Let our guide lead to new taste destinations.
By Hope S. Philbrick
This column typically features ‘adult beverages,’ but while sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic we’ve helped break up the monotony of our at-home routines by sampling several new snacks and non-alcoholic drinks as well. This post includes a mix of our most recent favorite discoveries.
Before you run out to buy any of these tasty treats, be sure to grab a mask: These days, any adventures into the unknown air outside of your home mean wearing a mask is essential. Bored by your options of 2020’s must-have accessory? Add some personality to your mask collection with All Tee, All Shade. The new online retailer offers a variety of unique masks to help you stay safe while sharing some snarky, adults-oriented humor. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Use the contact form to submit your idea and, if it’s selected, you will receive credit in the product description. These washable (and thus re-useable) masks are made of two layers of 100 percent polyester. Retails for approx. $8.50.
Henri Bardouin Pastis is like world peace and a science experiment in one bottle. Its sublime, ethereal flavor is achieved via a generations-old (since 1898!), top-secret blend of 65 botanicals and spices sourced from around the world. The brand boasts that “it would be impossible to produce without other plants and spices from all over the world. In fact, each continent contributes to the quality.” Ingredients that are familiar (star anise, cardamom, black and white pepper, nutmeg, sage, clove) mingle with the unfamiliar (artemisia, centaury, melegueta pepper) achieving magical results. Billed as an aperitif—though there’s no shame in choosing it as dessert—this Pastis is typically mixed with water. Pour 5 to 7 parts of water into one part Pastis and watch as the clear alcohol transforms into a liquid cloud of yum. Retails for approx. $35.
Pristine Vodka lives up to its name with its pure, clean aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Stick your nose into a glass of this without fear of burn. Mix it into a cocktail with confidence that it will elevate the other ingredients, not vie to overpower them. According to press materials it’s made with “the cleanest crystalline waters from the mountain springs of the high Carpathian peaks and high-quality wheat grown in naturally fortified soil. While potato vodkas have more of a harsh flavor, Pristine is made with wheat giving it an unparalleled smoothness from start to finish providing the perfect sip.” Retails for approx. $27.
Round Barn’s Cream Wines are velvety, indulgent digestifs. If you know one of these is waiting for later enjoyment, you’ll rush through dinner. Mint Chocolate ($30) is as well-balanced as the famed department store candies, as rich and as cool as your fantasy companion. Black Walnut ($26), a personal favorite, opens with notes of coffee and chocolate and builds some spicy complexity on the lingering finish. Salted Caramel ($30) is a luscious balance of sweet and salt. Sip these on their own or stir into coffee, a cocktail, or creative baked dessert.
Rhum Barbancourt 4 years is a Haitian gold rum made with pure sugar cane juice. (Rum is made with molasses; rhum is made with sugar cane juice.) It suggests whisky with notes of oak, grass, earth, and alcohol. Enjoy it mixed into a cocktail like a Haitian Rum Sour; try this recipe by Delphine Gardere, the new CEO of the Rhum Barbancourt Distillery: Combine 4 shots of Rhum Barbancourt 4 years, 1/4 shot lime juice, refined sugar (to taste), and 3 drops of bitters. Serve in a rocks glass with a sugared rim. Retails for approx. $25.
Cutwater Spirits’ Long Island Iced Tea is the newest addition to the San Diego, California-based distillery’s lineup of 20 canned cocktails. Featuring the distillery’s vodka, rum, gin, and tequila, the new 13.2% ABV drink offers complex, lip-licking notes of black tea, alcohol, fruit blossoms, honey, and orange zest. According to press materials, “co-Founder and Master Distiller Yuseff Cherney began distilling as a side project under Ballast Point Brewing. He started canning cocktails because he wanted to make drinks he could enjoy while doing the things he likes to do (mostly fishing and hiking). In 2017, Cutwater Spirits was established as a separate entity from the brewery and now operates from a 50,000 square foot distillery and production facility, which includes a 250-seat world-class tasting room offering lunch, dinner, cocktails, and tours. To date, Cutwater has earned over 750 awards across its portfolio and is currently distributed in 38 states.” Retails for approx. $13 for a 4-pack of 12-oz. cans.
Novo Fogo’s Sparkling Caipirinha Cocktails are available in three flavors: lime, passion fruit lime, and mango lime. Made with the 100-percent-organic distillery’s Silver Cachaça, it’s a carbonated twist on Brazil’s national cocktail with less sugar and lower alcohol by volume. Fresh and convenient! Drink one straight from the can or over ice garnished with a slice of lime. The lime version offers notes of citrus, pepper, and a hint of raw sugar; featured fruits add another layer. Mango was our fav. Retails for approx. $3 per 200ml can and $12 per 4-pack.
KÖE Kombucha is non-alcoholic and hands-down the absolute best kombucha I’ve tasted (so far). Most kombucha is sold in grocery stores’ refrigerated section, but this stuff can store at room temperature. Buy it, stick it in your ‘frig, crack open a can, and prepare for some serious yum. It’s fruit-forward without that sour vinegar taste that lingers for hours after you’ve swallowed most any other kombucha. This is so good that even if you don’t generally think about probiotics you’d be happy to sip on one of these. It’s available in five flavors (Mango, Strawberry Lemonade, Lemon Lime, Blueberry Ginger and Raspberry Dragon Fruit), of which I’ve sampled three (Strawberry Lemonade, Lemon Lime, and Raspberry Dragon Fruit). All are delicious, though my personal favorite is Raspberry Dragon Fruit—please don’t grab the last can of that flavor at a store before I can get to it. Retails for approx. $12 for a 4-pack of 12-oz. cans.
Perfect Hydration (pH) is a 9.5+ pH alkaline water with electrolytes. Purified by a nine-stage filtration process and enhanced with minerals and electrolytes, it aims to restore your body’s natural pH levels. In the world of beverages that boast added electrolytes, too many try to taste like fruit juice but end up tasting like chemicals. This option is clean and refreshing. It tastes like great water and thus is worth drinking even if you don’t generally think about your body’s pH level and thirst for electrolytes. Retails for approx. $19 for a 24-pack of 20-oz. bottles.
Runamok Maple hails from Vermont, arguably the world’s best maple-syrup producing area (in part because Vermont holds itself to higher standards of purity than others). Runamok Maple’s co-founders, husband and wife team Eric and Laura Sorkin, source organic, high-quality ingredients to infuse flavor into their pure maple syrups. Several infusions are available, including cocoa bean, ginger root, and pecan wood-smoked. We sampled four: coffee-infused, whiskey barrel-aged, cinnamon + vanilla-infused, and cardamom-infused. The infusions are well-balanced, so the scrumptious maple flavor is not lost yet enhanced with additional deliciousness. Cardamom-infused was our personal favorite, which came as a surprise since we’d expected to prefer cinnamon + vanilla—proof it’s worth trying several flavors, because none disappoint. Of course the syrup is perfect to drizzle atop pancakes and waffles, but you can also mix it into cocktails and other treats. Try our creation: Combine 1/4 oz. coffee-infused maple syrup, 1.5 oz. bourbon, and 1/2 oz. cream. Stir or shake well to be sure the maple syrup is fully incorporated; serve over ice in a rocks glass. Find more recipes here. Gift boxes retail for approx. $65 for large and $30 for small; individual bottles are approx. $17.
IRIS Koshihkari Rice is pre-cooked, short-grain, chef-quality rice from Ibaraki, Japan. According to IRIS USA, “it is one of the high-quality, short-grain varieties of rice crafted in Japan.” Five individually-airtight-sealed, serving-size bags are packed into each 1.5-kg. package. Search online and there is a wide variety of instructions about how to properly cook Japanese rice. I used the instructions on the package (there is, thankfully, an English-language sticker adhered to the back of the bag). Worked like a charm. The rice has a distinctive, slightly funky aroma when the package is opened and while the rice is cooking. But once it’s done and you take a bite, each forkful invites another of its fresh, smooth, clean taste. This is the authentic rice to use to roll into sushi or make a sticky white rice meal. Retails for approx. $23 for a 3.3-lb. bag.
Unless otherwise noted, all suggested retail prices are for a 750ml bottle.
Be a responsible grownup: Never drink and drive.
Product samples afford the research opportunity but do not sway opinion.
– Photos courtesy producers.