Category Archives: Mixers

Review: VnC Pre-Mixed Cocktails

Pre-mixed cocktails continue to grow in popularity. VnC, which is based in New Zealand, takes it to the ultimate conclusion: The cocktails not only have the alcohol already in them (in addition to natural juices), they’re packaged both in party size bottlings and in single serve versions, which we reviewed.

Each 200ml cocktail comes in at 14% alcohol and includes a built-in cup so you look more sophisticated than drinking out of the bottle. Woo hoo! We tasted four of the six available varieties. All are 150 calories or less per serving. Thoughts follow.

VnC Pomegranate Cosmo – Vodka, triple sec, natural flavors, pomegranate, cranberry, and lime juices. Distinctly vodka-inflected, which lends this Cosmo a bit of a cough syrup character and makes it taste boozier than it really is. A decent amount of fruit helps salvage the mix, and you can actually taste the lime juice, a nice touch. (For what it’s worth, the lady thought this was far and away her favorite.) B

VnC Margarita – Tequila, triple sec, “natural margarita flavors,” lemon, and lime juices. Tastes authentic, and unlike the Cosmo it’s very easygoing on the booziness. Sweet, with a bit of tequila kick to it, a light and credible version of a classic margie. B+

VnC Vodka Mojito – Vodka with “natural mojito flavor” and lime juice. Why would you not use rum in a mojito? White rum is one of the cheapest spirits available. Not, perhaps, cheaper than vodka, I guess. Smells better than it tastes, full of minty promise on the nose… but chalky and a bit artificial on the tongue. Leaves a lingering aftertaste. C+

VnC Pacific Breeze – Vodka with “natural MaiTai flavor,” coconut, pineapple, and lime juices. This would be far better blended with ice than a simple liquid, but as it stands it’s got that tropical flavor that you really only want when you’re sitting on the beach. Again, this would be a much better drink with rum in it, but it’s credible enough for poolside consumption in a pinch. B

each $4 per 200ml bottle / vnccocktails.com

Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Refine says it aims to “refine” the skinny cocktail with these zero-calorie mixers. Flavored with stevia, they’re available in 32 oz. bottles in three flavors.

Refine Margarita Mix – Bright yellow, looks supernatural. Tastes very tart, with lots of intense lemon/lime soda character, but with a chalkiness that recalls Crystal Light granules (thanks, I’m sure, to all the citric acid in the mix). Could be worse. B-

Refine Mojito Mix – Unthrilling, this mostly clear mixer doesn’t really recall fresh lime or mint, just a vague sweetness that could be mistaken for a flat 7-Up. Could be better. C-

Refine Cosmopolitan Mix – The bright pink color is misleading, but this mixer has surprisingly more lime character than the mojito does. After that, a touch of strawberry or raspberry, more Jolly Rancher than fresh fruit. Not unpalatable, but the chemical aftertaste is rough on this one. C

each $9 per 32 oz. bottle / refinemixers.com

refine mixers

Review: Liber & Co. Spiced Tonic Syrup

Austin-based Liber & Company trucks in a pretty narrow world: Artisinal, spiced tonic syrup.

Liber & Co. sent us samples of their new product and it’s certainly nothing like your bottle of Schweppes. A ruddy orange, and indeed a tonic syrup, not a tonic “water.” Made with crushed herbs, spices, and cinchona bark, it is filtered down to 25 microns, “the lower threshold that the human tongue can detect,” per the company, to remove particulates. Agave nectar is used for sweetening.

The results are impressive if overwhelming. Tasted alone the syrup is a gut-puncher, full of orange peel and clove character, sweet at first, then fading to bitter in the way you might expect tonic to taste. There’s a vague quinine aftertaste that reminds you what it is you’re drinking.

Naturally this is not meant to be drank solo, and I tried it in the Save the Countess cocktail recipe (below), with great results. Here the tonic syrup works well with its fellow spirits, creating a fun and balanced — if quite flavorful — cocktail. (Do not omit the grapefruit juice and shake it long and hard if you make one. A little melted ice is essential to get this down to the right booze level.)

Overall, this is a fun mixer that will make you think wildly differently about  what G&T night can be.

Currently available in Austin, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

A- / $10 for 8 oz. bottle / liberandcompany.com

Save the Countess
3/4 oz. Spiced Tonic Syrup
1 1/4 oz. gin
1 1/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
splash grapefruit juice
2 dashes Peychaud bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Cool Item of the Day: The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Traveler’s Set

The line between a good cocktail and a great one can often be drawn with a sprinkling of bitters, staples of any serious watering hole and surely a part of any high-end home bar, too.

Traveling, however, poses a particular challenge. It’s one thing to throw a bottle of rye in the car for the trip to Tahoe. It’s another to deal with all the little things — garnishes, mixers, bitters — as well.

The Bitter Truth is at least making one of those easier with this fun “Traveler’s Set” of five miniature (20ml) bottles packed into a tin travel kit. You get Celery, Orange, Creole, Old Time Aromatic, and Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters in the mix. Not sure the Celery Bitters are essential, but the other four (sub Creole for Peychaud’s and either the Aromatic or the Jerry Thomas bitters for Angostura) cover the bitters bases of 90% of the cocktail recipes out there.

Fun stuff.

$18 / the-bitter-truth.com

bitter truth travelers set

Review: Twist Essence Water

Is bottled water less heinous if it’s flavored? Twist is lightly sweetened with agave nectar and stevia, and flavored with natural extracts, yet still claims just 0 calories. We tasted two varieties.

Twist Pomegranate Blueberry is vague in its berry allegiance, almost strawberry-like in the way it comes across. Blueberries are a bit in the distance. It’s sweeter than you’d think, but neither cloying nor gummy, the way agave-infused stuff can be. B

Twist West Indies Lime sounds awfully exotic, but the flavor is more reminiscent of Rose’s Lime Juice, a bit saccharine and lightly bitter and herbal on the finish. The lime aroma is nice, but the flavor here doesn’t come across as fully authentic, the way a margarita mix can often be. Harmless enough. C+

about $1.25 per 19 oz. bottle / drinktwist.com

 

Review: Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary Makers

As you prepare for New Year’s Eve festivities, forget not the aftermath: Tomorrow morning may hurt, and the solution may very well be found in a nice Bloody Mary.

The curiously named Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary Maker (B+), from the great state of Indiana, of course, is the latest ready-to-go Bloody to cross through our doors. It doesn’t take long to see this isn’t V8 and Worcestershire: Moderately chunky, with pulp bits, and laden with little flecks of spices. Despite the flecks, the standard version isn’t all that spicy. In fact, it has more sweetness than other Bloody mixes, a bit citrus on the finish, and very lightly spicy with a touch of horseradish.

Hoosier Momma Spicy Bloody Mary Maker (B-) kicks things up with a Tabasco-like rush. Sadly, I think this works against the mixer, coming across with raw heat and dulling the fun of this mix. The sweetness is still quite strong, but after the sugar and spice, I don’t get much more than simple tomato juice flavor.

My only other issue with this mixer is with the packaging. These mixes come not in bottles but in jars — like fat mayonnaise jars. It’s certainly unique packaging, but it does make it hard to pour the stuff inside, particularly if you’re working with a single serving or narrow glass. I get that it helps showcase Hoosier Mama’s chunkiness, but a) it’s not really that thick, and b) a wider-mouth bottle would have been more practical.

each $8 per 32 oz. jar / hoosiermomma.com

hoosier momma bloody mary mixer

Excuse Me, Do You Have Pussy in a Can?

Discovered this oddball energy drink at the train station in Munich. Turns out you can get away with a lot more here (of course) than you can in the U.S. I bought a can and frankly it’s not that bad. Flavored (strongly) with lychee, the exotic fruit drowns out the (all natural) active ingredients, including guarana, caffeine, ginseng, gingko, and some other stuff I can’t really read because it’s in German. Further analysis and commentary is left as an exercise for the reader. Additional reading: pussydrinks.ch

pussy

Review: Powell & Mahoney Bloody Mary and Bellini Mixes

Complex cocktails in ready-made form won’t ever lose their popularity, and bottled Bloody Mary and Margarita mixes will probably forever be at the top of that heap.

Powell & Mahoney makes more than 10 such mixes, including a Bloody, Margarita, Mojito, and even a Hot Toddy. We sampled two of them — the Bloody Mary and the Peach Bellini. Thoughts follow.

Powell & Mahoney Bloody Mary Mix – This mix makes a very straightforward and fresh-tasting Bloody, vodka or no. Thick but not too much so, it offers lots of fresh tomato flavor, clear Worcestershire kick, and very very mild spices. The heat-seeker will want to kick this up with a healthy dose of hot sauce or Tabasco, but if you’re looking for pure tomato character with a smattering of basic spices, this mix is arguably better than doing it yourself. A-

Powell & Mahoney Peach Bellini Mix - Just add Prosecco and you’ve got this Venice-originated classic. Essentially just water, sugar,and peach puree, this makes for a fresh and really fruity cocktail (don’t skimp on the Prosecco, by the way). The nose of the mixer, sans wine, is more apricot than peach, but when mixed 2 (Prosecco) to 1 (mixer), the peachiness comes alive. It’s not at all thick, so don’t expect any puree chunks in your glass, for better or for worse. A-

about $6 each (750ml) / powellandmahoney.com

Review: Icelandic Glacial Spring Water

We’ve resisted reviewing bottled water on this blog, but finally we’re caving in.

Water from Iceland doesn’t sound entirely eco-conscious, but Icelandic says it is a carbon neutral product — in fact, it says it this the first CarbonNeutral (a private certification) bottled water in the world.

Sourced from Iceland’s Ölfus Spring System, this protected zone has no farming, animals, or buildings allowed within the 128,000-acre area. 0.1% of the annual spring flow is harvested from surface water; the remainder (reportedly double the world’s bottled water consumption) returns to the ocean. The bottling plant is hydroelectric-powered, packaging is made from 75% recycled materials, and carbon offsets are used to bring the water back up to carbon neutrality. As “green” products go, it’s hard to find any real fault with Icelandic.

On to the water. Total dissolved solids are 62 mg/l, and the pH is 8.4. The taste is very neutral, with a good mouthfeel and body. It doesn’t have that plastic taste that so many bottled waters succumb to, nor does it taste metallic like heavier mineral waters. There could be the slightest touch of citrus here, but otherwise it tastes like water should: Like nothing.

A / $7 for 6-pack of 500ml bottles / icelandicglacial.com

Review: Lights Out Relaxation Products

Relaxation mania continues with Lights Out, a whole series of products designed to help you sleep more evenly, fight stress, anxiety, jet lag, and all that other bad stuff.

Lights Out contains chamomile, skullcap, rose hips, valerian root, L-theanine, and GABA, but it’s probably the 5mg of melatonin that really does the trick.

The 2-oz. shot comes in two sucralose-sweetened flavors — tropical and, oddly, cloud berry — and both tastes are fair enough. The cloud berry version is largely innocuous and vaguely citrus and apple in character. The tropical is stronger, primarily redolent of coconut.

Strangely, the product is unique in that it also comes in a solid form: a chocolate brownie and a chocolate chip cookie. Both were exceedingly dry and crumbly, and hardly the delicious dessert confection you might be expecting.

As for the effects, with both the shot and the dessert products, I found myself falling asleep relatively quickly, with vivid and rather intrusive dreams to follow. Both times I woke up around six in the morning and had difficulty getting back to sleep — though the six-hour release time of Lights Out may have something to do with that. Still not sure how effective these are, though I felt fine and productive the following day. That said, I’m not exactly clamoring for another brownie.

C+ / about $4 per product / lightsoutshot.com