Review: Easy Tea Co. Hard Iced Tea

2016-08-08-14-31-easyteacan_cropped_90

The alcoholization of everything continues with the world of iced tea, courtesy of MillerCoors-owned Easy Tea Co. and its new Hard Iced Tea (Crisp Citrus Flavor) product. That’s a bold name for whatever is in this monster-sized can. Whatever it is, it isn’t tea, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the list of ingredients (water, corn syrup (dextrose), barley malt, yeast, hop extract, sucrose, citric acid, natural flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (added for freshness)), though perhaps that gets folded in under the “natural flavors” rubric. What it does taste like, rather, is orange soda, though lightly funky and mildly off-putting in that vegetally-flavored malt beverage way. On the whole it’s harmless, but it simply isn’t describable — in any way — as tea.

Sweet and fizzy, with candylike overtones to tamp down the malt liquor character, I don’t know who could polish off a full 24 oz. of this stuff — that’s almost the quantity that’s in a wine bottle — but if you can, you’re not invited into my house.

5% abv.

D+ / $3 per 24 oz. can / millercoors.com

Review: Wines of JaM Cellars, 2016 Releases

jam-cab

This new brand of supermarket-friendly wines comes from John Anthony and Michele Truchard — and together they are JaM Cellars. If that isn’t catchy enough, the names of the wines — Toast, Butter, and Jam — and black-plus-one-primary-color labeling are likely to stick with you.

JaM may wear its obviousness on its sleeve — or, on its label at least — but let’s see how it does on the palate.

NV JaM Cellars Toast California Sparkling Brut – Extremely dry, its fruit takes its sweet time to make an appearance, eventually coming forward with simple notes of apple, lightly browned butter and sage, and — indeed — notes of toasted bread. The finish is simple and short, nearly devoid of the sweetness I expected to find despite the Brut indication on the label. A credible, yet very simple, California sparkler. B / $25

2015 JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay California – Buttery, yes, but more restrained than you’d think. Simple fruit and brown butter is spiked with notes of allspice, plus a touch of grapefruit peel. The finish is a bit chewy, with some unfortunate green bean character on the back end. Fair enough for a Tuesday evening, though. B- / $16

2014 JaM Cellars Jam Cabernet Sauvignon California – Again the name doesn’t lie. Completely overblown with chocolate syrup, overripe plums, and juice currants, this sugar bomb hits the palate with a vengeance and never lets go. Frankly I couldn’t get through half a glass… but what are you expecting, anyway? D- / $20

jamcellars.com

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases

bottle_pavilion

A septet of new releases from our friends at FFC. Quality on this round is literally all over the place…

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs Monterey County – The cellophane wrapper should connote luxury, but to me it always comes across as scary. This wine — vintage blanc de blancs! — smells like fizzy chardonnay, which is basically what it really is. Notes of bubble gum and vanilla candy aren’t wildly inappropriate against the backdrop of a gummy, foamy body, but it hardly makes for a nuanced drinking experience. C+ / $15

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio – A simple pinot grigio on the whole, though notes of marzipan and parmesan cheese take things in an unexpected, somewhat rustic direction. Gentle with citrus and apple fruit, lightly acidic, and mildly perfumed, it’s got a bit of everything, which is both good and bad, but which helps to acquit the wine appropriately for what’s intended to be an everyday table wine. B+ / $9

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio – A fruit-heavy style of pinot grigio, with notes of lychee, mango, and pistachio, with a finish that echoes notes of nougat. Quite sweet, but approachable. B / $12

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay California – The label is perhaps meant to remind one of Burgundy, but the palate instead screams “Central Valley.” This is some questionable chardonnay, doctored up and over-oaked to within an inch of its life, offering a nose of sweet honey and a palate that pinballs between candy and canned vegetables. Throughout all of this: An overlay of liquid oak. Ugh. D / $10

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay – The fine print on the back details that this is a Santa Lucia Highlands wine, and its elevated appellation (over the California-only appellation of the Votre Sante) shows bright apple fruit with light vanilla notes, brown butter, and fresh cream. There’s a lovely balance here that many of the wines in this roundup are lacking, and a freshness on the finish that is almost inspiring. A- / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – This is the still rose from the Sofia sub-label, a strawberry-hued and -flavored oddity that won’t inspire or excite. Underneath those sweet berries there’s a somewhat muddy character, lingering on the finish side by side with some increasingly candy-like notes. C / $15

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Pitagora Red Wine Blend Sonoma County – The sole red wine in this collection, Pitagora is a blend of syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite sirah, but it feels closest in tone to a rustic Italian wine, full of dried herbs, cherries, and olive notes. Very dry, with an undercurrent of balsamic. B / $26

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: Dark Corner Distillery World’s Best Moonshine and Whiskey Girl Flavored Whiskeys

WG_ProductPages_3_Peach-1024x698

Dark Corner Distillery in Greenville, South Carolina is the home of a number of youthful whiskey products, including an unaged moonshine and a series of flavored whiskeys bottled under the Whiskey Girl (aka Whiskeygirl) brand. All of this is distilled and bottled at Dark Corner’s Greenville operation.

Four reviews — the aforementioned moonshine and three flavored whiskeys — follow.

Dark Corner Distillery The World’s Best Moonshine – The “corn whiskey” moniker on the label doesn’t tell the whole story; this clear spirit is made from a mash of corn, red wheat, and barley. The nose is both rubbery and corny, classically moonshine — which is to say, not all that compelling. The body is lightly sweet but with plenty of popcorn, with a racy but not fiery finish that is shaded with black pepper, cinnamon, and ample hospital character. “World’s best” may be pushing it. 100 proof. B- / $32

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Peach Flavored Whiskey – This (along with the following two reviews) is naturally flavored corn whiskey; I presume the whiskey is unaged (though this is not specified by the company) and that the color is derived from caramel or other flavoring agents. It’s oozing with peach candy notes, both fruity and sweet on the nose in equal proportions — plus a little milk chocolate, too. The body however is downright overloaded with sweetness, punchy with candy notes melting onto the tongue. It’s a peach-heavy spirit as promised (with no whiskey notes to be found), and it’s pleasant enough at first, but the finish is rubbery and lingers for far too long. 70 proof. C- / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Apple & Maple Flavored Whiskey – The nose is indistinct, neither particularly apple nor maple but rather just vaguely fruit-syrupy. The maple syrup notes break through first, hitting the palate like Sunday morning. On the tongue, apple is more elusive, but there if you hunt for it in the form of baked apple crisp, complete with cinnamon and crumbly crust. It’s hardly a nuanced product, but I can see this being a big hit at dollar shot night. The lower abv helps. 60 proof. B / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Butterscotch Flavored Whiskey – I saved the most brazenly candylike product for last, and for good reason — it’s a sugar-coated monster from start to finish. I’m unclear how butterscotch is created with “all natural ingredients,” but I’m not sure the answer really matters. The end product here is overpowered with weird chemical flavors, hospital notes, and an intensely sweet, syrupy, funky finish. The furthest thing from “whiskey” I can imagine. 70 proof. D / $28

darkcornerdistillery.com

Review: Hard Frescos

hard frescos

Mexican sodas (aka frescas) are one of life’s little pleasures. Naturally someone had to try and improve on them by adding alcohol.

Hard Frescos are, as is common in this category, not really sodas but rather malt beverages with copious flavoring added. In other words, they’re heavily doctored and sweetened in order to attempt to drown out the malt liquor funk that is omnipresent in these kinds of drinks. To its credit, everything is natural in each of the four Hard Frescos expressions, and each includes 25% fruit ingredients in the bill. All of the expressions clock in at 5% abv, and all bottles are 11.5 oz. (16 oz cans are also available.)

Can you shortcut your way to a Tequila Sunrise with a Hard Fresco? (Strangely, a Paloma-esque grapefruit soda is not available.) Let’s find out.

Hard Frescos Cola Buena – Smells like cola (this is “brewed with real kola nut”), but the palate is sickly sweet with notes of cheap, Chinese candies and laden with an overripe fruit character that dominates any vanilla-cinnamon notes that one expects from a cola-flavored drink. The aftertaste is epic and, I should add, far from buenaD+

Hard Frescos Juicy Jamaica – A hibiscus flavored drink, again very sweet and fruity, but here the sweetness is more warranted, making the experience come across more like a boozy fruit punch. The malty funk found in the Cola Buena is largely absent here; if you can handle some heavy strawberry and cherry notes (and precious little floral character), this isn’t a bad spin on an, indeed, juicy punch. B

Hard Frescos Citrico – Flavored with “real citrus and guava” — but looks like orange soda. Tastes like it too (with a slight tropical edge), but again there’s a funky, medicinal character underneath that tends to dominate the experience. It’s more evened out than the cola, but more obviously “alcoholic” than the jamaica. If you imagine this to be a very cheap and abstract version of a margarita, it makes the experience a bit more worthwhile. B-

Hard Frescos Tangy Tamarind – Jarritos made me a tamarindo convert, but this Hard Frescos rendition is decidedly weird, offering notes of cocoa powder, walnuts, marzipan, and brewed tea — all of which are various shades of brown but none of which taste anything like tamarind. This concoction, whatever it is, doesn’t taste particularly offensive, but it pales in comparison to what a real tamarind soda is like. C+

each about $4 per 11.5 oz bottle / hardfrescos.com

Review: Midori Melon Liqueur

Midori

I have never asked for Midori. Midori has only sought me out, squirreled away in cocktails, usually the kind served blended into a slushie and handed out in a locale where the sunset is meant to be admired over anything else.

Midori is, surprisingly, owned by Japan’s Suntory and made exclusively in Japan from its 1978 launch until 1987; today it is made in Mexico. Midori is of course “the original melon liqueur,” though its color more closely resembles Homer Simpson’s nuclear material than any melon I’ve ever encountered. While designed to imbue a cocktail with a melon flavor, it’s main job really seems to be to carry the load of color. There are really just a handful of ways to make a cocktail green, and Midori is one of the cheapest and most accepted among them.

This is the first time I’ve ever tried Midori on its own (particularly at room temperature, as I do all my tastings), but let’s see what that experience is like nonetheless.

The nose… doesn’t smell like melons. The aroma is indistinct, with vague florals, evergreen, and a generally artificial, chemical character that wouldn’t be out of place in any cough syrup, green or no. The palate bears that out in spades — it has only the vaguest of connection to honeydew or any other melon, coming across as extremely sweet, but more vegetal than fruity, particularly on the lengthy and entirely artificial finish.

Of course, in cocktails, used in moderation, Midori can offer a somewhat different (and far better) experience, but I challenge you to detect any real “melon” flavor in a melon ball, a Japanese slipper, or a Midori sour… or this Guy Fieri nightmare.

All told, it is the nastiest stuff that I actually keep in my bar.

40 proof.

D- / $17 / midori-world.com

Reviewing Gluten-Free Beer: Coors Peak Golden Lager and Copper Lager

coors peak 6pack

Despite the science, the “gluten-free” movement still refuses to go away, so that sea of footnotes indicating glutenlessness continues to mar restaurant menus, and gluten-free alternatives to regular products continue to line grocery shelves. Including gluten-free beer.

Beer is traditionally made from barley, which is loaded with gluten, so making a beer without gluten presents some thorny issues. While you can use magic science to remove gluten from beer, if the raw ingredients ever had gluten in them, you can’t call the finished product “gluten free.” To get around that issue, Coors turned to our gluten-free friend, rice. The Coors Peak beers include brown rice malt, brown rice, protein from peas, hops, and caramel sugar. Pea-based protein? Well if that doesn’t sound refreshing, I don’t know what does!

Now, “gluten-free” anything does not have a major association with “great-tasting,” so even if Peak is the “best gluten-free beer,” that may be damning it with faint praise. That caveat aside, let’s find out where these brews stand. Note: Both are available only in Portland and Seattle. Sorry, Tennessee!

Coors Peak Golden Lager – Initially malty and fairly fresh, things quickly take a turn for the worse as that traditional, slightly sweet, lager body takes an acidic and unnatural turn, offering vegetal notes, some mushroom, and a weird Band-Aid character that lingers forever on the finish. 5% abv. C-

Coors Peak Copper Lager – While the Golden Lager could pass for a traditional beer if you squint your taste buds, the Copper Lager, a redder beer that seems to have more caramel sugar in it, is an entirely different monster. Caramel-heavy and quite sweet, it overwhelms with a saccharine faux-malt note then fades out with notes of stale popcorn, raw carrots, and ash. Awful. 4.7% abv. F

each $7 per six pack / coorspeak.com

Review: Bacardi Tangerine Rum

Bacardi_TangerinI’ve never had a tangerine that tasted anything like this, but Bacardi Sunny Delight Rum probably would’ve gotten the company into hot water.

What we have here is an indistinctly orangish-citrus, petrol-laden rum that is simultaneously super-sweet and incredibly artificial in the way it comes across. (As always, “natural flavors” are promised, per the label.) The finish is lengthy and enduring and reminiscent of a children’s cough syrup.

Pass on this one.

70 proof.

D+ / $11 / bacardi.com

Review: Pinnacle Cinnamon Roll Vodka

Pinnacle Cinnabon Vodka_750Those of you afraid that vodka flavors are losing their edge, rest easy, here’s a flavor that’s sure to strip the enamel straight off your teeth: Cinnamon roll, produced in conjunction with (or at least, with a picture and logo from) Cinnabon.

Unbearably sweet — though that’s not far from the source — the overall impression of this vodka is akin to vanilla cake frosting. Big butter (ok, margarine) notes just add to the fat bomb impression, and at least give it some sense that there’s a pastry somewhere in there. Cinnamon is — oddly enough — the weak link in the puzzle. While readily detectable, it’s dialed back to the point where its addition seems to come across as an afterthought. Bizarre.

Picking up a bottle to satisfy your boozy sweet tooth? God help you, dear reader.

70 proof.

D+ / $10 / pinnaclevodka.com

Review: Wines of Umbria’s Falesco, 2016 Releases

I0004932_Falesco_Montiano2Umbria, Tuscany’s little cousin, is the home of Falesco, which has been operating in the region since 1979. The company produces wine under a handful of sub-labels, the Vitiano brand representing its entry-level bottlings. We checked out two members of the Vitiano line and one wine higher up the chain. Thoughts follow.

2014 Falesco Vitiano Verdicchio Vermentino Umbria IGT – A 50/50 blend of Verdicchio and Vermentino, 100% stainless steel-fermented, this is a pretty, lightly grassy wine with notes of lemon. Light as a feather on the palate and quite a summery sipper. Note: The Vitiano brand doesn’t carry the Falesco name anywhere on the label. A- / $11

2013 Falesco Vitiano Rosso Umbria IGT – A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. Smells cheap — extracted and overly jammy. The palate is marginally better, at first, starting off fruity but short of blown out. As it develops in glass it takes on some rough, dried herbal notes and the finish has an antiseptic character to it. Big miss. D+ / $9

2012 Falesco Montiano Lazio IGT – Falesco’s flagship wine, a 100% Merlot bottling aged in Allier and Tronçais barriques. Initially heavy and herbal, with a density that recalls Piedmontese wines. Dark blackberry and extracted cassis flavors lead to notes of dark chocolate and coffee bean. Opens up over time to reveal a softer side (with slight floral notes driven by the Merlot) that engages well with food. A- / $25

falesco.it

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2015 Releases

VendettaIt’s a bumper crop of new releases from Coppola. Here’s a look at something old and something new from this always-busy operation.

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sauvignon Blanc Diamond Collection Yellow Label – A workmanlike, even gentlemanly, sauvignon blanc. Quite sweet, with marshmallow notes, lemon juice, and creamy orange Dreamsicle notes. Simple but with a lightly herbal edge to the finish, it’s classic yet cheap summer wine (if the bright yellow label didn’t cue you in). B / $16

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Grigio Diamond Collection Emerald Label – A rather tropical pinot grigio, melding mango and banana notes into a festive shell. Simple, lightweight, lightly sweet, and rather refreshing, but better as an aperitif than with food. B+ / $12

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Claret Diamond Collection Black Label – Surprisingly on point, the 2013 claret — a Bordeaux style blend that nonetheless reads “California Cabernet Sauvignon” on the back label — has youth and austerity, both in moderation. Bright red strawberries and raspberries seize the day — there’s not too much currant character here — with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and tea leaf (sweet tea, maybe?) lingering on the finish. Mostly dry but with a short, quick finish, this is as gentle an entry to this style of wine. B+ / $21

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – Pleasant, summery, and refreshing, this rose of syrah and pinot noir is an easy sipper with strawberry and blackberry notes, atop a fresh apple juice core. Probably the best thing you’ll find under the Sofia sub-label. A- / $19

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Pinot Noir Director’s Sonoma Coast – (Not the same as “Director’s Cut.”) Not a bad effort here, and it evolves to show more charm in the glass as it gets some air. Cherry up front, with some dusky brewed tea and cracked pepper notes. Nice balance, with a lightly bitter kick on the finish. B+ / $21

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Zinfandel Director’s Cut Dry Creek Valley – A reserved and quite tannic zinfandel, this wine features muted bramble notes, leather, and mild currants. Quite drying on the finish, with a licorice kick. B- / $17

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Vendetta – The new kid on the block. A cab-merlot blend, packaged in the oh-so-trendy paper-wrapped bottle. An often horrifying wine, doctored and pumped up (IMHO) with artificial sweeteners. Chocolate and cinnamon notes mingle with a cloying sweetness that positively coats the palate. Was the vendetta against me? D / $21

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: Skyy Barcraft – White Sangria, Margarita Lime, and Watermelon Fresca

skyy stuff

“It’s time to hack the cocktail!” Now that’s a slogan I can get behind.

Unfortunately, Skyy Barcraft — essentially lower-proof flavored vodka designed to be mixed with your favorite mixer (soda, ginger, what-have-you) and consumed on the rocks — isn’t really hacking anything. Unless you consider water and those inimitable “natural flavors” to be a hack. Meh.

Each of the three expressions is 60 proof. All were tasted with a splash of club soda. (Skyy suggests a 2:1 mix of soda to spirit, which I don’t recommend at all.)

Skyy Barcraft White Sangria – Fresh, with lots of peach overtones, followed by citrus. Doesn’t exactly scream sangria — as there’s no wine element on the palate to speak of — but it does come off as a capable rendition of a lower-cal peach vodka. B

Skyy Barcraft Margarita Lime – Makes for an ugly margarita. Starts off with piney, evergreen notes, then segues into hospital overtones. The finish is drying and medicinal, not at all like any margarita I’ve ever had (possibly because you make a margarita with tequila, not vodka). D-

Skyy Barcraft Watermelon Fresca – About what you’re expecting — Jolly Ranchers dipped into vodka for a slightly astringent, slightly candied complexion. Some bitter notes emerge on the finish, likely driven by the vodka. Relatively harmless, but unless you’ve got a serious thing for watermelon, it’s probably not going to be your go-to beverage. C

each $x / campariamerica.com