Would the Dude Like It?

Kahlúa French Vanilla and Kahlúa Mocha

By: Malibu-Kahlúa International

I Paid: $16.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

One of the 60 or 70 great lines that defines The Big Lebowski occurs when the film’s burned-out protagonist is being forced at gunpoint from one limo to another, White Russian in hand. “Careful, man, there’s a beverage here,” he says.

White Russians may be the single-best use for Kahlúa—the thick, coffee-flavored liqueur that straddles the line between luxury and bad taste. In what may represent one of the most cautious brand expansions in recent history, Kahlúa has begun offering French Vanilla, Hazelnut, and Mocha incarnations of its beverage. It’s still Kahlúa, more or less, with a reasonable flavor twist. No Kahlúa Raspberry, Kahlúa Açai, or Kahlúa Chipotle just yet, thank God.

The result is actually rather subtle and enjoyable. Mocha has a distinct cocoa kick, and French Vanilla offers a finishing note of vanilla flavor that isn’t overtly chemical-tasting.

The addition of Vanilla or Mocha doesn’t, as one might fear, eclipse the original coffee flavor that defines Kahlúa; the two flavors layer fairly elegantly, and a mocha- or vanilla-tinged White Russian is just as pleasing as a classic version, with a bump of novelty.

New Amsterdam Straight Gin

By: New Amsterdam Spirits Company

I Paid: $14.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 5stars

Gin is a problem with which we must wrestle on a regular basis. You don’t want to buy crap gin, because it’s among the worst beverages in the world, down there with cheap tequila and ouzo. It doesn’t merely make you drunk, it also fills your brain with suffering. It injures you emotionally, and makes you mean.

On the flip side, a good gin—Bombay Sapphire or Hendrick’s, for example—sits deeply within top-shelf territory and, depending upon your life situation, may be too pricey.

Now, New Amsterdam Straight Gin, which according to its website is “as smooth as a Manhattan jazz riff” and “so smooth you can drink it straight,” has entered the picture, offering an option for G&Ts that won’t make your guests cough up blood.

It passes the sniff test, free of any acrid, chemical notes. The nose is actually floral—possibly even a bit too perfumelike, but most assuredly pleasant.

The flavor is almost lemony, with a classic aftertaste of juniper. Despite New Amsterdam’s claims, straight drinking probably isn’t the best use of this beverage: It has a bit of crunchy alcoholic burn that begs for the tempering provided by tonic and ice. Once so presented, however, the stuff performs brilliantly, making as pleasant a gin and tonic as one could reasonably demand.

New Amsterdam Gin: For When You Can’t Afford the Very Best, But You Still Don’t Want Anyone Criticizing How Cheap You Are Behind Your Back.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.