This is a double review. Charlie is reviewing the Red variety, and Skunkie is reviewing the Dragon Fire variety.
Charlie’s Review: byejoe Red:
If you’ve caught even a single episode of the show, you know that I absolutely can’t stand gimmicks when it comes to alcohol. The “let’s add 10 pounds of garnishes to a Bloody Mary” and “let’s take a perfectly fine product and add honey to it” gimmicks are recent examples. To me, good alcohol doesn’t need a gimmick. It should be capable of standing on its own merit. And if it needs a gimmick, then it isn’t good alcohol.
So I approached byejoe with a skeptical eye. Right on the main page of their site, they describe it like this:byejoe is the spirit of china, a modern revolution in asian-fusion mixology.
Do you know how many “revolutions” and “fusions” I’ve seen? I’m 158 years old, so I’ve seen more than my fair share. And don’t even get me started on “mixology.” Call me old-fashioned but it really irks me when someone calls themselves a “mixologist.” You’re not a “mixologist,” you’re a bartender, damnit, and you shouldn’t need to rely on fancied up words, tossing bottles around like some insane juggler, and setting things on fire to make a decent drink!
But friends, while I’m capable of tearing through all the “latest innovations” to show that it’s all just a gimmick, I’m also equally capable of realizing when something really IS innovative, and refreshingly new.
And there’s the interesting quandry. Because while byejoe is new, it’s based on an alcoholic beverage that’s literally thousands of years old!
Baijiu is a Chinese distilled spirit made from sorghum, and has been used during celebrations for thousands of years. So it’s a beverage with a VERY long history and a venerable tradition behind it.
So, with that kind of background, does byejoe measure up? Honestly? Yes, yes it does!
byejoe Red has a very intriguing flavor. The initial scent when I opened the bottle was a burst of sweetness. But threading in the sample I poured was almost non-existant. So while it has a sweet component, it’s a natural sugar, which doesn’t overwhelm at all.
The initial taste was quite surprising. A light, sweet taste, almost like cotton candy, followed by an intense burst of spice, similar to red pepper, quickly fading to an indescribable finish. Very little alcohol burn too, which is surprising for an 80 proof spirit.
Now when I say it’s “indescribable” I mean that literally. It’s a complex blend of flavors, hints of sweet, pepper, citrus, and earth tones that all fade almost before you realize they’re there.
That brings up my next point. Unlike some alcohols I could name, byejoe’s flavor doesn’t wear out its welcome in your mouth. But it doesn’t just burst and fade too quickly either. You can tell the distillers at byejoe have done their research to develop a very well-crafted beverage.
Now for the down-side. As tasty as it is, to me, it isn’t a sipper. I’ve had it straight, and while interesting, it’s just not right. On the rocks didn’t improve it either.
So then I moved on to my standard battery of tests, and mixed it in place of vodka in a screwdriver. NOT recommended. It combined with the sweet of the orange juice to become far too cloying.
That gave me the idea to try it in a Bloody Mary, with the thought that it would work better as a sweet component in a savory drink. And it was beautiful. The sweet and savory combined to strike a perfectly balanced note in my drink.
Annie Phalen (our guest on the show this past week) suggested going the other way, and adding it to pineapple juice. I tried it, with a dash of skepticism. Surprisingly, it worked wonderfully!
Thinking on it, it makes sense. The red sorghum while sweet, interacts with the acid component in orange juice, supressing it and thus boosting the sugars. But in the pineapple juice, there’s no acid to interact with, so it doesn’t get cloying. With the tomato juice, the lower acidity means the byejoe doesn’t have as much to feed on to convert to sweet, which actually balances it very nicely.
A 750ml bottle of byejoe will run you about $30 in most markets, and I personally think it’s worth it.
This is a refreshing change from all the “gimmicks” out there lately.
Skunkie’s Review: byejoe Dragon Fire:
Now that Charlie has given us the overview of the byejoe brand I’m going to tell you about their one additional flavor, Dragon Fire. Frequent listeners of the show know I’m not a big fan of alcohol burn. And while I love spicy foods, spicy alcohol I’m very apprehensive about. But I wanted to try this. Mainly because I wanted to see if it had any flavor at all. For me, the original byejoe tasted like cotton candy, but it took me forever to decipher anything else flavor wise, and I’m not a fan of guessing games.
Anyway, onto the Dragon Fire. The initial smell is pretty intense, in a good way if you like dragon fruit. Much like the melon scent in Midori, the dragon fruit smell is very prominent. However, so is an earthy grain smell, I assume it’s the red sorghum. And yes there is a mildly yet distinctive scent of chiles.
Now taste, once again if you like dragon fruit you are going to love this. Now I’m a bit iffy on the flavor, so much like with tequila, I can see how people would fall head over heels with it. Me, it’s okay. There is a very smooth almost crisp flavor to it. And that sneaky warming sensation that is slowly increasing in the back of your throat and spreading across your chest, that’s the chiles. Very little of which I noticed in the initial taste. It’s a nice drink, but I couldn’t see it adding it to my regular rotation… until I mixed it into a drink.
Much like byejoe Red, where Dragon Fire really shines is as a cocktail component, in this case a take off on a Shanghai Mule (byejoe, ginger beer, splash of lime juice). By no means does the Dragon Fire flavor disappear in a cocktail but it is greatly balanced. The ginger reduces the overbearing dragon fruit while retaining the light crisp flavor. The burn of the chiles is moved a bit forward without being overwhelming. I finished my cocktail and resisted the urge to not only pour another but figure out what else would work well with the Dragon Fire.
If you are looking for a new taste and ingredient to explore, I would definitely recommend the Dragon Fire. Probably not for those who desire a more savory flavor but promising for those who tend toward the sweet and exotic.
A good “new” flavor to try, but shines as a mixer.