Thursday, November 18, 2010

Judge Wapner

The Pooj tries to get a better look.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 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

On the Recent Flurry of Posts...

The Pooj holds court over a small gathering of friends.

It's because I currently have 14 different kinds of root beer in the apartment that are waiting to be sampled. Modest as it may be (well, maybe not by the missus' standards - this accounts for half the bottom shelf of our fridge...), I think this is a personal record.

Drink up, me hearties (yo-ho)...!


The Pooj is paying close attention.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 2010)

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.

Dad's - Update

So I was right about the Dad's and HFCS -- apparently it used to have real sugar and the HFCS is a recent development. My guess is that it has something to do with the company's recent purchase by a bigger conglomerate in 2007. We'll see if I can find the original recipe somewhere and try it again...

Monday, November 15, 2010


The Pooj doesn’t like your tone of voice, young person.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 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


The Pooj isn’t paying attention.
(Rocket Fizz Ventura, November 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.

Natural Brew

The Pooj leaves to answer the call of nature.
(Whip a Peel, Solvang, September 2010)

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…

The Pooj gets a little piece of home.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pearson Bros.

The Pooj gears up for the game.
(Rocket Fizz, July 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!