by Neal MacDonald
Out at the bars, we’re spending something like $7 to $10 for an elegant drink. That’s real cash… even if you’re going to stick to 2-3 drinks. Is there a better way?
Well, you can zest your own fruit, grind your own herbs, infuse your own spirits, and otherwise craft your own cocktails. That can be a lot of fun. It can also be scarcely less expensive and lead to a lot of trial-and-error… not to mention a lot of labor and a lot of mess. Getting messy is fun but sometimes you just want the focus on other things. So what’s the alternative? We may have stumbled onto the answer:
Joia All Natural Soda.
We ran into this stuff on sale at our local snooty grocery store (we also buy elitist grenadine there) and purchased on a whim. Taking a quick drink, we quickly realized it was begging for alcohol… and we obliged.
The great thing about these products is that they’re fruit with a spice infusion. For example, there’s a lot of grapefruit soda in this world. We often make it ourselves with a little syrup that can be had by the liter for about $8 along with soda water—either your own or store bought. Anybody can do it.
But in that same example, plain grapefruit isn’t good enough for Joia. They also put in chamomile and cardamom. This is something that’s really hard to do on your own and gives you a reason to buy. It also happens to be that their product is very tasty. That’s the key thing: if a person is going to buy elitist soda it should be for a reason.
Our first experience with Joia was their Lime Hibiscus Clove version. It turns out, this mixes amazingly well with a genever style gin (we used Few Gin). Then we tried the Pineapple Coconut Nutmeg version… which begged for rum (we used Treaty Oak). The drinks were outstanding, different, and sparkling with flavor… exactly the kind of thing you want to get from a bar but so often don’t. Best of all, they were easy: a few ice cubes, a few counts of liquor, and a half-bottle of Joia: seconds in the preparation.
Needless to say, we were perturbed but not surprised to discover that we weren’t the first people in the world to realize Joia’s potential as a mixer. It turns out their website has a whole database full of cocktails (as well as several without alcohol). As of this writing, there are 27 different cocktail recipes neatly categorized by major ingredient.
So we tried a few of these (not all of them). Noteworthy were the Snow Coast, which calls for a mere 3oz of Joia Pineapple, 1oz of dark rum (we used Vizcaya Cask 21), ¼ oz of amaretto, and a splash of lime juice. This was positively outstanding. Easily one of the greatest beach drinks we’ve ever had. It’s better than a Mai Tai, better than a Pina Colada… literally better than any prepared drink we’ve ever had. The proportions were perfect, which is great from a marketing website (historically self-promoted drinks have an over-abundance of the ingredient they’re trying to sell—not the case here). We have no idea what a “snow coast” is but the drink is peerless. Make a jug of this and watch the party start. The Coconut Cactus was an identical drink only calling for silver tequila instead of rum plus an additional ounce of Joia to make a total of 4oz (daring… we used El Tesoro Platinum). Weird, huh? It’s like at the beach party they ran out of rum and someone said, “Screw it, use the tequila!” Well, it works. We’ll admit: it smells kind of funky. with the agave and the nutmeg. But it’s a beautiful tasting drink… like a Margarita except better.
We tried the Deck Wash, which calls for 4oz of Joia Grapefruit, 1½ oz of gin (we used Beefeater), and a splash of lime juice. Once again, it’s wonderful. It’s nothing short of magic how a 90 proof gin just vanishes into the flavors and spices. (Why one would “wash the decks” with it, we have no idea.) We moved on to something called Tiny Bubbles, that called for 1 oz vodka (we used Left Coast Hemp vodka in honor of California), 4 oz of Joia grapefruit, and a splash each of lime juice and violet liqueur (we used Crème Yvette). Outstanding! Delicious!
Are you getting the picture? It just doesn’t stop. We mix drinks all the time to varying degrees of success but using Joia is like betting when the fix is in. It feels like cheating. There’s no blending. There’s no shaking. There’s no zesting. There’s no flair. There’s just an awesome cocktail that can be done at home in seconds—great drink after great drink.
And it is the brand. We had both grapefruit syrup to make soda and some lemon-lime soda so we recreated these same cocktails. Without the Joia, it’s not close. Something about the chamomile and cardamom and everything else really brings out the other flavors.
These are all “long drinks,” in that they’re designed to be easy-drinking… and they are as perilous as any femme fatale. If you want a martini-style sipper or a shot, you shouldn’t be looking at soda. If there is a chink in the armor it is the cost: they’re kind of pricy. In our area, they come in 4-packs and around $5 or $6 for the four bottles. A little spendy. But in the cocktail world when you think that a 4-pack gives you between 8 and 12 drinks while a bottle of gin (or whatever) comes in between $10 and $20… well, do the math and you can have a very fine night with friends for well under $40. With, we might, add very high-quality drinks.
This is cheating. But it’s the best kind of cheating. It’s like bringing Michael Jordan to your local basketball league game at the YMCA or being Robert Pattinson and trying to pick up tweens at the local nightclub. But inarguably delicious.
[Disclosures: in this case, we bought everything on our own and had no contact with the company at the time of this writing. All vodka, Joia, and other ingredients were purchased ourselves.]