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