Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SCIENCE! Deerfield Trading Company vs. Walgreens Original

The Pooj makes me an offer I can't refuse.

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…

The Pooj impartially supervises test proceedings.

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:

Exhibit 1: Deerfield ingredients.

Exhibit 2: Walgreens ingredients.

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:

We're serious about this SCIENCE! stuff.

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…

Walgreens Original

The Pooj looks on apprehensively.
(Walgreens, September 2010)

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

Trader Joe's Vintage

The Pooj kicks it old school.
(Trader Joe’s, September 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


The innumerably engrossing Pooj implores his associates to remain arid.
(Rocket Fizz, July 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.