Review: Twisted Tea Original and Half & Half

The march to imbue just about any type of liquid with alcohol continues with a natural next step: Alcoholic iced tea. Twisted Tea is a “malt beverage with select teas and natural flavors,” which is better than many of these types of things, which often don’t contain any of the actual ingredient they’re trying to mimic, just a bunch of faux flavoring.

So, with that promising prospect, let’s look at the two inaugural expressions of Twisted Tea.

Both 5% abv.

Twisted Tea Original – This is a credible rendition of sweet iced tea, though a mild undercurrent of malt liquor runs through it, and once it grabs onto your palate, it doesn’t really let go. A sizable amount of sugar helps to cover that up for a time, but the finish sees a somewhat musty, earthy note that lingers for some time. B

Twisted Tea Half & Half – The Arnold Palmer version, with lemonade flavor added. This isn’t as bright as a typical Arnie, but the lemon does crisp things up a bit here, giving it a sunnier disposition with a mild, but detectable, lemon overtone. That helps to muffle that mushroomy aftertaste, giving it a lightly citrus finish instead. A definite improvement. B+

each $3 per 24 oz. can / twistedtea.com

Review: Savile Rumtini

“Rumtini” would say, to me at least, that one is facing a martini made with rum. But the Savile Premium Rumtini is a ready-to-drink tiki cocktail, a blend of rum and citrus, not martini-like in the slightest.

Intended to be served over ice, straight from the bottle, Savile is a cloudy yellow in color, something akin to a wheat beer in appearance. Its nose is lightly rummy, with sharp citrus notes — orange, grapefruit, and passion fruit — muscling out any booziness. The palate is quite approachable, with tons of pineapple and fresh tangerine up front, but that citrus quickly fades to reveal a less balanced middle — some rum-driven vanilla, a pinch of spice, and a more straightforward ethanol note that lingers on the finish.

All told, the combination of flavors works fairly well, and this feels a lot like the basis for a solid punch, though it never comes across quite as balanced as I would like. That’s admittedly a tough feat to pull off with a premixed, unfrigerated cocktail that revolves around citrus, but the Savile Rumtini manages to get things close enough, at least for BBQ work.

14% abv.

B / $23 (1 liter) / drinksavile.com

Review: ‘Merican Mule

The Moscow Mule does not exactly have a reputation as a difficult cocktail to make: Vodka, ginger beer, a squeeze of lime. Sourcing the copper cup is typically the hardest part of this drink to master, in fact.

Never ye mind, though: Some entrepreneurial types out of Long Beach, California decided to can this sucker, and rebrand it for America… well, ‘Merica, at least.

‘Merican Mule bills itself as a “true to recipe” rendition of the Moscow Mule: vodka, ginger, and lime in a can. No malt liquor base, this is as legit a cocktail as you’re going to find in 12 ounces of aluminum. Of course, at 7% alcohol, it’s pretty light going, less boozy than a true Moscow Mule, which would come in around 11% alcohol based on some sweet mathematics I just performed. That difference aside, it comes across a lot like the real deal.

The cocktail is lightly effervescent, a cloudy off-white in color, with a barely-detectable nose of lemon-lime juice; without sipping you could assume it was any modern ginger beer in the glass. On the palate, the constituent pieces are all accounted for: The lime and ginger are both bracing, the vodka making a biting show on the back end. If there’s any problem with the drink, it’s the actual booze: The vodka has a feeling of cheapness to it, a muddy medicinality that just doesn’t pair well with the rest of the drink, leaving you with a bit of a funky aftertaste that hangs around longer than expected. Bummer, but it’s nonetheless a cocktail that would work fine in an emergency, even without doctoring it with extra lime or a garnish.

Maybe if it was in a copper can instead of an aluminum one, eh?

7% abv.

B+ / $15 per four-pack of 12 oz cans / mericanmule.com

Review: Barefoot Refresh Spritzers – Moscato and Rose

Proudly trumpeting on the containers that they are “wine-based” — code for “not made out of malt liquor” — budget wine brand Barefoot aims for the ready-to-drink crowd with its new line of Refresh premixed spritzers. The ingredients (which are actually included on the canisters) mainly include wine, sparkling water, and sugar, which is really all you want in a drink like this.

Five varieties are available, four of which are also available in cans. We tried two: Moscato and Rose.

Each is a mere 6.5% abv.

Barefoot Refresh Moscato Spritzer – Quite a bit less sweet than you’d expect, this tangy and fruity concoction tastes more like grapefruit soda than anything wine-related. In fact, the hints of peach and brisk orange would likely pair nicely with tequila as part of a Paloma-esque cocktail. That said, it drinks plenty well — again, soda-like — on its own. B

Barefoot Refresh Rose Spritzer – There’s less to grab onto with this experience. The spritzer has a floral character to it, with mild strawberry overtones. The finish is more medicinal than than Moscato — with a “cheap wine” overtone that lingers a bit too long. Might work OK in a punch, though. C+

each $7 per four-pack of 8.4-oz. cans / barefootwine.com

Review: Half-Seas Sparkling Paloma and Daiquiri

Ready for a new style of ready-to-drink beverage? Half-Seas Sparkling Cocktails are a new offering from the makers of Scrappy’s Bitters, made with real spirits (no malt or other fermented alcohol).

Three “true” ready-to-drink canned cocktails are coming out of the gate, and all are sparkling, with 30psi carbonation (Half-Seas says this is “champagne level”). First up are recreations of the Bramble, Daiquiri, and Paloma.

We received early samples of two of these (the paloma and the daiquiri), and gave them the Drinkhacker taste test. Thoughts follow.

Each is canned at 12% abv.

Half-Seas Sparkling Paloma – Made with Half-Seas own grapefruit soda. This paloma is fragrant with herbs and grapefruit at first, but quite tequila-forward as it develops on the palate. It could benefit from a bit more sweetness, as the heavily earthy aftertaste tends to weigh down the experience. B-

Half-Seas Sparkling Daiquiri – A simple rendition of a daiquiri, lightly sweet with fresh lime and gentle rum notes. The fizz gives this a bit of a different spin, letting the lime percolate up a bit like a gin and tonic. The lime and bitterness on the finish also connotes a quinine component, even though it may not really be present. Perfectly pleasant, if short of elevated. B+

each $16 to $20 per four-pack of 200ml cans / half-seas.com

Review: Modelo Chelada Tamarindo Picante

Modelo’s latest release is a spin on its long-running canned Chelada, a new flavor that adds tamarind and chipotle peppers to the classic chelada recipe of beer, tomato juice, salt, and lime.

I tried the new product, rimmed with Halo de Santo spicy/citrusy salt blend that Modelo conveniently sent along.

All of the extra flavors in the Chelada have a really light touch here. The primary character is Mexican lager, crisp and lightly malty, with some brightly citrusy flavors driven by the lime. The tamarind is more noticeable than the tomato even (despite the ruddy brown-orange color), and the Chelada isn’t particularly picante unless you sip it with a chunk of rimming seasoning. I highly recommend this approach, as the spice really elevates the beverage into something festive. Straight from the can, it’s fine, but too boring to get excited about.

3.3% abv.

B+ / $3 per 24 oz can / modelousa.com

Review: Nightshade Margarita Classic Lime

Nightshade — officially “Nightshade Experience” is a new brand of ready-to-drink margaritas which are made from premium ingredients. The Classic Lime, reviewed here, includes blue agave silver tequila (not necessarily 100% blue agave tequila, mind you), triple sec, and lime — which is lumped in with “a unique mixture of natural flavors.”

The margarita — sampled on the rocks and otherwise unadulterated — is brisk and tastes authentic, the lime lacking any chemical overtones and the sweetness just about right, far from the sugar bombs that so many premixed margaritas taste like. There’s an herbal overtone — not entirely agave-like, but closer to thyme or rosemary — to all of this, which is perhaps responsible for a slightly bitter, lingering aftertaste.

While the bottle doesn’t exactly scream “premium,” note that Nightshade does command a premium price in this category — one that likely approaches the cost of making a premium margarita from scratch. Sure, there’s a surcharge for convenience, but still.

As for the quality of the four affiliated concoctions, including the “Choclarita,” well, you’re on your own.

30 proof.

B+ / $20 / nightshadetequila.com

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: LIQS Ready To Drink Whiskey Fireshot

A late addition to the (reformulated) LIQS ready-to-serve shot lineup is this, a creamy “whiskey fireshot” made up of whiskey, cinnamon, and vanilla.

The name is a bit misleading, because while this creamy concoction may have a fiery cinnamon kick up front, it’s quite cooling thanks to Irish cream consistency and heavily vanilla-chocolate finish. That said, there’s a real simplicity to this concoction, which could easily be duplicated by mixing together a dash of Fireball with some Baileys — no fresh ingredients required — which is sort of against the purpose of having this is a ready-to-drink item.

That said, on its own merits, a cinnamon-dusted Irish cream isn’t a bad thing.

45 proof.

B+ / $18 for six 1.5-oz. shots / liqsshot.com

Review: Koloa Hawaiian Rums, Coffee Liqueur, and Ready-to-Drink Cocktails – Complete Lineup

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The tiny Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to Koloa Rum, a small operation with a surprisingly robust line of rums, a coffee liqueur, and ready-to-drink cocktails. All five rums are made from the mash of raw cane sugar, double distilled in a copper pot still, and cut with filtered water from Mount Waialeale. That said, there’s no aging or other information on how the white, gold, and dark rums differ from one another.

Here’s a look at the entire Koloa lineup of (5) rums, (1) liqueur, and (3) premixed cocktail products. Whew!

Koloa Kauai White Hawaiian Rum – Lots of vanilla, chocolate, and coconut notes give this the character of a flavored rum, with unexpected coffee notes emerging in time. Moderate sweetness gives way on the palate to notes of hazelnut and a lingering coffee note on the back end. Very easy to sip on — but not at all what I was expecting from a white rum. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum – There’s more fruit on this one, but more astringency, too, particularly on the sharper nose. All told this rum has a more classic (and youthful) construction, with some dusky coconut husk notes and a somewhat raw, ethanol-heavy character, but on the whole it’s a passable mixer. 80 proof. B- / $27

Koloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum – Heavy on notes of molasses and coffee, with chocolate overtones. Like any good dark rum, it’s built with lumbering sweetness in mind, rich and chewy and appropriately dessert-like. That said, it’s relatively light on its feet, but short on complexity. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Spice Hawaiian Rum – Yes, it’s “spice,” not “spiced.” Said to be a response to other “oversweetened spiced rums,” but Koloa’s rendition feels amply sweet to me, studded with cinnamon, cloves, honey, cola, and tons of vanilla. It comes together a lot like a Vanilla Coke, or perhaps a Vanilla Diet Coke, with lightly artificial overtones on an otherwise rousing, somewhat fiery finish. Surprisingly, it’s overproof, not under, making it a solid mixer, for sure. 88 proof. B+ / $27

Koloa Kauai Coconut Hawaiian Rum – Heavy coconut, as expected, here backed with a touch of banana (particularly on the finish), and vanilla milkshake notes. Unctuous and rolling on the palate, it’s got ample (but not overblown) sweetness, hints of pineapple, and — as you’d expect (and desire) — plenty of coconut. As good as any other coconut rum out there. 80 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Kauai Coffee Liqueur – This is a collaboration with Kauai Coffee Company, and it’s a robust and lightly-sweetened but otherwise quite pure expression of coffee in classically alcoholic form. The finish finds a surprise in some slightly peppery notes, with nutty and dark chocolate overtones. The whole affair comes together quite beautifully and with sophistication. 68 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail – Gatorade-green in color, this offers a pungent, overwhelming almond character on the nose, then segues to a vague tropical character with lemon/lime overtones. Somewhat bitter on the finish, the citrus notes veer toward notes of bitter lime zest. 34 proof. C+ / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Rum Punch – Grapefruit and pineapple are heavy here, with a squeeze of lemon and a touch of vanilla. It’s a credible punch, but quite light on its feet, with a light nuttiness that lingers on the finish. Perfectly sippable, though it’s quite low in alcohol, making it feel a bit frivolous. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Pineapple Passion Rum Cocktail – Another simple punch, this one punching up the fruit component with a stronger pineapple and passion fruit character, giving it a slightly floral edge. What you think of when you imagine a drink with an umbrella in it, it’s a slurp-’em-down beverage that will offend no one, though I think the standard Rum Punch is a bit better balanced. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

koloarum.com

Review: Decadent Saint Sangrias and Wine Concentrates

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Decadent Saint is a company run by Michael Hasler, an enologist from Australia whose letter to me in impeccable calligraphy introduced a unique product: concentrates made from wine intended to be diluted into sangria and other fanciful beverages.

These are all natural products, packaged in swing tops and designed to be mixed on the fly. Directions generally suggest adding one part mix to 3 to 5 parts water, sparkling water, or sparkling wine — each option will give the finished drink a different tone. Some bottlings can be served either on ice or warm.

We tried all four of Decadent Saints’ offerings. Each is bottled at 20.5% abv as a concentrate, so expect a much lighter finished product once they’re watered down.

Decadent Saint White Sangria – White wine, fruit, and spices. Very heavy with peaches and apricots — even with water it comes across at first like a mimosa. Some light citrus ekes through late in the game, with mango heavier on the finish. This is a simple concoction, but it’s really quite lovely and overflowing with an abundance of fruit. I like it just fine as a still beverage (no sparkling water or wine), but it works well both ways. Reviewed twice: Batch #7 and #8. A

Decadent Saint Red Sangria – Red wine, fruit, and spices. Heavy with red berries, with raspberry especially prominent. Citrus, mango, and even some banana notes make a showing later in the game. It’s a bit sweeter than I expect from sangria — this drinks a bit more like a wine cooler than a sangria — but those who like their sangria on the fruity side will probably gravitate heavily to this concoction. Water is fine, but sparkling wine gives this a much-needed kick. Reviewed: Batch #3. B+

Decadent Saint Fire or Ice Sangria – Another red sangria — also billed as containing red wine, fruit, and spices — with a twist. “Drink hot or cold,” hence the name, so it could work as either a chilled sangria or a holiday glogg. I tried it at a bit below room temperature but can totally see the appeal as a hot beverage, its plummy/raisiny core and a healthy slug of cinnamon and nutmeg giving it a distinct holiday feel. Sparkling wine helps to cut through some of the sweetness here, which is amped up above that of the white sangria, but with less of that classic apple/berry/citrus character one expects in a standard sangria. Reviewed: Batch #9. B

Decadent Saint Rocky Mountain Rescue – Here we find Hasler going straight up loco. This is a blend of red wine, dark chocolate, decaf coffee, berries, and spices. The taste is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you are expecting: a nutty, mocha-heavy coffee experience with a finish that leans toward dried berries and jam. There’s more raisin and cinnamon on the somewhat gummy palate, particularly on the back end, and lengthy, lingering notes of gingerbread and milky coffee. I like all the flavors in this bottle… I’m just not really enchanted by them all mixed together. Reviewed: Batch #6. B-

each $20 per 750ml bottle / whatwelove.com

Review: Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water

truly

Well folks, we’re at peak, er… peak something. How do I know? Because in this world of alcohol-spiked oddities including Mexican frescas, whipped cream, and sports drinks, now we have the ultimate in ready-to-drink concoctions: spiked water.

Truly is — much to my surprise — not a malt beverage, but rather gets its alcohol from a cane sugar distillate. Low in calories (100) and sugar (1 gram), these are designed for the “club soda with a twist” set… but who decide they want a splash of the hard stuff in there after all. Four flavors are available, in both bottles and cans.

We tasted a trio of offerings from the available mixed pack. Thoughts follow.

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Colima Lime – A dirty G&T, very fizzy with a bit of lime zest that hits the palate. Surprisingly refreshing, with almost no discernable alcohol character to it. If I was going to drink a “hard seltzer,” this is probably what I’d choose. B+

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Pomegranate – On the nose this has that immediately evident strawberry-sweet berry note, which follows through as a vague candylike character on the palate. This is short-lived, however, eventually giving way to a similarly neutral, ultra-fizzy finish. B-

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Grapefruit & Pomelo – By far the most fragrant of the bunch, with a big floral nose that doesn’t immediately say grapefruit but which eventually kinda-sorta resembles it. The body is more flavorful than the above as well, though it comes across with a sweet-and-sour kind of note that ultimately feels somewhat off-putting. C

$8 per case of 12 oz. cans or bottles / trulyspikedsparkling.com

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