So your significant other owns (and is the public face) of a fairly large spirits brand—what’s the obvious follow-up? If you’re actress Blake Lively, and you’ve seen husband Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin as a fixture at bars and restaurants around the country for the past decade, the answer would seemingly be obvious enough—a line of cocktail mixers. And that’s precisely what Lively has launched via the Betty Buzz line, but it’s not quite as simple as it might initially seem. Rather than being intended exclusively as cocktail mixers, the Betty Buzz line pitches itself increasingly toward the sober-curious, reflecting Lively’s own status as a non-drinker. It’s a wrinkle one might not initially expect—Lively doesn’t drink her own husband’s gin? But regardless, the two brands are meant to both support and stand independently of one another.
Betty Buzz’s array of products (currently five of them) are built around a “clean” aesthetic that favors naturalism over any artificial flavors or ingredients. They’re made with real juice, natural sweeteners such as cane sugar or agave syrup, are Vegan and Kosher friendly, contain no artificial colors, are gluten free, and even bill themselves as non-GMO. Which is to say, all the buzzwords are accounted for. The goal is clearly to produce a premium, natural line of everyday cocktail mixers, which Lively and co. clearly hope that non-drinkers will also explore as well in the pursuit of mocktails or simply subtle, refreshing beverages. Flavors retail nationwide in 12-packs for $30, which is obviously a pretty steep asking price for any cocktail mixer.
I received samples of all five Betty Buzz creations, so let’s get to tasting and see how they did.
Betty Buzz Tonic Water
The ad copy calls this “a light and refreshing American style tonic water, not overly sweet or bitter. Lots of small bubbles make it the perfect pair for gin or vodka … and delicious on its own.” It’s made with carbonated water, “quinin and other natural flavors,” citric acid and agave syrup for sweetening.
The description proves accurate in the sense that this does have a pretty mild bitterness as far as tonic waters are concerned, with a mild to moderate sweetness that possesses an unusual fruitiness, almost a cotton candy-like note. In total, I would say it’s a touch less bitter and more gentle than most of the commercial tonic on the market. It mixes fine with gin or rum, but simultaneously there’s no aspect of this one that really stands out in a dramatic way. It’s just a very relaxed tonic water.
Betty Buzz Ginger Beer
The ad copy states: “Clean, fresh ginger taste with the perfect balance of spice. Pair it with Rum, Tequila, Vodka, or Whiskey, or enjoy on its own.” Betty Buzz Ginger Beer is made with carbonated water, “real ginger juice,” citric acid and cane sugar.
A simple and classic ginger beer in description, and pretty much that way on the palate as well. The Ginger Beer demonstrates what several of these small, 9 oz bottles show, which is a certain level of sedimentation that needs to be gently swirled or shaken up into suspension—a visual indicator of the brand’s natural roots. There’s lots of ginger flavor here; it’s certainly not hurting for more ginger. All in all, in fact, this is the most purely flavorful bottle in the box without a doubt, and I’m sure it could probably stand up to rum or whiskey just fine. A bright, lime-like citrus leads into mild ginger spice/heat on the palate, although one curiously feels it more in the chest than on the mouth. All told, this Ginger Beer is perhaps the Betty Buzz selection that is most similar to other products that are on the market, being pretty close to other small soda company ginger beers, although it’s not as hot or spicy as some of them.
Betty Buzz Meyer Lemon Club Soda
The idea of a “flavored club soda” is sort of an eccentric one in my eyes, an oxymoron in the sense that club soda isn’t supposed to provide any flavor, just carbonation. Does a flavored club soda, then, imply a fizzy drink that is less strongly flavored than a La Croix-style flavored seltzer? Certainly you would expect this to be less flavorful than something just labeled as “lemon soda,” right? What are the rules here? Here’s what Betty Buzz says in the ad copy: “Light, bright and citrusy with real Meyer Lemon juice and a touch of sea salt. Pairs with Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila or Gin. A delightful alternative to the average Club Soda and delicious on its own.”
On its own, this one is pretty subtle. It has a pleasant lemon citrus nose, not too aggressive, but it’s very mild on the palate, and I question whether this would really hold the attention of most drinkers. Even in comparison with a lemon-flavored seltzer, this is notably non-assertive; it really does read more like club soda with just a hint of lemon. Adding whiskey as suggested to make a highball, meanwhile, it mostly tastes like a whiskey and soda, and is missing some needed sweetness and acidity. All in all, this is probably best used in recipes that already just call for a bit of club soda, as it doesn’t seem likely to affect the outcome very much regardless of what else is in the drink. Simply a touch too mild for me.
Betty Buzz Sparkling Lemon Lime
Ad copy: “Crafted with real Meyer Lemon and lime juice, agave and a touch of sea salt. Pair it with Tequila for a ridiculously refreshing margarita alternative, mix with Vodka or enjoy on its own.”
After not particularly enjoying the Meyer Lemon Club Soda, I was expecting this Lemon Lime bottle to be much the same experience, but I surprisingly found that enjoyed this one quite a lot more. The addition of the lime, once swirled to bring the juice concentrate back into the mixture, gives this one a brighter and more refreshing quality on both the nose and the palate, and there’s just a bit more sweetness to round things out. Likewise, there’s a bit more impression of tartness and acidity as well, and it makes all the difference in the world. This would clearly be a natural bedfellow for gin—I don’t know how well it would stand up to tequila, as suggested—but it’s especially pleasant to drink all on its own, displaying excellent balance in vivacious citrus and carbonation. For me, this was the clear standout of the citrus-based Betty Buzz flavors.
Betty Buzz Sparkling Grapefruit
Ad copy: “Delivers a tangy, lightly sweet and fresh citrus hit with 24% real Pink Grapefruit juice. Pair it with Tequila, Mezcal, Vodka or Gin, or enjoy on its own.”
I certainly love the idea of Betty Buzz Sparkling Grapefruit, but in practice I’m afraid this one falls into a certain uncanny valley where it’s wedged between two better options: Grapefruit juice and grapefruit soda. This bottle has a subtle sweetness, but it’s fairly dry, with plenty of carbonation, but overall it’s somewhat hurting for character. A paloma, meanwhile, is the drink that the company is obviously trying to evoke with the tequila or mezcal suggestion, but a paloma is traditionally made with grapefruit soda, which is always going to be much sweeter than this, and that additional sugar will help the drink stand up to the booze in the tequila or mezcal. Simultaneously, this has some tartness, but not nearly as much vivacious acidity as full-on grapefruit juice—in fact, this has less than Ocean Spray’s main grapefruit juice brand.
Ultimately, then, this product drinks fine on its own, but it feels like either a sweeter or tarter substitute would likely do the cocktail mixer job with more flair.
Still, there are a few promising mixers here. The tonic is easygoing and genial. The ginger beer packs a big flavor punch. And the lemon-lime sparkler is the surprising show stealer. If you’ve got some Aviation Gin at home, at least one of these flavors will provide a suitable dance partner.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.