Buying tips, techniques, and recipes, no matter how you like them.
Now that the leftover turkey is all
secretly thrown in the compost eaten, snow is starting to fall, and Santa has made his appearance at the end of the parade, it's time to embrace winter head-on. Is there any better way to do so than with 10 special winter-themed beverages?
Here are our thoughts on new seasonal spirits, beers, and non-alcoholic concoctions, so you can decide whether to pick them up before they're gone.
Anchor White Christmas
Live in California? You're lucky. Don't? Get there. Every year, Anchor Brewing makes a Christmas Ale, complete with a yearly artistic label. This year, the adjoining distillery has taken 2012's leftovers, distilled them down, and introduced a brand new spirit called White Christmas.
This crystal clear spirit doesn't taste like beer: it's more like a white whiskey without too much edge. It's remarkably smooth and complex, slightly sweet, with notes of holiday spices and bright citrus. We get just a hint of Christmas tree aroma. Anchor suggests serving White Christmas on the rocks, but frankly, we're loving sipping at it neat. You can find only find bottles in California this year, but Anchor plans to extend nationwide in 2014.
Starbucks Gingerbread Latte
This year, Starbucks reengineered its Gingerbread Latte, saying it "improve(d) on tradition." Gingerbread syrup is added to the standard steamed milk and espresso, but the flavor is actually pretty tame. It's the topping that shines here. Instead of standard whipped cream, Starbucks now uses a spiced version with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, and it really makes the drink. The spice flavor is strong, and combined with the thick whipped cream, really quite tasty. The drizzle of molasses on top adds a dark caramel note that plays well with the rest. If you've tried the Gingerbread Latte before and weren't impressed with the flavor, stop back in and give the update a taste.
Blue Moon Gingerbread Spiced Ale
Blue Moon (which is part of the Tenth and Blake division of MillerCoors) may have you thinking about witbier at summer barbecues, but they've released a limited edition Gingerbread Spiced Ale as part of their Brewmaster's Seasonal Sampler pack. We were expecting a much bigger gingerbread and spice flavor from this one, but it's actually pretty subtle. The copper-colored beer is sweetened with molasses, with hints of various spices, including a little bit of zing from the ginger, plus cinnamon and nutmeg. On the backend it's a little bitter. If you're drinking it blind, you may not quite be able to piece together the gingerbread theme, but it's a nice beer for holiday parties.
Pinnacle Peppermint Bark Flavored Vodka
We're always a little afraid of candy-flavored vodka, but this one is sweet, but not too sweet, and it's surprisingly drinkable, even without a mixer. There's white chocolate, there's dark chocolate, and there's peppermint, all in the right proportions, and all tasting like liquid versions of the real thing. Like we usually do with Pinnacle, we see potential for trouble based on how just easily the vodka goes down. Pour a few ounces into hot chocolate or coffee for a little bit of extra warmth.
Bolthouse Farms Holiday Nog
Eggs, sugar, milk, spices, and maybe some booze—that's what you'll usually find in eggnog. Bolthouse offers a booze-free version that's based on lowfat milk. It still has a thick, rich consistency like that of melted ice cream (thanks to egg yolks and thickeners like carageenan). The spice flavor is right on, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla coming through, and not too much sweetness. As prepared nogs goes, it's really quite good, and we recommend picking some up.
Califia Farms Holiday Nog
If you can't drink dairy or eat eggs, you don't have to miss out on the eggnog tradition. This almond milk based version is sweetened with cane sugar, and also has a little bit of salt, a few thickeners, and some nutmeg and natural flavors. The main appeal is what's missing: not only dairy, soy, and eggs, but also calories: it's 50 per four ounce serving. It's not a perfect substitute for the egged-up stuff, but for those who can't go traditional, it'll do. Plenty creamy, it can stand in for the real thing in terms of texture, and is at least close in taste. We can't quite explain the banana candy flavor floating around, though. It might work best to doctor it up with a little cinnamon...and booze.
While we're talkin' booze, you probably think of bourbon, rum, brandy...but what about wine? According to the makers of Holly Nog, this wine-spiked beverage is closer to the historical recipe: they say that wine was used in nogs up until the American Revolution, when cheaper spirits were swapped in. Pour a glass, and you'll get a strong alcohol aroma, but the nog doesn't taste like wine: it's pleasantly creamy and sweet, with a strong spice profile. Like with most nogs, we could only drink one glass in a sitting.
Smirnoff Cinna-Sugar Twist Flavored Vodka
Our first though with this one was that it tasted just like a churro, but perhaps comparing it to a snickerdoodle is more appropriate for the season. It's the right blend of cinnamon and sugar, with a slightly sweet pastry-flavor base, including vanilla undertones. We'll admit, we were skeptical before our first sip, but the vodka is actually really tasty. Though the scent reminded us of a Yankee Candle, it doesn't really taste artificial.
Kahlúa Peppermint Mocha
We were pretty neutral on Kahlúa's Pumpkin Spice, but we're very happy with the limited edition Peppermint Mocha flavor. Unlike the fall version, which was best served as a component of a cocktail, this one is delicious on its own. The chocolate flavor is rich and smooth, and the peppermint isn't overwhelming, it's all quite well balanced. Pour this one over some ice, make up a tasty White Russian variant, or just add it to your coffee with some whipped cream and a candy cane on top.
Sprite Cranberry and Sprite Zero Cranberry
Pepsi first introduced its cranberry flavor of Sierra Mist in 2006, and its taken since then for Coke to catch up with Sprite Cranberry and Sprite Zero Cranberry, brand new for this holiday season. You might expect a ruby-red soda, but this pours clear, just like regular Sprite. We found that the flavor is actually impacted by how you drink the Sprite. Out of a glass, you'll get the scent, but the cranberry taste is far tamer than we'd like, secondary to the crisp citrus flavor. Drink it straight from the can, though, and it seems somehow more concentrated. This is true for both versions; the only difference between the two in terms of flavor is the aspartame in the diet pop. If you're looking for a delicate touch of cranberry, Sprite's new stuff will work for you, but if you want big, bold berry, you'll prefer Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash.
Tasting samples of bottled products provided for review consideration.