Tuesday, November 30, 2010

R.W. Knudsen Sparkling Essence

I love cucumber. Sometimes. Although it is delicious, sometimes cucumber can be a little...untoward. Last night, for example, I got a burrito from Moe's and as I went through the line with all of the extra toppings, I sighted some cucumber slices in one of the bins. I inquisitively asked for some on my burrito, and upon settling in at a table and taking a bite of my experimental, tortilla-wrapped dinner, I immediately regretted it. The mixture of guacamole and fresh cucumber combined together into a taste of what can easily be described as a sushi burrito. It tasted like a California roll, and it was not great.

The point of this story, of course, is that there are some places that cucumber just do not belong. Inside of this can is one of them. I have had cucumber waters before and been able to palette them, but I've never been inspired to drink them of my own accord. The varieties that I have tried before were not carbonated, however, and I must say that the carbonation only hurts the beverage. There is something about the faint bitterness of the carbonation (which I typically love) and the deep basic (by which I mean the opposite of acidic) flavor of the cucumber that do not interact very well. They result in a weird, fluctuating flavor that does not take very well to the palette and does not go down smoothly. If you must try a cucumber water, I recommend going for something that is not carbonated, or is at least mixed with another flavor.

Verdict: Not recommended

Purchased: Food Lion (Columbia, SC)
Size: 10.5 fl. oz. (311 mL)
Price: $4.99 (4 Pack)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Paradise Key Teas: Tropical Black Tea

I picked this tea up at a gas station on my way back home for Thanksgiving this past week. I was perusing the gas station's beverage cooler as I am wont to do at some point during drives that last longer than half an hour, and was not finding anything particularly eye-catching. After close inspection of all of the typical, big-brand products (Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, etc.), I came across these teas, and although I was not incredibly drawn to them, it was better than a Coke or Pepsi product. I selected a flavor and opened it once back in my car, only to find that the beverage was...lackluster. I was not expecting a terribly fascinating experience from an unknown gas station tea, so I was not terribly disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the tea is not bad, but there's nothing good about it, either. It's just tea and not much else. It was certainly consumable, and I did drink the whole bottle, but there's not much here to recommend.

Verdict: Just buy something else

Purchased: Citgo Station
Size: 16.9 fl. oz. (500mL)
Price: $1.49

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Twitter issues?

I seem to be having some troubles with the twitter feed on the site, but so far it looks like it's isolated to my laptop alone. If anyone has noticed problems with the feed and doesn't mind helping me out, feel free to send a quick email to the email address listed in the side bar. Thanks.

Assi Instant Honey Chrysanthemum Tea

A friend of mine gave me a sampling of this tea a few days ago. It is an instant tea, a kind of tea towards which I typically have aversions, but this one is interesting. It still has the mild aftertaste of an instant tea, but it is not as strong and overbearing as others of it's type. This may be due partly to the fact that instead of being packaged in powder form like most instants (or a syrup like at Starbucks...ick), the tea formula is loosely packed together into small pellets that dissolve almost immediately after pouring. The first time that I made the tea, I had a chopstick at the ready and automatically began to stir the concoction after pouring in the water, only to realize that it was mostly unnecessary. The pellets were gone almost instantaneously, although I did continue to stir just to insure even flavor distribution. 

The tea itself is pretty good. Like I said, there are weird hints here and there of the instant nature of the beverage, but they are understandable and are not terribly difficult to ignore. I have never had chrysanthemum tea before, and the strongest flavor was definitely the honey, but what I could taste of the tea I liked. However, I make those judgments with a grain of salt, as I usually try not to base my initial opinions on an artificial or instant version of the item in question. Overall, this is a great instant herbal tea, and with its low price point, it's pretty easy to recommend.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Hyuneai Oriental Market
Size: --
Price: $1.99

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adina Holistics Herbal Elixirs

I have had Adina's Holistics Elixirs before (sometime last year, I believe), but never got around to talking about it when I first had it. I originally had their cranberry grapefruit with goji flavor, and it was absolutely delicious. It tasted like candy without being overly sweet like most candyesque beverages. Today, I am drinking the blackberry hibiscus with Rooibos version, and while it is still very good, I think that I prefer the other flavors. The blackberry in this one is very good, but the hibiscus is a little bit iffy. I have had bad experiences with hibiscus before, but this one wasn't nearly as bad. I like botanical flavorings in general, but I am not too fond of hibiscus. It's just kind of a strange taste. It is not nearly as prominent in this drink as it is in others that I've had, however, which makes it much easier to overlook. As far as the Rooibos goes...I can't really say. I have yet to have Rooibos tea on it's own, and I thus had a hard time picking out the particular flavors of the Roobios outside of default unfamiliarity. Although these elixirs do tend to leave my mouth a little dry, they have a very clean taste that does not linger heavily on the palette, and they are very easy to drink, particularly in warmer weather. Definitely give it a try if you come across one.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Earth Fare
Size: 14 fl. oz. (413.7 mL)
Price: $1.99

The Wave

The Wave is a terrible beverage. I had been seeing the occasional poster for this drink for the past few months, and every time I saw one, I stopped at whatever store was displaying the poster and was disappointed by their peculiar lack of the product. After a month and a half of searching for this beverage, I finally procured one at a local convenience store on campus. And oh my goodness, this drink was certainly not worth the hassle. I was hoping for it to be different from the typical energy drink, as it claims to use all natural flavors (a claim which can almost always be ignored these days due to all of the marketing loopholes associated with the word "natural"), but it was not good at all. In fact, this beverage is worse than some of the other already well-established disgusting energy drinks. Besides Red Bull, of course. Nothing is worse than Red Bull.

The Wave is cherry flavored, which I find a little bit odd considering it's aquatic marketing imagery. Because of this marketing, I was at least hoping that the beverage would be a little bit more gentle than the typical energy drink, but it's not. The flavors are just as harsh as any other energy drink, and it is very acidic. It's sickeningly sweet without being tasty, and the cherry (or at least I think that it's cherry) flavoring is incredibly artificial and tastes like a children's vitamin tablet. There are drinks that intentionally have the vitamin taste, such as Dr. Enuf, but they are mild and manage to balance the flavors like a sensible beverage manufacturer would. I get the sense from this drink that this is yet another company just trying to cash in on the energy drink craze without really caring about the quality of their product. Definitely avoid this one.

Verdict: Not recommended

Purchased: The DCP [Columbia, SC]
Size: 16 fl. oz.
Price: $1.99

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just as an update, there will be no review tomorrow. I am going to an exclusive wine tasting at a local wine store, and I am planning to talk about that a bit tomorrow night instead of posting the regular review.

A friend of mine and I go to weekly wine tastings at this store almost every week, and this week, they have decided to hold a special "If You Insist" wine tasting of some of their more expensive wines. We had to sign up and pay ahead of time, but the last wine of the night will be a $200 Joseph Phelps Insignia.

I am super excited, and will try my best to post about it later tomorrow night, but I don't want to make any promises. I may just need some time to bask in the glorious classiness of the evening when I get home.

We shall see.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Almond Breeze (Chocolate)

Almond Breeze is not a new beverage to me. I first had this stuff fairly early in the year last year, when I went home for a weekend, and my parents had some in the refrigerator. My father and I are the big almond fans in the family, but everyone in my household really enjoys the stuff. To briefly describe Almond Breeze, it is essentially just a thick, viscous, beverage made from sweetened almond milk. It may sound a little strange at first, especially if you do not favor almonds, but it is an excellent drink. It comes in several varieties, including regular, chocolate, and vanilla, and then different variations of sweetness (via sugar content) for each one to fit your dietary preferences. The chocolate and vanilla varieties really don't taste heavily of almonds, and are more like flavored soy milk than anything else, but the almond taste is certainly still there, sitting politely in the background. The regular variety is, as one would assume, much more almondy. I have tried all three, and while they are all delicious in their own right, I think that the regular chocolate version is the best. It functions wonderfully as a non-dairy substitute for milk, but is just as good taken straight as a refreshing and light desert-type beverage. If you are feeling the almond taste, I recommend starting out with Regular Almond Breeze. If you aren't feeling quite so adventurous, however, I would say go with the chocolate to convince yourself of its deliciousness first.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Earth Fare
Size: --
Price: Varies with size (about $3.00 for 32 oz.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Steaz Energy

For the past several months, every time that I have paid a visit to Earth Fare, I have looked at this drink longingly, wanting to try it. But every time, I manage to walk out with something else. But last week, I finally picked one up, and I'll be honest (because clearly I usually lie), I'm not sure that it was worth the wait. It's a little...strange. It's botanically based, which I've recently decided is usually a good thing, but it has more of the sour, acidic "energy drink taste" than most of the other organic energy drinks. It's still worlds better than mainstream stomach corrosion fluids (i.e. Red Bull, Full Throttle, etc.), but it's not as good as, say, a Brain Toniq or Solixir

The aftertaste is really what's strange about it. I'm not sure if it was some devious trick of my olfactory, but the beverage tasted like incense after each drink. It was not necessarily an unwelcome sensation (I love incense), but it was certainly unexpected and a little puzzling. All in all, Steaz energy is definitely not a bad choice, and some people may find a lot to like here. I just thought that it was a little lackluster compared to some of the alternatives.

I guess that's what I get for getting my hopes up for so long.

Verdict: Worth a try

Purchased: Earth Fare
Size: 12 fl. oz. (355 mL)
Price: $2.49

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fentimans Curiosity Cola

This seriously may be the best cola that I have ever had. Like, on the reals, yo. I didn't really know what to expect from a botanically brewed cola, but I can say that whatever expectations I may have had were blown right out of my head. Adjectives are not even required to communicate the quality of this beverage. This cola is just good. It has perhaps the strongest "cola" flavor of any brand that I've had to date. It is perfectly sweet, and the flavors taste very natural and properly fractioned. Hints of the botanical brewing appear in the aftertaste, and I must admit that at first, I was taken by surprise and thought that I would not like it. However, as I drank more of the beverage, I began to really like the unique aftertaste. It is different, to be sure, but it leaves a very clean and empty feel in your mouth in between sips and after you finish the beverage. This is a mark of a quality beverage that major soft drink companies still can't seem to grasp, as many of the more mainstream sodas tend to leave a lingering, syrupy aftertaste on the palate.

As a side note, the bottle is also of an interesting design, and feels very comfortable and well-weighted in the hand.

I hate to say it, but this drink may have ruined other colas for me. This is what cola should taste like. And it's all natural, to add even more incentive to an already ludicrously easy recommendation. The only thing wrong with this beverage is that the bottle does not contain an infinite supply of its wonderful fluid inhabitant.

Verdict: Highly Recommended

Purchased: Earth Fare (Columbia, SC)
Size: 9.3 fl. oz. 275 mL
Price: $1.99

E&J VSOP Brandy

Although this review will be specifically about E&J's VSOP blend, I'd like to talk a bit about my experience with E&J in general. I have had three different blends of E&J brandy so far: E&J Original, VSOP, and their XO premium blend. For comparative purposes, this is the only kind of brandy that I've ever had, aside from a bit of an unidentified French brandy that a friend's sister got straight from France during a recent trip overseas. From what I heard, it was expensive (about 50 dollars for about a third of a pint, if I remember correctly). Of the three E&J blends that I've had, VSOP is the best. It is essentially an enhanced version of the original: very similar in taste and consistency, but with a bit more flavor and burn. I did not really favor the XO when I tried it. I have a feeling that the XO blend is intended more for drinking straight, as it is less intense and more spiced, with prevalent hints of something like brown sugar or molasses.

The VSOP is a good liquor, if you like your alcohol to have a good deal of kick to it. It is flavorful without being overbearing, burns just right/so good, and, as an added bonus, it is fairly inexpensive. If you like liquors with a good, full-bodied bite, this is a good "everyday" choice. I'm sure that there are higher quality brandies out there, but if you'd like to try it out, or are intending to mix it into drinks [see bottom of post for a drink recipe using VSOP], E&J is a great place to start.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Greene's Discount Beverages (Columbia, SC)
Size: Half-Pint (200mL)
Price: $3.99

If you'd like to learn more about E&J brandy, along with several delicious cocktail recipes, visit the official website for E&J V.S.O.P.


Although my preferred method of consuming my brandy is to just sip it straight here and there in small amounts, I have discovered that it works quite well as a press.

VSOP Press:

1 oz. E&J VSOP or Original blend brandy
0.5 oz. lemon juice
3 dashes bitters
1 splash lemon-lime soda
1 lemon wedge

Combine brandy, lemon juice, and bitters and stir to mix. Serve on the rocks, topped with your choice of lemon-lime soda (I personally recommend Sierra Mist Natural) and garnished with a lemon wedge.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stella Artois

The first time that I ever had Stella Artois, I thought that it was the best beer ever. Of course, that was also during my first real bar experience, and I was probably just happy to be there. As I drink more of it, it becomes more and more plain to me. It's really not bad, but that's all that it is: decent. It will suffice, and it's certainly better than other, less pricey alternatives (in other words, American beers, with the exception of Sam Adams), but it's really not that special. It's a bit on the skunky side, and there are other, smoother light beers out there (such as Beck's) that are similar but more worth the money.

Verdict: Worth a try