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Pongbot is a challenging new twist on everyone’s favorite drinking game, Beer Pong. Pongbot is a robotic cup holder that creates a moving target. Instead of tossing a ping-pong ball at a group of stationary cups, Pongbot spins, darts, and randomly changes direction. This makes beer pong more a lot more challenging!

Pongbot re-defines the game with moving cups, and LED under-lighting adds a high-tech look. Players can shoot at a single cup or add a five-cup caddie. Pongbot features edge-sensing technology to keep the bot from falling over the edge of the table. There are two modes for play – in Auto-mode, the Pongbot will move and spin randomly in any direction at any time, so that the shooter never knows where it is going. In Manual mode, your opponent controls the motion with a tank-style handheld remote control. So it’s you against the machine or against your friend.

We set this up in the GSN break room recently and had to scramble to locate a ping-pong ball (not included), five Solo cups (not included) and six AA batteries (not included).  A bit disappointing that these weren’t already in the box.

A few games of water pong ensued (after all we have to keep clear heads when reviewing). The Pongbot itself works fairly well when using the auto-mode, as there was no discernible pattern to the movement.  The manual mode worked less well, as the sensors would sometimes be on the wrong side of the machine and it would stop moving altogether.

There were two other negatives. It is fairly noisy with a constant whining motor noise that unless people are loudly cheering or you have music blasting, becomes grating after ten minutes.  The other problem is that the unit fell off of the table at one point, we think due to the fact that our break room table has beveled edges.  It will probably work fine on a straight edge table (which ironically means no drinking).

Overall, it was fun for about a quarter of an hour, but the original beer pong is cheaper, easier and less frustrating overall.

GSN Rating: C-

For more information go to: Buy Pongbot

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It’s widely believed that sake’s first introduction to the U.S. occurred when American soldiers stationed in Japan after World War II returned home with a taste for it. While this prompted an increase in sake importing and popularity among restaurateurs and despite numerous sake varietals in the marketplace, the vast majority of American’s are only familiar with the choice between having house sake, served hot or cold. Since the time it was introduced in America there has been little change in the diversity breadth of diversity of sake offered – until now.

From the renowned fifth-generation-run sake producer Umenoyado in Nara, Japan comes the unique “Haikara Sake.” Building upon a traditional foundation, this new fruit-infused sake was created in celebration of the popularity of Japanese culture throughout the United States serving to meld the cultures of east and west.

The Western influence in Japan has brought new trends in style, fashion, and culture, which inspired Umenoyado to name this new sake “Haikara.” Literally translating to “High Collar,” in reference to the collared shirts worn by Westerners, but meaning “Fashionably Western, this term is now recognized as a way to describe the synergistic blending of cultures. The popularity of “Fashionably Western,” in Japan as well as the admiration of Japanese cultures in America was the catalyst that shaped Haikara’s development, including the flavor profiles, the recipe and even the packaging.

“One may think a company that has been making sake for over 100 years would be stuck in their ways, however, this is not the case for Umenoyado,” said Kayo Yoshida, the President of Umenoyado. “Umenoyado is a leader in sake innovation and prides itself on being an industry pioneer while staying true to the age-old craft of making sake. There are two things Umenoyado will not compromise on: water and rice. The water flows from Mt. Katsuragi and the rice is nurtured in Hyogo. This ensures that the sake, no matter how innovative, always maintains the legacy and roots of its origin.”

Haikara is currently available in two varieties: ‘Yuzu,’ which is made with a Japanese citrus fruit that looks like a small grapefruit; and ‘Momo,’ which is derived from a type of Japanese peach that is larger and softer than Western peaches. GSN received a bottle of the Yuzu for review.

Haikara Yuzu Sake (12.5% abv)
Visual: Cloudy yellow-white.
Nose: Grassy citrus with an unusual semi-musky funk.
Taste: Tart and very citrus forward. The sake supports the yuzu with a soft creaminess, but make no mistake this is akin to a sour mix in character, which makes it perfect for use in cocktails.
Finish: Medium long, with the sweeter notes coming out of hiding after the tang has faded.
Overall: A very interesting and surprisingly addictive beverage. We tried it room temperature straight, on the rocks, chilled and even in a few sours, and it worked every time.  The consensus is that chilling helps the flavors cohesiveness, but that’s up to you.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Haikara Sake

Hailing from Bogotá, Columbia, Parce Rum is a collection of 3 expressions: 3-Year, 8-Year, and 12-Year old. Aged Columbian rum has generally been a rare category in America, Parce was launched three years ago in Chicago and until now was only available in Illinois and other select markets.

Parce’s’s master blenders, Arthur Fernandes and his son Brojen Fernandes Domecq use natural spring water and homegrown yeast for optimal fermentation. They also use a blend of sugar cane juice, fresh-crushed from three cane varieties, and after distillation the spirit is aged in charred oak whisky barrels.

For each bottle of Parce Rum sold, we plant a native species tree in the Colombian rainforest through the Colombian environmental organization Contreebute and their reforestation initiative.

By the way, “Parce” (PAR-say) is Colombian slang for “buddy” or “pal,” used among good friends in good times. GSN was sent a bottle of the 3-year rum for review.

Parce 3-Year Old Rum (86 proof)
Visual: Medium gold.
Nose: Good heft of oak and char painted over a clean, expressive rum canvas.
Taste: Interestingly, although this is a cane based rum, there is no “agricole” sensibility here. Instead, it is straight forward, dry and aged to a young degree to just impart enough vanilla and oak to give it a broader spectrum of flavor.
Finish: Medium long, with a somewhat tannic moment. At the very end there is a brown sugar finish.
Overall: Younger than I’d prefer, this is still a great rum for use in cocktails and highballs. The distillate begs for a few more years in the barrel.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Parce Rum

One of the top U.S. online gifting companies is celebrating its first 15 years of business in a fun, unique way, shining the spotlight on the countless customers who have contributed to this major milestone. GourmetGiftBaskets.com’s 15 & Me Selfie Search has just launched, offering more than $2,000 in prizes.
The $22 million e-commerce company, which provides hundreds of upscale gourmet gifting options, will turn 15 on November 15th. The selfie search invites everyone to join the countdown to this big birthday by posting selfies with the number 15 in them on the company’s Facebook or Instagram pages. All posts must be family-friendly and should contain the hashtag #GGBTurns15.
The “15” can appear on nearly anything — a cake, sign, house, T-shirt, or even printed on paper. Contestants can post as many different shots as they’d like, as well, since all posts count. All entrants will vie for one of 17 exciting prizes.
The contestant with the most creative entry will win first prize – a whopping $1,500 worth of upscale goodies! These could include elaborate gourmet baskets (one is shown above, which the GSN offices received and enjoyed), towers, cookie cakes, and many more WOW-inspiring gifts.
The entrant with the highest number of posts will win second prize — a three-month membership in the Monthly Cheesecake Club, receiving a different cheesecake flavor each month.
Finally, 15 third-place winners will be chosen randomly to receive one-gallon tins of handcrafted gourmet popcorn, since GourmetGiftBaskets.com offers nearly 100 popcorn flavors from sweet to savory.
The search runs until 11:15 p.m. (ET) on November 15th. Soon afterward, winners will be announced and prizes will be distributed. To enter, go to the special contest page, or follow instructions on the GourmetGiftBaskets.com Facebook or Instagram pages. Updates will be available on the contest page and social media channels as the selfie search gains national momentum.

The Beam family is proud to officially announce the first and highly anticipated product release from Freddie Noe, eighth generation Beam family member and son of current Beam master distiller, Fred Noe. Named after the childhood nickname given to Freddie by his grandfather, legendary master distiller, Booker Noe, Little Book is an annual, limited release series that will feature a new and unique blend each year, presented uncut and unfiltered.

“I’m humbled and honored to share Little Book with the world,” said Freddie, who currently serves as the distillery’s fermentation manager. “When I joined the family business five years ago, I told Dad I wanted to learn everything there was to know about making whiskey. Along the way, I discovered I’m particularly fascinated by the endless taste profiles that can be created through blending. I’m excited for whiskey fans to taste the first batch of this annual release, and I look forward to sharing new, one-of-a-kind blends every year. It’s a real honor to carry on my family’s legacy, and I hope I’ve done them proud.”

The inaugural batch release of Little Book, called Little Book “The Easy,” is a blended straight whiskey that features four unique components: uncut and unfiltered corn, rye and malt whiskies – representative of the three grains commonly found in a bourbon mash bill balanced with uncut, unfiltered Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Creating the final liquid for Little Book “The Easy” was a labor of love for Freddie, who worked on the final recipe for over a year and tried more than 25 different blends of the liquid before he decided that it was worthy of his debut release.

The unique blend contains a 4-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, a 13-year-old corn whiskey, and roughly 6-year-old 100% malt and 6-year-old high-rye whiskies.

Little Book “The Easy” Whiskey (128.2 proof)
Visual: Darkening copper.
Nose: Intense, compact corn bourbon nose broadcast with sharp notes of rye spice. A luxurious and mouth-watering bouquet of blended whiskey.
Taste: Soft fire with a medium char and a whole lot of woodcraft. The aging portfolio works in tandem to create hints of cherry fruit, toasted vanilla, smoked sea salt, roasted sweetcorn, and a dollop of maple sugar. There is a whole lot going on here that creates an introspection of flavors.
Finish: Medium long, with the spice and fruitier notes evoking a cinnamon apple portrait.
Overall: A knockout by any standard. This is a real winner and speaks of great things to come from Freddie Noe.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Beam Suntory

Originally launched in 2009 (as Van Gogh Triple Wheat Vodka), Van Gogh Vodka is one of the first terroir-specific vodkas.  Third generation Master Distiller Tim Vos distills Van Gogh from a blend of wheat sourced from Holland, France and Germany—each providing distinct characteristics as a result of the local terroir.

In Holland, the wheat is cultivated near the Dutch coast and is a little salty and dry from the maritime influence. The harvest in France comes from the center of the country and the wheat possesses a sweeter profile. The wheat grown in Germany is sourced from an area where water comes from the melted ice of a nearby mountain, giving the grain a mineral edge.

Van Gogh Vodka is crafted in small batches using purified water at Cooymans Distillery International in Tilburg, Holland through a triple distillation method, which maintains the integrity of the natural ingredients before final blending.

Van Gogh Vodka (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Earthy, mineral-laden, densely crisp and clean nose. Wet slate and rainwater.
Taste: Smooth entry with a semi-creamy mouthfeel. Lots of mineral with a slight sweet glaze of sweetness. Tasty and with a full body and a friendly character.
Finish: Medium, with the sweetness leading away to a dry and semi-metallic finish which cleanses the palate.
Overall: A vodka with character and class. Great on its own, or in any vodka forward cocktail.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Van Gogh Vodka

New Zealand might not be the first place that comes to mind when sourcing single malt whisky, but thanks to Scottish settlers in the 1830’s a whisky tradition was born in a place you’d least expect.

The New Zealand Whisky Collection features expressions produced between 1987 and 1994 at the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. In 2010, New Zealand Whisky Collection founder Greg Ramsay discovered and purchased the last 443 barrels of cask strength whiskies at the distillery, which had been mothballed at the end of the 20th century; Ramsay saw the potential for the complex range of flavors among the quietly maturing barrels. Today, this extensive stock of old and rare whiskies is continuing to mature in a seaside bondstore in Oamaru, on the eastern coast of New Zealand.

Distilled using local barleys and snowmelt from the Southern Alps, the single malt whiskies in the New Zealand Whisky Collection, which reflect the last remaining stock of what was once the world’s southern-most distillery, are produced using traditional Scottish methods of copper pot stills.

Dunedin DoubleCask 16 Year Old (80 proof) A blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery). After aging in American Oak for 6 years, it is transferred to French Oak ex-New Zealand red wine casks for 12 Years, resulting in a stunning ruby color.
Visual: Deep orange-red.
Nose: Top notes of fruit and a rich malt palette. Very evocative of autumn and harvest time.
Taste: Quite sweet with wine character, but balanced with char and tannins.
Finish: Medium long with the tangy wine flavor carrying it to the finish.
Overall: A wonderful dessert whisky that has enough aging to perfectly balance the unusual malt/wine character profile. In some ways this reminds me of a sherry, but with much more heft and depth.
GSN Rating: A

Oamaruvian 16 Year Old Cask Strength DoubleCask (116.8 proof) The best casks are hand-picked for these unique single cask bottlings.
Visual: Dark brown.
Nose: Aromatic and punchy. Spices, some vine fruit and toasty malt work in tandem.
Taste: A powerhouse of flavor that only opens up with a splash of water. A definite spice character overrides the bottling. The twice aged cask flavor doesn’t overwhelm, but rather creates a see-saw of char and fruit.
Finish: Long and elegant.
Overall: An imperial style whisky that has a lot to offer. This is a contemplative spirit that reveals itself in shy, humble phrases.
GSN Rating: A-

High Wheeler 21 Year Old Single Grain (86 proof) A blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery), this expression is aged in American Oak ex-bourbon casks for 21 years.
Visual: Mild gold.
Nose: Oak forward and intensely compact in approach. Wood permeates the mash bill making a direct approach on the nose.
Taste: Masterful balance of vanilla, caramel, buttercream and richly appointed malt.
Finish: Medium-long with just a hint of smoke at the very end. It all closes like a summer sunset with a wistful farewell on the palate.
Overall: A high point in whiskies. This one reaches the mark with all colors flying. One of the top 10 whiskies we’ve been delighted to sample.
GSN Rating: A++

South Island 25 Year Old Single Malt (80 proof) Distilled in traditional copper pot stills using New Zealand grown malt barley. With this expression, New Zealand reached a milestone by becoming only the fifth country to release a 25-year-old single malt.
Visual: Pale gold.
Nose: Lovely wash of smokiness upon which a fine, high keening note of barley malt sings.
Taste: Bright, clean and very much in the traditional vein. Despite the venerable age of this whisky, it is by no means over-aged. Rather it has settled into a comfortable, relaxed warmth and softness.
Finish: There is a surprising touch of berry which comes out at the very end to give it a final feathery touch of sweetness.
Overall: Remarkably smooth and delicate.  One for the history books and a great find.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Anchor Distilling

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