Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Henry Weinhard’s has long been my pantry root beer – easy to acquire at local supermarkets, far better quality than any other brand available at said supermarkets, and relatively affordable. I usually have to warn people I’m serving it to not to swig or slosh the bottle too hard, since the head can go Old Faithful on you – something I learned from experience many summers ago when I had my first Weinhard’s whilst employed at a conference center in New Mexico. When poured into a glass, the foam is actually thick enough to float the bottle cap on top. So not only does it give Weinhard’s much of its texture, smoothing out the whole drinking experience, it makes for a neat party trick.
As far as flavor goes, Henry Weinhard’s is generally mild. It has a very slight evergreen smell that doesn’t really carry over to the taste, which is mostly sweet, with vanilla and root-y undertones. The aftertaste is mostly herb-y and almost citrus-y (the foam itself has a citrus-y taste, probably from the foaming agent, which isn’t listed, and probably accounts for that aftertaste). Honey essence helps to richen the flavor, adding depth to the typically empty HFCS, the primary sweetener here. I would prefer the flavor to be stronger out of the bottle, since it it’s mostly sweet, less herbs, but the herb flavor is more pronounced when I drink it from a glass. Mild flavor withstanding, Weinhard’s will still be my go-to pantry root beer – although IBC has a slightly stronger root beer flavor, Weinhard’s quality is much better. Henry Weinhard’s gets a low 4.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
I’ve been planning on writing a blurb about Virgil’s for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to getting a Virgil’s yet. As luck would have it, I was served Virgil’s at a friend’s housewarming party earlier this fall, and was thus reintroduced to Virgil sooner than expected. Honestly I wasn’t really expecting to like it, since I actually didn’t like it last time I had it. That was a couple years ago, when I apparently liked milder root beers, since I found Virgil’s to be too root-y at the time – like chewing on tree bark. This time around, I actually liked it a lot more than I expected to – they say (whoever they may be) tastes change every 7 years, so maybe Virgil’s was simply caught on the wrong side of my taste change last pass? For science’s sake, I decided we needed a second sampling in, a more controlled environment…
(76 Station, Beverly Hills; September 2010)
Ah, you gotta love Beverly Hills – even the gas stations sell gourmet root beer. This was convenient, since Virgil’s is usually sold in multi-packs and mini-kegs at my local beverage vendor, and since I wasn’t entirely sure how true my feeling about Virgil’s would be, I didn’t want to risk having a lot of extra around (though a mini-keg would have been fun…). Thank goodness for high-end convenience stores then! I also got me some Boylan Black Cherry and Swiss chocolates there to round out the Fancy-Pants AMPM experience.
Virgil’s originally hails from England – which doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation for foodstuffs, but is at least well known for boiling plant materials for beverages. Anise is the dominant flavor; so dominant that the root beer actually tastes like black licorice. The addition of nutmeg works well with the anise, and blended with a healthy dose of wintergreen creates a good fall/winter-flavored beverage. To offset the spices, there are actually two sources of sweetness: regular sugar and caramelized unrefined sugar. My guess is that the caramelized sugar is what gives Virgil its rich, somewhat smoky flavor and helps to smooth the whole thing out.
Yes, I like Virgil’s a lot more now than I did a couple years ago. It’s a very high quality beverage, crafted with care. As to whether I would drink it again: absolutely I will, but not as much and not as frequently as I would other root beers – it has such a distinctive flavor to it that I would wait to be in the mood for it specifically. That being the case, Virgil’s gets a 3.5.
Sioux City has long been my go-to sarsaparilla, but their root beer is harder to find here in LA. Luckily, my astute in-laws were way ahead of me, and had some chilling in the fridge when we arrived in Ohio – and it certainly did not disappoint.
My initial observation was the lack of a dominant flavor. Yet the flavor was still good – good hints of vanilla, anise and wintergreen, not too sweet, good smell and aftertaste. That’s when I realized that the reason there was no dominant flavor was because the flavors blended together so smoothly that I experienced every flavor at once without any particular flavor sticking out – that’s practically root beer perfection! It’s like hearing an orchestra where every single instrument is precisely in tune, playing a perfectly resolved chord. Seriously, the only nit-picky thing keeping Sioux City from getting a perfect score was that I would have liked an ever so slightly stronger flavor – same chord, just one decibel louder.
One day, I’m going to try Sioux City's root beer and sarsaparilla side by side to see what the real difference between the two beverages is. Sioux City is certainly the best brand to use for this comparison, since it’s an excellent form of both. For their root beer, I’ll give them a 4.5.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Another local brew, with another local root beer stand origin story! Frostop (which is probably pronounced “frost-top,” as in “frosty on the top,” but I will continue to refer to as “fro-stop,” as in “putting a halt to 70’s hair”) dates back to 1926, when LS Harvey opened his first root beer stand in Springfield, OH (on the other side of Columbus from Mansfield). I discovered Frostop during an afternoon wandering around the dilapidated industrial areas of town with the missus’ dad, which included a stop at the old-knitting-factory-where-the-missus’-grandfather-once-worked-cum-vintage-Corvette-part-factory, a drive past the abandoned state reformatory where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed, and finally a visit to Wilging’s Fine Meats, the butcher shop where the in-laws have shopped for decades (and are still friends with the family), where I ultimately came across my second Ohio root beer.
Frostop has a good root beer flavor that, although a bit mild, has a nice balance of sugar and herbs – not too sweet, not too herby. The aftertaste is mostly wintergreen or birch, or at least something bark-y, and is much stronger when you pair the Frostop with Wilging’s salami. It should be noted that my first bottle of Frostop came after snacking on that salami, and the salami made the root beer a little hard to drink – for some reason, it elevated the bark-y undertones into bark-y hit-you-over-the-head tones, and left a strong menthol/almost bitter taste in my mouth. Thankfully, we had plenty more bottles left for me to give Frostop another go later in a more controlled environment (i.e., no salami involved…), where I liked it a lot more.
While I would certainly have another Frostop given the opportunity (not sure if they are available on the west coast), I don’t think it’s one I would go back to over and over again – both because of the relatively mild flavor and for the weird interaction with food. As just a refreshing rooty accompaniment to a lazy afternoon though, Frostop is a pretty good option – I give it a 3.5.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Without further ado then…
I was excited to discover that Stewart’s Beverages, now a staple at most supermarkets in California, started in 1924 as a root beer stand in Mansfield. Unfortunately, Frank Stewart’s original root beer stand no longer stands, and the only remaining Stewart’s Drive-In location in Mansfield has been occupied by a different restaurant for years. Nevertheless, I had made a point of having a Stewart’s Root Beer in their hometown, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that my in-laws already had some waiting for us when we arrived – thus my first root beer of the weekend was the “local” brew.
And the local brew is a pretty decent one. The herb-to-sweet balance of flavors leans heavily towards the sweet side, so any rooty-ness from the acacia, yucca extract, and “natural and artificial flavor” is fairly subdued, perhaps a little more pronounced in the aftertaste. Quillaia extract is also present, probably as a foaming agent (which might be what the yucca extract is for, too), which may account for the hard carbonation (it’s not particularly foamy for a draft-style root beer though).
It's too bad there wasn’t still a Stewart’s Drive-In in town we could have visited – I’d be willing to bet that root beer there would have been much better than the bottled variety. The bottling of Stewart’s Root Beer is handled by a different company, and the economies of scale in these kinds of transactions tend to dull the original product’s glory a bit. Although the bottled Stewart’s is good, it’s still pretty average; I give it a 3.
So Duh! is our first posted root beer with punctuation in its title (!). To tell the truth, the bottle looked a bit gimmicky when I first saw it, albeit appropriately LA for the store where I purchased it, which advertises “soda pop, candy, and celebrity” as its three main draws. Even so, given its purported root beer credentials, I was willing to give it a fair shot.
Alfalfa honey is listed as the 4th ingredient, but is actually the dominant flavor and aftertaste. I’ve observed that sodas with honey tend to have a rich flavor and a smooth texture, and that is certainly also the case here. There’s no discernible vanilla taste even though vanilla is the only other spice mentioned specifically by name, and there’s only a slight anise smell from the bottle – in other words, not much of a root beer herb flavor. Honey is effectively all I can taste – which is actually fine by me because I like honey, and therefore very much enjoyed So Duh! as a honey soda. But is “honey soda” root beer? Not by my standards – unfortunately that will only net a 2.5.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
In an age when every minor celebrity has their own fragrance line (because we really, really want to smell like Kim Kardashian), Judge Joseph Wapner, original arbitrator of The People’s Court, bucks the trend by lending his name instead to root beer. While I certainly can’t tell you not to use it as perfume (to each his own), I certainly can tell you it works better as a beverage (well, also to each his own).
The beverage in question, however, shouldn’t be called root beer in my judgment. Molasses and cane sugar overrule any discernible wintergreen or anise – little evidence to support the herb-y flavor I prefer. It’s tasty, but again, not root-y enough to sustain the "root beer" title in my estimation – since I gave Gale’s, a much better drink as a whole, a lower score for this very reason, I have to follow precedent and do the same here. Judge Wapner’s verdict: 2.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Drink up, me hearties (yo-ho)...!
Prospect Hill Beverages is a family-owned company founded in 1914 by Domenick Cusolito, an Italian immigrant who settled his family in the Boston-area city of Somerville. Tower Ginger Ale and Root Beer – named for the Prospect Hill Tower, where the original flag of the 13 Colonies was first raised by General George Washington in 1776 – were their signature drinks for decades before they were acquired by a larger soft drink conglomerate (which is apparently the SAT word of the day, seeing as I’ve used it in both of today’s posts…), reacquired by the Cusolito family when the larger company failed, then dissolved again in 1978 when they were overshadowed by even larger soft drink companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi. After an almost 30 year hiatus, Tower has recently returned once again.*
Tower has a good root beer flavor, with an aftertaste that is mostly sweet – sweeter than the initial taste. My sources say that anisette was a key ingredient in the original recipe, giving it both the anise flavor and a little extra sweetness. I’m fairly certain real anisette is either no longer used, or the liqueur is cooked out during the brewing process, since there’s no alcohol content stated. The root beer/anise flavor is not particularly strong, but not particularly weak either, so it was a generally pleasant experience, if a bit unremarkable. Still, I certainly wouldn’t refuse it in the future – Tower gets a 3.5.
*Source: Edible Boston. It’s a good read.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Dad’s has popped up on the radar several times in my lifetime, either in 2-liter bottle or 12 oz can form, but had never been very impressive. I remember there was always a bitter aftertaste that would literally make me cringe after each sip. Thankfully, that was not the case this time, though I’m not entirely sure why – perhaps either the recipe or my tastes have changed? Perhaps it’s the former, since I didn’t remember there being HFCS in there before, but then again I didn’t really read the ingredient list the past few times I’ve had it, so perhaps it’s really the latter. One thing remains constant though – the fact that it is unimpressive.
The root beer flavor is fairly mild, and didn’t really seem to register much on my taste buds. Any aftertaste faded so quickly that I don’t even remember it. It did have a nice smell, so I tried it in a glass, which gave it a slightly stronger root beer flavor, but also a slightly bitter aftertaste – never underestimate the olfactory element, good or bad. On the whole, Dad’s left me wishing it was bolder one way or the other – then at least I would be liking or disliking it for its actual character rather than just feeling ambivalent about it. I’ll give it a 2.5.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Ah, the novelty of oversized bottles … suckered me into buying more of this root beer than I ever wanted…
Sparky’s comes in 2 sizes – the standard 12 oz, and a sharable 22 oz; I opted for the 22 oz so I could share with the missus, which was good because the missus liked it much more than I did, and so I didn’t have to finish it. While Sparky’s smelled really good upon opening the bottle, and the initial taste was pleasant, that all quickly gave way to a very bitter, almost medicinal taste that lingered in my mouth for a long time. I’m not sure what this flavor comes from, since the ingredients only list “natural botanical extracts, imitation flavors [and] spices” – maybe too much wintergreen or birch. Smaller sips make it more palatable, possibly due to honey in the mix which usually smoothes out overly-herbal assaults, but the bitterness eventually still catches up with you. The aftertaste also lingers for a long time – at first pleasant, but eventually cloying, which is confusing since the drink itself is so bitter.
I’m steering clear of Sparky’s in the future – that gets you a 1.
The tiny town of Solvang sits approximately 30 minutes inland from Santa Barbara, a Danish bastion amid the Spanish colonialism of neighboring Santa Ynez. Named “sunny field” in Danish, this quaint tourist trap is certainly a sunny and fieldy collection of bakeries, trinket shops, Hans Christian Andersen paraphernalia, and cased meat with funny names – not the place you’d expect to spawn a root beer posting, but here we are nonetheless.
Natural Brew chilled in the display case at a frozen yogurt joint among other root beer delights (ones that are readily available close to home, which will be covered in later posts) and made me forget the hankering for frozen dairy that brought me inside to begin with. Unfortunately, it took me a while after returning home to even get around to trying it, since there were several other root beers already in the queue (as well as some SCIENCE!), so there was neither root beer nor dairy to be had that day.
When I finally got to it, the Natural Brew slapped me around a bit for making it wait. Seriously, this is one root-y root beer. The predominant flavors are as “complex” as the label states, very earthy, and taste very much like other roots I’ve tasted in the past (there are lots of commonly used roots in my native cuisine) – probably owing to the licorice root figuring prominently in the ingredients. Other ingredients include bourbon vanilla extract (since I’ve never had bourbon before, I actually don’t know if this made that much of an impact on the flavor beyond being the vanilla delivery instrument) and your usual root beer suspects: anise, sarsaparilla, birch oil, and wintergreen oil. In truth, the root actually overwhelms the herbs. There was also another very familiar flavor – almost fruity – but I couldn’t quite place it. All in all though, it was too much for my liking.
Herein lies the inherent pitfall of all subjective reviews – while I can say that Natural Brew is a very well conceived, very well executed root beer, I can’t really say it was really that well-liked, at least by me. The quality is very evident, but I would probably choose several other root beers before drinking this one again. I would definitely recommend other root beer lovers try it, but I think I prefer a little less complexity in my beverage; I might pass on it next time I’m in Solvang – I’d give it a 3.
We also stopped at an ostrich farm on our way out of town…
Monday, November 1, 2010
Pearson Bros. of San Francisco represents two things I love – root beer and San Francisco. Ah, how lovely it would be to be by the bay right now, sipping a root beer, hot chowder from a sourdough bowl warming me against the brisk autumn ocean breeze… That alone should make this a shoo-in to at least be the official beverage of some fall pigskin action, yes?
Unfortunately though, the SF root beer parallels this season’s SF 49ers just a little too closely: good in theory, but lacking in practice. The initial flavor is actually pretty good: a nice balance of root-to-sweet, with a nice aftertaste that’s neither too herby or too sugary (or HFCS-y in this case) – much like the Niners’ preseason, it promised much. But also much like the Niners’ regular season, Pearson Bros. is weak when it counts – it tastes thin, almost watered down. Certainly it’s not all bad – Frank Gore is consistently one of my highest scoring fantasy-players week to week, and in following, Pearson Bros. is, in fact, tasty. It’s just that there’s no follow through – most of the Niners’ losses thus far have been by less than a touchdown, meaning that one bad drive per game has been the difference between 2-6 and 6-2. Again, in following, Pearson Bros.’ flavor is just not strong enough, not rich enough to Go. All. The. Way. What we have here is a classic case of lots of clock spent running from sideline to sideline in the backfield, juking defensive linemen left and right while looking for a lane, but getting leveled by a linebacker for no gain upon crossing the line of scrimmage.
Average, net-zero, plain and simple: that gets a 2.5, which is sadly still more than the number of wins my Niners have heading into bye week…
And lest you think this loyalty extends to baseball -- think again. Giants suck! Go Rangers!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Recall, if you will, the earlier Deerfield Trading Company post containing the following postulation:
“… I have not yet tried the regular Walgreens generic root beer, which I’d imagine is the same recipe except with HFCS instead of sugar, but it might be worth doing a side by side comparison, you know, for the betterment of science and … um … stuff…”Today, we are back for the betterment of science and … um … stuff … ! With this post, we officially launch the SCIENCE! posts, previously unofficially launched way back in August (ah, memories) with the Santa Cruz Organic experiment. Now you’ll have to excuse the rather loose application of the term science (!), but I do believe that if I endeavor towards the betterment of root beer enjoyment, such an endeavor requires some empirical – even if it is somewhat dubiously empirical – observations regarding this wonderful beverage. And so we proceed…
First, we look at the ingredients to see if they are in fact the same, with the exception of sweetener used. Consider Exhibits 1 and 2 below:
The ingredients are in fact the same, with the exception of the type of sweetener used. However, we also note that the ingredients are not in the same order (ergo, proportion), and thus the formula is slightly different for each drink as well. While both list carbonated water and sweetener first, the position of natural and artificial flavors is different. Deerfield goes as far as to have more natural than artificial flavors, whereas Walgreens is opposite. Thus one can conclude empirically that the ingredients in Deerfield are “better” than Walgreens in that flavorings are in higher proportion than colors and preservatives, and that natural flavors are in higher proportion than artificial ones. Both have citric acid in lowest proportion (which makes sense, because a little citric acid really does go a long way).
So does the higher proportion of natural flavors, and flavorings in general give Deerfield a superior taste over Walgreens? To determine that, we will have to utilize slightly less objective, but just as empirical methods – taste tests. We test for 3 main factors: (1) whether or not a test subject can taste the difference between both beverages, (2) which beverage was preferred (and whether or not that was consistent), and (3) whether or not blind taste tests would yield the same results as fully-cognizant taste tests.
This round of testing was administered to two test subjects – the missus and myself – each subject administering the blind portions of the test to the other. Drinks were poured into 2 different glasses, the contents of each glass known only to the administrator. At the administrator’s discretion, each glass carried either differing beverages or the same beverage – tests subjects were required to identify which they thought was Deerfield and which Walgreens, and whether or not they had a preference of one over the other. Results are as follows:
And thus the conclusion is … inconclusive… While both subjects were generally consistent in preferring the same beverage over the other during the blind taste test, the subjects were not consistent in being able to distinguish whether or not the samples presented them were in fact different beverages. Both subjects at one point either stated the drinks were the same when they were really different, or vice versa. The “full knowledge” test may have been slightly skewed by the fact that each beverage tasted different from the bottle than from the glass (possibly due to the same factors stated in my earlier Walgreens Original review). Also, each drink’s flavor may have been altered based on which glass it was in – further testing may be required, using the same type of glass for both samples.
Perhaps the only conclusion we can really come to is that neither version of root beer is very good. This conclusion, of course, makes neither subject really willing to perform the test again, same glass types or otherwise. If I really wanted to develop a conclusion for this, I would say that unless one is really sensitive to it, there is an almost imperceptible difference in flavor between sugar and HFCS (makes sense, seeing as chemically, the two sweeteners are separated by only one atom). There did not seem to much bias against HFCS one way or the other by either test subject – Subject 1 stated preference for what was blindly perceived as Walgreens, and picked Deerfield in the full-knowledge test, when all 3 stated preferences were actually Deerfield; Subject 2 preferred what was blindly perceived as Walgreens, and actually turned out to be Walgreens, yet preferred Deerfield in the full-knowledge test. I’d like to say that this means my preference towards one root beer over another is not based solely what sweetener is used, and more on the blend of herbs. While still subjective in taste preferences, if nothing else, this does prove that neither the missus nor I are mugwumps when HFCS is concerned.
On the other hand, explaining the more curious question of why the beverages taste slightly better when mixed together might never be possible…
There’s no real perceptible root beer flavor here. In fact, the only thing that really distinguishes it from just a regular generic cola is that it’s slightly less sweet than cola and substitutes the citrus-y aftertaste of cola with a slightly menthol-y aftertaste. Aside from that, the aftertaste is actually somewhat acidic in an acrid way – this may actually be from the carbonation, which was strong and biting, almost burning. Oddly enough, it tastes slightly better from a glass, possibly because some carbonation has a means of escape prior to ingestion. But only slightly better, so it still only gets a 1.
Interesting point that may be covered in a later post about the Deerfield/sugar versus Walgreens/HFCS experiment: while neither Deerfield nor Walgreens taste very good on their own, they taste slightly better when mixed together. But again, only slightly better, so these are only desperation root beers, only appropriate when I absolutely need a pick-me-up in the middle of the work day and can’t pony up the extra $0.59 for the A&W sitting on the shelf below. On the other hand, the Deerfield Black Cherry isn’t a bad option. Nevertheless, for Deerfield and Walgreens, the respective 1.5 and 1 ratings stand.
More to come in the Deerfield/Walgreens saga…
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I was excited to try Trader Joe’s Vintage Root beer after reading all of the herbs listed with its ingredients: wintergreen birch, anise, sassafras, and Tahitian vanilla extract stood out in the roll call. For the health and/or socially conscious sugary beverage connoisseurs, it also uses cane sugar, is vegan, and is gluten free. While I can’t account for the vegan and gluten-free nature affecting the flavor (Can you even have non-vegan root beer…? And why would you ever include wheat gluten in root beer…?), I can definitely attest to tasting all of the herbs present. Initially, the sugar and vanilla hit heavy, followed by the sassafras and anise you would typically expect in a proper root beer. The wintergreen birch comes last, with a slightly minty aftertaste that eventually fades into something almost like ginseng.
This is definitely better than any other grocery store-branded root beer I’ve ever had – the flavors are rich and complex. However, I didn’t think the flavors necessarily blended together well enough to move the overall beverage from the “good root beer” to “really good root beer” class. Certainly the flavors were all individually good – all except for the lingering aftertaste, which was that ginseng-like taste that was almost bitter and barky (which would be fine were I drinking ginseng tea, but not so fine were I having root beer, which in this case, I were. …er, was…) – but it would have been better if there was more balance. To re-use my band analogy from a previous entry, I want to hear the whole band play together instead of just a series of individual solos. A better analogy within the musical nomenclature would be one of sound mixing: proper mixing should achieve balance with separation – that is, you want to blend the instruments/voices so that each member neither overpowers nor gets overpowered by the others, but you want to do so in such a way where you can still clearly hear each instrument/voice when you are consciously listening for it. Ergo, while the Trader Joe's Vintage Root Beer Band is a solid rock band comprised of very talented players, the sound engineer thinks they're an experimental noise band and so goes a little wild with the faders, cranking instruments/voices up and dropping them down at random points in the set without any resolution to the sound as a whole.
Overall though, I'd still go see the band if they're in town - I just wouldn't go out of my way to go see them since their vegan/gluten-free manager probably only books them at ironic hipster/emo joints in Los Feliz. Nevertheless, Trader Joe’s Vintage gets a favorable rating – I give it a 3.5.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Creamy says, as creamy does, and while Zuberfizz may not be particularly root-y, it certainly is creamy as stated. Draft also says as draft also does, and Zuberfizz also delivers as stated when it comes to the foamy head. As I already said, the root beer flavor is not especially strong despite a strong root beer scent – too faint for my tastes – and so the aftertaste is all sweet. The root beer flavor does linger after the aftertaste though, faintly coming back after the sweetness fades.
All in all though, Zuberfizz is a pleasant drink, even if it doesn’t stand out in the sea of average root beers. Good enough to get a 3.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Me and my nostalgia…
IBC holds a special place in my heart, since it was the first bottled root beer I ever had. It might even be the root beer that made me a fan of root beer, since I don’t even remember having any other brand of root beer before then besides your standard A&W (which I will cover in a later post), which I often didn’t even prefer over the more standard Coca Colas and 7-Ups of the world, and of which I actually preferred the cream soda over the root beer. My first IBC came from a restaurant somewhere I can’t remember, and for years after, I kept the empty IBC bottle from that restaurant as a novelty decorating a bookshelf in my room. That was before I realized that one can purchase it in practically every supermarket, and that it was within reach this whole time (hey, I didn’t do the grocery shopping when I was a kid, OK?).
Even after I moved out on my own, I don’t think I bought IBC – root beer or cream soda – more than a few times since cash was scarce in those hungry years, and root beer (of standard or non-standard variety) was only an occasional luxury (which, mind you, was OK, since it’s not exactly real food, nor good for me in large quantities…). Shortly before obtaining gainful employment, when root beer could finally become a more frequent treat, I discovered Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer, and Weinhard’s quickly became my go-to multi-pack root beer. Thus, this is actually the first time I’ve purchased IBC in several years. Would it be as good as I remembered - the face that launched a thousand ships into the great root beer sea?
Actually, yes, it is as good as I remembered (!). Certainly I’ve had plenty of better root beers since then – including, in my opinion Weinhard’s – but that doesn’t detract from IBC being a good root beer. In fact, it is a very good “pantry” root beer – that is, one that is easily better than your mass market canned root beers (and better than many of the non-mass market ones I’ve documented on this journal), a very good value (usually less than $0.50 per bottle, on sale), outside the norm enough to be considered something special to serve guests, yet mild enough to have wide appeal to most guests (unless the guest absolutely doesn’t like root beer, in which case I’m rescinding their invitation to my house). There’s a good balance of root beer flavor and sweetness, though, as I mentioned earlier, it is milder than I would normally prefer. But even though I would have liked a stronger root beer flavor with a more herb-y bite, it’s good enough for me to want another one and strong enough to be an everyday root beer (as opposed to a special occasion one, which I reserve the 5 rating for). Again, strong enough to not be same-ol’-same-ol’, but mild enough for wide appeal.
This is definitely something I would keep around the house for when people drop by – the nostalgia is an added plus. Good enough to get a 3.5.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Kutztown Premium Original Recipe Root Beer takes us back to the old country, assuming that ye olde country converses auf Deutsche, as suggested by the “Nix Besser” stated on the label. “Nix besser”, translates roughly to “nothing better” auf englisch – Kutztown’s claim to quality. Either that or Nix Besser is the company that makes Kutztown. But seeing as the label also states that the Kutztown Bottling Company makes Kutztown Premium Original Recipe Root Beer, and seeing as the Nix Besser Company actually happens to be a livestock company, and also seeing as I don't think I'd want to drink original recipe anything from a livestock company, my money is on the former…
Too bad though, because this root beer may as well have been made by the latter. Real sugar instead of HFCS, but it still tastes a little watery, maybe because it was already somewhat flat even straight out of the bottle.Even though the label said that it would be foamy, there wasn’t really any head to speak of. Interestingly enough, there was more root beer flavor in the aftertaste than there was in the actual taste. While the missus thought it tasted like carbonated tea, upon further consideration, I thought it tasted a little like prune juice, with added hints of Chinese preserved prune.
On that note, you’d think that Kutztown would get a 1 because, I mean, prune juice couldn’t be better than durian juice, right? Well actually, I kind of like Chinese preserved prunes... Just not in my root beer. And that has no bearing whatsoever on what we're talking about here... In any event, the herb-y aftertaste was acceptable enough to lift it above a 1, but not much higher. I’ll give it a 1.5.
Monday, September 20, 2010
(Mac & Cheeza, September 2010)
The missus and I recently hit the (D)town for an evening of art and short film, stopping for a bite in a small storefront that enticed us with its backlit cheese-wedge sign. A restaurant specializing in mac n’ cheese? Brilliant! A specialty soda cooler in the corner?? Brilliant-er!! A specialty root beer in the specialty soda cooler??? Brilliant-est!!! Nearly $20 for mac n’ cheese and root beer???? Um… not so brilliant… (!!!!)
Nevertheless, there was root beer to be had, and such that it was, I had a job to do.
Americana uses cane sugar, then adds licorice and sassafras to the cache. Said licorice adds a slight kick, but doesn’t sacrifice drinkability to do so. Overall, I really liked it – good blend of herbs and sugar where the sugar doesn’t overpower the herbs and the herbs don’t leave a bitter aftertaste. The flavor is full – perhaps a little on the lower end of what I would ordinarily call “full-flavored;” not particularly rich, but certainly not hollow – that progresses from an initial sweetness that gives way to a spicy/herby spike before returning to sweetness, which lingers just long enough to smooth away any edge from the roots and spices. Good root beer should be a symbiotic relationship between herby-ness and sweetness, where each plays off of the other like the lead singer and lead guitarist of a great rock band to elevate the whole above the individual merits of its members. Plant & Page, Lennon & Harrison, Axl & Slash – off-stage antics of the latter pair aside, they all knew how to blend, and when they did, the results were glorious. Same goes for great root beers. Lofty words for carbonated beverages? Perhaps. But still true? Absolutely.
All in all, Americana is a good solid root beer – it gets a 4.
Friday, September 17, 2010
(Big Lots, July 2010)
Teddy’s Root Beer has been somewhat elusive to me – I first saw Teddy’s Root Beer at a party a couple years ago, and because I didn’t actually get to try it at said party, I’ve been trying to find out where it was sold since then without much success (albeit, I wasn’t looking very hard…). At long last, I discovered it at a Big Lots while looking for ice cube trays – a somewhat auspicious day, as root beers come, since you’ll recall that’s the same day I found the Santa Cruz Organic – which of course may actually make it slightly less auspicious, seeing as the Santa Cruz Organic didn’t turn out to be very good, and even less auspicious when you factor in the failure to find ice cube trays. In any case, I did happen across the Teddy’s that day, and happened across what appeared to be the last bottle of it – the bull moose* almost eluding me once again – but the key word here is almost, since I made like a Dakota cowboy and wrangled it home. Still, given that the previous bargain store root beer purchase was rough riding, I had my doubts about this one…
I am pleased to report, however, that Teddy’s is no nature faker. The taste is similar to that of an old fashioned root beer like Dad’s, earthy and herby, with a pleasant sweetness that doesn’t hit the herb-iness with a big stick. Fortunately, the aftertaste is not bitter like Dad’s, but rather speaks softly of licorice. There is a slightly empty flavor that’s inherent in using HFCS – real sugar generally has a deeper, richer flavor (Sprecher compensates by adding honey for the depth of flavor) – but I’m no mugwump when it comes to HFCS, so I don’t really mind. Actually, were I to postulate on what old fashioned root beer candies are supposed to taste like, I would postulate that they are supposed to taste like Teddy’s Root Beer!
Yet I’m having a hard time squaring the deal on what rating to give Teddy’s – since I liked Teddy’s enough to certainly buy more in the future, I’m inclined to give it a 4. If a 3 is just above mass market brand names (amongst which I would give Mug a 1-ish, A&W a 3-minus, and Barq’s a slightly higher 3-minus as my preferred mass-market brand name**), then Teddy’s is definitely better than a 3.5. Having said that though, it’s not as good as Sprecher, which I also gave a 4. For clarity’s sake, I’m not going to go down to quarter-points and give it a 3.75, so thus Teddy’s gets a 4 – a low 4, but a 4 nonetheless.
* Based on the artist’s rendering on the label, I’m assuming the “Teddy” in Teddy’s is none other than our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. And we all know what assuming does: it makes me drop obscure historical references in everything written from here on out.
** These mass-market brand name rankings actually hint towards my root beer flavor preferences, and thus my biases as far as my rating goes. Since I don’t like Mug, one can surmise I don’t like my root beer too sweet. While I think A&W is quite tasty and quite smooth, if I had to choose between A&W and Barq’s, I would choose Barq’s, indicating that I like having a little “bite,” as they call it. That is, I prefer a slightly sharper flavor to my root beers – not to the point of bitterness or tree bark, but definitely more on the herby side. You can take this into account when evaluating my tastes/ratings compared to yours. Basically, if I’d rather have a Barq’s over the root beer being rated, it gets a 1 or 2, depending on how much I didn’t like it. If I’d rather have the root beer being rated instead of a Barq’s, but am not likely to seek it out again in the future, it gets a 3. If I do plan on seeking it out again, it gets a 4. If I plan on seeking it out in large quantities, it gets a 5.
Friday, September 10, 2010
These days, most stores that market their own store-branded generic merchandise will also have a “high end” version of the generic product, complete with a different hoity-toity name to distinguish it from the regular store-brand generic. Kroger/Ralph’s has Private Selection, Safeway/Vons has Safeway Select, and thus Walgreens has Deerfield. I’ll be the first to admit that I buy store brands to cut costs, and I’ll also be the first to say I’ve generally had success with the hoity-toity store brands – in some cases preferring the store brand hoity-toity-s to the brand name equivalent (e.g., Private Selection ice cream is pretty dang good, as are Safeway Select bottled pasta sauces).
Unfortunately Deerfield Trading Company Old Fashioned Root Beer doesn’t really live up to its hoity-toity credentials, since it doesn’t taste much better than you’d expect from a lower-end generic store brand. The label proudly states that there’s no high fructose corn syrup in the beverage, but they certainly make up for it by adding more sugar. In fact, that’s pretty much all it tastes like, with very little separating it from any other over-sweetened generic soda – in other words, not particularly root beer-y. Now I have not yet tried the regular Walgreens generic root beer, which I’d imagine is the same recipe except with HFCS instead of sugar, but it might be worth doing a side by side comparison, you know, for the betterment of science and … um … stuff…
All in all, I’d rather have a mass market brand name root beer. That’ll earn you a 1.5.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Here’s an snippet from a conversation I had with Mr. Inauen, a local Swiss national working the Fair:
Mr. Inauen: (Pointing me out to a fellow reveler) This is a smart man here -- he married a Swiss woman!Yes indeed, I do enjoy the Swiss Fair. Any place one can acquire fleischkase is fine by me ;)
Fellow Reveler: Really? But did you marry her for love or for money?
Me: For cheese!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
(Big Lots, July 2010)
For the advancement of science, I revisited Santa Cruz Organic Root Beer recently to test the theory born from the previous post about this beverage:
“So it smells like root beer and tastes a little like root beer when imbibed from the can, but loses all root beer flavor entirely when quaffed from a glass …. I suppose I’ll have to taste it side by side – alternating sips between the can and the glass to see if there’s a noticeable difference there.”Thus I poured half the can into a football season-appropriate glass (Fight On) and left the other half in the can. And you know what? They actually did taste different! But you know what else is strange? I took my first sip from the glass, noticing that there was a definite root beer smell, and even some root beer flavor, but when I sipped from the can, there was no discernable root beer flavor there. Subsequent sips from the glass and the can yielded less and less root beer flavor as time went on. Mind you, there really wasn’t any to begin with, so it actually just tasted kind of like carbonated cane juice – and the sips from the can tasted sweeter than those in the glass. Now I would have thought the opposite would normally be the case, since drinking from the glass would also allow piquing the olfactory senses, as I would be smelling the beverage as I drink, logically making it taste fuller. Of course, as I noted previously, the flavor dissipated the longer the drink was exposed to open air, so perhaps the flavor was literally vaporizing, and thus the can, with its smaller opening, simply allows less vapor to escape than the open-top glass.
Hence the only conclusion I can come up with here is that the root beer flavor, however fleeting, must come from the smell of the beverage rather than the taste of it. Imagine that – root beer perfume, perhaps mixed with the carbon dioxide which, once released from the liquid, simply vanishes into the ether. Unless you can come up with a better conclusion, I guess I’m sticking with that one.
It still only gets a 2 though. On second thought, I didn’t really like it at all this time around, so I’m dropping it to a 1.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
(Rocket Fizz, June 2010)
Maine Root adds “fair trade” to the organic cane juice equation. Since I wasn’t too familiar with the Fair Trade movement, I looked it up, and looked up Maine Root itself while I was at it. They seem like a good, noble company – founded by two brothers with the intent of creating a better root beer, now also making several different kinds of soda (including sarsaparilla, which I may have to try for comparison purposes, since most other companies seem to use the terms “root beer” and “sarsaparilla” interchangeably), and making local deliveries in Maine on a biodiesel truck.
The organic cane juice flavor here is not overpowering, which I appreciate, but neither is the root beer flavor very strong. It does taste good, but it just passes quickly, so the flavor doesn’t really linger in your mouth for very long. Actually, this is a good example of a root beer that is better than the mass-market varieties – quality ingredients that you can taste – but not necessarily one that I would go back to over and over again, since I prefer a stronger root beer flavor and a creamier texture.
Based on that rationale, Maine Root is a solid 3.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
(Pilfered from the Fridge-In-Law, August 2010)
Yes, I know this wouldn’t normally count in my tally since it’s both canned and diet, but since it was a root beer, I figured I should at least keep track of it…
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually decently good. There’s a fairly good initial root beer flavor, which gives way to the typical weird artificial sweetener aftertaste after a few seconds. So I suppose if one were committed enough to the cause of decently good root beer to time their sips such that you get the initial flavor just as the aftertaste is arriving, this could work. But it’s kind of like being the reoccurring bad guy on a single season of Dexter – you can sort of stay one step ahead of Dex in every episode of the season (i.e., timing the sips to get the initial root beer taste of subsequent sips to cover up the aftertaste of the previous sip), but he’ll eventually catch you and kill you in the season finale (i.e., when the can is empty and you’re out of fresh sips, and the aftertaste comes for the reckoning). Or kind of like a high-speed chase on the TV “news” – you can keep driving away from the po-po, but for goodness sakes, you’ve got 4 network news helicopters following you in addition to all the squad cars and S.W.A.T. aircraft who know where you are and where you’re going, so do you really think they won’t eventually catch up with you? Or kind of like trying to dodge a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick – you think he missed you with the steel of the toe, but that boot heel’s coming back to high-five your skull in 3, 2, OW.
OK, so it’s not quite as bad as certain death, certain tasering, or certain tattoo-to-the-temple-by-Walker-Texas-Ranger, but I wouldn’t go rushing out to the store to get more right this instant. Buuuut, if I’m in a position where a diet mass-market root beer is all that’s available to me, I certainly would not thumb my nose at the free beverage, and I would gladly choose the Hansen’s Diet Root Beer over other diet sodas.
Not quite a 3, since it’s not really better than mass-market root beers and because of the whole artificial sweetener thing, but I’ll give it a very drinkable 2.5.
Monday, August 2, 2010
For 66 years and going, Twohey’s has been an Alhambra / South Pasadena / San Marino institution – probably leftover from bygone days when drive-ins were more prevalent along old Route 66. I often think that I would have liked to live in those drive-in days, with their soda fountains, roaring LA car culture, and burgeoning rock-n-roll underground. Then I consider that I probably would not have much enjoyed living during such a racist era, when the only access I would have been allowed to the aforementioned drive-ins, car-culture, and rock-n-roll would have been whatever I could glimpse from a distance through the glass of the grocery store, pawn shop, or dry cleaner where I worked… Considering further that the missus and I would have been a forbidden match back in that day, I am thankful for the minority generations past who endured the oppression and labored to create the era and the LA I now enjoy, where most times I’m not even conscious that we would be classified as an “inter-racial” couple – an era and an LA where Twohey’s is a rose-colored nostalgic reminder of the better parts of years past.
These days, I’m willing to bet that Twohey’s better known as being that-place-that-has-reserved-parking-spaces-so-you-can’t-park-there-if-you’re-trying-to-go-to-the-neighboring-In-N-Out… Having said that, they serve a pretty good burger, an even better turkey melt, and nearly-perfect fresh potato chips. As is often the case with these old roadside dives, there’s a glass case by the register that sells T-shirts and other restaurant paraphernalia, along with random memorabilia of their heyday – a case that also displays pies and old fashioned bottled sodas. Conspicuously missing from said display case, but boldly stated in the drink menu, however, is the real reason for my current rant – they make their own root beer!
It’s probably better that Twohey’s keeps their root beer out of the display case, since it’s unfortunately kind of a dud. Really, it tastes like carbonated water, and little else. There’s an inkling of a potential root beer flavor in there, but really, it tastes like what comes out of a soda fountain when the syrup is running low. Funny thing is that it’s actually a slightly nostalgic taste for me – back when I was in 5th grade, I went to the March Air Force Base Museum (before it was an Air Reserve Base) for a friend’s birthday party. We got to run around an old unused portion of the runway where there were 50 or 60 some-odd retired planes on display – fighters, bombers, cargo transports, experimental flyers, helicopters, spy gliders, what have you – some were from before WWII (an awesome B-29), some were used in movies (the C-130 from Con Air), others were stealthily cool (an SR-71 and a U2) or just plain odd (the “Flying Banana” helicopter). We were even allowed to climb inside a couple of them. At any rate though, we went to a pizza joint inside the Base for lunch, and I got a big glass of Coke not realizing that the syrup was low, unsure as to why my soda tasted weird when I returned to the table. Well, the Twohey’s Root Beer tasted kind of like that, except without all the cool flying machines to go with it (not even a B-52!). I have a sneaking suspicion that the root beer wasn’t actually bottled in the bottle it was served to me in, that they keep a bunch of empty bottles around affixed with spiffy retro-looking self-printed labels, and that when someone orders a Twohey’s Root Beer, they drop some syrup in the bottle, and fill the rest of it with carbonated water from their soda fountain. Maybe the person who filled my bottle was a soft touch with the syrup and a heavy hand with the fizzy water. Who knows…?
Maybe if I’m in the mood to give them another shot, I’ll give the root beer another try in the hopes that someone else is filling the bottles then. Until then, I’m definitely filing Twohey’s as a good place to get a burger, probably a great place to get a malt, and probably a good place to get a root beer float, provided that they fill my glass with the mass market stuff. For now though, Twohey’s Root Beer gets a lowly 1.
(Eh, maybe a 1.5, but that extra 0.5 is just for taking the effort of trying to make their own brew…)
Thursday, July 29, 2010
What goes best with a good root beer? Why a good burger, of course! Followed by a chocolate malt. But we'll forgo the malt for the interests of this post. And the root beer, for that matter, since I didn't get one here...
I stopped by The Burger Bus in Santa Barbara (Goleta, actually, but who's counting...?) after a meeting this past week and had a CB&J -- that's cheeseburger & jelly, as in cheddar cheese on a griddled 1/3 lb patty, on a ciabatta roll with berry jelly and caramelized onions. And yam fries on the side. Had to skip the fried pickle chips since I was a dollar short, and they only take cash.
The Burger Bus is basically a lunch truck, except they use a shortbus instead of a roach coach, and lunch is limited to burgers and falafel sandwiches with fries, onion rings, or fried pickles. But that's OK, since I'm a fan of the burger lunch option. The burger patty was very good -- seasoned nicely and griddled to a perfect combination of charred on the outside and tender on the inside. I could do without the jelly and the ciabatta roll though, since the berry jelly was a little too sweet, and the ciabatta roll (due to its crusty and chewy nature) caused everything to blow out the back of the burger when I took my first bite... Still the roll was tasty, as were the onions -- at least the ones that stayed in the burger and didn't blow out the back... I imagine the ones that blew out the back were good, too, but I left them alone since I didn't really want to eat a just whole mouthful of onions and jelly after I finished my burger -- though the sweet berry jelly and sweet caramelized onions did taste good together.
Next time, if I'm on The Bus' route (yes, we are on a first ... er, last... name basis now), I might skip the jelly altogether and stick with the standard lettuce, onions and tomato, or at least try the habanero jelly instead of the berry jelly for some extra kick. And while I would be perfectly happy getting the yam fries again since they were really good (great subtly sweet yammy richness, with coarse salt sprinkled in for a great salty contrast), I'll bring enough cash to try the fried pickle chips.
(Big Lots, July 2010)
We stumbled upon this brew quite accidentally whilst scouring the not-so-local thrift store for ice cube trays. Ordinarily, looking for ice cube trays and finding root beer instead is cause for celebration, but in this case, we really kind of needed the ice cube trays, which were frustratingly absent from this store… Nevertheless, there was an un-sampled root beet within reach, so I went for it. While my focus here is primarily on bottled root beers, I was willing to branch into the canned sauce in this case because (1) again, it was there and it was fairly inexpensive for carbonated sugar water, and (2) because the missus made a good point (she tends to do that) that if my intent is to try different root beers, then this one does in fact qualify as different. It’s supposed to be an adventure, right? Of course right; thus we plow ahead.
I should preface any further comments on this particular beverage by stating that I generally steer clear of sodas that claim the “organic” label, but not for any principled reason; it’s just that organic sodas typically use organic cane juice, which while certainly tasty, tends to be a bit overpowering in the cane juice flavor. Now I should mention that I really do enjoy chewing on fresh sugar cane – like I said, cane juice is tasty, and there’s also my oft-mentioned nostalgia – we frequently bought sugar cane off of the back of a dump truck full of fresh cane when we lived in
Thus was the case with Santa Cruz Organic Root Beer. First impression, upon cracking open a can: smells good, like root beer – this is promising. Second impression, upon tasting the beverage: hmmm, not a very strong root beer flavor – more cane juice flavor than root beer flavor, with a hint of vanilla flavor; closer to a cream soda than a root beer. Third impression, upon pouring the beverage into a glass: whoah – it’s kind of clear, which makes sense, since there’s probably no coloring added, already implied by the “organic” label (while being organic doesn’t preclude coloring; it just seemed unlikely that unnecessary ingredients would be added to something thats selling point is being organic). Fourth impression, upon drinking it from the glass (and this is the perplexing one): it doesn’t taste like root beer at all anymore...!
Strange, eh? It smells like root beer and tastes a little like root beer when imbibed from the can, but loses all root beer flavor entirely when quaffed from a glass? It’s almost like the root beer flavor came from the can itself or something. I suppose I’ll have to taste it side by side – alternating sips between the can and the glass to see if there’s a noticeable difference there. Since we bought a whole 6-pack of it, this should not be a difficult experiment to perform…
Anyways, it was worth a shot. I’ll give it a 2.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
(Rocket Fizz, June 2010)
My initial reaction is that this is sweeter than I remembered it being – probably because it uses both honey and HFCS as sweeteners. That having been said, I actually don’t mind that it’s sweeter, since it has a nice honey flavor. Overall, it’s smooth and even a little creamy.
Sprecher also makes a Honey Cream Soda, which, I dare say, I actually like better than their root beer due to the even stronger honey flavor. The fact that both come in 16 oz. bottles also adds to their charm, since that means the fun lasts longer…
The one thing keeping Sprecher from popping into the elusive “5” bubble is that I would have liked a stronger root beer flavor. But again, since there’s a nice honey flavor/smoothness, I don’t particularly mind that it’s not as root-y as I usually prefer.
All in all though, since I still really liked Sprecher and this is, after all, a subjective rating, I give it a solid 4.