Review: Blank Slate Rich Simple Syrups

This quartet of mixers comes from Blank Slate Kitchen, which whips up nothing but “rich simple syrup” in its Brooklyn kitchen. The four products on offer range in color from golden brown to molasses black, each crafted from palm sugar and (save for the base model) all flavored in some simple but powerful way.

Each comes in an 8 oz. jar and is ready for cocktailing. (Check the back label for recipe ideas!)

Blank Slate Palm Sugar Rich Simple Syrup – A lively syrup, dark brown and quite malty, like a homebrew malt syrup, tempered with nuts and notes of coconut. Versatile, but the syrup pairs especially well with rum. A- / $12

Blank Slate Vanilla Rich Simple Syrup – As expected, the palm sugar syrup finds a companion in strong vanilla overtones — and they’re authentic, as this is made with whole vanilla beans. Lush and powerful, this pairs even better with rum, pulling the two spirits together to reveal a rum cake character. A / $15

Blank Slate Black Pepper Rich Simple Syrup – More nuanced than the vanilla — here the pepper is understated and, on its own (or rather, with plain water), the spice doesn’t really pop at first, lending the syrup more of a vague earthiness and just a hint of heat. (For best results: stir, don’t shake, this one, to free the pepper from clumping at the bottom of the bottle.) Pairing this one is tough; rum and whiskey didn’t impress me, but with vodka you could really catch the peppery essence more clearly. B+ / $13

Blank Slate Bird’s Eye Chili Rich Simple Syrup – Lighter in color (and density of flavor), infused with bird’s eye chili pepper flavors. This syrup offers the softest sweetness of the bunch, and the chili is present and pungent, without being overpowering. Works well with vodka, but better — surprisingly — with gin. B+ / $12

blankslatekitchen.com

Review: Coco Cocktail

Coconut water plus booze? Now you can get your electrolytes and your buzz in a single can, courtesy of Coco Cocktail, which is 70% coconut water, plus just enough hooch to make you forget you’re drinking coconut water.

Technically Coco Cocktail is made from powdered coconut water on top of a base of water, cane sugar, and “OTS orange wine,” which is “other than standard orange wine,” which is basically a cheap class of alcohol that lets you put “wine specialty” on the can instead of “malt beverage.” #REFRESH all you want (per the instructions on the can) while being excited that you’re drinking an all natural product — but understand there’s still a lot of mystery booze in the kit.

As for Coco Cocktail in actual consumption, it’s a lemon-lime flavored, lightly fizzy concoction with a very sour body. Coconut water has never been my bag, so I appreciate the effort to cover it up with fruit flavors, but Coco Cocktail takes it all a bit too far, with a mouth-puckering finish that’s as powerful as many a sour candy out there. Light notes of the underlying coconut bubble up here and there, but these are quickly washed away by the flavoring. In other words, if you want to drink coconut water, but also booze, and also not taste the stuff, well, here’s one way to do it.

5.6% abv.

C- / $10 per four-pack of 12 oz cans / cocococktail.com

Update 2/10/2017. A reply from Coco Cocktail’s parent company CEO Franz Tudor:

I would like to thank you for taking the time to review COCO Cocktail #REFRESH.  We respect all opinions regarding our product, but I would like to address a few comments that were made in your review.

 In response to the “cheap class of alcohol” comment I would like to provide the following.  OTS Orange Peel Wine is far from cheap and in its pure form tastes more like a very pure vodka.  The orange peels are turned into a molasses which is then fermented.  This process produces a very clean, gluten free and non-gmo alcohol, there is nothing “cheap” and there is no mystery with the OTS orange peel wine used in #REFRESH.  OTS wine is nothing like malt in many regards mainly quality, gluten free, non-gmo and there is no aftertaste.  The OTS wine we use could be consumed as a standalone cocktail and we pride ourselves as using only the cleanest ingredients and stand behind everything contained in #REFRESH and all future Coco Cocktail products.  In fact our products undergo more testing by certified independent labs than any alcoholic beverage in the market.

While your article mentions coconut water, it fails to comment on the vitamin and mineral content of #REFRESH.  This is the first alcoholic beverage to ever be able to claim as per US FDA regulations that it is a “Good” source of several essential vitamins; A, C, D, E, B1 & B6.  Did you know that 95% of the population is vitamin E deficient and 90% are potassium deficient? I would further emphasize that all sources of vitamins and minerals in #REFRESH are from actual food sources and are fully bioavailable to the human body unlike the synthetic vitamins used in many non-alcoholic beverages including Naked Juice.  Pepsi recently paid fines for using synthetic vitamins in Naked Juice and misleading consumers in their advertising and packaging.  Most non-alcoholic beverages in the market claiming vitamin content are from synthetic vitamins which typically have bioavailability rates of 10-12%, meaning when a product states 100% of vitamin C and the source is synthetic your body will only use and absorb 10-12% of the advertised content.  The US FDA recently changed labeling regulations for products utilizing synthetic vitamins.  There is absolutely nothing synthetic in #REFRESH.  I will and have compared our product to multiple fresh pressed juices any time as the majority of the time #REFRESH has a superior nutritional profile and wait until POW! hits the market as it achieved US FDA regulations to claim an “EXCELLENT” source of vitamins adding multiple B vitamins and vitamin K in addition to the vitamins found in #REFRESH.

We have created a special process to make our coconut water easier to store and transport.  Once rehydrated our “powder” creates REAL and All Natural Non-GMO coconut water that would compete with any coconut water currently available on the market in both taste and nutritional profile.  The US FDA has reviewed our process and ruled that our coconut water “powder” was still an All Natural Juice (the FDA classifies all coconut water as juice).  We add nothing to our coconut water unlike many of the leading non-alcoholic coconut water brands on the market.  Each can of #REFRESH is 70% coconut water and contains 177mg of potassium per 12oz serving and only 7mg of sodium, the appropriate hydration formulation considering most in the US are not sodium deficient in their daily diet.

The SuperFruits Mangosteen and Garcinia Cambogia are also added to #REFRESH.  These SuperFruits are excellent sources of antioxidants.

As far as taste goes.  We use real fruit extracts and not “All Natural” flavors as the dirty industry secret is that those flavors are made with chemicals that happen to be classified as natural, but often contain not even a trace element of the actual fruits.  This is not the case with #REFRESH and the extracts we use as flavor.  While it does have a strong or tart citrus flavor, there is a large population who prefer tart over sweet.  In addition, considering the large number of cocktails include something citrus and something bubbly, #REFRESH makes an excellent and nutritious mixer with spirits ranging from vodka to whiskey.  Try it once instead of using sodas, high sugar content juices or energy drinks (which by the way it is very dangerous to mix caffeine and alcohol).  Taste like beauty is in the palette of the drinker.  Yes I have seen the sour patch face on occasion, but I have also heard delicious and that is so refreshing the majority of the time and is supported by our current sales ramp.  With that said we are preparing to launch a pomegranate berry flavor called POW! that will appeal to the sweeter in palette but will only contain 13g of total carbs per 12oz serving and 100 calories. 

Again, I thank you for taking the time to review and I respect your opinion, but wanted to address some of the misunderstandings contained in the article.   If you have further interest in better understanding our products and company mission I am available at any time to address your questions and comments.

Cheers & To Your Health!  Franz Tudor, CEO of Healthy Beverages, LLC and Co-Creator of COCO Cocktail.

Review: Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzers

Alcoholic water isn’t a new thing, but Smirnoff’s entry into the market is bound to give “hard seltzer” a bigger presence on the shelf. Available in three “invigorating” flavors (with no artificial flavors added), the seltzers pack just 90 calories and 4.5% abv in each 12 oz. can. We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Orange Mango – Surprisingly fragrant, with both orange and mango notes distinct, particularly on first cracking open the can. On the palate, it’s rather mild and slightly sweet, but the significant, creamy fizziness give it a clean and fresh finish. Rather harmless. B

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Cranberry Lime – A low-cal cosmo as a fizzy drink? Here the berry notes come across on the strong side, and the sweetness is a little overbearing at times compared to the more subtle Orange Mango. Fans of sweeter sodas may find this more appealing than me. C+

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Watermelon – Watermelon is always a tricky flavor, and here it comes across largely as expected, a bit like Jolly Rancher candies melted down and mixed with fizzy water. The least nuanced of the group. C-

each $9 per six-pack of 12 oz cans / smirnoff.com

Review and Recipes: Sunup Green Coffee

Sunup Green Coffee

What’s green coffee? It’s coffee made using green, unroasted coffee beans in the brewing process. Sunup, which makes this beverage, says green coffee is good for your stomach, rich in antioxidants, gluten free, and organic. Sunup (generally consumed cold) comes lightly sweetened with sugar, though it still boasts to be only 80 calories. The natural caffeine present is about the same as drinking a normal iced coffee.

If you expect it to taste like a regular cup of coffee, you’ll be surprised. The coffee comes through only as a slight aftertaste; up front, it is more reminiscent of a tea. Chilled, it makes a great beverage to take on an afternoon in the park or to drink with lunch.

B+ / $23 per six pack of 9.5 oz. bottles / sunupgreencoffee.com

We couldn’t resist making a few cocktails with it. Give these a try!

Sunup Long Island Iced Coffee
1 Tbsp. dark rum
1 Tbsp. vodka
1 Tbsp. gin
1 Tbsp. gold tequila
1 Tbsp. Tia Maria
2 Tbsp. ginger beer
1 Tbsp. simple syrup
1-2 Tbsp. lime juice
cold Sunup green coffee
lime wedges to serve

Fill a shaker with ice and all the spirits plus the lime juice. Shake briefly. Strain over a tall glass with ice. Add the ginger beer and top off with the Sunup.Sunup RumChata Cocktail

Sunup Rumchata
3 oz. room temperature Sunup green coffee
1 oz. RumChata
1 oz. white rum

Combine RumChata and Sunup in a shaker with ice. Shake and pour into a tall glass with ice. If you prefer, substitute Frangelico and 1 Tbsp. simple syrup instead of the RumChata.

Recipe: Homemade Orange Simple Syrup and Candied Oranges

Candied Oranges

When cooking, there is seldom a need to throw out leftover food items. The motto of the day is: Let nothing be wasted. Wort leftover from a homebrew session can be mixed with honey and boiled down into a nice glaze to use when cooking ham and pineapple. The same goes for making desserts. Today we’re going to show you how to make candied orange slices, which results in “leftover” orange flavored simple syrup. Imagine how impressed your guests and family will be when they get a sweet treat and a corresponding cocktail!

The base recipe for candied oranges comes from Tastemade. Lemons, tangerines, mandarin oranges, or grapefruit can also be used.

Candied Oranges
1-2 navel oranges (if the fruit you use isn’t seedless, take care that the seeds are carefully removed)
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
4 oz. dark chocolate chips or 1/4 cup cocoa powder

First wash the oranges with a soft bristled brush. A toothbrush works, but it’s better to use a vegetable brush. The reason is to remove any wax residue on the skins. Next cut off both ends of each orange; then slice the rest into 1/4-inch thick slices.

The original recipe says to use a wide pot; however, a large deep skillet works nicely. Add the water and sugar into the skillet. Bring it to a boil while stirring constantly, to completely dissolve the sugar. Once it comes to a boil, lay out the orange slices so they do not overlap. Continue the boil for 15 minutes and then lower the heat to medium-low. Gently flip the orange slices over (tongs are recommended) and let them simmer for an additional 20-25 minutes. They are ready when the peels are translucent and the sugar water has thickened into a syrup.

Place a wire rack over a lined baking sheet. Gently transfer the candied slices to the rack to cool. Keep the remaining syrup for your cocktails. If it is too thick, simply add small amounts of water until it reached the desired consistency.

Once the candied oranges have cooled, dip them in melted dark chocolate or dust them with powdered cocoa. Chill until ready to use.

And here’s a great way to use your orange syrup…

Whiskey Plush CocktailWhiskey Plush Cocktail Recipe
From 1001 Cocktails
1 oz. whiskey
1 oz. Irish cream
1/2 oz. orange simple syrup
4 oz. heavy cream
4 dashes Campari
nutmeg

Pour all ingredients except nutmeg into a shaker and add ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled wine glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg, and serve.

This cocktail is sweet and creamy, with the texture of a milkshake. The nutmeg is a must, as it permeates the nose, preparing the tongue for the orange cream to follow.

Review: Urban Accents Wine & Cider Mulling Spices

Buying a bunch of individual spices to make mulled wine might cost you a small fortune — and prepackaged mixes of powdered mystery spice are hardly an appropriately upscale alternative.

Urban Accents, which sells various sauces and spices, offers a solution in this sizeable jar of whole mulling spices, which include cinnamon, orange, lemon, star anise, vanilla and other spices, all fully formed. (For real, I cracked open the jar and saw a whole, unbroken star anise right on top.)

To use, just fill a tea ball infuser with a scoop of spices and dunk it into a mug of warm cider or wine; let steep for a few minutes. Simply use more for larger portions.

Results: Huge anise notes on the nose, but I think the body could benefit from a bigger dose of spice than a single tea ball can supply. The flavor is just too thin, with only hints of vanilla and cinnamon — and not enough of either. Double up on the recipe — or just dump the spices directly into your wine/cider and drink carefully — to give it a much-needed boost.

B- / $10 per 4.5 oz jar / urbanaccents.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Belgarden Elderflower Beverage

Elderflower continues to rule as an incredibly popular and versatile cocktail ingredient, but short of St. Germain and a couple of other liqueurs, it’s difficult find a way to get it into your drink.

Belgarden offers a solution: a 100% organic, non-alcoholic beverage made with four ingredients: Belgian elderflower, agave nectar, lemon juice, and water. The result is a non-carbonated beverage that offers a solid elderflower character without any booze.

The drink is a capable and authentic elderflower experience, offering that unmistakably sweet yet herbal, lychee-like note right from the start. Midway in the similarly unmistakable flavor of agave — lightly pungent with a heavier earthy quality — comes to the fore, and it soon comes to dominate the experience, heading to a lingering aftertaste that dulls some of the crisp fruitiness of the elderflower proper.

That said, it’s a great option for adding this singular flavor to a beverage without having to also add alcohol at the same time.

B+ / $8 per 750ml bottle / belgardendrinks.com

-->