Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Rum Jumbie Rums and Liqueur

Rum Jumbie (the name refers to spirits allegedly trapped inside the caves of the Caribbean who would possess the souls of rum drinkers) makes several light, flavored rums plus a rum liqueur.

The flavored rums are all uncolored, are sourced from Panama, and are bottled at a scant 48 proof. Flavors are natural but otherwise unspecified.

Here’s how they stack up.

Rum Jumbie Mango Splash has a delicate mango nose and moderate tropical flavor. A little bite on the finish, but a fine ingredient in a tropical cocktail if you like a rum with a very mild and light body. B+ / $16

Rum Jumbie Pineapple Splash captures the aroma of fresh pineapple, but the flavor is off. Pineapple notes are pushed aside by out-of-place cocoa and vanilla character, with a sort of woody finish. B- / $16

Rum Jumbie Coconut Splash is extremely sweet, with sugariness that drowns out a lot of the coconut character. As with the other Jumbies, it’s heavy on the nose with the prescribed fruit (coconut is a fruit, right?), but the body doesn’t totally pan out. (Try Brinley.) B / $16

Rum Jumbie Vanilla Splash has almost no vanilla aroma and what little vanilla flavor there tastes synthetic. Fortunately it’s so light it doesn’t really taste like much of anything. Not a fan. C / $16

rum jumbie liqueur 135x300 Review: Rum Jumbie Rums and LiqueurRum Jumbie Liqueur is a 60 proof concoction of “aged rum and tropical fruit flavors,” and it’s already awesome from the start because of the bottle shaped like a guy playing a bongo drum and wearing a straw hat that serves as the cap. The amber nectar inside however is not quite as cool. It’s got cola and orange notes, apples, and loads of cinnamon and other exotic spices… but it doesn’t really come together. Perhaps it’s the loads of sugar in the blend that makes this hard to put down more than a few sips of. Perhaps it could make an interesting cocktail ingredient… but how? It’s simply too muddy and sweet and leaves a varnish-like coating on your palate that I wanted to scrub off. C / $30

rumjumbie.com

rum jumbie lineup rum Review: Rum Jumbie Rums and Liqueur

Review (of a sort): Mount Everest Whisky

Chances are you’ll never encounter Mount Everest Whisky*, lest you decide to hike to Base Camp 1 by yourself. I certainly didn’t, but somehow this bottle made it back despite my laziness, and it’s sat unopened in a Marin cottage for years undisturbed.

Naturally when I encountered it over Easter weekend I had to crack it open, just to see what on earth Mount Everest Whisky was all about.

At it’s heart, it’s blended Scotch. The bottle claims it is a concoction of “Scottish whisky and Nepalese alcohol of the highest quality,” neither of which probably mean a lot. The Scottish component here is clearly very young, and the Nepalese alcohol, of who knows what origin, lends a hard medicinal character to the spirit and no body to speak of at all. At 85.6 proof, it’s got enough legs to get you up to Base Camp 1… but it certainly won’t get you to the summit.

It’s not altogether awful. There’s some maltiness and charm in here, to be sure, but on the whole it’s a novelty whisky that’s probably not really meant to be consumed but rather to be admired and sealed forever.

* No, I’m not talking the Glenmorangie Mount Everest Special Edition, an unrelated spirit.

C / $??? / no web site

mount everest whisky Review (of a sort): Mount Everest Whisky

Review: 2007 Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah Livermore Valley

Conservancy is a second label wine from Concannon, known for budget label bottlings. Conservancy wines come exclusively from the Livermore Valley, “protected forever from urban encroachment.”

This first vintage under the label, however, is lacking much depth. A petite sirah, it’s a dark purple in color and is jammy with currants and plums to the point of cloying. Some lavender herbaciousness adds a touch of complexity, but a thin, saccharine finish hardly inspires another sip.

C / $15 / concannonvineyard.com

concannon conservancy petite sirah 2007 Review: 2007 Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah Livermore Valley

Review: Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie and Cherry Pie Liqueurs

Sweet tooths, rejoice. Someone has indeed taken a pie, liquefied it, added a little alcohol, and bottled it for sale. Behold Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur and Cherry Pie Liqueur, both of which are absolutely crazy.

Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur is a hazy gold color. Flavored with apple and cinnamon and a few other spices, what you mainly get from a sip of this spirit is a rush of sugary sweetness. It’s possibly sweeter than any other spirit I’ve ever tasted, although the aroma and flavor are, once you push past the sugar, relatively authentic apple pie representations. But the sweetness is such a killer that it’s hard to palate on its own — in a small dose with a cocktail or, as the label suggests, atop ice cream, you might be better off. 40 proof. C+

Travis Hasse’s Cherry Pie Liqueur is a somewhat different animal. Less alcoholic (30 proof) and less sweet, it’s a cherry liqueur with a touch of vanilla added. A little less “pie” like on the nose, it still smells pretty good. On the tongue, though, it comes across as medicinal. It’s not syrupy in texture, thank God, but one gets the feeling that if you melted down some Sucrets you would get a similar liqueur… complete with the same amount of alcohol. C

$17 each / drinkpie.com

Review: Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Beer Chiller

I’m an avowed fan of the Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller, which can take a bottle of white wine from cellar temp to ready-to-drink in under ten minutes, and as a result I had high hopes for Vacu Vin’s Rapid Ice Beer Chiller.

The theory is simple: A cylinder of re-freezable ice packs envelops your bottle, chilling it quickly. The beer bottle version not only shrinks the pack down to 12-oz. size, it also puts a delightful bit of frothy beer art on the exterior to get you in the mood.

Too bad it doesn’t really work all that well. With the reduced surface area and (likely) higher starting temperature of your beer, it takes at least half an hour to get your beer down to a drinkable temperature, and even then it’s dicey. By the time the Vacu Vin got warm to the touch, my beer still wasn’t as cold as I’d have liked it.

Overall this is a fine gadget if you want to keep an already cold beer chilly, but it’s not ideal for quickly cooling down something that’s starting warm.

C / $14 for two / [BUY IT HERE]

vacu vin beer chiller Review: Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Beer Chiller

Review: Fever Stimulation Beverages

Tonight you’ll be consuming vast quantities of alcohol (remember one for your homies at Drinkhacker, y’all), so what better way to prep for the festivities than by downing something to up the level of your game.

That’s the theory, anyway, of Fever, which aims to “Make Healthy Sexy,” with its collection of herbal, non-carbonated beverages designed to “stimulate the body.” (Some say that’s code for aphrodisiac… you be the judge.)

They aren’t energy drinks, mind you, but herbal-infused concoctions that include such ingredients as Epidmedium brevicornum Maxim DeL, Clavo Huasca, and Pfaffia paniculata MK. Mostly exotic herbs, they’re designed to promote “pleasure, euphoria, and anti-oxidation.”

Three versions are currently on the market, each with natural caffeine from green tea and containing 260 calories in each (very, very cold) 16-oz. can.

Mango Banana tastes like neither of its namesakes, but it has a chalky texture and a muted banana finish that makes it at least hint at the yellow fruit. All versions of Fever have a bit of bitterness to them — almost certainly the result of all the herbal infusions — hence the need for big fruit flavors to make them more palatable. Mango and banana may not be enough. C

Kiwi Strawberry packs a more teen-friendly punch, berry in the body but with a raisin-like finish that makes it a bit less pleasant. C-

Pineapple Coconut is arguably my favorite of this bunch, a pina colada wannabe that is hefty on the coconut, which helps to mask some of those bitter herbal notes. B

As for the functional claims of the drink, ultimately I’m feeling about as “stimulated” as usual… but mostly I just want to find something to get this taste out of my mouth.

each $2.50 per 16-oz. can / feverusa.com

fever stimulation beverage Review: Fever Stimulation Beverages

Review: Two Pumpkin-Flavored Beers from Shipyard

Yes, I missed Halloween. Then I missed Thanksgiving. Now I am determined not to miss Christmas and get some reviews of these two pumpkin-flavored beers out of the way before I have to start thinking about Easter brews.

Shipyard Brewing Company Pumpkinhead Ale hails from Maine. It’s a relatively light lager, with an aroma, color, and body a lot like a Mexican lager — no real hints of pumpkin here. That hits you on the finish, with a sort of pumpkin pie character that comes on after the super-light brew. Not sure how I feel about it. I love Mexican beer and I love pumpkin pie, but this doesn’t do much for me on either front. Certainly drinkable, though. 4.7% alcohol. C / $9 per six-pack / shipyard.com

Shipyard Brewing Company Pugsley’s Signature Series Smashed Pumpkin is a bigger beer in every way. At 9% alcohol, it’s got more kick and a bigger, bolder body. And there’s more of that pumpkin character to it, too. Altogether it’s more pleasing, with a dessert-like quality that combines a glass of port with a pumpkin cheesecake. A considerable improvement. B / $8 per 22-oz. bottle / shipyard.com


Review: Southern Comfort Sweet Tea and Hurricane Cocktails

Let’s be frank. Southern Comfort has a difficult reputation. Everyone I know has a story involving the peach-flavored liqueur, and it usually ends up with a blackout or someone’s head being shaved against their will.

Hey, it’s party booze. Nothin’ wrong with that.

SoCo is expanding its little empire with the craze du jour — premixed cocktails. As with many of these, no doctoring is intended. You just fill a glass with ice, pour in the stuff, and drink away.

Two flavors are launching, and we got to try a handle of each. Both are 30 proof and come in 1.75 liter bottles.

Southern Comfort Sweet Tea Cocktail is meant to evoke the flavors of sweet tea, a natural fit considering SoCo’s southern roots. The peachiness of SoCo is upfront here, a good slug of that apricot-like, sweet peach, with a backbone of tea. I don’t want to undersell it: It’s got a ton of peach flavor to it, which may be a turn-off for you if you’re looking for an authentic tea character. Ultimately I far prefer something like Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka with water and ice than this, but in a pinch it’ll do. Try adding a little water to cut down on the overpowering peach character. B-

Southern Comfort Hurricane Cocktail has an authentic, day-glo red color, but again it’s so peachy you won’t be reminded of those slurries served in every quickie-mart in New Orleans. Maybe that’s a good thing, dunno. Imagine SoCo mixed with a can of Big Red and you’ll have a sense of what drinking this concoction is like. Some cherry, some orange. Lots of peach, even more sweetness. Again, this all improves if you let the ice melt a lot or add water, but this one’s a bit tougher to recommend. C

$20 each per 1.75-liter bottle / southerncomfort.com

southern comfort hurrican sweet tea cocktail Review: Southern Comfort Sweet Tea and Hurricane Cocktails

Review: Three Old Williams & Humbert Rare Sherries

I’ve said before that I am not much of a sherry drinker, but seriously, Harvey’s Bristol Cream is about the only sherry that America knows: You even see it on the dessert wine list at some of the finest restaurants… despite the fact that you can nab a bottle for about 12 bucks.

Following up its 15-year Dry Sack Oloroso, Williams & Humbert offers these three new sherry bottlings, all well-aged and intriguing, and each quite different.

Don Guido Rare Old Sweet Solera Especial Pedro Ximenez, aged 20 years, is as thick and dark as black coffee. Nutty on the nose, it’s intensely raisiny on the palate and could easily pass for an old tawny Port. Not a lot of complexity here, to be honest. It’s a solid punch of raisin character sprinkled with wood notes, but a little cloying in its sweetness. (Not that I should be surprised — it says so right on the label.) 18% alcohol. B / $50

Dos Cortados Rare Old Palo Cortado Especial, aged 20 years, is frankly not my kind of sherry. Burnt golden in color, it has a promising and young nose, fragrant with wood and vanilla and raisiny Port-like character. But the body is nothing at all like that, surprisingly astringent and quite rustic, with a very dry, vegetal character. Hard to get past a few sips of this one. Maybe more up your alley if you’re into drier dessert wines; the company intriguingly suggests using it as a cocktail ingredient. 19.5% alcohol. C- / $50

Jalifa Rare Old Amontillado Solera Especial, aged 30 years, is the age king of this roundup, and it shares a lot of its DNA with the Dos Cortados. The color is similar to the Dos Cortados, but with a comparably muted nose, the lightest of this roundup. Again, this sherry is extremely dry, with a nutty body but a lingering acidity that borders on medicinal. Built for fans of the dry dessert stuff. 20.5% alcohol. C / $70

williams-humbert.com

Revisiting Absinthe: Seven Bottlings Re-Sampled

absinthe poster Revisiting Absinthe: Seven Bottlings Re SampledAbsinthe is the subject that keeps on keeping on — some of the forum battles over the intricacies of the subject here are legendary — and in honor of Vieux Carré‘s fine showing, I thought it would be personally instructive to revisit some of my most highly rated absinthes — and a few I didn’t like so much at first — in a side-by-side-by-side scenario.

This is an informal review, just a re-sampling of several of the more noteworthy bottles from prior reviews. But I thought it would be fun to see whether my opinions have changed since the early days of the blog, when some of these absinthes were initially reviewed. They appear below in my order of preference (with gut reaction ratings), based solely on this limited sampling.

To clarify: This is not a comprehensive sampling of EVERY absinthe on the market or even every absinthe I have on hand, just a ranking of seven I thought merited a re-taste. Some very good products are not included here.

On to the absinthe, starting with the best.

Obsello – 100 proof, gorgeous milky louche. Relatively subtle flavor; goes down incredibly easy. Interesting additional herbal notes but nothing overwhelming. The comparatively lower alcohol content is noticeable when compared directly to others in the group. Shockingly, also the cheapest real absinthe on the market. A

La Clandestine – 106 proof, clear/louches to a milky white. Sweetest absinthe of the bunch, and very mild. Anise is practically an afterthought, here. Extremely easygoing. A

Pernod – 136 proof, big and muddy green louche. Artificially colored. Huge, bittersweet flavor. Almost like licorice candy. Pleasant but different than lighter style spirits, and by a wide margin the strongest flavor in the group. A-

Koruna – 146 proof, pale color with no louche. Tart character, with clearly citrus overtones. Lighter in style and dominated by alcohol rather than anise/wormwood. I’m still a fan. A-

Kübler – 106 proof, clear/louches to milky white with yellow notes. Heavy lemon notes are love-it-or-leave-it, I think they clash with the anise here — which may be why this didn’t strike me as especially good on first review. I’d dismissed it as a bit boring originally, but it’s indeed unique when you put it side by side with the others. Still, though, not a favorite. B

Lucid – 124 proof, pale color with light yellow louche. Weirdly bitter and not altogether pleasant on first taste. Grows on you over time, but there’s much better stuff out there. C+

Le Tourment Vert - 100 proof, blue-green with (contrary to popular opinion) a slight louche. Artificially colored. Amazing how wrong I was, and I humbly have to give credit to the commenters on this one who told me I was nuts. (I plead youth: It was the first absinthe I formally reviewed, back in the day.) Really strong chemical flavor and psychedelic coloration combine in negative ways for me now. It’s got a huge mint character, which is probably why, in combo with the coloration, people make comparisons to mouthwash. I’d give this a much lower rating today, though it has some charms. C

Interesting that the lighter-flavored absinthes tended to do better in my ranking, with the exception of Pernod, whose strongness surprised me just as much as the backlash against it has. And in case you’re looking for more “top” absinthes out there, in addition to the top 3 on this roundup, add Vieux Carré, Nouvelle Orleans, and St. George to the list of “absinthe bests.”

Review: Phillips Black 100 Liqueur

phillips black 100 Review: Phillips Black 100 LiqueurThe poor man’s Jagermeister, Phillips Black is a wildly flavorful, very sweet, licorice-like herbal liqueur designed for drinking cold and, most likely, extremely fast so you don’t realize what hit you.

The 100 in the name refers to the proof level and the Black the color your soul will be after drinking three shots of this stuff. Drop it in a frozen shot glass and put it side by side against Jager, and most frat boys won’t know the difference in the final moments of happy hour… but you actually won’t be saving much money along the way: At $14 a bottle, Jagermeister’s only about $2 more expensive for a bottle, plus it’s got a picture of a crazy deer on the label.

Of course, Jagermeister’s only 70 proof, so if you’re looking to get trashed on tongue-lashing sweet stuff, Black 100 will do the job precisely 42.8 percent more rapidly.

As for the taste, it’s palatable and even somewhat interesting on the rocks or out of the freezer, but it’s so sweet it might give you diabetes after the first sip.

C / $14 / phillipsdistilling.com

Review: Djabel and Green Fairy Absinthe

Admiral Imports, which is bringing the incredibly controversial (based on the comments on this review, at least) Koruna Absinthe to the U.S. market, isn’t just quitting with one. It’s also bringing these two absinthes — Djabel and Green Fairy, both also from the Czech Republic — to the States.

green fairy absinthe 150x300 Review: Djabel and Green Fairy AbsintheI’m lumping these two reviews together because Djabel (Czech for “devil” — also note some sources spell this product as “Djable”) and Green Fairy are pretty obviously close siblings. They use the same bottle. The labels are strikingly similar in design. The color is nearly the same — Djabel is a tiny bit darker — and both rely heavily on artificial coloration. The only obvious difference to the outside observer is the alcohol content: Green Fairy is 120 proof, while Djabel is a racier 140 proof. (Djabel is, somewhat expectedly, also $5 more expensive per bottle.)

And how do they taste? Without water, they both come across like unadulterated firewater — though Djabel is far stronger than Green Fairy thanks to that 10 percent bonus alcohol kick.

Add sugar and water and, like Koruna, neither louches at all, leaving you with a Scope-looking concoction that you can see straight through. The Djabel is again a little darker in hue, but otherwise they’re impossible to distinguish from one another.

The flavor? Very light and mild, minimally sweet (though saccharine in character), and barely flavored with licorice. Djabel has a slightly more herbal character — think cloves and allspice — but it lends an astringency to the drink where Green Fairy comes across as sweeter. Again, in the case of both absinthes (and I’ll let the absinthe geeks bicker in the comments over whether either spirit is truly absinthe at all), they’re very mild and mostly harmless experiences. And that’s really the problem: They’re drinkable, but just not very interesting. Whether you prefer a deeply anise-flavored absinthe or a more approachable, sweeter version, either way you’re going to be disappointed with these two spirits. Provocative labels aside, you can think of them both as the lite beers of the absinthe world.

Green Fairy: C / $59
Djabel: C- / $64

greenfairy.com.au

djabel absinthe Review: Djabel and Green Fairy Absinthe

Review: Charbay Pomegranate Dessert Wine

Yes, pomegranate rage has now reached all the way to the wine world, with Charbay knocking out this non-vintage, pomegranate-based dessert wine (the company makes two other pomegranate products already), ready to give your digestive system a kick in the glands.

Charbay starts with 100% organic pomegranates, ferments them, then arrests that fermentation when there’s sugar still present by adding Charbay’s own Pinot Noir Brandy. The final concoction is 18.7% alcohol, in line with most traditional, grape-based Ports.

Though the nose doesn’t let on — it’s more Port-like than you’d think — the flavor is something else: Starting soft, then quickly becoming extremely sweet as if hits the back of the mouth. Much like drinking 100% pomegranate juice, it then becomes very tart, puckering the mouth into an O.

It’s not bad, per se, but it’s just not the way I like to enjoy dessert wine (with less fruit and sourness) nor the way I like to enjoy pomegranate juice. But I think the company, and the wine’s numerous fans, have the right idea on how best to consume it: Boil this down into a reduction and put it on everything from pork chops to ice cream.

C / $38 / charbay.com

charbay pomegranate dessert wine Review: Charbay Pomegranate Dessert Wine

Review: Drinkin’ Mate Hangover Defense

There’s good news and bad news about Drinkin’ Mate, another entry into the growing category of hangover prevention remedies.

First the good: Compared to the field, Drinkin’ Mate is the best-tasting hangover preventer around. It’s an effervescent pill (like an Alka-Seltzer). Just drop it in a few ounces of water, and you get a fizzy, fruity drink that goes down pretty quickly and painlessly. Made primarily from guava leaf extract, it’s a bit tropical and a lot berry-like (the only version seems to be “wild berry flavor”), very sweet (thanks to shots of sorbitol and sucralose). Unlike some of those nasty, syrupy hangover cures, you won’t have to choke this one down before you go out. (The company also says you can take it after drinking to avoid a hangover.)

Now the bad news: For me, Drinkin’ Mate did absolutely nothing to prevent a hangover. The one I’ve been nursing today is the outright worst in recent memory, which makes me wonder how effective guava leaf could possibly be at fighting off the headache from a half-dozen glasses of whiskey and wine. The only other real active ingredient here is sodium bicarbonate, pretty tame stuff that would have no hope against a major alco-binge, at least it didn’t for me.

As always, these remedies are often a shot in the dark, and some work for some drinkers and not at all for others. Your mileage may vary, but while I didn’t get any benefit from Drinkin’ Mate, at least the act of drinking Drinkin’ Mate didn’t make me want to throw up on the spot.

C / $24 for 12 tablets / drinkinmate.com

drinkin mate Review: Drinkin Mate Hangover Defense

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

I’m not gonna pull any punches here. Stranahan’s is the strangest whiskey I’ve ever experienced.

It looks harmless enough, a bright, orange-hued spirit with a relatively mild nose — almost rye-like. Though 94 proof, the nose isn’t particularly hot. Looks promising.

Then the tasting. Hmmm. Stranahan’s is a rarity among American whiskeys, distilled from 100 percent malted barley (just like the Scots). It is then — just like in Bourbon country — aged in charred, new oak barrels, but for a mere two years.

The result is something wildly unlike any other whiskey on the market, and if you’re a traditionalist you probably aren’t going to be thrilled with the results. The grassy, chewy character from the rye hits you first, but then Stranahan’s wood component takes over. A huge wall of oak wood and smoke literally punches you in the face just as you’re about to settle into the malt, and it doesn’t stop with the hitting.

I like “smoky” Scotches, but Stranahan’s is something entirely different. It’s like someone hollowed out a tree stump, filled it with whiskey, covered it with a tarp, and let it marinate for a decade. I can’t cut through any of these smoke-and-wood flavors; any sense of vanilla or sweetness (the normal hallmarks of new charred-oak barrels) are really just hinted at deep in the finish.

Some call Stranahan’s a masterpiece, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that some palates might be better suited for this spirit. Alas, it’s just not for mine.

By the way, pay special attention to the bottle, which is hand-labeled with a batch number, the date of distilling, signature of the distiller, and a comment (the two bottles I’ve encountered read “Listening to NPR” and “Listening to Bright Eyes”). Hmmm… shouldn’t he be listening to Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson? C

9/2011 update: I’m checking out batch #33 again (“Listening to NPR,” bottled in 11/2006), and finding it quite a bit more engaging today. Perhaps my palate has evolved or the whiskey has oxidized… but 2 1/2 years later, I’m finding a lot more to love in Stranahan’s than before. The nose is huge with toffee character, and while there’s a ton of smoky wood (still too much) in the body, it’s not nearly as intense as I’d found it before. Big cinnamon notes on the finish. Lots of fun, actually. If I had to rate it again today, I’d go with something around an A-. Looking forward to trying it again since batches seem to differ quite a bit.

$60 / stranahans.com

stranahans colorado whiskey Review: Stranahans Colorado Whiskey

Review: Tabasco Spicy Tequila

Today is Mexican Independence Day. (Independence from Spain in 1810, Einstein.) That means you should be drinking tequila right now. Or at least a Pacifico. Alas, I’ve but one bottle of tequila in the Drinkhacker review queue, and it’s not exactly something you’re going to want to suck down til dawn. Sorry.

Anyway, you read the subject line: We’re talking about Tabasco Spicy Tequila. As in tequila with Tabasco Sauce in it. For real.

If you’re the kind of drinker who throws back a shot of Cuervo and immediately growls, “Wow, that didn’t burn enough going down!” then Tabasco Spicy Tequila is for you. This tequila gives you two kind of burns: One from the tequila and a totally different one from the hot sauce. The result is an overpowering sense of imminent death, should you be so unwise as to drink a full 1.5 ounces of this in one gulp.

Now this isn’t a slam. The whole wheat side of me can see this tequila being used in moderation in super-hot cocktails (maybe your occasional Bloody Maria)… but the frosted side figures it’s going to become popular with the frat boy/bar bet crowd. “$20 if you can do three shots in a row…” God help you if you don’t have salt, lime, and a Bible handy.

The tequila’s 80 proof and the base spirit is nothing special. It’s a mixto tequila (common with adulterated/flavored tequilas) that has a fair amount of agave character despite the heat of the Tabasco. (If you’re looking to save money, you might even try mixing your own version of this. Tabasco Sauce is cheap in comparison.)

As for those shots, regular readers will know that I prefer to sip my tequilas rather than taste them just once in a shot. This is one of those experiences where I figure many, alas, will be tasting it twice.

C / $22 / tabascotequila.com

tabasco tequila Review: Tabasco Spicy Tequila

Review: 2006 Palin Syrah

Booze humor is big at Drinkhacker HQ, which is the only reason why a bottle of Palin Syrah was purchased today. Sarah Palin… Palin Syrah… get it?

Well, some comedy is better if you’re drunk, I guess.

Palin is an organically-grown wine from Limari Valley, Chile. As quaffs go, it’s dusty and tight, and tastes very “young.” The fruit is subdued under a leathery, charcoal-ish core, possibly because Chile isn’t exactly known for Syrah. It actually tastes a lot more like the Cabernet that the region is more known for.

Still, if you’re looking for a fun gift to take to an RNC party this week, just glue a quickly-printed web photo of your favorite VP candidate over the drawing of a ball on the label and call it 13 bucks well-invested.

C / $13

Review: Mekhong Liqueur

Complicated and heavily spiced liqueurs are always a difficult bag. They tend to blend poorly with other spirits and on their own can be imbalanced. Put it this way: No matter how much you like spiced rum, when’s the last time you had it mixed with anything other than Coke?

Mekhong is an unusual spirit from Thailand (where it has been on sale for over 60 years) that spiced rum fans may find interesting. At 70 proof, it’s a blend of 95 percent cane sugar and 5 percent rice, which is then imbued with Thai herbs and spices to give you, well, something unique.

Bitter and sweet play together in Mekhong, and only somewhat nicely. That strong hit of bitter, dried herbs punches you on first sip (on the rocks is recommended), then it follows up with some much-needed sweetness. It’s not enough, in my mind, though, to make up for an initial blast that reminded me of an amaro (and I like amaro).

Mixing was tricky. I really didn’t care for the way Mekhong blended with cola, which gave off a kind of funky taste. Ginger ale was even worse.

Mekhong, as you’d expect, has all kinds of cocktail suggestions on tap, but sadly I could make none of them: Every one relies on something exotic, from fresh Thai basil to coconut puree to a quarter of a fresh pomegranate. If you’re crawling in the fruits of southeast Asia, put a bottle of Mekhong on your shopping list. Casual drinkers seeking something spicy should stick with Kilo Kai.

C / $16 / thespiritofthailand.com

mekhong liqueur Review: Mekhong Liqueur

Review: Brave Spirits Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, Gin

Want to celebrate Independence Day? Well, you can go to a parade, eat a hot dog, light some fireworks, or drink one of these liquors from Brave Spirits, four bottles designed specifically with “soldiers, marines, airmen, police officers, and firefighters” in mind. Presumably you can drink them even if you are not one of these professions… and if you do, the company will donate $2 per bottle toward charities that benefit our men and women in uniform.

As kitsch goes, Brave Spirits are unabashedly off the charts. Just look at the bottle. Not just the red, white, and blue motif; the bottles are shaped like soldiers standing at attention.

But it’s foolish to judge a booze by its bottle. Let’s take a spin and taste what’s inside and be as honest as possible.

Overall, the Brave Spirits line is not much to write home about. It’s not so much that any of these spirits are bad, but that they’re merely undistinguished. At $20 a bottle (though I’ve yet to see any of these on sale anywhere; right now they are only in Pennsylvania and a few military bases), rest assured you’re not drinking swill, but while those looking for party mixers won’t mind the spirits, connoisseurs will probably be unimpressed.

All four are made entirely in America (more on that in a bit) and are bottled at 80 proof. Here are some notes on each in turn.

Valor Vodka – Distilled from “grains chosen from the fields of the Great Plains” and thrice distilled, this is a very plain vodka. Medicinal notes are the only noteworthy component of the flavor, and even that is weak and a little watery. Probably fine with lots of fruit juice. Not for straight consumption. C

Standing Guard Gin – Catching a theme in the naming convention here? This gin actually has overseas juniper in it (gasp!) but is otherwise U.S.-made (including “Florida’s oranges.” Less juniper is rarely a bad thing in gin, and Standing Guard isn’t bad. Again, weak is alas the key descriptor, though you can definitely get a taste of the orange content here. A more sarcastic critic might say that makes it perfect for Gin & Juice. B-

First In Whiskey – It’s made in Kentucky but it’s not a bourbon: First In is 72.5 percent grain neutral spirits and bottled in New Jersey. The aged portion of the blend is put into barrels for at least four years, but it’s not enough to impart much more than a light vanilla and woody overtone to the spirit. Even with Coke it’s not quite right, the flavor is just too understated. C+

At Ease Rum – That’s right: American rum! Hey, anyone can get hold of molasses, so why not American-made rum? The aroma isn’t sweet, but almost as medicinal as the vodka. The flavor is quite different and actually has some good, sweet rum character to it. Not bad with Coke, and even palatable as a sipper. The smell is a little off-putting, though, which is unfortunate. B-

So there you have it. Now get out there, drink, and blow something up.

$20 each / bravespirits.com

brave spirits Review: Brave Spirits Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, Gin

Review: Engobi Energy Go Bites

They’re putting caffeine in just about everything these days, so why not a snack chip, too? Engobi takes the energy-boosting concept into the world of chips.

Now one would not think that you could get that much caffeine in to a chip, but according to the company, a tiny, 1.5-ounce bag of Engobi chips has 70 percent more caffeine than a Red Bull or similar. Now that’s energy!

Made from corn, wheat, and rice flours, Engobi chips are puffy semi-spheres, something akin to a cross between a Muncho and a pork rind. I like the texture a lot.

The flavor is something else, though. You might be expecting traditional nacho cheese, sour cream & chive, or salt & vinegar flavor… but what you get is two alternatives: Lemon Lift and Cinnamon Surge. Both flavors are exactly what they sound like: Very sweet and designed more for a palate that can deal with overpowering sugariness. For what its worth, I found the cinnamon version far, far better (the lemon is just too tart), but I could never finish off an entire bag myself. (That’s ~66 chips!)

Then again, I think Red Bull is nasty, too.

C (lemon); B (cinnamon) / $1.29 per 1.5-oz. bag / engobi.com

engobi go bites Review: Engobi Energy Go Bites