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]

Monday, June 4, 2012

Short hiatus

Drinkable Review will be going on a short hiatus this week. I need to spend some serious time looking for a job. But be sure to check back next week for three delicious liquor reviews.


- Hayden

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Neuro Sleep

Being the third drink in a tripartite review arc of Neuro's tasty and nutritionally interesting beverages, Neuro Sleep had garnered quite a positive precedent. Like Neuro Sonic and Neuro Sun, Neuro Sleep has a very distinct flavor and function, and I am happy to say that, like the others, it is a self-sufficiently welcome addition to the collection.

Neuro Sleep is a relaxation beverage that is intended to act as a sleep aid rather than some of the more mild "calming" drinks that are starting to appear on the market. Utilizing a blend of melatonin, L-theanine, and magnesium, Neuro Sleep is geared towards promoting relaxation during sleep and supporting healthy mental function through adequate rest. I feel that it is only fair to go ahead and mention that, much like energy drinks, I often do not experience the effects of a lot of these sorts of relaxation beverages as profoundly as others do, if at all. This tendency remained somewhat true for Neuro Sleep, as I did not really feel much while I was drinking it, and what little effects I did notice were easy enough to ignore simply by paying attention to the other things that I was doing at the time. However, I was in for a big surprise when I finally did decide that it was time for bed. It usually takes me somewhere around an hour to actually fall asleep once I am in bed trying to do so, but after drinking the entire bottle of Neuro Sleep, the effect of landing in my bed was not entirely unlike that of full-body paralysis. I simply did not want to move; a feeling which quickly became a decision as I promptly turned off the light and passed out. This sort of expedient slip into unconsciousness is extremely rare for me, and seeing as the only difference in my night-time routine was consuming a bottle of Neuro Sleep, I feel relatively safe in assuming that it did its job.

Flavor-wise, Neuro Sleep is probably the strangest of the three Neuro varieties that I have had so far. Even after finishing the entire bottle, I am still having trouble determining exactly what flavor this drink is supposed to be. It has the general taste of an orange beverage (which would seem to make sense given the color of the bottle), but there's still something unfamiliar about it. It's like the drink is trying to be orange, but just isn't quite making it there, much in the same way that orange Kool-Aid just sort of misses the mark. Now, this is not to say that the flavor is bad. In fact, I actually sort of like it, although it is important to say that of the three Neuro beverages that I have had, this one tastes the most "pharmaceutical." While I don't necessarily know what melatonin and the other chemical ingredients included in Neuro Sleep actually taste like by themselves, I still feel that this one has a sort of "medicine-ish" taste. It has a bit of a dry, chalky texture, and the aftertaste even tastes oddly enough like the gelatinous exterior of a pill capsule. That being said, this still doesn't make the drink bad in any significant way. It's just definitely a good thing to know going in. 

Overall, I think that Neuro Sleep is yet another great offering in DrinkNeuro's strong line of functional beverages. While the flavor is a little bit odd and unspecific, it is definitely not bad, and the "sleep mixture" ended up being a good bit more effective than I thought that it was going to be. If you are looking for a drink to help you get to sleep without feeling like it is actively knocking you out, then this is definitely one to try.

Verdict: Recommended

Purchased: Citgo service station [Greenwood, SC]
Size: 14.5 fl. oz. [430mL]
Price: $2.50