Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ginseng UP

I have seen Ginseng UP at most of the organic grocers that I have visited so far (and even some of the Asian markets), and have always wondered about it as I chose something else from the shelf. I finally decided to give one a try this past week, and although my curiosity has been satiated, I am starting to feel that ginseng really just does not make for a good beverage.

To start off positive, the flavor of the ginseng used in the beverage is very natural. It has a very dry, earthy ginseng taste, and it is clear that it is derived from organic ingredients. That, however, is about where the appeal stops. Ginseng UP is sweetened with fructose, which is fairly sweet and syrupy and doesn't really mix very well with the mild bitterness of the ginseng. The drink also has a bit of a thick taste, likely due to the heavier nature of the fructose (as opposed to sucrose). This thickness also causes the flavor to hang around in the aftertaste for quite some time, making the all around experience relatively unpleasant. Also, Ginseng UP promotes itself as a "100% Natural Soda," but it was barely carbonated at all. I will admit that I am a bit biased, as I tend to prefer my carbonated drinks as bubbly as possible (I like it to "bite" my mouth a little on the way down), but I don't think that anyone would consider this as carbonated as a soda should be. There is a chance that I may have somehow gotten one that had gone flat, but expecting carbonation and not really getting any is always a disappointing experience.

I like ginseng, and I couldn't finish this drink. That's not to say that nobody is going to like it, but I could not stomach the flavor and aftertaste for more than a few drinks. Ginseng UP is offered in a variety of other flavors, and perhaps some of the others are better, but based on my experience with this one, I think that it will probably be a while before I "try again." I think that if this drink had been unsweetened, it would have been a lot better. Ginseng has a very particular flavor that is only muddled by sweetening, and ginseng-based beverages are most often used as nutritional supplements, anyway. I don't know that sweetening is strictly necessary, and I think that a drink that simply emphasizes the very organic and earthy taste of the ginseng would be much easier to recommend.

Verdict: Not recommended

Purchased: Rosewood Market [Columbia, SC]
Size: 12 fl. oz. [355 mL]
Price: $1.59

Friday, March 25, 2011

Iron City Beer

It's been a while since I've done a beer review, so I went out a few days ago and stocked up on several different beers, thanks to my super secret hotspots (also known as a gas station and World Market) that sell individual beers for the self-proclaimed tasters such as myself. It has also been a while since I've had a decent American beer, so I thought I would start my tastings off with Iron City Beer.

I guess I'll start off the review with the primary negative: Iron City Beer is not a perfect match for my tastes. Now, that is not exactly a bad thing, as there are very few things in the world that are. But, I do think that Iron City Beer is a little bit too light for me to recommend to people such as myself who tend to prefer darker and more "flavorful" beers. As a lighter beer, however, Iron City Beer is very interesting. The flavor of Iron City Beer is very subtle, and nothing about the recipe immediately jumps out as prominent. Each element of the beer is very well-balanced, and the flavors come together into a single, mild taste. That taste, however, is fairly faint. At first, I feared that the mildness of the taste would be a bad thing. But the more that I drank of the beer, the more I began to enjoy the subtleness of the flavor. The only word that I can think of to describe the flavor is "pleasant." It is very mild, and risks the offense of nobody's taste buds, but the flavor is friendly and sits very nicely on the back of the throat. One good thing about a milder flavor is the lack of a lingering aftertaste. A lot of my favorite beers tend to leave me with a long-lasting aftertaste that I like to call "beer mouth." While I usually don't mind the aftertaste of darker beers, there are times when it is nice to be able to just drink a beer without the lingering aromatic repercussions.

So while Iron City Beer is not something that I would recommend, per se, to people who like darker brews, it is definitely a decent beer, and I would certainly recommend it to beginning beer drinkers, or people who just generally prefer lighter recipes.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Exxon Mobile Gas Station [Columbia, SC; intersection of Assembly and Elmwood Blvd]
Size: 12 fl. oz. [355 mL]
Price: $1.00

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I'd like to start this review off by first putting this important detail out there: I do not like soy milk. I love soy (tempeh, tofu, edamame, roasted soy beans, etc.), but I have, for some unknown reason, never liked soy milk. This drink has haunted my visits to the Asian market for the past year or so, as every market in the area seems to have some form of this beverage. Every time I have seen it I have considered trying one, but I was not able to overcome my doubts about it until this past weekend. I honestly think that the textured neck of the glass bottle is what sold me this time around.

After losing open-refrigerator staring contests with this beverage for several days, I finally worked up the stomach to give it a go. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The substance, as expected, smells and tastes pretty much like soy milk, but it is sweetened heavily enough to mask the...oddities of the soy milk taste. It is pretty clear that the manufacturer (Green Spot Company) has added a thickening agent (possibly the coconut and palm oils listed in the ingredients) to the milk, as well, as it is a good bit thicker than most soy milks that I have had previously. In my experience, typical soy milk is closer to the consistency of water than it is to cow's milk, but the Vitamilk seemed to be even a bit thicker than standard dairy milk.

As I said, the soy milk taste was definitely still there, especially in the immediate aftertaste. It is a fairly dense beverage, so I would definitely recommend waiting until you are in the mood for a Vitamilk to begin drinking one so as to not tire of the stuff halfway through.  I don't know that I would make Vitamilk a beverage habit, and I may very well never feel the urge to buy another one. But I am glad that I tried it, and I did enjoy it all the way to the bottom of the bottle. If you have a taste for soy, it is easy to recommend that you keep an eye out for Vitamilk.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchase: Golden Market Asian Grocer [Columbia, SC]
Size: 10 fl. oz. [300mL]
Price: $1.25

Blue Energy

This was previously one of the few beverages from my local Earth Fare that I had not yet sampled, so on a recent trip to the beloved grocer I decided to finally pick one up. I've had fairly good luck with natural energy drinks so far, and even the bad ones have only been mildly offensive. But as soon as I popped this one open today, I could tell by the immediate aroma that this one was not a winner. The drink, for lack of a better description, smells like an energy drink. It has that chemical-ridden, acidic fragrance that so many energy drinks share, and the smell was so strong that I barely had to put my nose to it to register the odor.

After setting aside the hesitations caused by the horrid bouquet, the first drink revealed that this was not a beverage for me. It tastes like any other energy drink that you would find in a gas station refrigerator. More specifically, it tastes like Red Bull with cherry. The taurine is overwhelming and the beverage overall tastes like bitter citrus, although there is no citrus whatsoever in the ingredients. The drink did have a flavor somewhat reminiscent of birch beer lingering in the background, but in the face of the rest of the ingredients, it didn't really matter. I wish that I could recommend Blue Energy, but I unfortunately can't really find anything good about it to promote.

Now...if only I could figure out why I drank the whole can.

Verdict: Not Recommended?

Purchased: Earth Fare [Columbia, SC]
Size: 8.3 fl. oz. [246 mL]
Price: About $2.50

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I apologize for missing the review yesterday. I ran into an old friend last night and decided to instead spend that time catching up with him for a bit. I will post two reviews on Tuesday to compensate.

Thank you for your patience.

- Hayden

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bossa Nova Acai Juice Beverage

I've been hearing a lot about acai within the beverage industry lately. The health foods community in particular seems fond of the drupe, and it seems like every other beverage on the shelf at most organic grocers have some form of acai in it. Known for its antioxidant nature, acai is widely considered a useful dietary supplement, and its ever-increasing store shelf real estate is a testament to its growing popularity.

I think that is important to note here that I have never had a solely acai-flavored beverage before. I've had acai in plenty of smoothies and other juice cocktails, but never by itself. I found Bossa Nova at a local organic foods store, and after convincing myself that giving it a try would be worth the rather high price tag, I decided to pick one up. Unfortunately, I made the rather foolish mistake of deciding to drink it during a meeting with my engineering design group's project advisors, so I was not able to focus solely on the taste of the beverage, but I do remember enjoying it. The drink has an air of bitterness on the way in (likely the taste left over from the peel of the fruit), but becomes pleasantly sweet quickly thereafter. Seeing as it is fruit juice, the beverage is pretty sweet, but it is still not quite as sweet as other more common juices. The acai had a very mild taste, almost like that of a red grape.

Overall, Bossa Nova sits well on the taste buds and has a smooth and rich effect on the olfactory, but it does leave a bit of that dreadfully specific and lingering "berry" aftertaste in the throat. Regardless, I would definitely drink it again. However, I find that asking over three dollars for 10 ounces of beverage is a little bit high, especially for something that does not have any "stand-out" qualities with regards to the taste. I know that it is intended to be used for the health benefits, but there are cheaper and more "tasty" ways to obtain antioxidants through drink. The price tag alone is not enough to break the recommendation, however, and I do suggest that you give this one a try, even if it's only a one time thing.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Rosewood Market [Columbia, SC]
Size: 10 fl. oz. [296 mL]
Price: $3.59

Friday, March 11, 2011


Until Oogave, I had sworn off many of today's alternative sweeteners as not much more than "passable." Agave nectar in particular has been seeing an increase in popularity lately as one of these said sweeteners, and while it has seen its fair share of abuses in the hands of experimenting companies, Oogave sets itself apart from the competition with a fantastic product that avoids many of the downfalls of the viscous, golden substance. 

Oogave recently sent me a sampler pack of their sodas (one of each flavor, as seen here), and I must admit that I had some mild doubts at first. I have had beverages in the past that were sweetened with agave nectar (cocktails, primarily), and they are usually just too sweet and syrupy for my tastes. I am glad to say, however, that my initial reservations about the product were blown to pieces upon tasting the beverage. Oogave is, in a lot of ways, the perfect soda. There are a lot of things that Oogave does right, and several of their flavors were absolutely exemplary of not just appropriate usage of agave nectar as a sweetener, but also of the flavor in general. The agave nectar is balanced in such a way that the flavor of the nectar itself is not prominent in the beverage. It is still there if you look for it, but it does not rebelliously stand out like in many of the other agave-sweetened drinks that I have tried. 

Most people consider the following statement to be a distinction without a difference, but I believe that the purpose of a sweetener is to sweeten the beverage, not to make it sweet. To me, "sweetening" something means to add sweetener so as to bring out the natural flavors of the other ingredients and add a bit of drinkablility to an otherwise bland or bitter beverage. To "make a drink sweet" means to intentionally add sweetener so as to make a beverage that someone would not normally enjoy sweet enough to palate. A perfect example of the latter would be the way that people in the southeast U.S. drink their tea. Very few people who I have met in the area enjoy unsweetened tea. In fact, many have a strong aversion to the beverage. However, once so much sugar is added that the liquid is no longer recognizable as tea, it becomes the cultural beverage of choice and people drink it as though their body's chemical make-up depends on it. Over-sweetening is a pitfall that I feel many mainstream companies find themselves stumbling into time after time, and it is always refreshing to find a company like Oogave that understands this difference and keeps its sweetener on the right shelf (so to speak).  

Anyway, Oogave tastes great. Each flavor (Root Beer, Watermelon Cream, Mandarin Key Lime, Ginger Ale, Grapefruit, and Cola) is crisp, easy to drink, and well-balanced, and the flavors used are clearly very natural. The mandarin key lime stands out particularly in this regard, as both the mandarin and the lime taste like natural citrus rather than their typical, candy-like counterparts. The only flavor that stuck out to me as odd was the root beer. It is by no means bad, and is definitely better than any mainstream competition that I've had, but the agave nectar and root beer flavoring just didn't seem to mesh with each other quite as well as the others. 

The ginger ale, on the other hand, is absolutely perfect. I have been searching for essentially years now for a natural ginger ale that has the taste of real, fresh ginger, but does not leave my throat burning after each sip. Oogave has rescued me from my long-running series of failed attempts, and I think that it is safe to say that I have, at long last, found "my" ginger ale. 

All in all, Oogave is pretty incredible. I don't want to do the brand injustice by trying to describe it too carefully with mere language. This is definitely one that everybody should experience for themselves, and I highly recommend picking one (or as many as you can hold) of these up when and if you have the chance. Oogave has developed a spectacular beverage, and I can not wait to try whatever they come out with next.

Verdict: Highly Recommended

Purchased: Whole Foods [Check your local health food markets, as well]
Size: 12 fl. oz. [355 mL]
Price: About $1.50 per bottle 

Check Oogave out on Twitter

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MiO Liquid Water Enhancer

Outside of the beverages that I drink for the review, my primary beverage of choice is usually just water. I drink a lot of water on a day-to-day basis, and I absolutely love the healthy feeling of staying well hydrated. However, while I do love water, it is not exactly the world's most exciting beverage, and I occasionally seek convenient methods of giving my water a bit of much needed flavor. Historically, these methods have usually been powder-oriented and have tended to leave me unsatisfied and wishing that I had just stuck with plain, unadulterated water.

I am glad to say that this is not the case with Kraft's newly introduced MiO liquid water enhancer. Kraft was kind enough to send me two samples of the product last week, and I have been using them rather frequently since they arrived. Let's go ahead and get it out there: I really like this product. I think that it is safe to say that my days of struggling with flavoring powders are over. Of the portable water enhancers that I have had, MiO's flavor is unsurpassed, and its convenience makes it a clear choice for those like myself who frequently travel with water.

First and foremost, MiO is an absolute breeze to use. You simply flip the lid of the small plastic container open and squeeze the desired serving of MiO into your water. The nozzle of the bottle is designed to only release liquid when pressurized, which works in conjunction with the firmness of the bottle itself to make accidental squeezes rather difficult. Also, seeing as how MiO is a concentrated liquid flavoring instead of a powder, the need for multiple packets is eliminated and one bottle of MiO can be carried around until it is exhausted. Transporting even a small collection of powder packets loose in your bag or pocket does not seem like a big deal at first, but the more that your bag is utilized and the more that things are moved around, the more that chasing those packets around the bottoms of their respective pockets turns into a hassle. In addition, MiO all but eliminates the relentless shaking usually required to activate these sorts of products. Watching the liquids mix together is an absolute joy in and of itself, but I've found that it really only takes one firm shake of the bottle (or a few good stirs, if used in an open glass) to fully mix the MiO in with the water. This is a huge improvement over having to furiously shake your beverage container to the point of muscular exhaustion and still occasionally encountering the microbial yet grainy cluster of undissolved flavoring during consumption.   

From a taste perspective, I must say that MiO is fairly straightforward, but in a good way. It tastes about how I expected it to taste (that is to say, like an artificial flavoring), but it is just better than things that I've had in the past. The taste is much cleaner, and does not leave behind the typical dry or bitter aftertaste that is so common amongst these sorts of things. The mixture is also sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium, both of which I much prefer to aspartame. Also, when comparing MiO's ingredients with the ingredients of competing products, I found that while the ingredients are largely artificial, MiO's list is significantly shorter. I am not one to panic about artificiality, and I've said before that sometimes artificial can be better than it's natural counterpart. In my opinion, artificial ingredients are not a negative point, but it is always nice to see a company do more with less, particularly when chemical additives are involved.

One of the things that I really like about MiO is the ease with which you can customize how strong the flavoring is. Each capsule of MiO is said to offer approximately 24 individual 8 oz. servings, with a serving size being a "squeeze." As a side note, it is understood here that a typical water bottle is 16.9 fl. oz., and two servings per bottle must be used to obtain significant flavor, bringing the capacity down to somewhere around 12 servings per capsule if used with regular water bottles. The nutritional information lists a "squeeze" as 2 mL (about 1/2 tsp), but a 2 mL squeeze is, in all honesty, hard not to exceed. This is good and bad, as it makes the capacity of each capsule a bit ambiguous, but that ambiguity also allows for the drinker to more easily determine for his or her self how flavorful each serving will be. I typically prefer my flavored waters to be a bit more on the flavorful side, so I usually add about the equivalent of 2.5 squeezes to my 16 oz. bottle. However, on days where I only want a hint of flavor, it is very easy to adjust the serving to fit my current desire. This is much harder to gauge with powders, as it is universally more difficult to track the quantity of what is being added rather than simply tracking a duration of time (in this case how long the bottle has been squeezed).

Overall, I really like Kraft's MiO. The marketing regarding the capacity of each capsule is based on what feels to me like highly ideal situations, but most calculated serving size estimates are, and ultimately it does not really matter, anyway. From what I've experienced so far in sharing with friends, most people just add some MiO to their water and let that be that, a quality that I think speaks to the personalized appeal of the product. The customizable nature of the product, in conjunction with the convenience and great taste, make MiO a very easy recommendation for those looking for a high quality "on-the-go" water enhancer.

Verdict: Highly Recommended

Purchased: Can be purchased at most commercial retailers as of March 7, 2011
Size: 1.62 fl. oz. [48mL]
Price: $3.99

Check MiO out on facebook
Check MiO out on Twitter

Monday, March 7, 2011

Oogave Unboxing

I was recently sent this sampler pack by Oogave. Keep an eye out for the review on this coming Friday.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer

I picked up this little wonder at a Mennonite grocer a few weeks ago and just managed to find the picture on my hard drive. I'm not entirely sure how the file got saved in my Kinematics folder.

Anyway, I am a big fan of birch beer. It definitely has a unique flavor; one that I often relate to the taste of Red Vines brand licorice whips. From my experience, however, others tend to compare it to cough syrup. I disagree, but I suppose that the flavor is not for everyone. that being said, this is an excellent example of the product. The picture does not show it very well, but this is a draft recipe. The flavors are a little bit more subtle and have that old-fashioned "brewed" taste, and the recipe is of just the right sweetness. I like this particular beverage very much, but I'm not sure how I feel about draft sodas in general. I would love to say that the "old-fashioned brewed" taste is always better than the "synthesized" taste, but I don't know that I'm entirely convinced of that. I've had my share of bland or unappetizing draft sodas.

Regardless, Pennsylvania Dutch produces a delicious birch beer. If you have never had birch beer or Red Vines, the flavor is really difficult to describe. There's not much else like it, and the taste is very unique. My best recommendation is just to try it for yourself, and Pennsylvania Dutch is likely to leave a good first impression.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Primitive Home and Gift [Abbeville, SC]
Size: 12 fl oz [354 mL]
Price: $1.00 [If memory serves...]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Me: Curious

True to its name, the packaging of this beverage did indeed pique my curiosity. I was strolling through Big Lots with some friends the other day and found these in the beverage aisle in four packs and picked up two of the several flavors that they had on offer (blueberry lime and dragonfruit blackberry). I have tried both of them now, and I have been impressed so far. Both of the flavor varieties taste very natural. Each flavor is recognizable and tastes like the actual fruit rather than the more common synthesized flavors. I particularly like the blueberry lime, as the lime taste is very much like actual lime. I absolutely love lime, and the combination with the blueberry was strange at first, but the flavors settled together well after the initial intrigue wore off. The drink also has just the right amount of carbonation for a juice-based beverage. I have found, in general, that medium-low carbonation is best for juices, as over-carbonation tends to negatively accentuate tartness.

On the subject of tartness, I will warn drinkers that both of the flavors that I've tried are what I would consider pretty tart. This is a good thing, so don't get me wrong. But it is very tart, so if tartness is not your thing, than I'd probably steer clear. Also, the drink is sweetened with pure fructose (a bit of a rarity these days), which does not bother me, but I know that some people are deathly afraid of it for some reason, so...fair warning. The ingredients list casts some doubt on what percentage of this beverage is actually natural, but the taste is fairly convincing, and a little bit of artificiality is honestly fine with me.

Overall, I think that this is a great beverage. I've really enjoyed my experience with it so far, but it is fairly different, and I can easily see this one not being a drink for everyone. I would definitely advise curious drink seekers to give it a try, though. There is a lot to like here.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Big Lots [Columbia, SC]
Size: 10.5 fl. oz. [311 mL]
Price: $2.00 [4 cans, discounted]