Now that we're finally starting to see some consistently nice weather, there's nothing better than relaxing outside with an ice-cold beverage.
But not everyone wants to drink wine on a hot day. With that in mind, I figured I'd test-drive a few of the alternatives in our market -- coolers and flavoured beers.
No matter what flavour you're after, there's probably a cooler or flavoured beer to fit your fancy. Not surprisingly, plenty are citrus-flavoured, but there are no shortage of drinks purporting to taste like coconut, peach, or various berries that may or may not exist (see rockaberry, wildberry?).
While some coolers are beer-based, others are made from the harder stuff: vodka, tequila, whiskey or, in some cases, the mysterious "alcohol."
One thing almost all the coolers sampled had in common: they were plenty sweet. In most cases sugar (in some form or another) was quite high up on the list of ingredients. Flavoured beer, meanwhile, is typically drier and actually tastes like beer. It's sometimes a fine line between the two.
A few coolers are gussied up to the point where there are almost no distinguishable alcohol flavours, meaning they're deceptively drinkable, especially as the mercury rises -- something to keep in mind as you reach for a fresh one.
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BUD LIME LIME-A-RITA (U.S. -- $3.01 / 473 ml can)
This looks and smells nothing like beer, but rather than artificial lime aroma you get from margarita mix. It's quite sweet, with sweet lime flavours front and centre but lacking the tequila flavours of a true margarita (there's no tequila in here). It's eight per cent alcohol, with a whopping 480 calories and 49 grams of sugar per can. Yikes. 1-1/2 stars
DOS LOCOS LIME TEQUILA MARGARITA
(Auckland, New Zealand -- $3.49 / 440 ml can)
Who knew New Zealand was a margarita hotbed? The Dos Locos brings the artificial lime note on the nose, but with an actual tequila note in there as well. It's plenty sweet, but pour over crushed ice and it'll do the trick in a pinch. 2-1/2 stars
COOPER'S CLOUDY LEMONADE (United Kingdom -- $4.50 / 500 ml bottle)
This "sparkling alcoholic cloudy lemonade juice drink" delivers pretty much as promised -- it's hazy pale yellow in colour, with some pronounced fizz and sweet lemon-juice aromas. It's medium-sweet on the light, crisp, citrusy palate, clocking in at a modest four per cent alcohol. The first four ingredients are water, alcohol, sugar and lemon juice -- not many surprises here. Having said that, it's fairly tasty. 3 stars
SHOCK TOP LEMON SHANDY
(St. Louis -- $2.79 / 500 ml can)
The first four ingredients in this "Belgian-style white beer" with "natural lemonade flavour" are, interestingly, beer, ale, sugar and citric acid. Pale straw in colour with a white head, it brings yeasty wheat-beer aromas, with very light lemon rind notes. Those wheat-beer flavours fall flat on the palate, and the citrus fails to pick up the slack. Somewhat watery and insipid. 2 stars
STIEGL RADLER GRAPEFRUIT
(Salzburg, Austria -- $2.96 / 500 ml can)
This very low-alcohol Austrian beer-based drink (2.5 per cent) is 50 per cent beer and the other half fruit juice. Hazy pale yellow in colour and with a light, white head, there's a lemon candy/grapefruit juice note on the nose. It's light and lively, with delicious grapefruit flavours that taste real. On a hot summer day this would go down very easy -- it's the best of the bunch, and it's not close. 3-1/2 stars
MOLSON CANADIAN 67 TANGERINE TWIST
(Canada -- $20.84 / 12-355 ml cans)
Pale gold and clear in colour, the sweet malt aromas work with the light (but somewhat artificial) tangerine aromas. There's a toasted oat flavour to this 70-calorie beer as well as some very light tangerine notes that don't get overly sweet, and at three per cent alcohol it won't knock you out cold. 2-1/2
TWISTED TEA HALF & HALF HARD ICED TEA
(Cincinnati -- $2.34 / 355 ml bottle)
This "flavoured beer" has no carbonation, and pours just like your standard glass of iced tea. The "half & half" refers to the fact it's "hard iced tea with lemonade flavour," and on the nose it's straight-up iced tea. It's not too sweet, and there's not much of a boozy flavour here. It's like drinking slightly sweetened American iced tea. Quite quaffable. 2-1/2
JACK DANIEL'S DOWNHOME PUNCH
(Lynchburg, Tenn. -- $2.33 / 296 ml bottle)
Other than your typical pop ingredients, the only thing the Downhome has going on that's different is "Tennessee whiskey." Bright pink in colour, it looks, smells and tastes remarkably like watermelon Jolly Ranchers, and you barely taste the whiskey at all. In a nostalgic way, this sort of appeals to me, but be warned -- it's quite sweet. 2-1/2