Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Henry Weinhard's

The Pooj reaches ex machina.
(Gelson’s, December 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


frosty creamy smooth ...
sweet and herby harmony
Poojimba approves

More Apropos

the Pooj is waiting
for me to drink more root beer...
perhaps it's too cold...?

Kigo & Kireji

it's raining outside...
little work to do today
Happy Haiku Day

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Preview of Things to Come...

A teaser for an upcoming post

The Pooj lives large.

We don't do anything small in this household, and when it comes to root beer, we certainly don't mess around...


The Pooj’s Happy Norwegian counterpart makes a new friend.
(Somewhere in Pasadena, August 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…

The Happy Norwegian’s Pooj counterpart makes a new friend.
(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.

Thanksgiving Root Beer Spectacular! Part 3: Sioux City

The locals are wary of outsiders at their watering hole.
(Kroger or Meijer, Mansfield OH; November 2010)

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

Thanksgiving Root Beer Spectacular! Part 2: Frostop

The Pooj sneaks a ride.
(Wilging’s Fine Meats, Mansfield OH; November 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

Thanksgiving Root Beer Spectacular! Part 1: Stewart's

My in-laws spoil me – they really do. Not only did they let me marry the most wonderful woman in the world, but this past Thanksgiving, they hosted us for a week at their home-away-from-home in Mansfield, Ohio, inclusive of a full Thanksgiving spread, chasing horses and chickens on the family farm, wandering around the old rust-belt parts of town, a second wedding reception for the family members I had yet to meet, and, most pertinent to this blog, multiple different kinds of root beer. The missus’ mom actually already had a stash (two kinds) waiting for us in the fridge when we got there, and the missus’ dad and I discovered another variety as we were traipsing about town – add that to the unidentified one I had in a local diner and we have no less than four different root beers accounted for during our stay.

Without further ado then…

The Pooj takes in the Mansfield scenery.
(Kroger or Meijer, Mansfield OH; November 2010)

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!

The Pooj gets retinal shock.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 2010)

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.