Sunday, January 31, 2010

Urgent call to those who value superior products

Dear all,

OXO, for some reason, has decided to discontinue one of their best products, one that I consider to be the most valuable cocktail-related tool in my kitchen: the 2oz measure cup.

This little cup is perfect for measuring cocktail ingredients, since most recipes refer to amounts in ounces. These are superior to most jiggers; because jiggers are usually conical or irregular in shape, it is difficult to get precise measurements on certain intermediate amounts. Not only does the OXO cup provide various measurements, but it is constructed in such a way that it need not be held at eye level to achieve this accuracy. Simply put, this product is of extremely high value. I, in fact, own several of them.

Call or write OXO if you care about this product, as it seems they are keeping count of complaints. You can call them at 800 545 4411 or write them at or here.

Let us increase the demand so as to revive the supply!

DJ HawaiianShirt

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Seagram's 7 Dark Honey

Although my friends may call me a liquor snob, I'm really not. It's true that I do like nice things and do try to steer people in the direction of the top shelf as much as possible, but I of all people realize that our wallets can't always follow. Today we shall lower our eyes to the middle shelf of our hypothetical spirits-vending establishment and examine briefly the Seagram brand.

Seagram's brand of spirits is very much a hit and miss model. A look at their good products begins with their gin. Even though I find my palate for gins to be still evolving, Seagram's gin is not to be discounted. It is an American-style gin (as opposed to London Dry) which means that the tongue isn't assailed by the taste of Christmas trees (which I actually like), though American-style gins vary widely in flavor. Seagram's gin's claim to fame is that it is one of the only gins to be lightly aged in barrels while almost all others are un-aged. The resulting taste is one similar to a London Dry, but much more mellow with slight flavors of oak... it makes a killer Gimlet. As an admitted non-expert on vodka, I can also say that Seagram's Vodka is also a great buy for the price. They both have really great bottles too.

Seagram's Smooth Brazilian Rum is a newly-launched product, and as a drinker much more versed in rum than other spirits, I have to say that it's simply a fine product. It's a rum produced from sugar cane juice instead of molasses, in the style of Rhum Agricole and Cachaca, such that its flavor is more on the caney and grassy side rather than a full-bodied and dry one. The Drink Hacker said this about the stuff: "This is actually drinkable on its own — when’s the last time you said that about a $12 rum?" The gin, vodka, and rum are all available for $15 dollars or (much) less, marking a considerable value for those looking to save a few bucks. As I've said before, being a liquor fan isn't cheap.

But Seagram's also markets products that don't really hit the mark. Notable are their Twisted Gins, which are basically some of the only flavored gins around, and they're just hard to take seriously. Also for sale is Seagram's "Gin & Juice", which are barely palatable syrupy concoctions that I can only assume are artificially colored and flavored (but I'm not positive). And lastly worth mentioning is Seagram's 7 Crown whiskey, which is an American blended whiskey (a dying breed) that's more often found on the bottom shelf than the middle. It's a long standing brand and even has its own cocktail, but it's really not a whiskey taken very seriously among whiskey-drinkers. In preparation for this post I did a quick tasting of the stuff at a local bar, and some notes I took down consisted of "alcoholy", "mellow", and "one-sided".

The Review
Seagram's 7 Dark Honey

I was interested to learn that Seagram's has a new product called Seagram's 7 Dark Honey which is a honey-flavored whiskey, and certainly not the first one on the market. This bottle was actually given to me for free to review, and so that's what I shall do. However, because this spirit clearly uses 7 Crown whiskey as a springboard, I really wasn't sure what to expect. For starters, the bottle is pretty cool, and is actually the same bottle used for Captain Morgan's Parrot Bay brand. This stuff is sweetened like a liqueur, and clocks in at 71 proof. (Not bad!)

It turns out that there's a mild controversy on the internet concerning how Seagram's may be promoting their products via marketers commenting on blog posts who pose as though they're normal readers, which can be read about here. I'll note that the person in question(according to that link) has also posted a comment on THIS blog several months ago, shortly before another person (the same one who sent me this product) commented, and both comments talked positively toward a brand name that I've never even uttered on this blog. When the Federal Government gets involved in this kind of stuff, you can imagine why I hold full disclosure in high esteem. With that said, I'm no less grateful or humbled to have received this gift; it's as if people think I know what the hell I'm talking about! But shall I be adding to this product's internet hype? No, I imagine I won't...

In the Glass

Nothing too groundbreaking here. It's the color of whiskey and is viscous like a liqueur.


Almost nothing but alcohol. I tried really hard, and I finally discerned a faint smell of wheat akin to the original 7 Crown whiskey. I'm also sensing a generic "sweet" smell... perhaps it's brown sugar, but it's definitely not honey. Near the end I detected something citrusy, which was a little strange.


Luckily, the first flavor I got was honey, but it was soon to be replaced with cinnamon, and then more alcohol. I tasted a fleeting wheat, much like the smell, before the alcohol burned my tongue a bit, and then the strong sweetness took over. To be honest, the mouth feel was quite nice. When it goes down the hatch, it's just fine, and finally flavors of brown sugar and cinnamon... and then more alcohol. Overall, despite all the alcohol burn, it's a pleasant experience. Perhaps disappointingly, its flavor is on the subtle side, much like it's mother, Seagram's 7 Crown. An added ice cube changed nothing of this experience.


I set out to find a vehicle that could successfully deliver this stuff, and I did it alongside a fine young lady that (somehow) continually finds that I'm pleasant company. (DJ HawaiianSkirt, you could call her...) I knew we could do it. We tried some of the options that the official Seagram's literature suggested: as a chilled shot, on ice, with a little lime, and with cola. The shot tasted mostly of alcohol, and we found that so long as 7 Dark Honey is mixed with anything, its flavor is dominated and it "disappears" into the drink. (Seriously, when your product's flavor manages to hide in a small glass of seltzer, you know you have a problem.) Surprisingly, it works passably in a hot toddy (made with hot water, not tea) having the 7 Dark Honey replace both the whiskey and honey in the recipe. Also, the stuff isn't unpleasant on ice (but a lemon twist dashes its flavor) where it mysteriously has absolutely no aftertaste.


So, what's the final verdict? Well, I think 7 Dark Honey hits a little below Seagram's average mark. It's an overall pleasant liqueur, but its flavor is too subtle. It's nice on the rocks, but it is certain that your favorite mixer (unless it's flat water) will destroy what subtle character it has... otherwise, it's like using a sweet 71 proof vodka. You want a sweet honey liqueur that doesn't taste like whiskey? There's a better one that already exists, and it's called Barenjager. Perhaps this is a "gateway whiskey", perhaps it's a drama-free mixer (read: doesn't taste like booze), but whatever it is, it's not versatile, and not something for which I have much use.

Value (bonus section to the review!)

But here's the problem: I picked up a bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey, 7 Dark Honey's competitor. It's a bourbon-based liqueur, also honey-flavored, and also 71 proof(erie...). I had had the stuff before, but I bought more solely for this comparison. AH's smell blows Seagram's away... its aroma is bold, and actually of whiskey... and there's honey too, with a teasing herbal complexity. The taste is also of whiskey, and with a flavor of honey much more pronounced than Seagram's. The mouth feel is even better, the flavor more complex, even with hints of lemon at the swallow. And the punctuation to all this? Froogle says that AH is an average of $5-6 more expensive than 7DH. And so, simply, the final question is: Does Seagram's 7 Dark Honey have the best value among the whiskey-based honey liqueur products on the market today, or is it even worth your purchase? No.

Addendum: Evan Williams created a honey whiskey that's better than both the products by Seagram and Wild Turkey. My review of it can be found here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

MxMo: Tea

This month's Mixology Monday theme is tea, both traditional and herbal. It is being hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Frederic at Cocktail Virgin Slut. Frederic's blog is notable for his tireless visual and verbal documenting of interesting tipples around the city of Boston. He literally goes out several times a week to different bars and brings back pictures and recipes to share with us all. Perhaps most impressive is his post frequency... he almost runs 7 posts per week on average, I would say.

I'm doing my MxMo post on an herbal tea called Red Zinger by Celestial Seasonings. The name sounds stupid, but the tea is not. One would classify Red Zinger as a variation on hibiscus tea. Aside from both its Chinese and Thai types of hibiscus, it contains rose hips, orange peel, lemongrass, cherry bark, and even a little bit of peppermint. The result is an exceptionally fruity and tart tea, often suggested to be served in iced form. The ingredients combine into dominant flavors of cherry, raspberry, and a generic "red berry" flavor, all underscored by the fresh taste that only hibiscus can lend. The color of the tea is bright red, bordering on the likes of Campari.

The extreme fruitiness of this tea demands a fruity cocktail, and a light one at that. Its place was so easy to find in a drink that I began with a recipe in my head and found that the cocktail was perfect on the first try.

By the way, you'd brew a cup of Red Zinger like any other. Submerge a tea bag into a cup of hot water and let it steep anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Over-steeping really isn't much of an issue... the tea bag loses its flavors quickly and it does not get bitter. You should probably let it cool before you mix with it.



1.5 oz light rum
1 oz Red Zinger herbal tea
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz passionfruit syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a (knotted) lemon twist.

This cocktail is one of the best I've ever made. It's called the Fraise (strawberry in French) because for some reason, it tastes strongly of strawberry. Much like the Red Zinger itself, the constituent parts of this recipe make it taste of something entirely different. It's a very pink cocktail, to be sure... and if you can't deal with holding a pink cocktail in a cocktail glass, GET OVER IT.

Vodka Cranberry Hibiscus

1.5 oz vodka
1 oz Red Zinger
4 oz cranberry juice
2 wedges of lemon

Take a lemon wedge, squeeze it, and throw it into a Collins glass. Fill with ice, and build the rest of the ingredients on top. Garnish with another lemon wedge.

Red Zinger and cranberry seem like a natural pair. They're just about the same color, and the tea begs for at least a little sweetness to perform best. This is a nicely refreshing drink.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Infusion #1 and Obscure Ingredient Commentary

Infusion #1

I like cheap fun. I like food too. Thus, I like infusing things in alcohol. It's yet another outlet in mixology where creativity can be loosed. Even if you don't have a lil barrel to age your own spirits at home, you can still transform something ordinary into something exciting, different, and personal. (Home-infused spirits make great gifts to friends.) This past fall (of 2009) I undertook a small infusion experiment with a fresh seasonal ingredient: cranberries. But honestly, you don't even need to use fresh ingredients... something like dried fruit will add a nutty and dark oxidized flavor to a spirit that fresh fruit couldn't begin to approach... anyone who's made their own brandied cherries from dried cherries to replace their store-bought maraschino cherries knows what I'm talking about.(I'm thinking of making a prune infusion at some point...) You're also not limited to fruit, either. Spices can also be a clever source of infusion, something which I'll talk about in the future on this blog. Hell, there are people who even infuse spirits with wood pieces in an attempt at faux-aging... Oh, and if you think you should only infuse vodka, you're wrong. We already have bacon-bourbon, strawberry tequila, and the list goes on.

I figured that fresh cranberries didn't have a strong enough flavor to sing the lead in a bottle of vodka, so instead I chose a light rum, Cruzan Estate Light, whose laurels on this blog I've already established. I thought that its light sweetness and vanilla and wood tones would go great with the flavor and tartness of the cranberries. Again, I knew that cranberries wouldn't provide much flavor. They really need to be cooked and sweetened for them to shine. You know how cranberry juice tastes so good with vodka? Well, that's not cranberry juice. It's a cocktail of ingredients in which cranberry concentrate is usually used, which has been cooked and then sweetened further.

Anyway, cranberries are hollow, which is why they so conveniently float when their vines are flooded with water for harvest. I decided to rupture each cranberry in the infusion so as to take advantage of all the interior surface area. All you do is pinch the cranberry between your fingers, and the ensuing pop is quite satisfying. Fresh cranberries are also nice to eat, in my opinion. They're tart and fresh tasting, with very subtle vegetal flavors... they are quite acidic, however, so I'm not sure it's a great idea to have them replace your bowl of popcorn when you sit down for movie night.

The busted berries fit conveniently into the mouth of the temporarily-emptied Cruzan bottle. I dropped about 1 cup's worth of them into the bottle, and filled her back up with rum. The infusion only took a few days, as most infusions do. The lightly-tanned Cruzan turned pink, and then redder, and finally an absolutely beautiful hue of red that would rival most Red #4-pumped fruit punches on the market. Assuming it didn't taste awful, I knew that this method was worth the visual results alone. You should taste the infusion each day, and it's up to your taste when to evacuate the "infusor". Fruit sure does look pretty sometimes in that bottle, doesn't it? But if you don't take it out when it tastes good, it's going to start tasting bad. At 3 days, I decided it was time.

The taste? Well, I'm really glad I didn't use vodka, because the cranberries imparted little to no flavor. It did, however, lend a tartness to the rum that is pretty interesting. If one concentrates, perhaps one could discern a slight cranberry flavor, but nothing really worth mentioning. The tartness has virtually rendered the rum unsippable, so cocktails are its only final destination.

In what, you ask? One interesting concoction I made was a variation on the Gimlet on the rocks, one of my favorite cocktails. The cocktail consisted of 1oz gin, 1oz cranberry rum, 1 oz Rose's Lime Juice, and a dash of (real) grenadine to make sure it wasn't too tart, all poured over ice. The results were pleasant. You could really use an infused rum like this in any drink that calls for light rum, but motions should be taken with the recipe to ensure that the sweetness of the drink is not thrown out of balance.

So, what did I learn from my first infusion experiment?

1) Cranberry infusions result in a brilliant color that could be useful and pleasing along with other infusions
2) Cranberry infusions don't provide much flavor, but do provide a tartness that could be useful and pleasing along with other infusions

So I think that settles it. Cranberries will definitely be used in my future infusion experiments, but not alone.

Why I'm not "posting" the above drink recipe on this blog

(Occasionally I will write commentary on mixology and the blogosphere. The following is classified as such.)

And now, an entreaty to bloggers everywhere. Please don't go overboard on posting recipes that require ingredients which are so specialized that no one will make them. Hyperbolic example:

Teh DJ HawaiianCocktail

1 oz light rum
2 oz gold rum
.5 oz lime juice
.25 oz grenadine
1.5 oz orange juice
.25 oz DJ HawaiianShirt's Saffron and Starfruit syrup

Shake with ice and pour into tiki mug. C'mon guys you really need to try this drink! But you gotta make sure you use the best and freshest saffron and starfuit, ok??

Of course I'm being a little facetious here, but things like this need to be kept to a minimum, unless you're explicitly professing to make wacky homemade ingredients and cocktails containing them, at which point readers who are looking for recipes they can easily make at home can simply shy away, if they choose. Not too many blogs commit this over-use of homemade ingredients, but some are certainly worse than others. (no names) Even if you provide the recipe for the unique ingredient, that doesn't mean it's not irritating when you use too many of them. Used sparingly, it's ok... but please, show some self control. And so, since I do my best to(most of the time) post drinks that are accessible* and sane,
I will not mark the above Gimlet variation as a drink that will come up on this blog or the internet if someone is actively looking for drink recipes that they could/should make. Not to mention that I'm not sure if that variation is good enough to post, anyway.

*"Accessibility" is a dangerous word for home mixology. There's no way around the fact that an enormous amount of different ingredients are needed for one to be capably equipped to mix any decent amount of recipes that you'll find.

Especially, ESPECIALLY if you are participating in a Thursday Drink Night(TDN) celebration (a weekly event where bloggers and cocktail fans alike join in a chatroom to create their own drink recipes centered around a given theme and to have said drinks mixed on the spot by those who are able in order to provide instant feedback), where inclusiveness and unity are literally the goal of the event, try your best not to post a recipe that contains a home-made ingredient, or even a hard-to-find ingredient, for that matter. If none or only one or two people at a TDN can make the drink you're posting, then why post it? Choose something else so that more people can partake. If you'd rather post a monologue of exclusive recipes, blog it instead.