Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hiatus: 10/2012

I know that I said on the Twitter feed last week that I would be posting a double review today, but this past week ended up being a lot busier than I thought. I have begun to look into graduate schools again, and in conjunction with a few other projects that I have going on on the side, that is taking up a good bit of my time right now. As I'm sure that I don't really need to emphasize, my grad school search is a very important thing that needs to have most of my attention and energy, and I think that it would best if I suspended as many distractions as possible for the time being. Weekends are really the best time for me to get a lot of school searching done, and having a big review to do right in the middle of everything just eats up more time than I can afford to spend right now.

So, starting today, Drinkable Review will be going on hiatus for the month of October. I need to really get myself focused back on my education, and although I don't necessarily want to stop posting here, I think that I need to take a bit of a break from non-school things and really get my business together over the next several weeks. I will, however, continue to post on Twitter (hopefully with increased frequency to compensate somewhat for the lack of reviews), so if you do follow Drinkable Review on Twitter, keep an eye out for new posts and thoughts about what I'm currently drinking.

Anyway, thank you all in advance for your understanding while I get my school situation worked out, and I look forward to returning to my regular schedule in a month or so. I wish everyone peace and good health in the meantime.

- Hayden

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Uvé Gourmet Weight Loss Beverage

It is not often that I review anything having to do with weight loss. In fact, I think that today marks the first time that I have reviewed any drink that has weight loss as its primary function, so I am glad to say that I will be starting off with a good one. Uvé (pronounced oo-vāy) is a gourmet weight loss beverage that capitalizes on a relatively new weight loss supplement by the scientific name of irvingia gabonensis.

More commonly referred in its commercially available dietary supplement form of Welltrim®iG (or IGOB131®), irvingia gabonensis is an all-natural weight loss supplement that is derived from the fruit of an African tree of the same name. The fruit is a specific type of mango native to certain regions in Africa, and it has been shown in small, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to result in greater weight loss in human test subjects. I, of course, say "greater" to imply that irvingia gabonensis has not been shown to cause weight loss, as no nutritional supplement truly causes healthy weight loss without additional physical and dietary contribution from the user. When consuming 150mg of irvingia gabonensis twice daily, test subjects demonstrated an increased rate of weight loss over those who were given the control placebo. Although the tests performed so far have been small, and larger tests must be performed before the effects can be considered fully conclusive, the results shown in the limited tests have been promising so far.

Uve gourmet weight loss beverage contains one of the two daily servings of Weltrim®iG (150mg per 12 fl. oz. bottle) needed to fully "activate" the benefits. But this is only one of the ingredients in Uve's weight loss concoction. In addition to each serving of Welltrim®iG, Lifestyle Brands has also thrown into the mix a healthy dose of Capros® Indian gooseberry extract (a patented superfruit antioxidant supplement), ChromeMate® (a supplement that controls blood-sugar levels and helps metabolize fats and carbohydrates), and L-Carnitine (aids in the breakdown of fatty lipids to generate energy) to further aid in the weight loss process. Lifestyle Brands recommends that you drink one bottle of Uvé twice daily for optimum results. Since weight loss takes time and I was only sent three bottles of Uvé, I cannot speak directly to the drink's efficacy, but I can say that I have a hard time imagining this not helping someone with an already proactive attitutude towards weight loss and exercise.

That of which I can speak, however, is the taste. Uvé has done a pretty good job of following through on the "gourmet" side of "gourmet weight loss." Each of the three flavors of Uvé that I was sent was tasty and flavorful in its own right, although in very different ways. The black cherry lemonade was light and crisp like an icy popsicle. The apple pomegranate was an interesting flavor combination that encouraged me to finish the entire bottle rather quickly, despite being just a bit on the syrupy side. And finally, the vaguely titled "superfruit" flavor was fruity and refreshing without being overladen with the typical tart flavor of most common superfruits. Uvé contains only all-natural flavors and sweeteners (a mixture of crystalline fructose and stevia), which keeps the drink low-calorie and non-threatening to your diet. Each of the three flavors made me feel like this is a dietary aid that you will actually enjoy drinking on a regular basis, which is more than can be said for a lot of nutritional supplements.

As I have said, I can not attest directly to Uvé's weight loss functionality, which I suppose is a bit of a shame given the drink's focus on its functionality. Regardless, I do feel comfortable in recommending it to those who are looking for an enjoyable weight loss beverage. It manages to carry a large quantity of [mostly] proven weight loss aids while still tasting great, and if you are in the market for a new and encouraging way to get your daily diet supplements, Uvé is undoubtedly worth a closer look.

Verdict: Recommended

Samples sent courtesy of Lifestyle Brands International

To learn more about Uvé, visit the website at
Or follow Uvé on Facebook or Twitter

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water

This is a drink that - although I am ashamed to admit it - I was ready to dislike when I bought it. When I found it on the shelf at World Market, my immediate reaction was to remember my overwhelmingly negative experience so far with coconut water, and foolishly assume for no particular reason that almond water would be similar. I subsequently tried to ignore the drink at first, while at the same time knowing that my always pervasive curiosity would not allow me to leave the store without one. As expected, I did end up purchasing a Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water, and I could not be more happy to say that my hesitation was completely unwarranted.

Thankfully, almond water bears no resemblance at all to the salty strangeness of coconut water. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water is made from a minimal amount of all natural ingredients: water, pure cane sugar, natural almond flavor, citric acid, and - according to the label - a lot of love. This simpleness is reflected in the drink's taste, as the very natural almond flavor assumes the forefront of the taste with the same gentle mildness that is so common of most almond-based things. The taste is mild and easy and is sweetened just enough to give the drink a very inviting, "always appropriate" appeal. Even those who are not necessarily fans of almond would do well to give this one a try, as the flavor is so pleasant and unoffensive that I have a difficult time imagining anyone actually disliking this drink.

I wish that there was more to say about Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water, but as a testament to the drink's simplicity, there really isn't. It is just very good. It's light, extremely refreshing, and gets its point across without being overbearing, both in flavor and marketing. There are no unproven health benefits touted on the bottle, and Victoria's Kitchen does not act like the drink will change your life in some dramatic manner like many all-natural beverage companies tend to do. The drink is simply allowed to be what it is: a deliciously unique almond beverage that you really should try at your earliest convenience.

Verdict: Highly recommended

Purchased: World Market [Greenville, SC]
Size: 16 fl. oz. [473mL]
Price Paid: $2.49

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Quick Update

I have been thinking about my update schedule recently, and I have come to the conclusion that updating on Sundays would make a lot more sense for me. That way, I'll have Saturday to finish putting all of the finishing touches on each week's review, rather than trying to squeeze everything in between work days.

As always, thank you again for your continued understanding.

Have a great week, and I will see you here at the end of the weekend with a new review.

- Hayden

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Relax & Sleep

To stick with the same tune of my last post, I have another functional beverage to review today. The gentlemen over at Better Life Beverages have been kind enough to send me several samples of their new relaxation shot: Relax & Sleep. And, as before, I was excited to see if this one would work. After several uses of Relax & Sleep, I think that I can say with confidence that it does.

Although Relax & Sleep is "another" relaxation shot in a rapidly increasing market of anti-energy drinks and non-prescription sleep aid beverages, Better Life Beverages has decided to take a slightly different approach than much of the competition. Rather than utilizing directly neuroactive ingredients such as melatonin and 5-HTP (two ingredients commonly used in these sorts of supplements), Relax & Sleep only contains plant ingredients in its proprietary relaxation formula. Each 4640mg serving  (2 servings per bottle) contains a truly impressive amount of botanical ingredients, several of which include organic violet leaves, English lavender flowers, and organic passion flower leaf. In addition to the completely botanical relaxation tonic, the drink is sweetened with all-natural vegetable glycerin, which, until Relax & Sleep, I had never even heard of before (as a sweetener, at least).

The theme behind Relax & Sleep is clear: all-natural botanical ingredients with as few man-made production processes as possible. I am not one to shy away from the occasional artificial or pharmaceutical ingredient, and in a lot cases I actively support them, but I still always like to see companies that focus heavily on the natural side of things. Balance is key in health and nutrition, and this is an attitude that Better Life Beverages quietly promotes with Relax & Sleep. Rather than denigrating the ingredients lists of the competition and implying that they are "wrong" somehow, Relax & Sleep simply presents itself as what it is: an organic, botanical alternative to the melatonin-laced relaxation shots offered by many other companies. Better Life Beverages also bolsters their peaceful image as a reasonable and legitimate company by offering a solid reasoning behind their formula, rather than relying on the "artificial ingredient panic" that other natural food and beverage companies often try to incite in uninformed consumers when promoting their beverage against similar products.

The primary drive behind Relax & Sleep's formula is to avoid the use of melatonin. Melatonin, as I have mentioned before, is a naturally occurring chemical hormone that is found in most forms of life on earth. In humans, melatonin acts primary as part of the system which regulates the body's sleep-wake cycle. As more melatonin receptors are activated over the course of the day, drowsiness sets in and body temperature is gradually lowered until the central nervous system finally gets the hint and issues the sleep imperative. What melatonin-centric pills and beverages do is temporarily add extra melatonin into the system to activate the appropriate receptors more quickly and therefore provoke the sleep response faster.

While taking melatonin will indeed help the average user go to sleep faster, it does - like most truly effective medicines - have a down side. Because of the excess melatonin in the system, it can take the body longer to "use up" the extra hormones during sleep, often leaving the sleeper feeling groggy and unprepared upon waking, especially if he or she does not sleep long enough. What Relax & Sleep promotes through their plant-based formula, therefore, is a truly restful and peaceful sleep aid. The ingredients are all geared toward soothing the body and promoting rest and relaxation without directly increasing hormone levels in the nervous system. And from what I have experienced of the drink so far, it works very well.

The directions for taking Relax & Sleep as a sleep aid (it can also be taken to promote general calmness or to simply unwind after a long day if so desired) are similar to other drinks of its type: take the shot about 30 minutes before you intend to sleep, and then actually do try to go to sleep when that time rolls around. Learning from previous mistakes with other relaxation shots, I decided to make a point to always follow Relax & Sleep's directions, and each time it has worked like a charm. Although it does not help me feel tired like other drinks have in the past, I was able to go to sleep at the recommended time after each shot, and each time I woke up feeling well-rested and surprisingly ready to get out of bed. This is a rare feeling for me - one that I have experienced of my body's own accord only a few memorable times over the past several years - and as such I feel very comfortable with attributing the results to the drink.

To be honest, I am actually a bit surprised that Relax & Sleep worked for me as well as it did. I have an annoyingly strong neurological resistance to "consciousness-altering" beverages, and as a result most energy and anti-energy drinks that rely on anything less than prescription-grade ingredients (which is effectively all of them) tend to have very little noticeable effect on me. While I was excited to see that Relax & Sleep relied entirely on botanical ingredients, I was worried that it was simply going to have no effect on me and I was going to be left with very little to say about it. This was clearly not the case, however, and I am happy to report that Better Life Beverages has really gotten their formula right. The flavor of the shot does leave something to be desired (it's a sort of odd - not bad, just odd - creamy lemon flavor), and I'm not sure that I'm entirely sold on vegetable glycerin as a sweetener, but for a two-ounce shot this is a very small complaint, especially in light of all the positives.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Relax & Sleep. It may not actually make you tired, so if you have trouble predicting when you will be ready to go to sleep at night, it may be a bit easy to waste these by drinking them too early and then staying awake past the window of optimal effectiveness. But with a bit of thinking ahead (or maybe just a more regular sleep schedule), Relax & Sleep really will help you have a better night.

Verdict: Recommended

Samples sent courtesy of Better Life Beverages

For more information about Relax & Sleep, visit the website
Or follow Relax & Sleep on Facebook or Twitter  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quick update

I had scheduled a review of this beverage for today, but I'm afraid that I have yet to finish it. I've been busy with work and a few other things this week, and I have only managed to get about halfway through the review. I want to be sure to give plenty of time to review, because I think that there are some interesting points to be made about the drink, and anything that I would put out tonight would just be a rushed job purely in the interest of posting on schedule. So, I am going to move my review of Better Life Beverages's Relax & Sleep to Saturday afternoon. Be sure to check back then for this week's update.

In the meantime, however, please feel free to go read the first section of a two part article about hosting a wine tasting that I wrote for work today. It's mainly geared towards bar and restaurant owners who want to start hosting wine tastings through their establishment, but the information may still prove to be generally relevant for those who are interested in wine.

See you back here on Saturday, and please do enjoy the rest of your week.

- Hayden

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dream Water

I have been aware of Dream Water since it debuted over a year ago, but it was not until fairly recently that I was actually able to give it a try. When it was first released, I searched and searched in an effort to find the fabled elixir until eventually I just gave up, assuming that it had not yet made it to my area of the country. I then ashamedly forgot about Dream Water in my continual search for new beverages until I suddenly happened across it several months ago in, of all places, a local Wal-Mart. Despite missing my chance to try Dream Water's original 8 oz. version (it is only available in a 2.5 oz. shot at the time of this writing), I am very glad that I finally stumbled across the stuff, because it really works. 

Dream Water, as you can probably gather from its charmingly apt title, is an all-natural relaxation shot intended to help the drinker fall asleep easier and promote truly restful sleep throughout the night. For those who are like me and find sleeping to be a tedious and annoying chore, functional beverages like Dream Water are an often welcome and appreciated aid. Unlike some of the competition, however, this is a drink that is only intended to help you fall asleep, rather than actually induce tiredness. Dream Water uses a proprietary concoction of three primary ingredients in its sleepy cocktail: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), melatonin, and L 5-hydroxytryptophan (commonly referred to as 5-HTP). Despite their intimidating chemical names, all three of these ingredients are important, sleep-related neurological compounds that already occur naturally in the human brain; Dream Water just gives you more of them. Additionally, Dream Water uses all natural flavors and is sweetened exclusively with stevia, making it difficult (or at least unreasonable) for even the most ardent proponents of natural dieting to take issue with the drink.

Typically, seeing stevia listed in the ingredients would be an immediate point of discouragement for me with a beverage. However, it's really not a problem with Dream Water. This may be due largely to the fact that - since it is a shot - it is only spending a few seconds in your mouth anyway, and the stevia really doesn't have time to impart its usual, bothersome aftertaste. At the same time, however, this quickness of consumption also makes it difficult to discuss the drink's flavor in any especially meaningful way, so I will simply cover the basics. Dream Water is currently available in three flavors: Pineapple PM, Lullaby Lemon, and Snoozeberry, which is a general mixed berry flavor. They all carry the natural essence of their advertised fruits very well, and they maintain just the right amount of sweetness throughout the entire duration of the shot. I prefer the pineapple, but the others are good, as well, and given that the drink will likely take you less than five seconds to imbibe, the flavor is just not as immediately relevant as it is in larger drinks. That being said, all three varieties are still pleasant and tasty, which makes taking the shot an enjoyable and gentle experience, regardless of which flavor you choose.  

As I mentioned above, the focus of Dream Water is not so much to make you tired as it is to simply help you go to sleep. And this is exactly what it does: it just makes sleeping easier. The bottle recommends that you take one Dream Water shot about thirty minutes before you intend to go to sleep for maximum efficacy, and I recommend that you follow these directions if you really want to feel the full effects. The first time that I used a Dream Water shot, I did exactly as the label advised, and although I did not really feel any different before I got into bed, as soon as my body hit the sheets, I felt an overwhelming desire to simply stop moving and slip into unconsciousness. This sort of willful paralysis is something that is exceptionally rare for me, as I usually tend to toss and turn and generally just feel very uncomfortable for an hour or two before I am actually able to perform whatever half-involved mockery it is that my body regards as "sleep." The next morning, I woke up feeling surprised and well-rested, and I was excited to add Dream Water to my list of favorite functional beverages.

In the interest of fairness, however, I must add here that the second time that I took a Dream Water shot, it did not work. But it did not work for a reason that I think - and stay with me here - is actually a positive point in the beverage's favor. At the time, I was watching through old episodes of a television show on Netflix, and rather than preparing for bed when the thirty minute mark approached, I decided instead to keep pressing the "play next episode" button until three in the morning and then press it some more until I finally went to bed at some profoundly unreasonable hour. For a brief moment, I did feel a slight twinge of sleepiness from the Dream Water, but my will to stay awake and fill my mind with moving images superseded the effects of the beverage, and I subconsciously fought the drink away without much trouble. At face value, this would seem to come across as a glaring weakness of Dream Water, but I actually sort of like that its effects are not necessarily all-pervasive. Rather than feeling like I am relying on the drink to knock me out, I feel like Dream Water acts more to simply encourage my body to fall asleep when it is ready, in the process promoting a more healthy and natural attitude towards the entire act of sleeping. It seems as though the drink - if I may take the liberty of personification - is communicating that while it will not force you to go to sleep, it would be very glad if you decided to follow the directions and go to sleep on time so that it can do its thing. This sort of "cooperative" mindset is something that I have found very effective, and in the times that I have used Dream Water accordingly since my initial failure to heed the instructions, it has worked every time. 

While Dream Water may not be a "wonderdrug" that immediately whisks you off to a land of peaceful slumber, it is certainly effective when you want to go to sleep. In this way, it offers a sort of two-fold benefit: not only does it help you fall asleep (and stay asleep) more easily, but it also encourages those of us with more sporadic bedtimes to actually get in bed on schedule to avoid wasting the three dollars spent on each shot. Rather than simply cause sleep, it promotes an attitude of "sleep-mindedness" that - with a bit of repeated use - permeates deeper than the drink itself. All in all, Dream Water is a powerful little beverage that works as well as you want it to work, and those in need of a better night's sleep should definitely consider picking several of these up.

Verdict: Highly recommended

Purchased: Primitive Home and Gift [Abbeville, SC]
Size: 2.5 fl. oz.
Price paid: $2.99

For more information about Dream Water, visit the official website
Or follow Dream Water on Facebook or Twitter

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Steaz Sparkling Green Tea Root Beer

Steaz is a company with which I have had a bit of a "speckled" history. Their products are always interesting in theory, but I've found that they tend to be pretty hit-or-miss in actuality. I have really enjoyed some of Steaz's products, but at the same time I have also found many of their products to be sort of...blah. Unfortunately, the sparkling green tea root beer falls pretty heavily into the latter category.

When I found this in the store, I wasn't really sure what to think. For a time, I didn't really even want to buy it, as I thought that the combination of root beer and green tea sounded a little bit too strange (not to mention the fact that I had already picked up several other drinks and was rapidly approaching the limit of my budget). But, in the end, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided that I had to know for sure whether it was indeed too strange a combination or not. Surprisingly, the flavors were not what I ended up not liking about the drink. In fact, the two flavors work very well together. The very earthy sarsaparilla taste of Steaz's natural root beer blended very well with the subtle flavor of the carbonated green tea, and although the two tastes are very different, the combination of the two gave the drink a very pleasant flavor profile.

What ruined the drink for me, however, was its syrupy sweetness. Steaz uses natural cane sugar to sweeten their drinks, I'm not entirely sure how the drink ended up with such a thick, heavy consistency. There may be something native to Steaz's root beer making process that causes this thickness, but the resulting effect is a strong, almost caramel-like sweetness that often overwhelms the flavor of the drink and always lingers heavily in the aftertaste. The taste is almost like that of a stevia-sweetened beverage without the strange, unpleasantly airy feeling in the aftertaste, and although I do like the flavor, the drink just ends up being too sweet too enjoy. 

But it's still a very interest concept, and for many it may still be worth a try just for that.

Verdict: Not recommended

Purchased: TJ Maxx [Greenwood, SC]
Size: 12 fl. oz. [355mL]
Price paid: $2.50 [4-pack, clearance sale]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paradise Mango Pepsi Next

I have been meaning to review Pepsi Next for quite some time now. I actually tried Pepsi Next not long after it came out a few months ago, and I wish that I had reviewed it on the spot. But, like so many other things in my life right now, I just never quite got around to it. However, there is some good in my putting it off, as now I essentially get to present two drinks at once.

Today's review, as you can tell by the picture, is of one of Pepsi's new flavors of Pepsi Next. When Pepsi first introduced the Next brand, I did not realize that they were planning on releasing flavored versions, so finding these on the shelf was a bit of a surprise. What surprised me even more, however, was finding a mango flavored Pepsi Next on the shelf. As a beverage flavor, mango has been rising sharply in popularity over the past several years, and although I personally find it to be a rather "hit or miss" flavor, I have grown accustomed to seeing it all over the place. However, this was the first time that I have seen mango in a cola, and I was genuinely taken aback to find it sitting next to a more pedestrian (or at least more expected) cherry vanilla version of the same drink. Initially, I had my reservations about the pairing, as mango and cola are both fairly strong and very different flavors, and I was not sure how the two would meld. But my hesitations were later proven quite unnecessary, as Paradise Mango Pepsi Next is a fantastic beverage.

Before I start talking about the mango flavoring, I should address Pepsi Next as a whole. For those unfamiliar with the product, Pepsi Next is Pepsi's new (well, somewhat new) "mid-calorie" cola offering. The drink uses a mixture of high fructose corn syrup and a combination of several artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose) to offer a cola that contains half the calories and sugar content of a standard Pepsi without sacrificing much of the taste. Typically, these sorts of claims are often hard to believe, as it is all too common that these drinks just end up tasting like a diet beverage anyway, regardless of how hard the marketing tries to portray it as tasting "just like the original." But Pepsi Next is impressively "normal" tasting for a drink of its kind. The balance of sweeteners is very carefully proportioned, and while it does still taste different from regular-calorie Pepsi, it does not taste overbearingly diet, either. The aftertaste of the aspartame still tends to linger a little bit in the back of the throat, but I'm not sure that anything can really be done about that at this point. That's just how aspartame is. If you can get past the slight aftertaste, Pepsi Next is a fantastic alternative for those who are, like me, trying to limit their calorie and sugar intake. 

On top of all that, Pepsi's inclusion of mango flavoring makes Pepsi Next an even more appealing choice. The complexities of the cola's flavor compliment the exotic fruitiness of the mango quite well, and although I had my doubts about the combination at the beginning, I am now almost surprised that I have never come across the mixture before. The two flavors work so well together that it just seems like this would have become a more popular blend by now. 

All that being said, the drink is not perfect. The lingering aftertaste is likely to be a major turnoff to those who are opposed to the flavor of artificial sweeteners. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of the aftertaste, myself, but the fact that I can enjoy a soda so much at only half the calories and sugar of a regular Pepsi helps me overlook it fairly easily. But all things considered, this is a really great beverage, and you should definitely try it out.

Verdict: Highly recommended

Purchased: Bi-Lo [Greenwood, SC]
Size: 12 fl. oz. [355mL]
Price: $2.99 [pack of 12]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

bcalm Wellness Drink

In further accordance with my recurring trend of frequently reviewing relaxation beverages, I have recently been sent a case of one of the market's newer entries: bcalm Wellness Drink. Presenting itself with an innocent and enticing flair as "part tea, part massage, part long walk on the beach," bcalm is an all-natural stress-reduction beverage that focuses on calmness and mental clarity rather than on the "okay, go to sleep" sort of relaxation that many other beverages of the type tend to promote. And it is a wonderful new addition to the market segment, especially considering the fact that it is the premier beverage of a brand new, highly independent company. 

Good Life Beverages was founded by a Harvard University student just last year in 2011. Tired of the chaotic hustle of his life in New York City, he decided to pack up and head to South America in the hope of finding the opportunity to restore rest, balance, and peace to his life. During his stay, he was met with a much slower lifestyle that was very different from the big city pace of his home, and upon returning to the United States, he was inspired to create a beverage that could help others recreate a small portion of his experience in South America without having to leave their chair, much less the country. And thus, after over a year of research, experimentation, and ambition, the first of hopefully many drinks from Good Life Beverages was created.  

True to its self-labeling as a "wellness drink," bcalm consists only of all-natural ingredients. Even the coloring relies on natural methods, as bcalm uses vegetable juice and beta carotene to give the fluid its stark, orange hue. In addition, the proprietary focus/relaxation cocktail used in bcalm is made up of the following: Hydrolyzed casein (from milk), anise seed extract, chamomile flower extract, wild green oat extract, gingko biloba leaf extract, and a generous helping of vitamins B3, B6, B12, and B5. bcalm is also sweetened with natural cane sugar, and contains only natural flavors.

The flavor of bcalm is actually a bit hard to place. It doesn't really taste like anything that I've had before, so I'm not entirely sure what to compare it to. The closest comparison that I can come up with is a carbonated, sweetened green tea. There is a lot more going on than just the "green tea" (the ingredients list does not indicate that there is actually any green tea in the beverage) flavor, but that is the first thing that comes to mind when I try to categorize it, as it has a similar aroma that lingers unapologetically in the back of the throat. It does have a bit of a citrus-like bite to it, and I can taste a little bit of the chamomile in the drink, but beyond that, bcalm has a flavor that is relatively unique. While it comes somewhat close to the taste of several other similarly themed drinks that I have had in the past - a natural side effect of containing several ingredients common to these sorts of functional beverages - it still just doesn't quite match up with anything else. But this, I think, is a positive point for bcalm. True to its concept, the flavor encourages you to get a little bit lost in the drink, either by analyzing and scrutinizing in an (unsuccessful) attempt to decipher the taste as I have, or by simply enjoying its uniqueness for what it is. Everything in the drink has a very natural taste, and no element of the flavor is overbearing or unwelcome. 

As far as bcalm's efficacy is concerned, I am not quite sure that I am the most qualified person to be making an objective judgement. I have discussed my long-standing immunity to the effects of consciousness-altering beverages on the site in the past, and bcalm is, unfortunately, no exception. However, as I write this, I do find it pertinent to share that when I sat down to finish up this review, I was relatively stressed about getting the post up in time. Now that I have finished the "review copy" of bcalm that I opened before I began writing, I am not quite as worried as I was a short time ago. I am tempted here to offer this as evidence that the drink really works, but the whole truth is that this is the fourth bcalm that I have had so far, and it is the first of which my often aggravatingly level mental state has taken any sort of notice. Based on the data so far, I must conclude that for me the effects are likely only to present themselves some of the time. But I will continue to enjoy bcalm, regardless, and I look forward to discovering if this is one of the rare beverages that is capable of having a significant effect on my mood at all. As of the time of this writing, my hopes are high.

Verdict: Recommended

Samples sent courtesy of Good Life Beverages.
For more information about bcalm, visit the website.
Or follow bcalm on Facebook or Twitter  

Postscript: For a more objective viewpoint from a reviewer who did have a more concrete experience with bcalm's functionality, watch this video from fellow beverage blogger and connoisseur Jason Coleman over at BevNerd.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Change in Direction

As I'm sure that many of you have noticed by now, I have been having a very difficult time getting my posts up on schedule recently. There are a multitude of reasons for this, some of which I may go into later once I figure out how to best address the issues. However, for the time being, I can offer a partial explanation as to why things have been so sparse lately.

Firstly, as I have mentioned before, I just recently started a new job. I work full-time now, and I have honestly just been forgetting to write the reviews in advance. I will often suddenly remember that I have a review to write as I am getting into bed for the evening, and trying to write the reviews immediately after I get home from work hasn't been working out so far. I need to get better at writing the reviews ahead of time, I admit, but the primary problem lately has been that I barely have anything to write about.

I moved back home after my graduation from university in December, and this town is not particularly well-equipped when it comes to shops that carry interesting beverages. I have exhausted most of the supply in the area, and I feel that I have officially just run out of new things to try. Right now, I have to rely on trips out of town to pick up drinks for the review, but I only ever find three or four potential review candidates per trip, and I can't really afford to make these trips every weekend.

So...there is the problem. But I do have a solution in mind: cutting down to one update per week. It's not a wonderful solution, and I don't particularly like the idea of it myself, especially after posting so frequently for the past several years. But I am going to be in this town for at least another year before I can (hopefully) go off to grad school, and I just don't see how I can keep up the same schedule as before when there are so few drinks available. I briefly considered shipping drinks in to keep myself supplied, but the cost involved in transporting cases of beverages is just too much for me to absorb right now.

While cutting back on my update schedule is not ideal, I do think that it will offer some benefits. Primarily, updating once a week (Thursdays) will allow me more time to spend on each post. I have started to enjoy researching and discussing the history, preparation methods, and cultural significance of the beverages that I review, and having an entire week to write each post will allow me more opportunity to make the posts a bit more in-depth and informative. Additionally, it will allow me more time to get into a stronger social networking routine. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are powerful tools for bloggers, and I feel as though I have not had a chance to really take full advantage of their effectiveness as of yet.

To sum up, the plan for right now is to temporarily drop down to one larger post every Thursday, rather than three smaller posts throughout the week. As I emphasized, this is only a temporary change forced upon me by the circumstances of my current living situation. I will hopefully be able to resume a more frequent update schedule once I am able to relocate next year.

I would like to thank you all for your patience over the past several months. I know that I have been incredibly inconsistent and that I have done a terrible job at keeping up my own schedule, but the past year has been a very busy time for me for a multitude of reasons, and although I have always tried to keep Drinkable Review fairly high on my list of priorities, there were just things going on that demanded my more immediate attention. Although decreasing my content output may seem like a step backwards, it is certainly better than always being overwhelmed and never posting anything, and I hope to make the new reviews worthy of their meager, weekly occurrence.

I look forward to focusing on the new update schedule, and I hope to see you all back here this Thursday.

- Hayden

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tepache Frumex

It seems as though it has been some time now since I have had a truly "new" beverage. I have been going through a bit of a dry spell, as the town in which I am currently living does not have a wide beverage selection, and I have exhausted most of it at this point. However, during a recent visit with some friends of mine, I was given a bottle of Tepache Frumex to take home and try. Having never had any sort of Tepache before, I was pretty excited about the opportunity to try something truly new again.

And luckily, the drink did not disappoint. For those who are unfamiliar with Tepache (as I was before receiving the drink), it is a Mexican spiced cider made out of pineapple and sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon, among other spices. Tepache is sometimes made with alcohol (usually a bit of beer), but the Tepache Frumex that I was given is a non-alcoholic version of the Mexican favorite. 

The drink itself is actually a little bit hard to describe. If you've never had a spiced cider before, it is not really a flavor that can be inferred simply by talking about it. It definitely has the taste of a spiced cider, and the distinct sweetness of the brown sugar is present, but not overbearing. Brown sugar has a tendency to suddenly ruin everything the second that one grain too many is added, so I was relieved to find that the brewers at Frumex seem to understand its strange power and have proportioned it accordingly. The cinnamon (and other spices) is noticeable, as well, and all of the different tastes combine very well together into a mildly exotic, tropical flavor. I say "mildly" exotic because while it is a Central American specialty, none of the ingredients are particularly unfamiliar to the North American diet. Additionally, the drink is a little bit on the heavy side (perhaps due to the large-scale production and pre-bottling of Tepache Frumex in particular), which makes it feel a bit more like a home-style comfort beverage rather than a fascinating drinking experience that you would stumble across during your travels to a new and exotic locale. 

But these are not meant at all to be negative qualities. I actually really like the "coziness" of Tepache Frumex, and I think that it gives the beverage a very specific character. The drink feels intentioned and purposeful, and although some might find it relatively regular or unspectacular when compared to some of the more rare and exorbitant experiences to be had when sampling beverages from other cultures, I think that Tepache Frumex is a prime opportunity to sample the routine. The true underpinnings of any culture are to be found not in the complexities of its advertised spectacle, but in the mundane behavior of everyday society. 

Tepache Frumex just feels authentic that way. But, to be fair, my palette is yet untrained with regard to the beverage. I am sure that anyone accustomed to a "true," homemade Tepache would take umbrage with my enjoyment of the distributed version, but I found it to be quite good, regardless. 

Just keep an eye out for it, and decide for yourself one day.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Not sure
Size: 12 fl. oz.
Price: Didn't ask (after all, that would have been rude)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Five Alive

Although I am just now getting around to reviewing it, Five Alive has been a longstanding favorite of mine. I used to drink Five Alive a lot as a kid growing up in the 90s, and in the Baltimore-area grocery stores of my early youth, the juice was readily available in a wide variety of different forms: concentrate, cartons, cans, family-sized get the picture. But when my family moved to South Carolina during my teenage years, I thought that I had essentially seen the last of it. I would stumble across the juice every now and then, but in general, Five Alive seems to be somewhat uncommon in this area. However, on a recent stroll through my local Wal-Mart, I noticed a shelf of the familiar blue cans among the few other frozen concentrates that the store actually still carries.

Needless to say, I was excited to learn that Wal-Mart had begun stocking the stuff. Five Alive is one of my favorite citrus juices, and after several years of estrangement, I was very happy to find a new supply of it. True to its title, Five Alive is a citrus juice medley of five different fruits: orange, lemon, lime, tangerine, and grapefruit. As I have said countless times before, I absolutely love citrus, especially in beverages, so Five Alive could not be more of a perfect fit. But even outside of my personal biases, the drink is excellent in its own right. Citrusy flavors tend to be strong, and they can often be difficult to balance within a beverage, but the makers of Five Alive (MinuteMaid: therefore, Coca-Cola) have managed to balance five different citrus juices very, very well. 

Each of the five juices in Five Alive has been carefully proportioned to compliment the other four flavors, and none of them take over as a predominant flavor. I would say that the orange is a little bit stronger than the rest (especially considering the extra orange flavor from the tangerine), but it acts more as a base for the juice as a whole, rather than as an overwhelming presence that drowns out the others. Each of the flavors blends together perfectly, and the juice takes on a sort of "citrus all-flavor," rather than tasting like a many store-bought juice cocktails in which all kinds of flavors are just sort of smashed into a bottle.

Overall, Five Alive is a wonderful, relatively healthy beverage that has really withstood the test of time. The formula is just as tasty as I remember, and the frozen concentrate is always a nice option, as it is much less expensive and requires a lot less space to store. The finished mixes up to make about 48 oz. of juice, and it does require you to supply your own pitcher, but the small, 12 oz. can of concentrate can be easily kept out of the way in the freezer until you are ready to make the juice, unlike pre-bottled juices that are heavy and awkwardly shaped and require large amounts of space to store before opening. 

The popularity of frozen juice concentrates has dwindled a good bit over the past couple of decades, and many grocery stores and food retailers have decreased their stock dramatically to reflect this declining demand. But Five Alive is definitely one that is still worth checking out.

Verdict: Highly Recommended

Purchased: Wal-Mart [Greenwood, SC]
Size: 12 oz. can [48 oz. when mixed]
Price: $1.54

Monday, July 16, 2012

Unfortunately, I only have two drinks to review this week. I hope to remedy my depleting supply this weekend with a stock-up trip to a neighboring town. In the meantime, however, I will be posting this week's reviews on Tuesday and Thursday to balance things out.

See you back here tomorrow.

- Hayden

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gevalia On Ice

Lemon-ginger iced Gevalia. Recipe at end of post.

Now that the weather is warming up, I have recently taken to drinking many of my teas and other typically warm beverages chilled, over ice. In the past, I have never been crazy about serving drinks chilled when they must be prepared hot, and actively avoided the practice whenever possible. I can't really give a reason for this, though, and I have decided that it was simply a strange tenacity on my part. Luckily, I was able to get over this peculiar mental block and start icing drinks like crazy just in time to experience the pleasantries of iced Gevalia. Kraft recently sent me a sample of Gevalia House Blend, along with several recipes, tips, and ideas to enhance the experience beyond simply putting the coffee in the refrigerator.

Before I get started on the iced coffee recipes and pointers, I should address the coffee itself, first. It has been a fair amount of time since my review of Gevalia's Traditional Roast, and I have not had it recently enough (I'm more of a fan of the Colombia blend) to warrant a highly detailed comparison. But, from what I remember of the original, the House Blend is a bit darker and richer than the Traditional Roast. The House Blend is a more robust coffee overall, and I like it quite well, but if you prefer the lighter flavor of more medium roast coffees, then the Traditional Roast may be a safer option. However, in accordance with the original intention of this post, the House Blend does make for an excellent iced coffee, as the flavors do tend to mellow out a bit when the drink is chilled.

Making iced versions of traditional beverages can actually be less straightforward than it seems like it should be. Hot drinks often taste a bit different when served chilled, and it can often take some trial and error and disappointment to determine how strong to make the original brew to produce the best taste upon refrigeration. Luckily, Kraft has offered some of their tips on the process to make the first few batches go a little more smoothly. 

For optimal taste, Kraft recommends using 12 sightly rounded tablespoons of coffee for every 8 cups of water. I reduced my first batch down to 9 tablespoons coffee (12 tablespoons is quite a lot of coffee for my medium-sized coffee maker) for 6 cups of water, and it still tasted just right. Kraft suggests using darker roast coffees, such as Gevalia's House Blend, French Roast, Or Espresso Roast, and I'm inclined to agree with them. Darker roasts do typically make for better iced coffees, as the flavors typically soften a bit when served cold, so it is best to start with a coffee with a more robust flavor profile. 

Sweetening a batch of iced coffee has been a bit of an issue for me lately, as I enjoy coffee both sweetened and unsweetened, depending on my mood. It is easiest to sweeten a drink while it is still hot and the sugar will dissolve quickly, but then you are committed to drinking sweetened coffee until the next batch. Kraft was ready here with another suggestion that, for some reason, I had only ever thought to use in alcoholic cocktails: simple syrup. 

Simple syrup is, as the name suggests, quite simple to make. Just mix equal parts sugar and water (I usually use one cup of each) together in a saucepan, and heat over medium heat (stirring occasionally) until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the syrup has cooled, it can be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to about a week. The mixture can then be used to easily sweeten each serving of iced coffee on the spot, rather than having to sweeten the entire batch at once. Simple syrup is fast, convenient, and it requires little more than a quick stir to mix in with your beverage. The only real downside that I can think of is that, being a liquid, it does have the potential to dilute your iced coffee a tiny bit. Normally, this would not be that big of a deal, but combined with the eventual dilution from the ice in the coffee, it begins to add up. And yet again, Kraft is on the ball with another solution so simple that it makes me feel sort of silly for never having devised it myself. To avoid dilution in your iced coffee, why not just make coffee ice cubes?

But of course...

If you're anything like me, once you've made a batch or two of standard iced coffee, you may start to get a little bit tired of the stuff. So why not branch out with a couple of recipes? Kraft relayed a few to me with the sample that they sent, and I have had the opportunity to try two of them so far, but the entire list of recipes (along with the rest of the tips) can be found here.

The first recipe that I tried was Gevalia's Mint-Mocha Iced Coffee. This one is pretty straightforward: simply melt two or three Junior Mints in a cup of hot coffee, and then allow it to chill in the refrigerator before serving it over ice. The Junior Mints require constant stirring and a bit of time to melt, but they will melt...mostly. Some small particles may remain unmelted, and there will likely be a layer of chocolate sediment at the bottom of the cup after pouring the mixture off, but this is fine. The coffee will still retain the mint chocolate flavor, and it is absolutely delicious. 

Next, I gave the lemon-ginger iced coffee (pictured vaguely at the top of the post) a run. Like the previous recipe, this one is relatively simple. Just combine 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and 9 tablespoons of coffee in the filter basket of your coffee maker, and brew using 6 cups of water. The recipe then says to mix 1/3 cup honey into the hot coffee, but I am really not a huge fan of honey and decided to leave it out. Then, let the coffee cool in the refrigerator and serve over ice. I drank most of the pitcher unsweetened (I did add simple syrup and creamer to a couple of servings, but not very many), and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. The coffee absorbs the flavors of the lemon and ginger a lot better than I thought that it would, and the resulting beverage is an interestingly natural twist on the typical iced coffee.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience testing out Gevalia's House Blend. It's a great coffee that goes very well with ice, and I definitely recommend it as a good starting point for experimenting with iced coffee recipes this summer. As I said above, the recipes listed here are only two of several that were sent to me by Kraft, but the rest can be found on Gevalia's website. Feel free to stop by and leave your thoughts in the comments if you decide to try some of the others.

But in the meantime, just be sure to give Gevalia's iced House Blend a try. It is not likely to disappoint.

Samples provided courtesy of Kraft Foods, Inc.

To learn more about Kraft, visit their website
Or follow Kraft Foods on Twitter or Facebook
To Learn more about Gevalia, visit their website
Or follow Gevalia on Twitter or Facebook

Monday, July 2, 2012

Twinings Cranberry Green Tea

This is another tea that I have been meaning to review for a while and just haven't for some unknown reason. Although the package in the picture says "new," I have had this particular box of Twinings for quite some time now, and I am sure that the graphics and design have changed significantly since I bought this one. The flavor was introduced over a year ago during the surge in popularity of superfruits such as acai and cranberry, and I have been occasionally enjoying it ever since.

Although I tend to prefer green teas that are supplied more directly from Asia, Twinings will certainly do in a pinch. Now, Twinings certainly knows a thing or two about tea, and I am not trying to imply that their green tea is bad by any means, but there is just something about it that has always seemed a bit too manufactured to me. It is hard to describe, but the flavor is wrought with the qualities of mass production, and it just doesn't have the character that many other imported green teas do. That being said, I really like Twinings Cranberry Green Tea. The cranberry is light but flavorful, and the tea maintains a dry taste that is more true to the nature of the actual fruit than the sweeter and more juicy cranberry flavor that has been popularized over the past few years. 

I was fairly skeptical of the blend at first, as I wasn't sure how the aromatic flavor of green tea was going to blend with the bitterness of the cranberry, but they actually work very well together. The two distinct tastes meld into one resultant flavor that is pleasant and very easy to drink. As I said above, the tea is a bit on the dry side, so this is definitely not one to drink if you are already thirsty. But in a way, the dryness is necessary to properly represent the cranberry, and I am glad that Twinings decided not to dull the flavor by making a more "accesible" tea. Keep and eye out for this one. It is quite good.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: ...don't remember
Size: 20 individually sealed bags
Price: $2.99

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yamamotoyama Genmai-cha

As I sit here staring at my box of Yamamotoyama Genmai-cha tea, I find myself somewhat surprised that it has taken me as long as it has to write this review. I've had this box of tea for a fairly long time (over a year now), and for some inexplicable reason, it seems to keep ending up in the bottom of my tea box, forgotten and unloved. This is mystifying to me, however, as it is a wonderful tea, and I'm really not sure at all why I keep overlooking it. So, after making myself a cup of Yamamotoyama's Genmai-cha last night, I wanted to make a point of finally giving it the attention that it deserves.

But first, let's talk about some history. For those unfamiliar with the drink, genmaicha (or genmai-cha) is green tea combined and steeped together with grains of roasted brown rice. Years ago, genmaicha tea was created in Japan as a way for tea houses to offer a less expensive alternative to their more pure blends. Tea was a relatively expensive commodity at the time, and the rice acted as a filler to extend the shop's supply of green tea, thus reducing the price of each serving. At first, this was an effective solution for allowing the less wealthy to enjoy green tea without breaking the bank, and it was even frequently made with the lower quality and less flavorful "bancha" leaf (as opposed to the more premium "sencha" leaf) to further reduce the price. However, as time progressed, the genmaicha mixture grew more and more common, until eventually word got out about the blend's pleasant taste. Soon, tea enthusiasts began making the blend using high-quality tea leaves, and the drink became known more for its unique taste than its previously scorned social pretenses. Once the "tea for the poor" stigma that surrounded the tea began to fade, people from all wealth brackets grew to enjoy the added flavor of the roasted rice, and what had begun as a financial compromise reserved for the lower classes quickly became a widespread cultural icon. 

Yamamotoyama's Genmai-cha blend is a very good tea. The taste is very mild and soothing, and the roasted brown rice gives the tea a very earthy and robust flavor. It is difficult to describe exactly what the tea tastes like, as the flavor is very unique, but it is safe to say that the tea is very pleasant. It has a flavor so inoffensive that I doubt that anyone could actively dislike it. Trying to imagine what a rice/tea combination might taste like may be strange for some people (particularly those with more western tastes), and while I'm not really sure how to describe it in more detail, I can offer assurance in two (technically three) fairly simple words: it's good. Yamamotoyama's take on genmaicha makes it clear why the blend grew from its deeply utilitarian origins to its modern nationwide popularity, and you should definitely keep an eye out for this one.

Also, each of the bags are aluminum-sealed, which works wonders for keeping the tea fresh. Excellent work, Yamamotoyama.

Verdict: Highly recommended

Purchased: Asian Market [Columbia, SC]
Size: 16 bags per box
Price: $2.30

Monday, June 25, 2012

Goya Tamarind Nectar

I have had my fair share of somewhat negative experiences with nectars in the past. In general, I feel that they tend to be too thick, and they usually leave me feeling heavy and gross after I drink one. As a result, I tend to steer clear of them, but I recently stumbled across Goya's Tamarind Nectar, and I decided to give it a try for several reasons.

First, I love tamarind. I am sure that I have mentioned this before in a previous post somewhere on this blog, but tamarind is one of my favorite fruits. It's flavor does not always lend itself well to some of the things in which it is included, but I always look forward to trying a new tamarind-inspired product, regardless. Secondly, I have had a relatively positive experience with Goya's products in the past (with maybe one exception), and I calculated that the low asking price justified at least giving the drink a chance. 

Unfortunately, my feelings on the drink are less than positive. A quick look at the ingredients (water, tamarind pulp, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, ascorbic acid) reflects the Goya tradition: a relatively simple drink with a strong focus on the fruit at hand. However, the drink does not taste simple. This could be easy blamed on tamarind's naturally complex flavor, but I feel that the complications do not arise from the fruit alone. It is hard to quantify exactly what it is that I don't like about this drink, but I think that it may have something to do with the added ascorbic acid. Although the acid does provide a full daily serving of Vitamin C, I don't think that it was a good addition to the beverage. Natural tamarind tends to have a bit of a bitter undertone, and the acidity of Goya's well-intentioned concoction really just does not mesh well with the tamarind base. Although the taste of the tamarind in the nectar is very earthy and natural, the extra ingredients make it difficult to drink, making Goya's Tamarind Nectar a difficult recommendation for anybody except the most ardent of tamarind fans.

If you really like tamarind and think that you may be able to look past the acidity, then this one is at least worth the money to try out. But on the whole, I really don't think that I can recommend this one. It's just too strange to enjoy, and if you are not previously familiar with tamarind, then this drink is really not the place to start learning more about it. 

Verdict: Not recommended

Purchased: Wal-Mart [Columbia, SC]
Size: 9.6 fl oz [284mL]
Price: $0.99

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dry Vanilla Bean Soda

I reviewed Dry Soda Company's lemongrass soda several months ago, and I was unfortunately not a huge fan of the flavor. However, I recently stumbled across a sale of Dry Soda four-packs at my local Earth Fare, and I decided to give the vanilla bean soda a try. Well...when, I say "decided to try," what I really mean is "tricked into trying," because I had actually decided to give the lavender soda a try. However, as it later turned out, someone had replaced three of the lavender bottles with vanilla bean in what I assume was an effort to build his or her own secret variety pack. I did not realize until I reached for what I thought was the second lavender soda that I had been duped, so today I have the vanilla bean soda to review instead.

Although the inconsiderate behavior of the previous customer was certainly aggravating when I realized what had happened, I'm actually sort of glad that I was given the chance to try the vanilla bean soda. I actually like it a good bit, and I don't know that I would have tried it of my own accord. Like the aforementioned lemongrass variety, the flavor of the vanilla bean soda is more "essential" than typical vanilla flavoring in that it has a much more aromatic and "extract-ish" taste. The flavor of the vanilla is very ambient, and acts primarily on the back of the throat rather than provoking a strong response from the sweet taste buds. Most other drinks that I have had that contain vanilla as a primary flavoring usually trend towards the latter, so it's a nice change of pace to find a vanilla drink that is not overbearingly sweet.   

In general, I tend to harbor hesitation about purchasing vanilla flavored beverages, as they tend to be too sweet and heavy for my tastes, but Dry Soda Company's vanilla bean soda is very light and refreshing. It is very lightly sweetened, so those expecting something more along the lines of a cream soda may be a bit disappointed, but I found the drink to be very pleasant. The low sugar and calorie count also add a lot of appeal, making this drink a fairly easy recommendation, overall.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Earth Fare [Columbia, SC]
Size: 12 fl oz [355mL]
Price: $4.99 [4-pack, discounted]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Seagram's Escapes

I usually tend to dislike these sorts of beverages, and as a result I typically try to avoid purchasing them. However, during a recent trip to the grocery store, I found a lonely bargain bin full of Seagram's Escapes, and seeing as how they were only a dollar a piece, I decided to seize the opportunity to remind myself of the special sort of disappointment that only a 6.4 proof bottle of generic malt beverage can offer.

Although the picture above shows only the—prepare yourself—"Jamaican Me Happy" flavor, I have tried several of the flavors in which Seagram's Escapes are currently available. I will say up front that despite the Jamaican Me Happy's rather unfortunate name, it is definitely my favorite of the flavors that I have tried. However, rather than addressing each flavor in particular, I feel that this time would be better spent discussing the qualities of this sort of beverage in general, as they all tend to have the same features and shortcomings. 

For those unfamiliar with the "genre," malt beverages are brewed (and often fermented) beverages that use malted (sprouted) barley grain as the primary brew ingredient. Traditional beer is the largest example of this sort of drink, but there has been a rising insurrection of these sorts of "flavored beers" appearing on the market over they past few years. I use the term in quotations because Seagram's Escapes and it's competing products are not to be confused with traditional beer that may include flavorings that are added post-brew. Rather, these drinks tend to be vague approximations of the sort of fruity cocktail that one might expect to order at some ramshackle cabana during a particularly hot day at the beach. They lack the savory depth of flavor offered by many ales and lagers, opting instead to pack each sip with so much fruity sweetness that it is hard to taste anything much beyond the bite of the sugar on your tongue.

Now, this is not necessarily to say that they are bad just because they are not really beer. Comparing them to their more painstakingly prepared and carefully engineering counterparts may be a bit unfair, as that is not the image that these drinks try to portray. While many beer breweries strive for complexity, sophistication, and craftsmanship in their presentation, most of the companies that produce these sorts of light and fruity malt beverages aim to offer easy and accessible alcoholic beverages for people who may not like the intensity of stronger beers and spirits. Seagram's is especially specific in their goal for their Escapes line: images of ocean fronts and other equally tranquil locales rest conspicuously behind depictions of freshly sliced fruits, inviting the drinker to enter a world of refreshment and alcoholic relaxation. 

While it may be unfair to hold these more casual "dranks" to the same standards as other alcoholic beverages, my issues with the drinks in question actually stem from inherent problems with the beverages themselves, not the existence of superior or differing products. The first major problem that I find with products like Seagram's Escapes is the excessive sweetness. To me, the sweetness is entirely overbearing, and is more indicative of a sugary soft drink than a brewed malt beverage. The real turnoff, however, comes from the tiny, nagging hint of alcohol in the background. Seagram's Escapes are a particularly strong example of this. Clocking in at a mere 3.2% alcohol by volume, the drink feels confused and busy rather than light and refreshing. What little alcohol that there is in the drink competes with the other flavors in a rather uninteresting and non-cohesive way, and instead of offering a "lighter alcohol experience," it really just serves as a constant reminder that what you are drinking really just does not make sense as an alcoholic beverage. Every time that I drink one of these things, I feel like the companies that make them are just frantically trying to cover up the unappealing taste of generic malt beverage with soda-like qualities, and I often find myself staring at the bottle and wondering why they don't just make them as non-alcoholic soft drinks in the first place. That way, those who really do not like the taste of alcohol could at least use them as chasers.

If you are okay with the taste of generic, fruity beverages and you just want something low-impact to drink at a party, then Seagram's Escapes will likely do in a pinch. Otherwise, they really just aren't worth the calories.

Verdict: Not recommended

Purchased: Bi-Lo [Greenwood, SC]
Size: 11.2 fl oz [330mL]
Price: $1.00 per bottle [discounted]

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Beefeater 24

Beefeater 24 is excellent gin. I am already a pretty avid fan of Beefeater as it is (I would say that it is my favorite gin of what I have had so far), so my thoughts on their more premium artisan cut might be a bit biased. But sometimes that is okay, especially when the product is just undeniably good, anyway.

The first thing that I noticed about Beefeater 24 was its unexpected smoothness. While Beefeater's regular London Dry Gin is already fairly smooth, it still has a fairly strong kick. Beefeater 24, however, is not quite as strong. At first, it seems like it will be, as the alcohol tends to sting the lips and the front of the mouth. But the bite is very quick, and the sting dissipates almost immediately without moving on to the back of the palette. All of the bite remains in the front of the mouth, allowing the aroma to settle unprohibited in the back of the throat. And this is a good thing, because the taste is very pleasant. The flavor is mild yet intricate, and Beefeater's mix of botanicals blends very well with the juniper-rich spirit. 

The mildness of Beefeater 24 stems from the slow distillation process after which the blend was named. The 12 botanicals used in Beefeater 24 are steeped together with the spirit for a full 24 hours before distillation, which gives the gin a uniquely smooth and homogeneous flavor. Although this process is used for all Beefeater gin, what really sets Beefeater 24 apart is the inclusion of three extra botanical ingredients that are not found in the standard product: Japanese sencha tea, aromatic Chinese green tea, and grapefruit peel. While Beefeater 24 is not wildly different from regular Beefeater, these three ingredients do give the premium cut a more unique and robust flavor profile.

Beefeater 24 is very, very good. The flavor is pleasant and interesting, and the more mild taste and less powerful sting is likely to make this one a much easier sell to those who do not normally drink gin. It is clear that the selection and proportioning of the added botanical ingredients was considered very carefully, as the  extra flavors are present and evident without standing out, and they contribute to the taste without taking anything away from the original formula. It feels like the three new ingredients belonged in the formula all along, and I definitely think that Beefeater 24 is worth the extra money.

And it certainly doesn't hurt that the bottle is absolutely gorgeous.

Verdict: Highly recommended

Purchased: Total Wine and More [Greenville, SC]
Size: 750mL
Price: $24.99

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin

Bombay Sapphire is a very good gin. Although my overall experience with gin up to this point has been more limited than that of a true connoisseur (I have only had two years and a very limited budget with which to try this sort of stuff so far), but it is still not difficult to tell that Bombay Sapphire is a premium gin not only in comparison to the competition, but also in its own well-established right. I am, in general, a fan of strong, full-bodied liquors that have a lot of bite while still presenting a complex and flavorful aroma that melds well with the sting of the alcohol, and Bombay Sapphire's Vapour Infused London Dry Gin is a superb example.

The flavor of Bombay Sapphire is very complex, and it utilizes so many different botanicals (such as angelica, orris root, and cassia bark, just to name a few) that it is difficult to identify any one specific flavor, aside from the juniper. It is not uncommon for beverages that includes so many different ingredients to end up tasting busy or lost in their own variety, but this is not the case with Bombay Sapphire. All of the flavors meld together perfectly into one complicated but consistent "all-flavor" that tantalizes the palette with every sip. This is due largely to Bombay Sapphire's relatively unique vapor-infusion method. Rather than boiling the botanicals directly in the spirit (a more commonly used method), Bombay Sapphire suspends the botanical ingredients above the spirit in copper baskets. The heated vapors from the spirit base then rise and release the flavors of the botanicals into the gaseous spirit before it is condensed back into liquid form. This is said to give the gin a more unified and balanced flavor, and the taste certainly speaks to the validity of the process.

Overall, this is an excellent gin. It is tasty, dry, and highly-flavorful, all while maintaining just the right amount of bite. The bite of the alcohol is just strong enough to constantly remind you that you are drinking a distilled spirit without interfering with the taste in the slightest. Bombay Sapphire is just great, and has definitely worked its way toward the top of my list of favorite spirits.

Verdict: Highly Recommended

Purchased: Frugal's ABC [Greenwood, SC]
Size: various
Price: $24.99 [750mL]