Friday, April 18, 2014

Captain Morgan White Rum Review

For the longest time, white rum struck me as little more than an alternative to vodka.  Unaged, the spirit is just as devoid of color and usually has the same ABV, whether flavored or not.  Some cocktail recipes allow the substitution of rum for vodka (or vice versa), especially when it comes to flavored variants.  

But there are differences.  Flavored rums are less egregious; the likes of Bacardi Wolf Berry are no match for the majority of Pinnacle's indulgences.  Not to mention a good white rum has very distinguishable characteristics from vodka, especially to those with a developed palette.  

Captain Morgan, with regards to individual products, wasn't the first brand I thought of as "developed."  This was, of course, prior to trying anything beyond their traditional spiced rum.  Even if products like Tattoo drew ill words, the quality of blends such as Black and Private Stock can't be denied.  Yet for all of the Captain's offerings, he's only recently provided a clear, un-spiced rum.  One couldn't be blamed for passing Captain Morgan's White Rum while looking at Silver Spiced Rum with some confusion.  Without the addition of what's defined Captain Morgan for so long, just how good can the rum itself hold up?

Fairly well, actually.  Captain Morgan White has a sweet, overt nose; vanilla, sugarcane and molasses juggle around.  The mouthfeel is easygoing and enjoyable, a decidedly smooth ride for a product represented by a pirate.  A growing degree of coconut comes out while sipping, particularly on the long-lasting finish.  Vanilla and caramel are never far away.  

Captain Morgan are more than a little behind on the clear rum market, even if their brand has been built on spicier foundations.  What they offer us here is a product that lives up to their sweet, easygoing reputation.  That is, when taking just their 70 proof spiced rum into account.  Captain Morgan White is as fair a choice as one can make for rum cocktails; ultimately, your choice from brand to brand could be decided by coin toss(es).  If you're going for straight sipping, Captain Morgan White is a considerable option and, given rum's sweet reputation, means it comes out a notch above the rest.

Where I Bought It: Total Wine

Price: $1.79 (50mL)

Grade: B

Question of the Day: What is your favorite Captain Morgan product that isn't their traditional spiced rum?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Fudge Core Review

I can't think of a more sure-fire combination than chocolate and peanut butter.  If a company can't superbly utilize the two, then they've failed.  And though I could ramble on about how every protein bar in existence does just that, we're here to talk about something that doesn't put protein first: Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Fudge Core ice cream, a product whose intent is quite plainspoken.

The last partaking I had of a chocolate/peanut butter offering from Ben & Jerry's (which there are quite a few) was the Target-exclusive Peanut Butter World.  Of course, I could just call it Bliss in a Pint, but that would simply undermine it.  Point is: Peanut Butter Fudge Core has a lot to live up to.  But the mere description leaves me insouciant to the idea of inferiority.  
Scent is one of the last things I tend to note in ice cream, but an aroma of roasted peanut butter immediately grazes my workspace.  This unfurling effect is in keeping with the entire pint, because even the chocolate base is brimming with a peanut butter essence.  While the peanut butter base might attempt to put things back into perspective, it's still tough to not be thrown off by such a consistency.  
The ice cream's consistency itself is, like other Ben & Jerry's offerings, dense and rich to a fault.  As if it needed any help, the miniature peanut butter cups pollute both bases, further accentuating the euphoric flavor combo.  And let us not forget the core filling.
In my review for Hazed & Confused, I said the core reminded me of the Riesen candy.  Here's an idea for an extra flavor, should they expand their horizons.  Like the rest of the pint's innards, the core is ripe with peanut butter flavor.  My best attempt at describing the experience is melting some peanut butter cups together and adding a sticky, magical food thickener.  That alone is enough to make one salivate, but get a bit of each part of the pint in one spoonful (which isn't difficult) bestows us with something even better.  It's like Heaven decided to send a little treat our way, just to demonstrate what their everyday treats are like up there.

Yeah, it's pretty damn good.
Where I Bought It: Walmart

Price: $3.68

Grade: A

Question of the Day: What is your most sure-fire flavor combo?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ben & Jerry's Hazed & Confused Core Ice Cream Review

Leave it to Ben & Jerry's to make me relapse after a sans ice cream streak.  Were it not for a former co-worker's request, I would have likely indulged the recently introduced Core line far later.  

The concept for said ice creams is rather curious: take two ice cream bases and thrust a core in-between.  Four varieties are currently offered.  One of the two that caught my attention was Hazed & Confused, a combination of "hazelnut and chocolate ice creams with fudge chips and a hazelnut fudge core."  Other than the eye-catching name, the mere fact we're getting a hazelnut ice cream peaked my interest.  Even with a profuse amount of recipes involving products like Nutella and Frangelico, hazelnut has remained mostly obscure in branded ice cream.
Beneath the lid we get something similar in appearance to Steak 'n Shake's Side by Side Milkshakes, except with an evident filling (the core) around the center.  I first grace the hazelnut base, which immediately pleases my taste buds with a smooth, creamy flavor not unlike French Vanilla.  Before I even begin to pursue Ben & Jerry's customary chocolate base, I find myself hoping to the Gods--old and new--that they use hazelnut in more flavors.  

Strangely enough, the chocolate chips only come up in the chocolate base.  An odd choice, since many find Ben & Jerry's chocolate base to be too rich or too uninteresting (see Truffle Trifecta).  Adding chocolate to chocolate in this case seems a bit counterintuitive, especially when we have a different, far more indulgent base in the mix.  
Of course, this is without taking the core into account.

To imagine the core filling, think of melting a few pieces of Riesen and sticking them in the middle of the ice cream bases like a nail.  Except where Riesen is chocolate and caramel, here it's fudge and hazelnut.  The result is a level of density and richness that makes other, less exploitative Ben & Jerry's flavors feel like an Edy's/Dreyer's contribution.  Flavor-wise, it's ultimately more chocolate and fudge than it is hazelnut.  However, upon getting every detail Hazed & Confused offers together into one scoop, I'm rewarded with a degree of depth and indulgence few ice creams can begin to graze.
If nothing else, Hazed & Confused makes an imperative case for Ben & Jerry's to further employ their hazelnut base.  The inclusion of a permissive core only brings them even closer to replicating what an actual ice cream shop can provide.  Were the core even more prominent and the chips dispersed throughout the hazelnut base, this would more easily trump other Ben & Jerry's flavors.  Even so, it's tough not to smile when scooping into a pint of this.
Where I Bought It: Walmart

Price: $3.68

Grade: B

Question of the Day: What's your favorite form of hazelnut indulgence?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Review

Marvel have been walking on a slanted bar.  Sure, The Avengers was a ripe good popcorn gobbler, but even then, the level of intellectuality sat shorter than Steve Rogers pre-steroid (aka Captain America) serum.  Fortunately for us, the Cap's second solo outing levels the bar again.

Forgoing the fish out of water conventions, Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents a contemporary, culturally relevant basis for the plot.  The role of overly defensive measures and the idea of freedom vs. security are touched upon, giving the movie more to stand for than its companions.  Granted, this is still a Marvel production, so don't expect to be cognitively challenged; The Winter Soldier at least presents some valid points without cutting too much into the action.
This is another area The Winter Soldier trumps its spiritual predecessors: the fun factor.  After the embarrassing attempts made in Thor: The Dark World, one couldn't be blamed for approaching the next solo Avenger flick with a certain degree of apprehension.  Yet The Winter Soldier is as much The Dark World as Batman Begins is Batman Forever.  Laughs are clever, witty and in constant supply.  These, combined with some sneakily edited action scenes, prevent the movie's more serious moments from becoming too prominent.

Make no mistake, the "serious moments" are about as serious as a comic book adaptation can get.  That said, it's still surprising when the twists and turns from the action and plot come to fruition.  We're constantly aware the key characters will ultimately make it out, but The Winter Soldier isn't afraid to shed some blood and inflict a few wounds along the way.  
As for the characters (and their actors), there's a far more gray tone to them than most movies would permit.  Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) finally has a chance to shine, particularly during a tense chase sequence that prepares us for the bigger moments.  Amidst these moments are Rogers (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), who also supply most of the blissful choreography.  A separate casting slot should also be afforded to Captain's shield, because every time it hits something, a grin ensues.  

There are moments Captain America: The Winter Soldier creeps its way into transcendence.  This isn't a game changer, but that doesn't matter; the sheer amount of entertainment to find nearly quells every reservation.  Who cares if it's convenient for Romanoff to suddenly have a device to save her behind when falling from a bridge?  The hard-hitting action, pitch-perfect comedy and fleshed out characters are more than enough to forgive such tired conventions.  Add a bit of political backbone to the mix and you have a quintessential action flick.

Grade: B

Question of the Day: What's your favorite Marvel Studios sequel?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) Review

Before Winter can come, we must read  A lot.  George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series isn't for the faint-hearted.  But you already knew that, assuming you've so much as watched one episode of the accompanying HBO show.  Going from screen to page, one gets the impression that the show could best be served as a stepping stone.  Though very little is spared in the first season, the sheer number of names for families, minor characters, weapons and other miscellaneous objects might be enough to make some readers drop the book, hands in the air and all.  

For the rest of us, this is the start to a rich plot.  A Game of Thrones is far from action-packed; I've compared the first season of the show to a game of chess, one where only the pawns move forward.  The same holds true here.  It isn't until about 500 pages in that you so much as think the bigger pieces will expose themselves.

Rather than being comprised of a list of chapters, A Game of Thrones alternates key characters for its many sections, retaining a third-person limited point of view.  The majority of these characters belong to the Stark family, who rule the North and are accustomed to cold weather.  Other characters include Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, the latter having an almost completely separate storyline.  

Martin tasks himself with a copious amount of introduction and build up, which is what the book truly serves as.  No family is at their prime, with a possible exception being the Lannisters.  But even they have to wobble or compromise for their strength, sometimes with vile acts.  

Content is another mark against the novel's accessibility.  Be it literal, figurative or both, everyone gets more than a bit of dirt on their hands and feet.  Martin is unapologetic and, depending on your tolerances, writes a number of gratuitous scenes.  But these moments also tend to be seen (or experienced) by characters who feel or show innocence, timidness or empathy.  One of the biggest moments near the end of the book is experienced at its peak by two young characters, both very close.  

Admittedly, some of the characters are more fulfilling to read than others.  Eddard, Tyrion and Arya are personal favorites; the former two because they tend to be involved when the plot moves forward; the latter for the fact she's less of an archetype.  Others, however, seem to have chapters that accomplish or provide minuscule advancements.  What the book does consistently provide is a command of vernacular and fluency from sentence to sentence.  The less interesting chapters do deter, but they're usually short enough to avoid hampering the overall intrigue.  

When Martin chooses to advance the story, A Game of Thrones shows its strengths.  If it's not these moments, it's when the more uncertain characters converse with one another.  The rogues and wild cards always stir things up, and when they work in tandem with the more eloquently written passages, A Game of Thrones begins to justify its density.  Fainter hearts shouldn't bother, but determined minds are more than encouraged.

Where I Bought It: Barnes & Noble

Price: $10 (part of five-book package)

Grade: B

Question of the Day: How daunting would you consider A Game of Thrones for newcomers?