Review: Herb & Lou’s Infused Ice Cubes

High-end bartenders have a neat trick available to them: Rather than chilling a drink with frozen water, they put stuff in the ice, freeze it, then let that flavor your drink as it melts. It’s also a nifty trick for home bartenders who don’t want to bother with a bunch of mixing and shaking: Just freeze up your mixers and drop the cubes in your glass as you need them.

Well, that sounds like a lot of work, too, so here’s a shortcut: Herb & Lou’s Infused Ice Cubes. While fairly self-explanatory, the gist is that Herb and Lou mix up fruit and botanicals and bitters and whatnot so all you have to do is take out a cube and drop it in your drink. Boom, cocktail’s done in 10 seconds flat. The cubes are packaged in slim cardboard boxes, with each cube nestled in its own foil-sealed plastic bin. You stow the whole box in the freezer and pop out a cube when needed.

They’re not cheap — each cube will run you over a buck — but a box of 12 will probably last until you’ve long since forgotten about it and decide to clean out your fridge.

We tried all three varieties on the market. Thoughts on each one follow.

Note: One cube is generally not going to be enough to chill your drink, so add extra (regular) ice in addition to the infusion if you’re serving on the rocks. The cubes themselves melt very quickly, and may not even stay solid in your freezer if it isn’t exceptionally cold.

Herb & Lou’s Infused Ice – The Cecile – A mix of watermelon, cucumber, clover honey, and thyme, designed for tequila (or vodka). It’s not the most attractive presentation, with a reddish sediment settling on the bottom of the cubes, but the impact with tequila isn’t bad. The honey is most noticeable, and the thyme gives the tequila a nice herbal lift. The cucumber doesn’t really translate well, probably because there’s not enough of it in a cube to make an impact, but the watermelon is more noticeable as the ice melts away, particularly on the finish. I’d drink this. B+

Herb & Lou’s Infused Ice – The Clyde – A purported spin on the cosmopolitan, with peaches, “Benedictine-inspired herbs,” and bitters. Doesn’t sound like any cosmo I’ve ever had, though I tried it with vodka as recommended (or try tequila, they company says). I didn’t get a lot of flavor from this, so I actually used two cubes in my glass (or you could just use less spirit). The results were appropriately peachy, with just a hint of aromatics. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s just not much to it. I’m thinking this might go over way better with Champagne. B

Herb & Lou’s Infused Ice – The Cooper – A “blood orange-ginger Old Fashioned,” designed for bourbon. Of the trio in the collection, this is the one that tastes the most like a real cocktail. The orange is vibrant and, at least when paired with Knob Creek, which I used, makes for a lovely complement. The ginger is more evident on the nose than the palate, but there’s a spiciness to the finish that showcases the ginger quality as well. This one changes considerably as the ice melts, the ginger getting increasingly hot as you go along. Definitely a winner. A

each $17 for 12 cubes /

Review: Eli Mason Mint Julep Syrup

Eli Mason is a Nashville-based producer of a variety of classic syrups, including grenadine, demerara syrup, and more. The company recently sent us its mint julep syrup — water, cane sugar, turbinado sugar, mint, and natural gomme syrup — to check out.

This is an interesting syrup, for sure, but it’s also a bit unusual. There’s a peppery quality to it, and a spice akin to root beer. The mint is actually played down next to that spice, and it gets even more lost when mixed with bourbon, where it takes on more of a chocolate note, driven perhaps by the turbinado sugar in the mix.

I’d still use it — but probably not for a classic julep.

B / $14 per 10 oz bottle /

Review: Q Drinks Mixers – Complete Lineup

Q is a leading name in the artisan mixer space, and recently the company fairly radically revamped its lineup, jettisoning a few products, adding at least one, and most importantly, dropping its bottle size from 9 ounces to 6.7 ounces — more in line with “single serving” size and, more importantly, allowing them to reduce the price from $8 per four-pack to $6.

Today we look at the full Q Drinks lineup as it stands at the moment — seven products spanning the gamut of the most common mixers. Let’s dive in!

Q Drinks Club Soda – Heavily carbonated (“as much carbonation as the bottle will hold”) and quite neutral in flavor, with just a hint of salt and a splash of bitterness on the back end. Extremely versatile and — yes — fizzy! A

Q Drinks Ginger Ale – Much spicier than your typical ginger ale — and remember, Q makes a ginger beer, too, so hang on to your hat. I could use a touch more sweetness in my ginger ale, but in the favor of this throat-clearing rendition is a clean and crisp character that gives it ample versatility… plus that trademark Q Drinks heavy carbonation. B+

Q Drinks Ginger Beer – A bit hazier, with ginger bits floating in it. It’s definitely a spicier concoction than the ginger ale, but not so overpowering as to make one cry. This is spicy, lightly sweet, and clean in construction from start to finish. A solid palate cleanser and a great little companion for rum. A

Q Drinks Kola – A refreshing blend of kola nut, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, lemon, lime, and agave for sweetness. It’s a touch sweet for my taste, with less carbonation than other Q products, and the agave gives the finish an herbal touch that is a bit at odds with the baking spices up front, and which comes through even when mixing. B

Q Drinks Grapefruit – Designed specifically for paloma cocktails, per Q, this grapefruit soda is plenty refreshing on its own, too — with the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and bitterness giving it a complexity well beyond a can of Squirt. Brisk and refreshing, and a beautiful shade of pink, be careful with anything you mix with it, as these cocktails go down far too easily. A

Q Drinks Tonic Water – Bracingly bitter, with plenty of quinine, with a hint of lemon peel on the back end. Lots of carbonation gives this tonic a ton of length, and the finish sees the bitterness, with some hints of amaro, lingering for what seems like minutes. A definite top tonic for bitterness nuts. A-

Q Drinks Indian Tonic Water – If you like your tonic with a touch of sweetness, this is the expression for you. It’s still powerfully bitter and highly fizzy, but the spritz of lemony sugar gives it added complexity. Designed to stand up to more powerful gins, I’d say it’s mission accomplished. A

each $6 per four-pack of 6.7 oz. bottles /

Review: Cocktail & Sons Watermelon & Thai Basil Syrup

Cocktail & Sons’ latest seasonal syrup has arrived. This one blends watermelon and Thai basil to create a decidedly summery — and surprisingly versatile — sweetener.

The watermelon does the heavy lifting here. It is pungent right from the opening of the bottle, and the unmistakable flavor is loaded on the palate. Slightly floral notes linger through to the finish, and though the basil never packs the sharpness you might expect, it does provide an herbal lift on the back of the tongue.

An excellent companion with gin.

A- / $15 per 8 oz. bottle /

Making Cocktails with Fizzy Tickle Water

Tickle Water
We’ve all heard the jokes about wine being referred to as “Mommy’s juice.” Today, we’re bringing you a way to “adult” Tickle Water with cocktails to give your Mommy’s juice a sparkly spin.

Tickle Water is a carbonated beverage which is flavored naturally; it has no sugars or other preservatives. The label shows zero carbohydrates, calories, or sodium. It comes in five types: unflavored, green apple, watermelon, cola, and grape. The flavors are all very light, they don’t overpower your senses. We rate them all a B+. Cost is about $1.50 per 8 oz can.

Although Tickle Water is marketed as a kid’s beverage, don’t let that deter you from using it in adult cocktails. Right off it’s easy to say, “Hey, watermelon sounds like a margarita.” Or, “Unflavored makes as gin and tonic.” While those are true, we wanted something more. Here are several cocktail recipes we created with Tickle Water — with . But note, these are not sweet like a flavored soda. If you like your cocktails on the sweet side, then add simple syrup to give them more sweetness.

First is a Stengah, which comes from Britain and was popular in the early 20th century. Traditionally made from whiskey and soda water, we used the green apple Tickle Water for a nice effect. The recipe is pretty easy, too.

2 oz. whiskey
2 oz. green apple Tickle Water

Pour both ingredients over ice in a highball glass.

This next cocktail is an original we’re calling a Watermelon Tickle.

Watermelon Tickle
3 oz. watermelon Tickle Water
1 ½ oz. pineapple rum
1 oz. coconut rum
3 oz. cranberry juice
½ oz. ginger simple syrup

Shake everything except the Tickle Water with ice. Pour into a tall glass with ice and serve. Who needs a garnish with something this yummy? If you really need one, then use a slice of candied ginger on a skewer.

Flowers and Fruits Refresher
4 oz. grape Tickle Water
2 oz. raspberry vodka
½ oz. crème de cassis
½ oz. crème de violet
3 dashes lavender bitters

Add all ingredients to a tea glass and gently stir. Add ice. Garnish with seedless red grapes.

Fluffy Duck
courtesy of 1001 Cocktails
1 oz. advocaat liqueur (see below)
1 oz. crème de cacao
1 oz. natural Tickle Water

Pour the crème de cacao into a chilled margarita glass one quarter filled with crushed ice. Next add the advocaat . Top off with the Tickle Water and serve. No garnish is necessary.

Note: We know advocaat is more commonly found around the winter holidays but don’t let that stop you. Here is the recipe we used to make our own.

Fluffy DuckAdvocaat
10 eggs
1 ½ cups brandy
1 1/3 cups sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. You won’t use the whites so feel free to use them for something else. Add the vanilla, salt, and sugar in a medium sized pot. Whisk well and then add the brandy slowly. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from forming clumps. Once the mixture coats the back of your spoon, then remove the pot from the heat.

Fill a large bowl half way with ice and water. Set the hot pot in the ice bath to let it cool. Once cool, strain out any lumps and pour the remaining liquid into a bottle. Refrigerate before use. It should keep for a couple of weeks.

The Dutch and Germans like to put advocaat atop their ice cream and on pancakes, as well as use it in cocktails.

Review: Lavazza Coffees – Santa Marta, Kilimanjaro, and Intenso

With coffee cocktails all the rage now, having a good cup of java as the base for a great drink is more important than ever. Lavazza’s two single origin coffees and its Intenso dark roast all bring something different to the table, and each will make a great base for a different style of coffee cocktail.

Lavazza Santa Marta – A single origin Colombian coffee from the oldest coffee growing region in the country, Santa Marta has a subtle smoky flavor, evocative of slightly burned sugar or burned toast. This coffee has a very nice acidity and balance and a smooth mouthfeel with nuts and caramel in the finish with very little bitterness. This coffee would be a great mate for bourbon, bonded whiskey, or Scotch, because it has the body and the sweetness to create a great balance between the spirit and the coffee. B+

Lavazza Kilimanjaro – Another single origin coffee, this time from high in the mountains of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The coffee has a balanced fruit undertone, with notes of cherry and blackberry. There is a slight sweetness to the coffee which compliments the acidity of the berry flavor. This coffee is extremely smooth and flavorful, and because of the inherent fruitiness, this coffee will work very well with rum-based coffee cocktails. B+

Lavazza Intenso  The darkest roast of the three, Intenso is a traditional Italian dark roast coffee. With unmistakable notes of dark chocolate, this well-crafted coffee has a wonderful mouthfeel. Underneath the chocolate is just a hint of oak, making for a complex yet thoroughly enjoyable cup of coffee. A great use of this coffee would be a brunch cocktail made with limoncello instead of a Bloody Mary or Mimosa… such as the one below. A

each $10 per 12 oz bag /

How about one of those new coffee cocktails, then?

The Coffeecello
6 oz cup of Intenso
1 oz Limoncello
1 sugar cube (optional)
Ice as needed

While the coffee is still hot, dissolve a single sugar cube in the coffee if desired.  Once the coffee is room temperature, put coffee and limoncello in a cocktail shaker, mix and pour over ice. Garnish the glass with a zest of lemon or a sugared rim.

Cupping Coffee with Intelligentsia

Intelligencia Coffee
There is no scent warmer and more inviting than that of coffee beans roasting. The moment we stepped through Intelligentsia’s front door, all traffic woes were forgotten in favor of a good mood. We knew the afternoon would only get better. We walked past huge bags of newly roasted coffee beans and paused a moment before an enormous roasting machine with its large paddles for stirring the beans as they roast.

Large roaster machineHave you ever experienced cupping coffee? During our visit to Intelligentsia Coffee’s San Francisco facility, we learned how to perform this delightful ritual used by coffee roasters to determine the quality of their newly roasted coffee beans. There are elements each bean is rated upon with regards to types of aromas and initial flavor profiles. We discovered that each roaster has their own proprietary checklist they work from.

Cupping coffee — a tasting system that involves a significant amount of protocol — isn’t quick and there’s a specific way to sip the coffee from the spoon. Loud slurp noises are acceptable! However, it is worth the time because fine beverages meant to be savored — including coffee.

For cupping, the first thing you do is lean over the cup to take in the aromas. You can use your hand to wave the scents toward your face. Aromas range from floral to leguminous; the goal is to identify additional scents, such as botanicals, floral, or citrus.

Next you sip the coffee and determine the following factors:

  • Taste – There are sixteen types of taste descriptors, ranging from acrid to delicate; then from soft to creosol. Elements like saltiness and bitterness levels are notated on a checklist.
  • Sweetness – How prevalent or how missing sweet notes are present in the brew. The type of sweetness can vary as well; honey-like or sugary or syrupy if overdone.
  • Acidity – Varying types of acidity can enhance a coffee’s flavor or add to bitterness. Acidity ranges from lactic to acerbic with the harshest being kerosene like.
  • Complexity – Complexity involves the balance of the flavors present in a cup and whether elements in the flavor profile complement one another or compete, creating odd or negative tastes.
  • Aftertaste – This is typically used to describe negative tastes at the end of a beverage. While it is often a sign of something wrong with the bean or during the roasting, it can be a pleasant association as well.

A Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel put out by the Specialty Coffee Association shows all the common elements to look for.

Our host, Mark Cunningham explained how any coffee is at its finest during the cupping and that it will never be better than at that moment. He told us that a good coffee will still taste good after it’s gone cold, but lesser quality coffees get bitter and harsh.

Our cupping completed, we came back to our coffee after touring the roasting floor to discover the truth in his statement. The cups of varying roasts tasted just as amazing as when we first sipped from the spoon. The big chain coffees’ burnt-tasting dark roasts are no longer palpable. Strong doesn’t need to be bitter or charred; in fact, it is much better when it isn’t.

Cupping RitualIntelligentsia also offers a variety of artisan teas called tisanes. We sampled two of them at the cupping. Both were wonderful blends of tea, spices, and botanicals such as cardamom, rose hips, and turmeric. They are expanding in the tea area by continuing to produce new blends.

Just how does Intelligentsia obtain their high quality coffees? By working with small, family owned coffee bean farmers around the world. Their buyers are very hands-on in their search for the best beans to purchase, taking the time necessary to visit the farms and sample the raw product. With the climate and soil compositions determining the flavors of the coffee after roasting, this is an important step. It makes sense when you realize that beans mature at different times of the year, depending upon where in the world the plants are growing. One thing Intelligentsia insists on are beans properly matured on the plant before harvesting. We liken that to the taste difference between garden grown tomatoes and those picked early and expected to ripen on the way to the grocery store. Most fruits and vegetables stop ripening once harvested so their flavors aren’t robust as those garden grown. Coffee beans wouldn’t be any different.

Just recently opened to the public (previously their clients were bars and restaurants), Intelligentsia has red coffee trucks which make appearances around town in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Follow them on Twitter to find out where you can catch them. They also recently opened a monthly coffee subscription service. Additionally, Intelligentsia offers classes on brewing for barista training.

In closing, we learned that Two Sisters Bar and Books in San Francisco created a couple of cocktails featuring Intelligentsia coffee. They were kind enough to share those recipes with us. We made them with the Intelligentsia coffees and found them both to be amazing cocktails. Give them a try and let us know what you think.

The Bluegrass BuzzThe Bluegrass Buzz
created by Mikha Diaz for Two Sisters Bar and Books
3 oz. Intelligensia Cold Brew from cold brew concentrate (diluted at a 6:1 ratio)
1 1/2 oz. Old Forester 86 bourbon
1/2 oz. brown sugar simple syrup (equal parts brown sugar, gently packed, and boiling water; stir to combine)
lightly whipped heavy cream

Combine cold brew, bourbon and brown sugar simple syrup in a small tin or pint glass. Fill with ice and shake. Strain into a small rocks glass. Top with 2-3 tablespoons of lightly whipped cream.

The Sharp Shooter
created by Kathryn Kulczyk for Two Sisters Bar and Books
1 1/2 oz. Cold Brew Cognac (4 oz. El Diablo blend, ground for cone drip filter, infused into 750 ml. Maison Rouge 100 proof cognac)
3/4 oz. Ancho Reyes liqueur
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
3 hard dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters

Combine cognac, liqueur, and vermouth in a small tin or pint glass. Fill with ice and shake. Strain into a small rocks glass. Top with three whole coffee beans.