Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hansen's Diet Red Energy Drink (Big Lots)

I hate cans that don't reveal the flavor. Also, "Hansen's Diet Diet Red" is kind of redundant.
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, not more energy drink reviews!  Haven’t you reviewed enough lately?”  To that, I will only scoff in your general direction.  Then I will start the review.

This one I had ignored at Big Lots for several trips before getting it out of pure desperation.  Over the last couple of months, many wonderful energy beverages came and went, and I purchased and tried (and reviewed) several of them.  I noticed Hansen’s offering multiple times, but for some reason, my mind equates Hansen’s with Jones Soda, and I don’t ever think I’ve ever tasted anything good that’s come out of a Jones bottle.  Maybe that’s unfair, considering neither of them really have anything to do with one another (aside from making “natural sodas”) but hey, it’s these little intricacies that make the human mind such a fascinating thing.

Part of the reason I passed up on this, is the vague packaging, which seems to be a recurring theme with Big Lots energy beverages (future food/drink producers, walk through a Big Lots before you go into production, for a perfect example of how not to package your products).  For starters, look no further than the name.  “Diet red”.  Okay…what the hell does “red” taste like?  I was also put off by the word “diet” on the label.  I hate diet drinks.  The aftertaste and fake sugar taste are absolutely disgusting to me, to speak nothing of the watered-down flavor.  So I kept putting it off.

Until I went in there, in a desperate quest for energy (slight exaggeration), only to discover that other people had, over the course of several weeks, bought every other energy drink in there, save for this one.  Literally, the whole aisle was a barren landscape, and this was the only option left--and there were dozens of them.  It was as if everyone else was avoiding this like I was.  Since they were only $.50, I grabbed a couple, and finally resolved to give them a chance, though I was definitely not expecting much.

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed.  I would never pay more than $.50 for these, but for this price point, they are really good.  In fact, only Up-Time (see above) topped these as the best energy drink I’ve had from Big Lots in recent memory.  So how does “red” taste?  On the unfortunate side, like every other typical energy drink.  I was hoping maybe a “red” fruit (cherry, strawberry, etc.), but it’s just a straightforward flavor.  So why am I impressed?  Because there’s really not much of a fake sugar flavor--it’s nice and tart, with a very minimal diet aftertaste.  Going farther, it actually provided me with a rather massive energy kick--I felt my adrenaline pumping after one can.  Not long after, I got very paranoid, which is also a side effect of a caffeine boost (or maybe overdose?) for me.  My face got warm for a few moments, too.  These feelings lasted for a few hours, and I didn’t have a noticeable crash (thanks to the mere two grams of actual sugar per can; most of the sweetness comes from sucralose).  Getting a noticeable boost from a pretty tasty energy drink, for only fifty cents?  I guess you really can’t judge a drink by its can, after all.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Gave me a noticeable increase in energy that lasted a few hours, while the two grams of sugar prevented me from getting sleepy once it inevitably wore off.  The taste is pretty standard, with a nice blast of tanginess, and there’s no medicine-y aftertaste, much to my surprise.  I had been putting of trying this, but this is an excellent product for the price (a mere $.50 per can).  Check it out, if your local Big Lots still offers them.

Up Time Energy Drink (Big Lots)

I look naked in the reflection of this terribly-staged photo, but was actually wearing pants.
I don’t think I’ve made it clear enough:  Big Lots (and similar closeout stores) is the perfect place to go for energy drinks, at least in terms of price.  Sure, there are a lot that might not taste up to normal standards, but considering just about all of them (with the exception of the name brands that wind up there) are under $1, it’s a gamble without much of a risk.

As with a lot of private labels, picking up on what products the closeout specials at Big Lots were trying to emulate can be a little depressing; usually, they wear their inspirations on their sleeves.  So when I saw the energy beverage Up-Time, in a curiously-sized 8.4 oz. can (the exact same can as the drink that is said to “give you wings”) I knew instantly what I was in for:  Another in a long line of knockoffs of the hugely popular, “original” energy drink.  Just picking up the can, I figured I had the flavor in my mouth already, and I probably would have put it back and forgotten about it had it not been for the price: $.33 per can.  That changed everything:  Even if it was a spotty imitation, any energy drink that’s 3 for $1 deserves to get an automatic chance in my book.

As I cracked it open, my mouth was prepped for just the taste of a standard energizing blend, until something caught my eye…er…nose.  A quick sniff surprisingly did not match the flavor profile I was anticipating; this one smelled light and citrusy, without a hint of the tartness usually found in most of them.  All of a sudden I went from moderate interest, to full-fledged eager anticipation.  There was the possibility the smell was setting me up for disappointment, but I quickly dug in…

…and I have to say I was pretty shocked.  Despite its god-awful name, Up-Time really is “refreshing energy”.  The citrus aroma I picked up on is here in full force, but it’s light and satisfying without having even a hint of tartness.  To put it simply, it’s way-too-easily drinkable, which means I tend to down these things rather quickly.  I suppose for some people, that’s their typical method of imbibing these sorts of concoctions; drink it down as fast as possible for maximum power.  I like to sip mine tenderly, though, in the hopes that it kind of gradually releases smaller bursts of energy, instead of one big explosion all at once.  I’m not sure that’s exactly how these things work, but that’s how I imagine they do.

Since our initial purchase of three, I’ve since gone back and bought an additional 10, or so.  The value is virtually unheard-of, while the taste would honestly feel at home in a drink costing three times as much.  There are a lot of weird-ish ingredients in here that leave me unsure of their intended effects (coEnzyme Q10 and Ginkgo Baloba, to name a couple right off the front of the can), and the aftertaste is a little bizarre, but this is still a great deal no matter how you look at it.  Unless coEnzyme Q10 turns out to cause cancer, that is.

Overall: 8/10. With the potent combination of inherent drink ability and jaw-to-the-floor value, if you stumble on one of these, either at Big Lots or anywhere else, you should pick up a can.  It gave me the kick of energy I was looking for, and it goes down real smooth, without a hint of tart or sourness.  Even though there’s 27g of sugar per can, it’s not overly sweet, either, with a taste that really feels like it’s “all natural”, as the can seems to hint at.  Only downsides:  The aftertaste is a little weird, and I’m unsure as to what a lot of these ingredients are supposed to do; I guess the same can be said for just about any mass-produced food or drink in a standard supermarket, though.  Best of all?  At Big Lots, these are a ridiculous $.33 per can.  That’s not a typo…3 for $1.  Stock up on them if there are any left!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Duetsche Kuche Apfel Schorle Sparkling Apple Juice Drink (Aldi)

Almost tastes like an apple wine, only without the alcohol.
One of the cool things about Aldi are their “German Weeks”, where they offer a bit of German culture, through a series of food Special Buys in their U.S. stores (in case you weren’t aware, Aldi is a German company).  While some of the things they offer during these times seem to be Americanized takes on German tradition (like their Bavarian soft pretzels), others legitimately seem to give Americans a unique taste of their culture (such as Peanut Puffs, or some of the “crazy” breads and desserts).  Either way, I enjoy it because it gives me a chance to try things that I otherwise would completely ignore.

Perusing the ad for the latest German week, I saw a “sparkling apple juice drink” as one of the highlighted products, and I knew I had to try that.  Apple juice is one of the greatest juices on the face of the planet, and it’s pretty much common knowledge that carbonation makes just about everything taste better.  How could I turn down a combination of such forces?  Even at a pretty steep price ($4 for six 16.9 oz. bottles) I knew a pack of these were coming home with me.

The ingredients are about as “natural” as you can get these days: Apple juice from concentrate, water, and carbon dioxide.  No fillers, no preservatives, just a classic combination of juice and gas.  Now, the only hesitation I had going into this is thinking how such a drink would taste in Germany.  Certainly it wouldn’t be as sweet as Americans like it, right?  I feel like we Americans like everything to be sugarcoated (I know I do!), while other countries and cultures are fine with cutting back on the sugar.  Would it be bitter?  Would it be dry?  Would there even be any discernible sweetness in it at all?

The answer lies somewhere in between all of those questions.  I’ll admit, I was turned off at first sip because this definitely isn’t American apple juice with carbonation, as I was secretly hoping; true to what I was expecting, the sweetness is certainly dialed back a little bit.  It even manages to approach “bitter” territory, though only briefly, before the natural sweetness of the apples shines through.  But as I drank more and more, my taste buds seemed to adapt, and by the end of the bottle I actually started enjoying it.  It’s different, but it’s good, and it can function as a semi-healthier alternative to soda (even though there’s really no nutrients in here at all, either).

Overall: 7.5/10. Semi-sweet apple juice injected with carbon dioxide gas has never tasted so good!  The lack of super-sweetness took me some getting used to (I was expecting/hoping it would be American apple juice with carbonation), but once my taste buds got used to it, I really started to enjoy it.  Price is a little steep, at $4 for a six-pack, so this will only be an occasional splurge, but I would definitely get this again at some point down the road.  

Deutsche Kuche Artichoke and Cheese Strudel Pastries (Aldi)

The crust is flaky perfection; the less we speak of the filling, the better.
I’ve tried a few things from the Deutsche Kuche line from Aldi, and have really only been moderately impressed.  This is kind of shocking, considering Aldi is a German retailer, and the products in the DK line are German, so you would think the products they would export to other countries would be the “best-of-the-best” that they have to offer.

My wife and I picked up Deutsche Kuche’s Artichoke and Cheese Strudel on a recent trip, and were very excited to try it.  The thought of a more savory pastry was intriguing, as really the only experience I have with strudels are the national brand toaster pastries that come complete with an icing packet…needless to say, I haven’t experienced a lot of food culture outside of the United States.

I was very impressed with the texture of these right out of the oven; or, more specifically, the flakiness of the crust.  It falls apart perfectly in your hands, and really seems like something you would get fresh out of a bakery, rather than a frozen food box.  It not only looks buttery and delicious, but you can also get the distinct aroma of artichokes and cheese.  With excitement building, I dove in and took my first bite…

…and that’s when the experience completely fell apart.  These things are terrible.  Easily in the top 10 worst products I’ve ever had from Aldi.  Quite simply put, there’s no taste, only the texture of the crispy, flaky dough.  If you were forced to take a bite without smelling it first, there would be no way to tell what was in it at all…the filling is just a bland mass of tastelessness that is as uninviting as it sounds.  There’s no artichoke, and for God’s sakes, no cheese!  That it didn’t get tossed directly in the trash of the test kitchen is pretty astonishing in itself--that it actually made it onto store shelves is truly a modern-day travesty.  Avoid this junk at all costs.

Overall: 1/10.  The dough is enticingly flaky and light, but that’s where the positives end.  It must have been very hard to make a product out of artichokes and cheese that has absolutely ZERO flavor, but Aldi somehow did it.  These things are absolutely terrible, and a waste of money in every sense of the word.  If you really have to replicate the experience of eating this, sniff a bag of cheese while chewing on a sponge.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rip It Citrus X Sugar Free Energy Drink (Dollar Tree)

A sugar free energy drink that surprisingly isn't disgusting.
I quite like Rip Its' energy drink line--you can’t go all that wrong with 16 oz. energy drinks for a mere buck, especially when the name brands tend to be around twice that much.  On the other hand, as I stated in my previous review (see above), I am not at all a fan of diet energy drinks--while they seem to give the same amount of energy as the “full” ones do, it’s often with the trade-offs of muted flavors and metallic aftertastes, two things I can’t stand.

So imagine my disappointment when I made a return trip to my local Dollar Tree, where I had just purchased a regular version of Citrus X not thirty days prior, only to discover that they had been replaced with a sugar-free, no calories or carbs version.   Great.  Still, it being one of only two options (the other being the already-reviewed Rip-It Power), I sucked it up and bought one anyway.

The original Rip-It Citrus X tastes like a really fake carbonated orange beverage, yet I really like it.  It reminds me almost of a carbonated Sunny D.  It’s smooth, clean, and easy to drink.  Surprisingly, this diet version shares many of these characteristics.  The orange flavor definitely tastes “watered down”, but there’s very little, if any, weirdness in the ensuing aftertaste--in fact, there’s not much of a metallic taste at all.  It did give me a noticeable caffeine kick, with the added benefit of not having a sugar crash later.

There’s no doubt that I would still much prefer the taste of the original, and would never actively seek this out, but it’s one of the better “all diet” energy drinks I’ve had, in terms of taste, performance, and value.  Those with an affinity for diet drinks should definitely check this one out, as there’s a very good chance you’ll like it way more than I did.

Overall: 7/10.  The taste is watered-down, just as it generally is with diet energy drinks, but surprisingly, there wasn’t much of a fakey sugar flavor, or gross aftertaste.  That, to me, is a big win for a no sugar and no calorie energy beverage.  It also gave me a nice boost of caffeinated kick, without the big sugar crash later.  I still much prefer the original (I only bought this because they were sold out of that one), and would never intentionally seek this one out, but for what it is, it’s pretty darn good.

Rip It Power Energy Fuel (Dollar Tree)

A cheap energy drink with a unique flavor profile.
When you go to a typical supermarket, and load up on name-brand items, a lot of your money is going toward that brand’s name; in other words, you are paying for them to maintain their image through advertisements.  You’re also telling them that it’s fine for them to raise the price to whatever they see fit, because you are a loyal consumer, you have to have their product, and you will do so at any cost (within reason).  Just about every single specific type of food have a “main brand” or two, but one of the areas where the markup seems to get more and more excessive is in the beverage department.

It is here that the battle for soda supremacy comes down to two “main brands”, whose 12-packs retail for close to $5 (if not more) when not on sale.  Yet, curiously, the store brand sodas are offered at around half that cost.  That right there tells you that what you’re paying for in the name brands aren’t manufacturing costs--you can bet it costs them pennies per can to produce their carbonated beverages--but rather “the name”.  You can begin to see how brand recognition can be a very lucrative business; “train” consumers to rely on your product, or to believe that it’s the best in any specific category, and you’ve basically just written a blank check for yourself.

Going beyond sodas, another section with bloated pricing are energy drinks, where an 8.4 oz. can of the stuff that “gives you wings” can set you back $2 or more.  Ditto that for the two popular brands of 16 oz. cans, the ones that like to sponsor terrible “rock” concerts and “extreme” skating competitions; not surprisingly, each of these is owned by one of the main soda companies mentioned above.  Anyway, the retail price of these rarely go below $2 when not on sale, despite being comprised mainly of sugar and chemicals.

Thankfully, as with most other food categories, there are some energy beverage manufacturers that like to operate “under the radar”.  By not accruing excessive promotional and advertising costs, they can afford to be the cheapest option on store shelves.  One such product is the Rip-It line of energy-producing liquids, which are available at Dollar Tree stores nationwide.  On my last trip there, I picked up one labeled “Power”, which I assumed to be the equivalent of their “original” flavor.

As anyone who has read previous reviews of mine for energy drinks can attest to, I think just about all “original” flavored ones taste more or less the same.  I assume this is probably by design, as manufacturers just want to stick with what works, instead of thinking outside of the box or trying anything new.  With this in mind, I popped open the tab, and braced myself for the flavor that I knew was coming.

Only it wasn’t.  On the way in, my nose caught a brief whiff of what I was in for, but it wasn’t the typical tart, mechanical scent that I was expecting; instead, it smelled strongly of apple.  Ripe, delicious apples.  I would have loved to have smelled it again, to make sure that my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me, but I had already committed to a sip--which indeed confirmed it.  I must say this is one of the more surprising, not to mention pleasant, energy drink flavors I’ve ever experienced.  It’s also perfectly carbonated, and smooth going down.

The downsides are the typical ones I have for all of these:  There’s lots of sugar (50 g per can), so while it might pick you up for a bit, it’s certainly going to let you down.  And even though it somehow tastes like a delicious fruit, there’s no actual juice in it--it’s the typical blend of chemicals and “natural flavors”, which are so vague they can mean any number of things.  But these complaints aside, it’s still very drinkable, and at only $1 per 16 oz. can, provides some excellent value over the national brand drinks.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Overall: 8/10. I was expecting the “typical” energy drink flavor with Rip-It’s “Power” blend, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it tastes like a ripe apple instead.  Perfect amount of carbonation helps it go down smooth, as well.  Caffeine content might be a little weak for some (160mg per can), and sure enough, drinking half a can, which I can do with stronger ones, only gave me a brief burst of noticeable energy.  But the value here--$1 for a 16 oz. can--is excellent; this may just become my go to energy beverage line.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mama Cozzi's Mediterranean Style Flatbread Pizza (Aldi)

Not as good as one would've hoped.
I’ve probably mentioned this a thousand times, but my wife went vegetarian a few months back, after temping the notion for the last several years.  I still forget this fact from time-to-time, because we’ve been together almost a decade, and for about 9-½ of those years, she was an occasional meat-eater.  So I still fall into the trap of suggesting meat-filled foods and pizzas that we always used to eat together.

When I came across Mama Cozzi’s Mediterranean-style Flatbread Pizza, with its list of a hundred different ingredients on the front of its packaging, I just knew at least one of them had to be a meat product--having something this flavorful as a vegetarian option just was too good to be true.  But sure enough, after reading the massive list a half-dozen times to ensure us both that there was truly no meat on it, a feat that took at least half an hour (slight exaggeration), we grabbed it and took it home.

I mean, come on, just this ingredient list makes you wonder how so many things can come together and not taste like complete junk.  We have tomato, spinach, red pepper, red onion, artichoke, and black olives on top of the sauce, while the cheese topping is actually a ridiculous blend of six: mozzarrella, provolone, feta, parmesan, romano, and asiago.

Considering this, it’s not surprising that right out of the box, it smells strongly of cheese, since that’s what it’s mostly made up of.  The sauce is a Greek-ish sour-cream based paste that has a tart cheesy taste despite having no cheese in it whatsoever.  The plus to having so many flavors going on is that no one ingredient stands out, so the fact that I can’t stand black olives, for example, isn’t really a big deal--I left the olives on, and couldn’t even detect them amidst all of the other ingredients.

But that’s also the downside: the flavor is just too busy.  I mean, maybe if they scaled back the number of cheeses to two or even three, I could understand throwing on all the vegetables, but between the paste and the overwhelming number of cheeses, there’s already too much going on.  This isn’t to say that the flavor is bad, or offensive in any way, because it’s not; it’s just an indecipherable blob of pointlessness.  Even that aside, though, there is something that’s just…interesting about it, and I’ll admit I had no problems eating half, and could have even eaten more (though I hadn’t eaten all day).

At the rate of $3.99, which is pretty standard for Aldi’s frozen pizzas released under the Mama Cozzi’s label, there’s not really a whole lot of value.  Sure, on paper it might look like there is, with the consumer getting over a dozen ingredients for such a small price, but given the way it tastes, it‘s not worth it. I also feel like the pizza was smaller than most of their other frozen offerings, and since it’s all on a flatbread, it’s certainly thinner and less filling.

I can pretty much say that I certainly won’t pick this up again, at least until I inevitably stumble upon it again in a couple years, completely forget what it tastes like, and then decide to give it another try.  But as long as I can remember, there is no reason for me to pick this up again, especially given the number of different styles of frozen pizza they offer during any given month.  I’m not recommending this one, and in a rare case of agreement, my wife concurs.

Overall: 5/10. There are certainly a lot of ingredients on here, but that ends up being the problem: The sour cream-based paste that serves as the sauce is good, as is the blend of six cheeses that tops it all, but when you have that much flavor already, anything else you throw on it, like the six additional vegetables, just ends up being overkill.  The flavor isn’t bad in any way, it’s just a giant, indistinguishable mass, where only the sauce and cheeses ever stand out.  If they took out all the veggies, leaving just the “sauce” and veggies, this would be a lot more palatable.  And for what it’s worth, my vegetarian wife concurs with these statements.

Mama Cozzi's Cuban Brand Frozen Pizza (Aldi)

This pizza is phenomenal.
I had been eyeing Mama Cozzi’s Cuban Brand Pizza for a few Special Buy cycles now; it seems to be available every other month lately.  But I was always hesitant for one reason or another…until this last time, when I stalled for only a second before finally picking it up and tossing it in my cart.

I think the main cause for the indecision were the ingredients: Crème Fraiche sauce (didn’t have a clue what that was), with MUSTARD, two kinds of cheeses, meats, and banana peppers.  Now, we have a local pizza shop that has even weirder pizzas than this (one I tried there had a mustard/sour cream base with tuna, for God’s sake), but the advantage that place has is that all their ingredients are fresh, and they are cooked in a wood-fire oven.  Even though Mama Cozzi’s frozen pizzas tend to be pretty good, I honestly wasn’t sure how they could pull this one off.

Well pull it off they do…this pizza is simply marvelous, and that’s not a word I tend to throw around.  The crème fraiche, which I have since learned is basically a less sour version of sour cream, provides a nice, light foundation that blends perfectly with all the ingredients.  I even enjoyed the banana peppers, which I don’t like at all; but here, they simply add a very light spice, while the flavor never stands out, balancing out with the rest of the ingredients.  Considering all the meats on here (there’s Canadian bacon, and both small bacon bits and larger bacon strips), it never becomes overly salty, like most such pizzas.  In fact, it all comes off feeling rather “light”; all the flavors are soft, with none being bland, but none being outrageously over-the-top.  In other words, it’s completely the opposite of what I would have expecting going in.

And while I highly doubt this pizza is very authentic to actual Cuban cuisine or culture, it’s definitely unique enough to hit a different set of taste buds than the normal American pizza, which is perfect if you want something out of the ordinary.  I’m not sure I’d get this pizza again during the same Special Buy cycle--there are plenty of other options, pizza and otherwise, that I’d like to get around to--but come the next time it’s offered, I wouldn’t hesitate to get it again.  It’s really good, especially for a frozen pizza with some rather unorthodox ingredients.

Overall: 8/10. Put aside your concerns and give this pizza a shot:  Even though there are a couple different kinds of meats and two different kinds of cheeses, it not only manages to avoid tasting overly salty, but it somehow tastes “light”.  There’s not an overwhelming amount of any ingredient, and the crème fraiche (think a less sour version of sour cream, if Wikipedia is to be trusted) is smooth and provides an excellent base.  It’s not your standard “American” pizza, and it hits a different set of taste buds, but it also hits the spot.  Excellent stuff.

Candy Christmas: Benton's Candy Cane Chocolate Sandwich Cremes (Aldi)

Perfect for people who enjoy chewing on glass.
I guess I should have paid more attention to the packaging when I picked up Benton’s Candy Cane Sandwich Cookies from Aldi.  I made the mistake of assuming that what I was getting was peppermint-flavored creme in between two chocolate cookies--to that end, I was partially right.  But Benton’s goes one step farther, by putting actual pieces of peppermint candy inside the icing, too.  And I do not like it.

I’ll be honest, I was just looking for a light-to-moderate peppermint flavor, and that’s completely what I was expecting.  I feel like most mainstream products shy away from being too aggressive when it comes to taste, so that they can appeal to the widest variety of people possible.  At first, biting into the creme for the first time, I thought they had hit the nail on the head…that is, until I started biting into what felt like little pieces of glass (which were unexpected pieces of peppermint candy, thanks to me not examining the packaging a little closer), which brought even more peppermint flavor, that I have to admit took it beyond what I was looking for.  I can dig small amounts of peppermint, but I got sick of these after just two.  And I don’t mean “well that’s enough for now, I’ll grab some again in the future” sick; I mean I was “here you go, honey, you can have the rest of this entire package of cookies” sick.  The blend of sweet and minty was just too much for me.

In the end, it all boils down to the fact that these just simply aren’t my cup of tea.  And that’s alright--we’ve all bought things that we thought we would enjoy, only to discover that they didn’t quite hit our palates the way we thought they would.  If you enjoy candy canes, or peppermint in general, you will like these way more than I do, and you really should give them a shot.  The package claims they are double-stuffed with crème, and all it takes is one quick glance at one of them to substantiate those claims--there is a generous helping of peppermint frosting in between each cookie.  The chocolate cookies themselves, when eaten alone (I do the ol’ twist-off method and eat the cookie with the least amount of crème in it first, saving the one with the most for last) taste fresh, and very close to the national brand, if not exact.

I guess this is kind of a cop-out, but sometimes, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Overall: 4/10.  These just weren’t my cup of tea.  I like moderate amounts of peppermint, but the addition of actual little pieces of peppermint candy in the crème not only made it too pepperminty for my liking, but also made it feel like I was chewing on glass.  Needless to say, I was not a fan of the texture.  Dipping them in milk (my favorite way to eat chocolate sandwich cookies) made them a little better, but I got sick of them after just two cookies, to the extent that I will allow my wife to eat the rest.  If you love candy canes, or just peppermint in general, then you will probably like these a lot more than I did.

(And for what it's worth, my wife won't eat them, either.)

Christkindl Apple Punch (Aldi)

If warm alcohol is your thing, then here you go...
I love apples, and I love punch, yet I was not too keen on trying Christkindl’s holiday-inspired combination of both.  Why?  Because this is a wine concoction that is meant to be served warm, and for some reason, warm alcohol just doesn’t seem too appetizing to me.  Of course, you can be a rebel and enjoy it straight out of the bottle--hell, I could serve it chilled if I wanted to--but I figured that it was made to be enjoyed warm and would taste unappetizing if served at room temperature.

At the same time, I wanted to review some Christmas items this year, but most of their holiday Special Buys have to do with chocolate, and on this particular trip, I was absolutely starved, and when I‘m hungry, sugar just sounds disgusting to me.  If you know me, though, you’ll know that there’s one thing the sugar rule does not apply to, and that’s alcohol.  I’m just about always game for it, and so I figured this would finally be the day I would splurge and little bit and dive into a bottle of Apple Punch.

For the first glass, which I served myself in a completely oversized holly berry goblet, I decided to try it at room temperature.  Before pouring, I gently wafted some of the aroma to my nostrils, and was actually shocked to discover that it smelled exactly like the name insinuates--there’s the strong base note of apples, but there’s a fruit punch-y kind of finish in the background that finished it off.  It reminded me more of straight-up juice than a wine-based beverage.

The taste also consists very much of apple, though there was a surprising caramel or butterscotch kind of finish that was good.  It’s pretty sweet, so if you drink too much, you can probably expect a headache, but if you’re just looking to loosen up a little bit, then a couple glasses of this 9% ABV wine should suit you pretty well.

When heated up, the smell completely changes to a more warm apple cidery scent, though there’s a little bit of alcohol bitter in there.  I’ve never really paid attention to how aromas change when applied to heat, but the profile of this does a complete 180--for me, no longer was it really that inviting.  Sure enough, even the taste takes an extreme hit; there’s some apple in there, for sure, but the end result tastes more bitter than it does when it’s at room temperature, and it just really wasn’t fun to drink.  There’s also a lingering aftertaste that seems to be exacerbated by the heat, as I did not notice any bizarre aftertastes when I was enjoying it at room temperature.  I suppose it might hit the spot a little bit more during super-cold weather, but even then, I think I would turn to a standard chilled wine, or if I really wanted something warm, a hot chocolate.  

Overall: 5.5/10. If you’re looking for something different, this is a decent way to go:  the fact that it can be enjoyed heated, or at room temperature (or chilled, if the mood strikes you; chilled it tasted very similar to how it did at room temp), gives it a little versatility in that it tastes completely different both ways.  I actually was vastly underwhelmed with the heated version, and found it to be a lot tastier when served at room temperature, but your results may vary.  There is 9% ABV per bottle, which is about on par with a lot of supermarket wines.  I did get a slight headache (no doubt from the sugar content) after only a couple glasses, so this is probably not something you would want to get drunk off of.  Value is modest, at $6.99 per 750 mL bottle.  Even as a seasonal curiosity, I will probably be waiting at least a couple years before giving this another try; there’s just nothing really outstanding or noteworthy here at all.