Category Archives: Product Review

Milagro Tequila

To me, it always seemed that tequila was the shot you ordered after you had a few too many and needed an excuse for eating late night pizza. After my night of tequila tasting with Milagro Tequila, the spirit is so much more to me.

milagro-3

The night was an in depth look into the smells and tastes of different types of tequila. Before tasting anything, we were given an aroma kit with samples of all the different notes you get from tequila. (I think of doing this when tasting wine, but not tequila.) The twelve aromas ranged from lemongrass and pineapple all the way to black pepper.

milagro-4

 

 

 

Now, Milagro is no ordinary Tequila. When the owners tasted the final product, they said it was a miracl (hence the name Milagro). The owners wanted to pay homage to the heritage of tequila, and it shows in the process. This tequila is made from 100% blue agave tequila from the Jalisco Highlands. (Blue agave is sweeter and creates a more fruity and aromatic tequila.) The master distiller employs a century old cooking method using a traditional hand built brick oven. The agave is slow-roasted for 36 hours. That is a long time in the tequila world, but it creates a much better tequila. Once the agave is roasted, it goes into Milagro’s two pot system for the distillation, a pot still and a column still. The column still creates the smoothness found in Milagro.

 

Curious as to how good Milagro really is? Milagro entered the San Francisco World spirit competition in 2007. The Select Barrel Reserve Repasado was awarded best of show. Not only did it beat out other tequilas- but rums, gins, and vodkas. Milagro currently has more awards than any other tequilas. Milagro ranges from $37 for Milagro Silver to $102 for the Select Barrel Reserve Anejo. My personal favorite is the Milagro Añejo. It has been aged in American oak barrels between fourteen and twenty-four months. This aging process gives this tequila a spicy and savory taste.

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MILAGRO TEQUILA
milagrotequila.com
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Product Review: Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

“There are no basic drinks, just basic people.”


It’s hard to believe there was a time when pumpkin spice wasn’t a meme, but an actual source of excitement. I think my first taste of getting genuinely geeked out about the flavor was when pumpkin cheesecake showed up at a Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. The questions were instant–“Who put these tastes together? Why is cinnamon/pumpkin/spice so freaking good? How do I get more? Is there still going to be a pumpkin pie?”

The rarity was a huge part of the appeal, and as pumpkin-everything creeped into our lives, the rush was gone. I think my breaking point was bringing home pumpkin spiced goat cheese from a New England supermarket and my daughter asking why it existed. “Because they know I’ll buy it, you smart-mouthed kid.” I vowed that 2016 would be a year of pumpkin spiced moderation. I got one beer on draft early and nodded in approval. I have had one pumpkin-spiced coffee this year. (I did eat a tub of pumpkin cookie butter from Trader Joe’s, but I’m only human.)

That’s why I had to chuckle when I was asked to review Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast – it was like the Captain himself heard about my Halloween Humbugness and decided to intervene. The pumpkin spiced shot comes in a round bottle making its best effort at looking like a pumpkin, and it makes a perfect centerpiece for any Halloween party bar … if you’re into that sort of decor. It’s the first pumpkin spiced rum on the market and is designed to be everything from a chilled shot to an ingredient in a few fall cocktail recipes.

I’ll be honest, I braced myself to taste something closer to egg nog with a heavy pumpkin flavor before pouring it out (full disclosure – my first sip was out of the container because it felt cool in the moment) and was surprised to get a decent amount of cinnamon and spice along with the pumpkin. It was lighter than I expected, which made it easier to mix into drinks.

The crowd favorite was what the good folks at Captain Morgan call the Apple Jack-O (recipe below). We dubbed it the Jack-O’Blast n’ Cider. (Say it quickly … a few times. Get it now?) Either way, the reviews were positive and my wife said that this should be flasked and kept on-hand for all fall/holiday activities that involve walking around outside. I tried a splash in coffee and, while it wasn’t bad, decided this was best for cold drinks. (And that’s probably why there is a huge “best served chilled” suggestion all over it.)

All in all, if you’re a pumpkin person, you can get a lot of mileage out of this product. If you’ve hit your limit on all things pumpkin, skip the shot and make the cider cocktail or try making a spiced version of a dark and stormy or something similar.

They sent along a few other suggestions, including:

Apple Jack-O
4oz of chilled apple cider
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

Orange Pumpkin Smash
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast
2oz orange juice
2oz club soda

Combine Jack-O’Blast and orange juice in a glass filled with ice and stir. Top with club soda.

Jack-O’Lager
1oz Jack-O’Blast shot
4oz Lager

Drop shot of Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast in a glass of lager beer.

Blasted Brew
0.5oz Jack-O’Blast
0.5oz Cannon Blast

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a shot glass.

Captain’s Cauldron
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast
2oz orange juice
1oz cranberry juice
Optional: 1oz club soda topper
Lemon wedge – squeezed

Combine all ingredients in a glass filled with ice, stir and garnish with a lemon wedge.


CAPTAIN MORGAN JACK-O-BLAST RUM
captainmorgan.com
ABV: 30% / 60 proof
Price: $15.99 / 750 ml

You can find Jack-O’Blast at most liquor stores.

VDKA6100: Call it Whatever You Want.

I want to start out by confessing: I’m still not sure how to pronounce the name of this vodka. VDKA6100 even devotes a section on their website to explaining how they got their name–it’s the distance between the territorial waters of New Zealand, from which the product is sourced, to those of the United States, where the brand was born, is 6,100 miles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give any clues as to how one might pronounce it. Ultimately, I concluded it doesn’t really matter; you can call it whatever you want, and it’s not going to change the fact that this is a damn fine vodka.

VDKA6100 is made in Reproof, near Lake Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand. Their vodka is produced using fresh, seasonal whey sourced from the Bay of Plenty Region. That whey is fermented using a rare strain of yeast, imported from Ireland over 30 years ago.

Given the purity of the ingredients, VDKA6100 requires limited distilling in order to ensure the character of the vodka is retained. VDKA6100 is filtered through carbon “rockets” (I hope these are half as cool as I’m imagining) and blended with locally sourced New Zealand spring water. The result is a vodka that is sugar-free, gluten-free, lactose-free (because …. vodka), and free from chemical additives.

Before experimenting with any cocktails, I decided to try VDKA6100 straight up in order to form a real opinion on the quality of the vodka. Right away, I noticed the lack of that all-too-familiar burn that accompanies so many lesser vodkas. VDKA6100, on the other hand, was silky smooth with a very soft mouth feel. I initially noted a crisp citrus flavor and a faint but pleasant hint of vanilla with a kick of peppery spice on the finish.

VDKA6100 is perfect for crafting the classic martini. (I think James Bond would agree.)

VDKA 6100 Martini
2.5oz of VDKA 6100
0.5oz dry vermouth

Glassware: Martini glass
Garnish: Lemon twist

Combine VDKA 6100, dry vermouth and ice in a cocktail shaker, Sitr until cold,  Strain into a martini glass. Top with a lemon twist.

VDKA6100
www.vdka6100.com
ABV: 40%  / 80 proof
Price: $38/1L

 

Dry Sparkling Water

I was recently sent an assortment of Dry Sparkling Water in seven different flavors to try out. Dry is the product of the founder’s need to keep in touch with the culinary world after leaving it and it’s billed as an “unexpectedly crisp sparkling beverage”.

The product is meant to be a suitable substitute to pair with food in place of alcoholic beverages. But … if you’re an SDD Contributor … you find out how it’s going to pair with booze. (It’s what you do, because, are drinks really meant to be enjoyed without liquor? Not if I can help it. At least not after work hours. Or while sick.)

Of the seven flavors, I enjoyed the Vanilla Bean flavor the most.  I was, however, a little shocked that it had 16g of sugar considering it was supposed to be a “healthy” alternative option.

Here are the recipes I tried and highly recommend!

Bourbonbon

Bourbonbon
6 oz. vanilla bean DRY
1 1/2 oz. bourbon
Ice
Mix in a highball glass

Pinapple Spritzer
3 oz. juniper berry DRY
2 oz. light rum
2 oz. pinapple juice
squeeze of lemon

Other drink recipes using DRY can be found here.

Click here to find Dry Sparkling Water near you.

Product Review: Balls Vodka

It’s hard to look at the packaging and marketing materials for Ball’s Vodka and not go through an internal rant. For me it was a combo of, first, a solid chuckle … but then the follow-up thought, “Ugh … is this all we’re doing here?” as the puns continue. I’m definitely not one to eschew a terrible joke or ten (Susie very clearly told me I was the person destined to write this review as soon as the email came in), but the line between a good and a lazy ball joke is quite fine.
Do I smile, make a cavalcade of crotch riffs and call it day? Does the world need more stiff drink puns? (Duh.) Am I overthinking this? And if I am, why don’t I ask you to look at the freaking bottle and tell me anything about this is meant to be serious?

[Takes deep breath.]

Alright, let’s go ahead and put some Balls in my mouth and see where this goes. (Yeah … I just wrote that.)

Balls_Vodka1-e1426082024629I first experimented with just the Balls to get a straight taste and then I went for a vodka soda – just to set a baseline. My vodka palette is by no means refined, but I’m confident enough that I avoided burning my necessary taste buds when I was a teenager that I can make good decisions. I know what I hate and can tell what isn’t quality … and I didn’t hate this. The taste was clean with notes of vanilla that only briefly lingered, and it only took a few sips to realize this was actually pretty damn decent stuff. I was actively looking for reasons to choke* on every sip, but it never happened.

* I just can’t keep doing this – if you have a good pun/joke/idea, just say it aloud to yourself right here or leave it as a comment.

The third and final test was to invite vodka (and some ball)-loving friends over and see how they reacted. After a few puns, they dove in along with me and had the same feedback. This is a solid vodka for simple drinks (we never felt the need to do anything besides sip the classic soda and/or tonic with some lemons and limes). The suggested price point is around $10 below Grey Goose, so this could be not only a solid pun-based conversation piece, but a good versatile bottle for your home bar.

The TL:DR version: These Balls go down smooth and even your mom will love them. (Please try to understand how much I hate myself right now.)

To learn more, score some sweet merch or find a bottle near you, visit ballsvodka.com.


BALLS VODKA

ballsvodka.com
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Store Locations

  • Proof: 80
  • Nose: vanilla
  • Favor: clean, slight mineral and sweetness
  • Distilled from: American corn
  • Sipping suggestions: mixed in simple cocktails
  • Price: $29.99 for 1.75L

 

Product Review: Traveler Grapefruit IPA Shandy

As a lover of IPAs (before it was cool), I’ve had to face some hard truths about them in the last few years. Recently, it feels like, for every new brewery discovery I make, there are even more options featuring a ton of IBUs dumped in barley that would leave me feeling like I didn’t even know what beer was anymore. The brewing process for an IPA is simple, and the strong ingredients are not only useful for proving how many hops your manly palate can take, but also for covering up shortcuts or mistakes in the process. IPA is the king of craft beers and the backlash was inevitable, but I’ve been finding myself looking for other beers to round out my choices at home.

So, when Traveler Beer reached out to our team offering a chance to try the Traveler Grapefruit IPA Shandy as a follow up to my review of the non-IPA offerings from last summer, I jumped on it. I was intrigued, but cautiously optimistic about it. Best case – I pick up a new guilty pleasure for a summer beer; worst case, I continue cursing the availability of hops to everyone with an idea, some free time, and a brewing kit.

The answer was: somewhere in the middle.

First, this is a very low 4.4% beer, so it’s not going to wallop anyone out of the gate. (Which was kind of what I was looking for. I have two kids now, I can’t sit around all day guzzling beers with buddies waiting for a buzz. And I’m too lazy to walk to the bathroom that much. Efficiency is key.) This is not a heavy drink, and, if you’re not into beer, this is a lower ABV than most of the hard sodas that became a thing last year. (More on that to come, I’m sure.)

Second, “IPA” may come first in the title, but this was still very much a shandy. The grapefruit taste was front and center and the hoppy, beer flavor was very much buried underneath it. None of this is a bad thing – in fact, if you like a good shandy or fruit-based beer in general, you’ll like this. I shared with a friend who very much fit this profile and she really enjoyed it.

I know you’re reading this because you want a yay or nay, but all I can do here is give you facts. If you want a bold, bitter beer taste, this isn’t for you … but then again, you’re the one who opened something with grapefruit shandy in the title, so maybe you need to realize words mean things. If you’re a fan of citrus and are looking for something you can enjoy all day long, this is a solid pick up.

To learn more, visit travelerbeer.com/ipa-shandy or visit the home page for the full lineup of Traveler Beers.

STATS:
Malt Varieties: 2-Row Brewers Malt, Malted and Unmalted Wheat
Hop Varieties: Galena, Warrior, Centennial, Citra, Cascade, Chinook, Nelson Sauvin
Special Ingredients: Real Grapefruit
Alcohol: 4.4%
BUs: 52

TRAVELER BEER
travelerbeer.com
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Product Review: Don Chelada

If there’s one thing I don’t undervalue it’s the art of convenience. Particularly, when it comes to tailgates, beach-side sipping, or floating the river, I want a drink that travels easy and carries the party with it. Enter: Don Chelada. Between this company’s bottled michelada mix and rimmed Styrofoam cups with pre-packaged spices, all you really need is your favorite beer to achieve optimal day-drinking status.

I have to say Don Chelada’s Styrofoam cups are a fascinating thing. It’s one of those million dollar ideas I wish I would have thought of. Offering three flavors of Lemon Lime, Spicy, or Original, the rather large cups come with a “Mega Moist Rim” of natural ingredients, including chili powder, lemon powder, sea salt, chili powder, sugar, pepper, citric acid, and silicone dioxide (for, you know … “anti-clumping”). Inside you’ll find the corresponding spice mix, depending on awaiting an introduction to your beer of choice, which may depend on your cup flavor. Bonus points: the rich formula allows the addition of another beer, which you will obviously want to add. The key here (and make sure you read this carefully) is to pour slowly and let the drink sit for a minute afterwards. This allows for the suds and spice mix to settle into the beer.

The cups serve as a great product for the right kind of consumer. Personally, I had a bit of trouble blending the package of spices into my beer, but I could envision this as a staple for enhancing your average beer at tailgates, fraternity parties, trips to the lake, or even as a hangover remedy. Out of the two products, I enjoyed the liquid mix better as I found it was easier to incorporate with my beer – but, maybe I just need to work on my pouring technique.

You can go a step further personalizing this with even more spice, garnishes, or maybe an additional splash of alcohol. It’s your michelada and you can drink it how you want to.

Check out Don Chelada’s website for more recipes, such as the below, Tequila Tropical. Cinco de Mayo is quickly approaching and this might just be your best move.

Don Chelada Tequila Tropical
1.5oz tequila
Mineral Water
Lemon Lime Soda

Add to your Don Chelada Michelada Cup: ice and 1.5oz tequila. Fill with equal parts mineral water and lemon lime soda. Stir lightly, let sit for a minute and enjoy.

Don Chelada Michelada Cups
6 Piece Party Pack, $13.74
Party Pack Case – 36 Pieces, $64.44

Don Chelada Michelada Mix
25 oz. Bottle, $10.99


DON CHELADA

donchelada.com
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Product Review: Hornitos Spiced Honey Tequila

My first thought before even opening this bottle … will this be some magic elixir or will it be evil sugar syrup?

The war to slowly trick up everything simple and good with extra flavors has been won. The traditionalist lost. First, they took our vodka to a chemical flavor factory. Next they added honey to our whiskey. Now, you can browse every single section of a liquor store and find combinations of flavors, chemicals and booze that you could argue God either never intended to exist or that he simply waited to give us the know-how to make apple-flavored everything. Ok, this sounds overly negative – and you’re right, because some of this stuff is really good. It’s just that once you spend a winter in New England burning through flavored whiskey/bourbon praying for snow to melt, you get really skeptical of everything.

So, when I had a chance to review Hornitos Spiced Honey, I was anxious. This is a tequila I really like, and the thought of it turning into a sugar fest with a kick was almost depressing to me. Also, flavored tequila just doesn’t sound right, but I fought through that by saying I used to feel the same way about whiskey. I decided to try it neat, on the rocks, and then in whatever cocktail/mixer felt right after I got the taste and made notes as I went.

When I opened the bottle, the honey scent was strong and the agave smell felt really dialed back. I had my wife (a non-tequila drinker) take a sniff … she told me she still thought it was strong, so maybe it’s a preference thing. I took a sip and was surprised it was close to a good spiced rum than anything else.

The vanilla and spice were well balanced and the tequila taste gradually came through after a few more sips. This was very easy to drink and I could see it easily becoming part of my rotation as a warm up drink for the evening or a shot that wasn’t hard to take down. It gets better as it opens up, but the one thing that quickly became apparent is that it wouldn’t fit my tastes for a traditional tequila recipe since so many of those drinks are traditionally sweet to begin with.

Luckily, I live in New England and its fall, so people are pushing apples everywhere. In Texas terms, think of that week hatch chiles show up or if someone made bluebonnets edible. After some recent success with Makers and cider, I decided to see how the tequila would mix with it. Despite the obvious sweetness, this was a solid nightcap and it left with a list of future ideas (and there are also several recipes on the website focused on mixers like tea and lemonade as well.)

Hornitos Spiced Honey is available almost everywhere with a retail price of $19.99 per 750ml bottle. If you’re looking for a change of pace from your regular tequila and enjoy the flavor of spiced rum and similar spirits, I’d definitely recommend picking up a bottle.



Workin’ Hard
2 parts Hornitos® Plata Tequila
½ part Agave Nectar
1 part Lime Juice
2 parts Coconut Water
3 Dashes Angostura® Bitters
Lime Peel

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime peel.

IMG_20151110_215103Hardly Workin’
1 ¼ parts Hornitos® Black Barrel® Tequila
¼ part Agave
½ part Lemon Juice
Lemon Wedge

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

The Work Horse1 ½ parts Hornitos® Plata Tequila
4 parts Mexican Lager
⅓ part Lime Juice
⅓ part Simple Syrup
1 slice Jalapeño
Salt Rim

Muddle jalapeño in a glass with a salted rim, combine remainder of ingredients except Mexican lager in a shaker, shake vigorously, strain over fresh ice and add Mexican lager.