Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The Pooj remembers a time…
(Vons, September 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


The Pooj does Magritte.
(Rocket Fizz, June 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

Isaiah Mustafa Has Some Competition...

Hello, ladies.


The missus represents for the Swiss cheese.

(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


"It comes in pints...?"

(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

Deerfield Trading Company

The Pooj phones it in.

(Walgreens, September 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


Wash your beverage down with a plate of cheese...!

Some few weeks back, we hit up the Swiss Fair to celebrate Swiss Independence Day with some raclette, yodeling, accordions, alphorns, and that 106 year-old guy. If that wasn’t reason enough to sit outside in the 95 degree Southern California summer, then this should seal the deal: it’s the only State-side place I know of where I can get Rivella! Rivella, of course, is not root beer, but it is everywhere in Switzerland (4 different kinds, from what I counted). The flavor is actually not that remarkable when it comes to soda – it’s got some kind of lactose or something in it – but it’s the thing to drink in Switzerland, and thus the thing to drink at the Swiss Fair for that authentic Swiss experience, so when in Rome (er, Zurich…?) …

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!

Fellow Reveler: Really? But did you marry her for love or for money?

Me: For cheese!
Yes indeed, I do enjoy the Swiss Fair. Any place one can acquire fleischkase is fine by me ;)