Review: The Spice Lab Special Touch Premium Mixology Case

Nothing’s more fun than ordering a high-end cocktail at a bar and receiving it with a wacky ingredient or garnish — maybe a flaming star anise or an edible flower, slowly leeching its color into your drink.

Well good news, campers: Now you can recreate some of these experiences at home, thanks to The Spice Lab’s “Special Touch” Premium Mixology Case.

It’s a very simple idea: This attache-style case contains a dozen rare or high-end garnishes, each provided whole and packaged in its own individual plastic case. The dozen includes the following: cardamom seeds, giant coffee beans, cocoa seed, allspice (whole), star anise, dried kumquat, juniper berries (whole), mini cinnamon cassia sticks, whole mace, and three dried (whole) flowers: hibiscus, Persian rose, and mallow blossom.

The case includes a deck of cards, one giving some basic usage ideas for each ingredient. The top lid includes five barware pieces: a jigger, bar spoon, tongs, peeler, and a cylindrical grater for dried spices.

What can you do with all of these? The Spanish-designed kit is designed for use with vermouth, rum, and gin, and just about all of these garnishes pair well with gin concoctions, particularly the Spanish staple of gin and tonic. Pick any of the flowers and drop one in your glass to open up new aromatics and give your drink a breathtaking color. Other ingredients, like kumquat and mace, present more of a challenge. And of course, items like star anise, cocoa bean, and cinnamon are all very versatile, well being the world of gin and tonic. From top to bottom, all the ingredients are extremely high end — but remember, dried spices and flowers will lose flavor and potency over time, so don’t be afraid to use them liberally.

At $200, this is an awfully luxe kit, but if you don’t need the full collection, Special Touch offers some simpler kits that are more targeted (and which cost quite a bit less), and individual botanicals can be purchased as well. My only complaint: The case itself is a bit flimsy, though it’s decked out in leather and metal trim.

That aside, I know I’m having fun with this kit. Order a drink at my house these days and who knows what kind of garnish you’ll get!

A- / $200 / thespicelab.com

Neat Idea: These Shorts Can Open Bottles

Here’s a problem: You’re on the beach and someone throws you a beer. The nearest opener (and even your keychain) is hundreds of yards away. Now what?

If you’re wearing Island Daze’s BBO shorts, the problem is solved. In a minor stroke of genius, the company has sewn an opener directly into the pocket flap. Just lift it up, pop the top, and you’re good to go.

Five designs plus a cargo short product are available, each in multiple colors and in waist sizes from 30 to 38. The shorts themselves ($48 per pair) are breezy and comfortable, but are undoubtedly more so once you have that beer open.

bboshorts.com 

Review: Nachtmann Highland Tumbler

Seeing green? Check out this new tumbler from Nachtmann. The Nachtmann Highland Tumbler, cast in “Reseda” green, which is “named for the eponymous spring-green plant.”

It’s a nice little old fashioned glass, its carved base making for easy handling while looking sophisticated. The lip is gently rounded, which is comfortable for drinking, and the glass has amble weight without feeling over-heavy.

The green color is perhaps divisive, but if you’re looking for a statement glass to serve your home cocktails in, this is a solid choice.

A- / $18 each / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Does Glass Shape Affect the Way a Whiskey Tastes?

A common question we get here at Drinkhacker is whether glass shape actually matters; does it really change the taste of your drink of choice? In order to get to the bottom of this, we decided to have a small whiskey tasting, to try out a single whiskey in three differently-shaped glasses and see how it fared in each. The whiskey chosen for the experiment was High West’s Yippee Ki-Yay, and the glasses were: an ordinary rocks glass, a stemless cocktail glass, and a Glencairn whisky glass. As you can see above, each glass has a different shape and mouth width, so if glasses really do matter when it comes to taste, we should see (or rather, smell and taste) some differences. Each pour of whiskey was left to sit for 20 minutes to open up in the glass, then nosed and tasted. Feel free to get out a few glasses and try this experiment along with us.

The Rocks Glass

Nose: The first, most overwhelming scent we got from the rocks glass was ethanol fumes. The alcohol was in full force and pretty much drowned out anything else that might be lurking underneath, though a light undercurrent of butterscotch could be found hidden under all that alcohol. Given more time, some of this likely would have burned off, but after 20 minutes it was still overpowering.

Palate: The fumes are still there and still strong, though there are some savory notes hidden underneath. A taste of olives, lumberyard wood, and a little salt all floated to the tongue, but it was still hard to get through that initial blaze. Yippee Ki-Yay isn’t especially high in alcohol content, but the glass really amplified the alcohol that was there.

The Cocktail Glass

Nose: The nose on the cocktail glass was much more alluring than what we got from the rocks glass. Typical whiskey butterscotch and caramel, along with a light floral scent, likely from the vermouth barrels used to finish the whiskey. If we were blindfolded, this would have come across as a totally different whiskey than the one in the rocks glass.

Palate: The savory notes found in the rocks glass are still there, but much more pronounced without all that alcohol keeping them held down. Salt and balsamic, fresh olives, bitter amaro, and some black coffee. Yippee Ki-Yay is wearing that vermouth barrel on its sleeve, because in the cocktail glass this drinks like a unique aperitif.

The Glencairn Glass

Nose: Surprisingly, the traditional whiskey notes from the cocktail glass were mostly gone. They were replaced by cloves, cinnamon, and above all else, coffee. In the Glencairn glass, the whiskey comes across like a spiced black coffee, unique for a whiskey. Our initial thought was that the Glencairn glass’s narrow mouth might keep the fumes trapped like the rocks glass, but after 20 minutes that didn’t seem to be the case.

Palate: The palate bears out what the nose promised, with a rich black coffee rush, though it’s tempered by the same vermouth notes that the cocktail glass offered. The amaro notes are more pronounced when blended with the coffee, which give Yippee Ki-Yay a more bitter taste than in the cocktail glass.

Conclusions

So what does all this mean? Clearly glass shape impacts taste quite a bit, but why? A lot of it has to do with the shape of the mouth of the glass: the Glencairn especially is built almost like a wine glass, and when you take a drink, you can’t help but get your nose right in the glass, which will amplify what your tastebuds are getting. The straight sides of the rocks glass leave nowhere for the fumes to go, so it takes longer for them to burn off, whereas the wide mouth of the cocktail glass will let you get underneath the alcohol much more quickly. The wide mouth helps get your nose in the right position as well, much like the Glencairn glass.

So there you have it, a brief but hopefully informative foray into what those innocuous glasses can do to your favorite tipple. If you try this experiment yourself, let us know in the comments how it goes!

Review: Tovolo Sphere Clear Ice System

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Nothing makes a better statement in a cocktail than using a single piece of ice to chill it. Up the ante by making that a sphere instead of a cube. Up it again by ensuring the ice is crystal clear, not cloudy.

The secret of clear ice was figured out a long time ago: Water that freezes very slowly is clearer, because the trapped gasses in the water have time to escape. The home method to do this is to freeze water inside a series of coolers. The catch: This takes an insane amount of room in your freezer, and a very long time. And at the end, you still have to carve your own cubes or spheres out of the block of ice you have.

Tovolo attempts to solve all of these problems with this unique product which promises to make clear, spherical ice balls without nearly as much hassle.

You put together the inner (green) silicone components, then fill with water through a hole in the top. Then you surround that with a plastic sleeve. The sleeve acts as the second cooler in the operation, slowing down the freezing process (a lot). It takes a solid 12 hours or more for the ice in the inner silicone mold to freeze. You are actually left with two spheres — the one on the bottom is a pretty cloudy mess, but the one on top is supposed to be the clear one. Results? Well, after several tests, the ice that came out was clearer than any other ice in my freezer, but nothing I’d describe as “crystal clear,” which the box (and the picture on the box) touts. Check the photo to the right to see for yourself.

While $16 isn’t going to break the bank, there are plenty of spherical molds on the market that will get you roughly the same results as this one, with considerably less hassle. Note that Tovolo also makes a cube ice version of the product, should right angles become hot in 2017.

$16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: 2013 Saved Red Wine

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A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.

The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:

Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.

B+ / $16 / savedwines.com

Review: Kuvee Wine Preservation System

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How to deal with the conundrum of leftover wine has been an issue that has dogged us for ages, and while numerous solutions work well, none is perfect.

Kuvee thinks it has the answer with this: A high-tech wine dispenser that lets you pour one glass at a time while ensuring the wines inside last for weeks.

The solution is quite a cutting-edge one. Kuvee is a sleeve that goes on top of a custom (this is key) bottle of wine. On the front of the sleeve is a web-connected color touchscreen that provides copious information about the wine, including a picture of the label, a winemaker bio, tasting notes, and more. The screen shows you when the bottle was opened and even keeps track of how much is left. A base station recharges the Kuvee every time you set it down, much like an electric toothbrush. Want more wine? You can actually buy it directly from the Kuvee, which is perhaps the first time I’ve had a bottle of wine offer to sell me another one.

I tried Kuvee with a white and a red, pouring out about half, then waiting two full weeks to see how well the wines fared. Both sailed through without an issue, tasting as fresh on day 14 as they did on day one. If you like to have multiple bottles in rotation and don’t like existing preservation methods, Kuvee is a winning solution.

The problem however is that Kuvee only works with those custom bottles (plastic canisters with a collapsing bladder inside), and there are only a couple dozen wines available. Most of those are relatively low-end. Exceptions like Chamisal, Round Pond, and Clos Pegase exist, but these aren’t the norm. I had never heard of the red I was sent, a $15 wine called Cartlidge & Browne, and it wasn’t terribly drinkable no matter what day I tried it on.

It’s nice that Kuvee requires no argon or other consumables, but the requirement of buying custom bottles will be a deal-breaker for most consumers. Unless Kuvee manages to expand to several hundred wineries at a minimum, it’ll be best reserved for restaurants with limited wine-by-the-glass programs where customers don’t get through a whole bottle every night.

$199 (with four wines) / kuvee.com

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