut, L-Theanine, and — the kicker — Melatonin. As you might have guessed by the name and the lattermost ingredient, the idea is not just to improve overall mood, boost immune system response, and combat stress, but to put you to sleep too. The taste is better, less sweet than the Original but still quite tart and lemon-lime in essence. Unlike the Original, Tranquila PM’s effects were powerful and rather immediate. I was crashing¬† to sleep in about 15 minutes. In fact, I had a hell of a time getting up the next morning: It’s unclear how much melatonin is in each vial, but I was dragging for a couple of hours after waking. Maybe that’s a good thing. Your mileage (and opinion about that) may vary. B

$3 per vial /

Review: Jarritos Mexican Sodas

If you spend as much time in taquerias as I do, you know Jarritos, the colorful sodas that come only in bottles, courtesy of our friends south of the border. Jarritos, like most Mexican sodas, are sweetened with natural sugar. They’re generally lightly carbonated, and they contain no caffeine. Flavors are predominantly a mix of natural and artificial.

The collection is a bit of a hodgepodge, design wise: Some bottles are clear and feature old-school labels. Some have a more modern, cartoony design. Even the bottle size varies: Most Jarritos come in 12.5 oz. bottles, but not all. In general, expect to get about 160 to 200 calories per bottle of the stuff.

We tried all 11 flavors in the current Jarritos lineup (that’s about 500 grams of sugar, folks) and weigh in with our opinion on each one.

Jarritos. Mexico. Culture. Get to know us.

Pineapple (Pina) – Sounds a bit nasty, but it’s surprisingly good. The pineapple flavor — and especially the color — are hardly authentic, but they both work. It’s neon yellow in color, but on the muted side in the flavor department. Citrusy, with a vaguely tropical bent. More like dried pineapple, or pineapple-flavored candy. Not bad. B+

Mandarin (Mandarina) – Orange soda, through and through, but not as sweet as your traditional Orange Crush, etc. A bit more carbonated than most of the Jarritos line. I’m not a huge orange soda fan, but this isn’t bad at all for the category. B

Lima-Limon – As you can guess by the name, this is a lemon-lime flavor. Heavier on the lime than the lemon, but a little too sweet compared to, say, 7-Up. Gets cloying over time. B

Guava (Guayaba) - Rather startling at first (the pink color may not help here), but it grows on you. Ultimately it presents itself a bit like cotton candy, quite sweet but with a certain something (guava, I suppose) that makes it a bit out of the ordinary. The uniqueness is refreshing. A-

Strawberry (Freya) - Cloying, but the strawberry does come across in the finish at least. More for kids than grown-ups. C+

Fruit Punch (Tutifruti) - Much like the strawberry, extremely sweet, but with a more clearly cherry character. Imagine fizzy maraschino cherry juice. C

Lime (Limon) – Sweeter than than the lemon-lime, and actually less limey. More candy-like, with flavors that are pleasant, but not really authentic in any way. B

Mango – Yeah, it’s mango, but again the flavors are heightened with more of a dried mango character than fresh. Overwhelmingly sweet to the point where the fruit is almost drowned away. Fortunately, the flavor that is there is good, with no artificial aftertaste. B+

Jamaica – OK, now we’re getting into some weird flavors. Jamaica is similar to the somewhat uncommon agua fresca of the same name, flavored with hibiscus flowers. Deep red, the tone is more akin to heavily sweetened tea than flowers, although some floral notes seep in, although it’s not overdone. Still, I expect this is a bit of an acquired taste. B-

Tamarind (Tamarindo) – The plus: This one’s flavored 100% naturally. The minus: With tamarinds. Sure this is another based-on-an-agua fresca concoction, and it’s always a delicious chutney, but I was nonetheless wary at first of tamarind-flavored soda. Turns out I had no need to be. This is actually one of the better installments in the Jarritos universe. The sweetness is kept in check, the tamarind flavor is mild and piquant — and authentic. It totally grows on you, faster than you’d think. I suddenly want another. A-

Toronja (Grapefruit) – For some reason, this bottle is 13.5 oz. instead of the usual 12.5 oz. Naturally flavored, too.Very mild, but on the sweet side. It’s a nice little twist on lemon-lime drinks, offering fresh citrus character with just a touch of grapefruit sourness. I wish it was a bit fizzier, though. A-

about $2 a bottle /

Review: Sence Rose Nectar

I’ll admit: This stuff has been sitting on my kitchen counter for nearly nine months. Why? Because I’m a little scared of drinking flowers: 48 rose petals go into each 250ml bottle of Sence Rose Nectar, so Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.

But finally I’m doing it.

Wasn’t so scary, really. Sence is exactly what it claims to be: A sweetened, rose-scented concoction that can be used as a mixer or consumed as is, preferably through a pink straw. The recipe is claimed to be hundreds of years old. Could be.

One whiff and you’ll know this is a flower-based juice. The aroma is “old lady perfume” all the way, baby powder and rose petals nonstop. Of course, petals alone would not be drinkable, so Sence wisely adds copious amounts of sugar — 30 grams of it — to give the nectar some sweetness. The flavor is considerably less flowery, and it has more of a flat juice character to it, with minimal aftertaste except for some lingering rose petals in the nostrils.

Whether you like this stuff is going to be strictly a matter of taste. I’ve had some not-bad cocktails made with it (try gin), but my advice is to use it sparingly.

120 calories per bottle. Refrigerate after opening. Note: A version with only 20 grams of sugar (and 2/3 the calories) also exists.

C+ / $4 per 250ml bottle /

Review: ResQwater Peach and Pomegranate

Once a sweetened but otherwise unflavored hangover remedy, ResQwater now comes in flavors.

Much like, say, a bottle of Vitamin Water, the flavoring part is pretty mild, giving the new ResQwater a pale, pastel complexion. The flavoring doesn’t appear to have any basis in actual fruit — aside from “natural flavors” — and, more importantly, the fructose sweetener from the clear version has been jettisoned in favor of sucrose (aka table sugar), giving a full 16 oz. bottle 100 calories.

The taste is somewhat improved over the original — the pomegranate is a little tastier than the somewhat cloying peach — and the consistency is improved. Fructose always lends a gummy texture to beverages, but here the ResQwater is smoother and more refreshing. In other words, if you find yourself stricken with a hangover, you should find the flavored version of ResQwater easier to knock down.

B / $12 for four 16-oz. bottles /

Review: Bossa Nova Juices

Bossa Nova juices are now well entrenched among the Odwallas and Naked Juices of the world. These 80% to 100% juice blends — all heavy on superfruits and antioxidant-laden goodness — come in right-sized, ergonomically-shaped, 10 oz. bottles. Many of the blends are 100% juice, but some are sweetened with agave nectar to improve the palate.

Here’s how the six juices we tasted out of the lineup shake out.

Bossa Nova Acai Original - Tart, and a little gummy. Not a wonderful flavor, sort of like cherry juice mixed with grape. OK in a pinch, but hardly stellar. B

Bossa Nova Acai with Mango - Sounds like a winning combination, but it’s just too sweet. Like the Acerola version, though, it’s on the light side. B

Bossa Nova Acai with Blueberry - At 80% juice, it’s got the most additional stuff of anything in the line, and for good reason — blueberries are great in moderation, but blueberry juice is overpoweringly tart. This is no different; despite the doctoring it’s too tough to drink. B-

Bossa Nova Acerola with Red Peach - Light flavor, with mild peach notes. Also adds (exciting!) red dragonfruit. A-

Bossa Nova Mangosteen with Passionfruit - Tastes like a smoothie and looks like one, too. Also includes guava and red peach juice, giving this an exotic, Hawaiian kick to it. Overall very good and a pleasure to drink. A winner. A

Bossa Nova Mangosteen with Dragonfruit – Has a bit of a fruit punch character to it, probably due to the addition of both sweet and sour cherry juices. The finish is a bit cloying. B-

$3 and up per 10 oz. bottle /

Review: Cordina Mar-Go-Rita Wine Cocktail

The mercury has topped 90 in San Francisco today, and in a city with no air conditioning, that means retreating to whatever means necessary one can dig up to stay cool.

Cordina’s goofily-named Mar-Go-Rita has been in my freezer for weeks, so what better time than now to bust it out.

What is it? Imagine a kid’s metallic Capri Sun packet, with an oversized hole for the straw. But don’t refrigerate: Freeze it. The insides turn slushy, not unlike the stuff that comes out of one of those machines behind the bar at your favorite tourist trap. You drink it right out of the pouch, or squeeze it into a glass if you’re feelin’ fancy.

What exactly is a “wine cocktail?” The base of the Mar-Go-Rita isn’t tequila but “agave wine,” which is fermented, not distilled, to 48 proof instead of 80 proof. Cordina doesn’t say what the rest of the cocktail is, except that it has no artificial flavors or colors, but the resulting juice is 8% alcohol (16 proof).

The final product: Not bad, actually. It does indeed taste a lot like a chain-restaurant slushy drink, overly sweet-and-soured, tart, but with a distinct tequila-like bite to it. Fine for a blazing hot day, but hardly a classic margarita you’d make at home.

If nothing else, it’s way better than this stuff, which has basically the same idea.

B / $3.39 per 375ml pouch /

Review: El Jimador “New Mix” Tequila Cocktails

“New Mix” is not a slogan stuck on the can of El Jimador’s ready-to-drink tequila cocktails. It’s the actual name of the product: New Mix.

Hugely popular in Mexico, New Mix now comes in five flavors. We’ve had the first three flavors sitting in the fridge literally for months, and finally we are getting around to cracking them open to see what all the fuss is about. (We’re still not sure.)

Each is 5 percent alcohol and is made with actual tequila. The drinks are lightly carbonated.

Thoughts in each follow.

El Jimador New Mix Margarita looks like a lemon-lime soda, and frankly tastes like it too. The fizzy concoction is solid soft drink up front, then you get that tequila bite in the finish. There’s not much of it, but it’s noticeable. That said, this tastes almost nothing like a margarita (with none of the flavor of triple sec that it claims to have), but a lot more like a Seven-and-Tequila, but I guess that wouldn’t look as good on the label. C

El Jimador New Mix Paloma – A paloma is traditionally a grapefruit juice and tequila cocktail, and this rendition does at least smell like grapefruit when you crack open the can. The flavor is a little funkier than that, though — less grapefruit and more of a canned fruit salad. Less tequila bite than the margarita New Mix, which in this case is not a great thing. C-

El Jimador New Mix Spicy Mango Margarita – It’s not an orange crush in that can, it’s a spicy mango margarita! El Jimador radically overreaches here, pulling off something that is more reminiscent of Red Bull than anything that bears resemblance to spice, mango, or margarita. No idea where this one came from or why it exists. D

Review: The Bitter Truth Bitters Lineup

Hey Mr. Sheriff, there’s a new gun in town in the bitters category. Called The Bitter Truth (get it?), this brand hails from Germany and now spans eight types of bitters.

The house style is, how shall we put it, bitter. Strong on the bitterness, less of a focus on the fruit or other components of the mix. In fact, The Bitter Truth’s lineup is stronger in the bitterness category than any other bitters brand I’ve tried; I recommend a relatively light hand when mixing drinks with these, but while the overall line has some winners and losers, in the right concentration they can all be pretty good.

We tried six of the eight bottles in the lineup. Comments follow.

The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters – Very strong, with a root beer attack and a very bitter finish. Angostura is sweeter and easier going, while Fee’s Aromatic has more of a soda pop feel to it. Angostura remains my clear favorite here. B

The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters – A direct alternative to Peychaud’s bitters, and quite similar if you can get the quantity right. Again, they’re considerably more bitter, however, with a sort of burnt aftertaste. B

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters – Comparable to Fee’s Orange, with a big orange peel character and a strong, bitter finish. B+

The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters – The biggest departure from the competition: Fee’s is hugely sweet, while The Bitter Truth has an intense citrus peel bitterness. This would be incredibly different in a cocktail — and I actually prefer this one to Fee’s. B+

The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters – Bitter Truth’s version has virtually no grapefruit character to it at all and is mostly forgettable. Fee’s has a good balance of fruit with a bitter edge. C-

The Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole Bitters – Alas, I have no other chocolate bitters for comparison. Interesting hints of chocolate and cinnamon on first blush, then quickly overpowered by a bitter conclusion. Interesting, but not sure where or how I’d use this one. B-

Review: Regatta Ginger Beer

The ginger beer Renaissance continues, with newcomer Regatta joining the fray as another solid alternative on the market. Not as full of bite (or little chunks) as Fever-Tree, it’s a sweeter brew that can be consumed in a cocktail or on its own. The ingredients include fructose, ginger extract, and a variety of gums and such, but the impact on the whole is pretty good.

Available in 12 oz. bottles and single-serve-sized 8 oz. cans, the ginger bite is modest but present, and the sweetness isn’t overdone. Good balance, on the whole, though the finish is a little odd, with a lingering aftertaste that feels perhaps a little chalky.

A nice ginger beer for those who can’t handle the burn.

UPDATE: Regatta in cans has always been sweetened with cane sugar, not fructose, and the company is also now switching its bottled product to cane sugar as well.

A- / $2 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Unwind Citrus Orange Relaxation Beverage

Unwind is another entry into the budding “relaxation” beverage category, imbued with additives designed not to pump you up (or get you drunk) but to knock you out after a long day.

Unwind counts among its ingredients valerian root, rose hips, acai, goji berry, passion flower, and that age-old calming standby, melatonin (with a whopping 3mg per 16-oz. can; the amounts of the other additives aren’t disclosed). It’s a relatively small ingredient list (not including the various B vitamins therein), and available in three flavor, citrus orange (reviewed here), pomegranate, and grape.

The flavor fortunately doesn’t outgun the bright orange color. The taste is fairly mild, more like a Tang than an orange drink, though the fizz feels strange in a late-night beverage, almost more like an Alka-Seltzer than a Coke. Overall, it’s not unpleasant. It’s also relatively low in sugar — 12 grams per can, which gives you just 50 calories.

After putting away about half a can (really, what more can you ask of me, people?), I’m feeling reasonably relaxed. I’m not exactly tired but I could certainly go to sleep if I was prodded in that direction.

One question before I nod off: For something you’re supposed to drink before bed, what’s the idea of putting this in a 16 ounce can? What restful sleeper wants to have to get up in the middle of the night to pee?

Update: Now available in 12 oz. cans (thanks to this review, by the by), and two additional flavors, goji grape and pom berry — the latter being my favorite of the trio.

B / $55 (shipped) per 24-pack of 16 oz. cans /

Review: Whipahol Whipped Lightning

Sadly we don’t have a category for this: Alcohol-infused, flavored whipped cream.

That crazy conjecture is what Whipahol’s Whipped Lightning is: Flavored cream (and it is cream, not non-dairy topping), injected with alcohol and compressed air to fluff it up. It’s available in nine flavors, none of which are “whipped cream.”

That’s because you need flavoring to cover up the heavy, heavy alcohol character here. 36.5 proof doesn’t sound like much, but for some reason in whipped form it’s overbearing. Dip a tiny tip of a spoon into Whipped Lightning to taste it and you’re likely to grimace from the Sterno-like alcoholic burn.

The idea of course is that you spray this stuff atop your Bailey’s or chocolate-flavored novelty shot (or, who knows, take it to the beach for co-ed betting purposes), making the drink’s presentation all the better while spiking the alcohol content further. Ultimately it’s more for show than for anything it adds to the flavor of a cocktail.

Mileage varies considerably for each flavor. Of the six versions I tried, Spiced Vanilla was the easiest to handle, while Tropical Passion was my least favorite of the bunch. To be sure, all the varieties are relatively muted when it comes to the flavors printed on the canister. In all forms, alcohol is the primary characteristic, and any secondary flavoring agent takes a backseat. A chemical aftertaste is common, which I suspect is due mainly to both the alcohol and the propellant.

I’m not giving this one a rating; the idea is too brain-addling to even fathom one. And yet, if you’re really out-there with your mixology and abuse to your liver (refrigeration is not required nor even recommended), why not keep a can on hand. You know, for kicks?

$10 per 375ml can /

Review: The Cedar Door Mexican Martini Mix

As a longtime Austin resident, I cut my teeth on Mexican Martinis, a variant on the Margarita which uses a little more tequila, a little more triple sec, and an olive garnish. Served on the rocks or on the stem — and typically with another drink in a small shaker placed next to your glass.

The debate will likely rage forever on whether The Cedar Door or Trudy’s, both Austin landmarks, is the true “home” of the drink — but The Cedar Door is upping the ante on the argument by releasing its own Mexican Martini mix, a 34 ounce bottle of yellow stuff to which you add tequila, triple sec, and a little lime. Change up the recipe and you’ve got a Margarita if you prefer. Both are printed on the side of the bottle.

Now I’m a skeptic who wouldn’t normally use any premade mix to make a drink, but I have to give The Cedar Door some credit here: Despite the scary color, this stuff is quite good, not too sweet like so many Margarita mixes, and not at all saccharine. The resulting drinks have the right balance of sweet and sour and they taste completely fresh (and the color of the finished drink is right, too). I daresay the Mexican Martini version, complete with a gaggle of olives, is the best way to go here. It’s like a blast from the past. Serve on a hot day. With chips and salsa, please.

Refrigerate after opening.

A- / $6 per 34-ounce bottle /

Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy Stix

We have Drank, why not have Crunk!!! too?

While “crunk” is technically a combination of “crazy” and “drunk,” Crunk!!! (yes, three exclamation points) contains no alcohol. It is rather another energy drink loaded with caffeine, inositol, green tea leaf, damiana, licorice, guarana, l-tyrosine, horny goat weed, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, grape seed extract, skull cap, white willow, and (whew) ashwaganda (which is specifically touted on the can).

While the folks behind Crunk!!! don’t make any medical claims, the ingredients in each can promise to aid memory, well-being, virility, calmness, aches, pain, and more. Not exactly anything we’d consider “crunk-like,” but no matter… it’s just a name, right?

Available in five flavors, each 16 oz. can is lightly carbonated and has 240 calories and 96mg of caffeine. (There’s also Energy Stix… more on that later.)

Crunk!!! Original is flavored with pomegranate but has a distinct overly sweetened and cloying cough syrup character to it. Perhaps it’s just what the average Crunk!!! fan desires? Not terribly enticing. D+

Crunk!!! Grape-Acai is better but quite sour, and fans of grape-flavored drink will likely find it not sweet enough for regular consumption. Tolerable, though. C+

Crunk!!! Mango-Peach is a fairly winning combination of flavors. The taste is light and reasonably fruity. I could see finishing this whole can if I had to. B

Crunk!!! Citrus is the lemon-lime version, but it’s closer to Mountain Dew than 7-Up. Powerful bitterness on the finish; the fruit juice in this one just can’t overpower the herbs and additives. C

Crunk!!! Low Carb Sugar Free is the diet version of Crunk!!! Original, with just 10 calories instead of 240. Sadly, it smells altogether awful (think a football field after a long rainstorm) and tastes only marginally better. D-

Crunk!!! Energy Stix is another beast altogether. These Pixie Stix-like packs are designed to be ripped open and dropped right on your tongue. I tried one (10 calories) and found it to be only mildly unpleasant, though the powder is easy to inhale and can give you a bit of a headache. C+ / $3 for pack of two sticks

As for the “rush,” I’d say all forms of Crunk!!! have a pretty standard caffeine hit, and contrary to the company’s claims there is a crash some hours later.

$44 for case of 24 16-oz. cans /

Review: Bacardi Classic Cocktails Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada

So-called “instant” cocktails don’t have to be bad. I mean, they usually are, but they don’t have to be.

Bacardi, which makes a pretty good instant mojito, has now released two new pre-mixed cocktail flavors, a strawberry daiquiri and a pina colada. As with the mojito flavor, these use real ingredients, not malt liquor and artificial flavors (well, not just artificial flavors), in the mix. Just pour over ice and you’re ready to go (and leftovers have to go in the fridge). Both are 30 proof. Here’s how they measure up.

Bacardi Strawberry Daiquiri suffers from the curse of most strawberry-flavored spirits products in that it tastes awfully saccharine and cough syrupy. Something akin to Hi-C, this concoction is bright pink (not red), you might not believe that this has real rum, lime, sugar, and strawberries in it. It’s not really bad, but anyone expecting something truly tropical will be disappointed. This tastes more like a cosmopolitan than anything else I can think of. C+ / $14

Bacardi Pina Colada is made from rum, pineapple, and real coconut water. Sounds good so far, and sure enough this bad boy is a much bigger success. While the color is more of a translucent, milky white and not the rich, creamy pearl of a real pina colada, it’s close enough for a quickie. The flavor is heavy on the pineapple, with coconut in more of a supporting role, but both are there and both are authentic, with no chemical grossness to be found. It may not quite look the part (blending it with ice will probably be more effective, but more work), it at least tastes about right. B+ / $14

Review: The Perfect Puree Beverage Artistry Mixers

The Perfect Puree has recently added a series of pre-blended mixes of primarily fruit juice, simple syrup, and other goodies to its pre-squeezed fruit juice base offerings, a collection which ranges from banana to strawberry.

Beverage Artistry’s “Premium Blends” offer eight bases you can use to make high-end cocktails without having to buy, cut, squeeze, and blend an endless supply of fruits for their juice… and where does one obtain fresh passion fruit or yuzu, anyway?

Here are thoughts on the entire line of eight Beverage Artistry mixers, which I’ve spent the last several months toying with on their own and in a variety of cocktails. Life is rough.

Mixers must be refrigerated and can be frozen before use (or for use in blended drinks).

Rum Runner – a mix of banana, pineapple, orange, blackberry, and key lime juices — quite delicious, but lends itself (as the name implies) to alcohol-heavy cocktails; beware of over-spiking! A-

El Corazon – passion fruit, pomegranate, and blood orange – a real winner, lovely tropical flavors, and very versatile; tastes authentic and yummy; my favorite of the bunch. A

Mojito – mostly lime – a little too mild; I wouldn’t go out of my way to use this mix when real lime and mint isn’t that hard to obtain. B+

White Sangria – pineapple, peach, tangerine, lemon, and lime – pleasant tasting but a bit too sweet, even for sangria; oddly, too heavy-handed with the lime. B

Red Sangria - apple, pear, strawberry, orange, passion fruit, lime, and elderflower – hardly a traditional sangria mix, and also too sweet; very tropical in flavor, and a little goes a long way in your wine. B

Passion Colada – coconut, pineapple, and passion fruit – quite tasty, with good tropical and coconut flavor, but the yellowish color of the mix can tend toward unappealing. B+

Yuzu Luxe Sour – yuzu, Meyer lemon, key lime, and tangerine – tart and complex; more versatile than you might think, and quite good. A-

Classic Sweet & Sour – sugar, lemon, lime, and orange – extremely green due to food coloring, and way, way, way too sweet, not enough sour. B-

each $25 per quart (32 oz.) /

Review: AMP Energy Juice

You’ve undoubtedly heard the radio commercials by now. AMP is billed as “the spark that ignites and kick-starts the day,” 100 percent juice with added caffeine and other pick-me-ups. Basically a way to drink Red Bull in the morning without the embarassment.

AMP comes in two flavors, both featuring 100% juice plus taurine, guarana, caffeine, lycopene, and some of your standard vitamins (C, E, Niacin, B6, B5, and Pantothenic Acid).

AMP Orange is actually a mix of orange and white grape juice and it’s clear from the first sip that it’s not all orange. In fact, it’s pretty watery, and doesn’t really taste very orange-like. It’s not unpleasant, but the effect is more of an “orange drink” than real juice — though at least it’s easy to knock down. B

AMP Mixed Berry may surprise you, as it’s also made up of… orange and white grape juice, plus artificial and natural flavors. It’s tart and saccharine tasting, much less palatable than the orange version — and mixed berry only in the sense that there are vague fruit flavors mixed into the bottle. C-

Your pick-me-up mileage may vary.

about $3 per 12-oz. bottle /

Review: Tequila Tamer Sangrita

Whenever I drink tequila, I love to have it with a shot of sangrita on the side. The problem: You’ll only find sangrita on the menu at fancier Mexican restaurants and tequila bars. I presume most Mexican joints don’t sell it not because it’s hard to make but because most diners have no idea what it is, and would presume that someone misspelled “sangria” on the menu.

Sangrita, like pasta sauces and salsas, comes in infinite varieties and its recipe is often a closely-guarded secret by its creators. The recipe comes down to various citrus juices plus chiles or hot sauce. The inclusion of tomato juice is a hotly contested topic. Most sangritas that I’ve encountered include it — and I think it enhances the character of the drink. Either way, you consume it in alternate sips with your quality tequila, as they are each meant to enhance the experience of the other.

This lesson is a long way of telling you that Tequila Tamer is a bottled sangrita. Now any tequila enthusiast would tell you that the only way to go is to make your own sangrita from scratch, but I’ll be honest: Tequila Tamer is pretty good for a premixed sangrita. It’s heavy on citrus, light on the spice, and light on the tomato (although tomato juice is the first ingredient). It’s sweeter than most sangritas, probably due to the inclusion of pomegranate syrup instead of pomegranate juice, but my suspicion is that this allows the sangrita to keep from spoiling longer. It also makes it a little too berry-flavored for my liking, but on the whole it’ll do in a pinch.

B / $15 per 32 oz. bottle (with party tray and glasses shown below, $140) /