Pulque, Spike Your Juice fermenting kit, and double-hop beer
Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club periodically features Taste Tests. Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at email@example.com.
Where would we be without fermentation? In a ferment-free world, our pantries and stomachs would have to go without essential goodies like cheese, yogurt, pickles, vinegar, and most horribly of all, wine and beer. Yes, that magical enzymatic process is essential, but as we discovered in this week’s Taste Test, it’s also ripe for failure, particularly when induced via an Internet-procured novelty product. Thankfully, there are professionals out there willing to put a little more care and thought into fermentation than us office-bound vintners, so we balanced out this week’s amateur winemaking endeavor with a couple more legit—though not necessarily tastier—effervesced goodies.
Spike Your Juice is essentially a packet of yeast dressed up in consumer-friendly packaging and hawked via a flashy website that proclaims the resulting product to be “Champagne-ously delicious” and a “European favorite” that’s comparable to the seasonal German drink Federweißer. Simply add it to juice that has a minimum sugar content of 20g/serving, is unrefrigerated and filtered, has no artificial sweeteners, and is in a 64-ounce bottle. Wait 48 hours, and you have an alcoholic beverage that will put the finest vintage of Pruno to shame.
Except that after 48 hours of fizzing and bubbling through the provided airlock—meant to prevent combustion and further displeasure from our long-suffering HR rep—the only perceptible change to our batch of spiked cranberry-peach juice was a little extra fizz. Noticing a helpful graph on the box informing us that leaving the juice to sit longer would increase the alcohol content and decrease the sweetness, we left the concoction to sit longer… and promptly forgot about it. A week and a half later, we were left with a smelly, brownish concoction too bitter to drink, much less get drunk on. Luckily, the box of Spike Your Juice comes with six packets of its “proprietary yeast blend,” so we threw together another batch, this time using fruit punch, and let it sit for four days before presenting it to the office for its official Taste Test.
Our second fermentation destination takes us from Europe to Mexico, where agave wine, or pulque, has been in production since the days of the Aztec. But as the website for Pulque Hacienda 1881 informs us, the Mexican company is the first to can it and sell it for mass consumption. At least, we think that’s what the poorly translated text is trying to convey:
Though we count with 127 years of pulque production and lineage, it is until 1994 that Rodolfo Del Razo achieves what nobody could: TO TIN IN. With the experience that endorses us since 1881 and with 13 years of tinning it, we present PULQUE HACIENDA 1881 in its six flavors: Natural, Coconut-Pineapple, Maracuya, Strawberry, Mango and Lemon.
We first encountered the product at the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event at the National Restaurant Association expo a couple months back, where we were informed that the product was being tested out in America. We obtained four flavors—Natural, Coconut-Pineapple, Maracuya (passion fruit), and Lemon—to see if our gringo tongues could appreciate the tinned-in goodness.
Finally, we return home with some good ol’ American beer, in this case a microbrew from Montana, Black Star Double-Hopped Golden Lager. What’s so special about Black Star? Well, nothing really, but they sent us a bunch of samples, and who are we to turn down free beer?
Taste: The spiked juice was immediately suspect upon its decanting, when we noticed an icky brown sludge that had built up on the rubber stopper of the airlock. A suspicious, rotten-egg aroma served as warning sign No. 2 (or No. 3, if you count the fact that we made this using a product from the Internet). Its taste was not unlike that of slightly flat, cheap champagne: a little fizzy and a lot bitter, with little in the way of the fruity sweetness expected from something that was juice just a few days prior. Most of the tasters bailed on the drink after a couple of sips, though Mark The Finance Guy—who also liked the similarly loathed Buckfast Tonic Wine—proclaimed himself a fan, offering to drink the rest of the bottle to test its alcoholic qualities. Spike Your Juice claims to raise alcohol content up to 14 percent, and judging by his tipsy IMs an hour or so later, that seems about on target.
The reaction to the pulque varied considerably from flavor to flavor, with the Gatorade-like Lemon coming out the winner, and Coconut-Pineapple provoking disgust pretty much across the board. Almost everyone commented on the drink’s oddly milky consistency, with comparison points ranging from ejaculate to hamster piss. If you can get past the looks, however, the Natural flavor is pleasantly mild, kind of like a very, very diluted margarita. Passion Fruit has a strange citrus bite that many tasters tagged as artificial, though the ingredients list only mentions agave and passion-fruit juices and sugar. With the exception of the Coconut-Pineapple, any of these would be a fairly refreshing summer drink when served over ice, but their oddly botanical smell and low alcohol content (5 to 6 percent) do little to recommend them further. Unless you really dig the taste of agave—the same plant used to produce tequila—you’d be better off sticking to fermented barley and hops for your low-alcohol refreshment.
Speaking of which, Black Star has a nice head and a surprisingly moderate hop flavor, considering that whole “double-hopped” thing (which just means two different types of hops, not double the hops). It’s unexceptional, but refreshing—and, for those of you who prefer your alcohol tinned-in, it is newly available in cans.
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Spike Your Juice:
- “If this was the only thing at a party, I’d drink it.”
- “It definitely tastes like alcohol. It also tastes terrible.”
- “This is like an even more disgusting Sparks.”
- “This is a drink that insists you drink it alone.”
- “The yeast smell hits you pretty hard at first. After a while, it becomes part of the experience… That’s what he said?”
- “Drinkable? Check. Alcohol? Check. No blindness? Check, so far.”
- “I would never do this on my own, and would rather leave it to the professionals. Yours was drinkable, and I probably wouldn’t have known it was fermented at home unless you told me.”
- “Oh homemade wine, you bring back childhood memories of when my juice
- box would sit in the sun too long.”
- “The first one is gross, but makes you think you could drink a few more, but then the second one is gross again. Besides that, this tastes like a good reason to get out of prison.”
- “This is very cum-colored.”
- “It smells like the inside of a milk carton.”
- “I’m getting a weird Mountain Dew vibe.”
- “These all taste like they’re past their expiration date.”
- “[The Coconut-Pineapple] has a shitty, store-bought piña colada taste.”
- “This makes you instantly hungover.”
- “I expected agave wine to taste like tequila, but it’s not at all harsh.”
- “Natural doesn’t have much flavor. Just kinda mucilaginous.”
- “Passion fruit was a bit off. Artificial citrus makes it too bitter.”
- “Lemon fared somewhat better than the other flavors. The sourness cuts through the mellow agave nicely.”
- “Coconut-pineapple was god-awful. Retchingly artificial, and that coconut aftertaste is just so wrong. It tries too hard to be tropical.”
- “Not much to recommend straight from the can. Save your money for a nice bottle of mescal.”
- “I actually liked [the coconut-pineapple]. It’s a little thick, so I would definitely have this over ice.”
- “Honestly, I could barely taste the difference between any of the agave drinks, in the same way that it’s hard to distinguish between flavors of dirty socks.”
- “They also reminded me of the durian fruit. Even the consistency was similar, as the durian was almost like a melted banana on the inside, and the agave is like fruit-infused semen.”
Where to find them: You can order a Spike Your Juice kit from spikeyourjuice.com. (Take note, prisoners!) The pulque is still being rolled out Stateside, though according to this article, it’s available in around 300 stores throughout the Chicago area. Black Star is widely available in Montana, but outside of the state, you’re out of luck, unless you happen to be flying Virgin America, which serves it on-board.