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.