Thursday, January 27, 2011


The Pooj whispers to the stagehands.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 2010)

Four generations of the FX Matt family have been brewing beer in the Adirondack foothills of New York for over 120 years. Happily, they also make a pretty decent root beer. The flavor is nice, if a bit weak – caramel-y, with a good blend of herbs.There’s also a nice head. My only gripe beside the relatively weak flavor is that there’s a very slightly sour aftertaste, which is sometimes common with HFCS beverages. Otherwise the aftertaste is mostly herb-y. Saranac Root Beer is a little like Weinhard’s, except without the heavy foam – I’ll give it a solid 3.5.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The Pooj just smiled and gave me a root beer.
(Cost Plus World Market, January 2011)

Today we celebrate Australia Day – commemorating the First Fleet’s arrival at Sydney Cove way back in 1788 – with an Australian import: Bundaberg Root Beer!

Let me begin by saying that Bundaberg Ginger Beer is my favorite ginger ale to date, so I was hoping for something equally favorable in the root beer department. However, as much as I wanted to like Bundaberg Root Beer, I just couldn’t. Maybe it’s my American preconceptions (or Chinese preconceptions at any rate…) telling me that root beer needs to taste a certain way, and this is perhaps exactly what an Australian root beer should taste like, but there’s just way too much of a molasses flavor for me. There’s an actual “root beer brew” listed pretty high in the ingredients that’s made up of the typical line up of root beer herbs I’ve encountered thus far, so you would expect more of that to come though. Yet all I really taste is ginger and molasses – so this is more like a molasses ginger ale to me, complete with the lingering heat that I like in my ginger ale (without the molasses, of course). If the aftertaste was just a little heat, that wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s also a slightly sour taste that lingers along with the ginger, leaving everything tasting more than slightly medicinal.

I hate to do it, but Bundaberg only gets a 1.5.

Root beer aside, as you may already know, Australia has had some wicked flooding as of late in Victoria and in Bundaberg’s home-state of Queensland. If you feel so compelled, please donate towards relief efforts: Victoria, Queensland.

Monday, January 24, 2011


In the process of drinking the Pooj under the table…
(Rocket Fizz Ventura, October 2010)

Squamscot Beverages hail from New Hampshire, home of the Squamscott Tribe and the Squamscott River. Much like other regional soft drink companies, the Conner Bottling Company, producers of Squamscot, has been family-owned since its inception in the mid-19th Century, seeing boom years during Prohibition. Generally, these companies make good root beers (in my opinion) because they are hold-overs from an era when root beers were made from real roots and herbs, instead of the “natural root beer flavor” or simply “natural and artificial flavors” you get in many commercially available root beers today. Squamscot Root Beer's bygone-days stand-out in the ingredient list is clove oil.

While the clove flavor is dominant, it is not overwhelming at all – more of an aftertaste on the back of your tongue. Unfortunately that’s where all of the flavor stops. Aside from that clove-y aftertaste, there do not appear to be any other roots and herbs present in the brew, even though the nice initial scent would lead you to believe otherwise. I was disappointed, since the scent and the ingredients list had me expecting more – I can only give Squamscot Root Beer a 1.5.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dr. Brown's

The Pooj signals a safety.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 2010)

Dr. Brown’s is probably better known for Cel-Ray soda (celery soda), and for being the go-to soda purveyor to Jewish delis in New York prior to Coca Cola getting its kosher certification back in the 1930s. I am pleased to report that Dr. Brown’s makes a very solid root beer, too. The scent is heavily herb-y, almost bordering on bark-y, and the flavor falls in line with the initial sniff. While I can’t really says there’s a single dominant flavor, there are certainly strong doses of anise and wintergreen, and probably sassafras, too, but I don’t actually know what sassafras tastes like on its own, so I can’t say for sure. Either way, the root-y flavor is strong, and provides a good sharp bite that carries over somewhat to the aftertaste, too. Otherwise, the aftertaste skews slightly towards the wintergreen.

My only complaint about Dr. Brown’s Root Beer is that the carbonation is very hard and stinging. If you let it sit for a little bit after opening, the carbonation dissipates slightly, and it’s easier to drink. …Assuming that I can hold of on drinking it while it’s sitting… That’s probably a good indication I like it – I’ll give it a 4.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vanilla Frostie

The Pooj goes in for a closer sniff.
(Rocket Fizz Valencia, October 2010)

In light of the last posting about the questionably “Christmas” Frostie, it seems appropriate to officially ring in the post-holiday routine with the blatantly non-Christmas Vanilla Frostie. You’ll recall that I mused aloud about what the Vanilla Frostie would taste like given the vanilla-heavy flavor of the regular Frostie. Turns out that Vanilla Frostie tastes like … vanilla.

Lots of vanilla. Lots and lots of vanilla. But no root beer…

Regular Frostie is formally turned into vanilla soda with the added “Vanilla” label. It tastes much more like a vanilla cream soda, assuming that there’s equal parts vanilla and cream… Fine, I’m exaggerating, but however you look (er, taste) at it, there is no root beer flavor present whatsoever – not even a hint in the aftertaste. As far as vanilla soda goes, it’s not bad, but as far as root beer goes, it’s just not – Vanilla Frostie gets a 2.

Friday, January 7, 2011


The Pooj has an epiphany. Sort of.
(Cost Plus World Market, January 2011)

We close out the holiday season with Frostie Root Beer, curiously placed in the “Christmas Items” area of the store. I thought at first that it actually was a Christmas version of the normal Frostie because of the Santa-looking guy on the label, but I compared the label with that of the Frostie Vanilla Root Beer that was already in the fridge (post pending) and they are one and the same Santa-looking guy. His hat isn’t even red on the “Christmas” version, so maybe he’s just a dude with a white beard and a night cap…

The Pooj spreads some cheer.

Even so, given it’s placement with the holiday cohort, it seemed appropriate to go for a Frostie while our Christmas decorations are still up…

Frostie is pretty good – it has a strong, but not dominating, molasses flavor and an almost equally strong vanilla flavor. Actually, the vanilla flavor is so strong that it makes me wonder what the Vanilla Frostie tastes like. There’s also a heavy hint of wintergreen, especially in the aftertaste. It’s a little sweeter than my preference, and the sugar consequently covers up some of the herb flavors that could have been more pronounced. While I would definitely say this is a good root beer, it’s just not really my preference – I’ll give it a 3.5.

SCIENCE! Glass Vs. Plastic Vs. Aluminum

The Pooj goes all in.

For our latest installment of SCIENCE! we foray into the age old question of whether delivery system (i.e. bottling method) affects the taste of what it’s delivering. A&W Root Beer is sold in many different vessels – glass, PETE (plastic, that is, not some guy named Pete schlepping a barrel around…), and aluminum. For the purposes of this experiment, we used a 12 oz. glass bottle, a 20 oz. plastic bottle, and a 12 oz. aluminum can. Despite the differences in delivery system, the formulas for each root beer remain exactly the same according to the ingredient lists.

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. (From L to R: glass, aluminum, and plastic.)

I can’t vouch for the flavor differential of the 1- and 2-liter plastic bottles (or whether they are PETE as well, or even if they are the same formula, for that matter), but our test subjects (the missus and myself) can certainly taste a difference in the vessels we used.

First off, we drank directly from the delivery vessels. Both subjects agreed that the root beer out of the glass bottle was blander than what came from the other two containers – Subject 1 went as far as to call it “fizzy water.” Both subjects also agreed that the plastic bottle added some strange aftertaste to the root beer – sour in Subject 1’s case and salty and chemically in Subject 2's case. Subject 2 also noticed a difference in carbonation levels – the glass bottle sample seemed to have the least volume of carbonation, but bigger bubbles, while the plastic bottle felt like it had more, but smaller, bubbles. The can’s carbonation felt the hardest, almost burning in comparison.

For the second test, subjects drank the root beer out of identically sized and composed glasses. Subjects were told which bottle was poured into each glass before drinking from it to see if they could taste a difference between the direct sip (i.e., out of the bottle/can) versus the poured sip. You can actually see the difference in the carbonation on the photo. The glass bottle root beer does in fact have visibly bigger bubbles and the least head, while the plastic bottle variety has little to no visible bubbles aside from the foamier head. For all its carbonation, the canned version shows relatively small bubbles, which gather at the top of the glass, but are a little too big to be considered foam – most of the head dissipated soon after the pour.

Safety first.

Out of the glass, Subject 1 thought the glass-bottled and plastic-bottled versions tasted more similar, or at least similarly sour. Subject 2 actually thought the 3 versions didn’t taste that different, although the canned root beer still seemed to have the hardest carbonation.

Thus we move onto our third and final test: the blind taste test. Subjects were given 3 glasses, each containing one of the root beer varieties, and were tasked with identifying which beverage came from which vessel based on taste alone. This, of course, was based on their previous impressions of each beverage, depending on the delivery system.

The “empirical” data, for interested parties.

Subject 1 did not identify any beverages correctly, although picked the glass-bottled root beer to be the sourest thinking it to be the plastic-bottled variety. This is somewhat consistent with their earlier impression that the glass- and plastic-bottled versions tasted more similar when sipped from a glass.
Subject 2 identified the glass-bottled root beer correctly based on the relative blandness and carbonation. However, Subject 2 mixed up the plastic and aluminum samples, noting a more chemically aftertaste in the aluminum sample and a harder carbonation in the plastic sample.

While the subjects could not exactly identify which root beers were which (honestly, after drinking each of them so many times for the sake of the experiment, they started to taste the same…), there was a conclusive difference in flavor depending on the delivery vessel. There was also a general agreement that the processed flavors of the can and plastic bottle tended to alter the taste of the root beer – glass bottles seem to preserve flavor the best (which might be better if there was more flavor in the root beer to begin with – see my previous A&W post…).

There was also general agreement that we drank way too much root beer and ingested way too much carbonation for one evening…

Remember to tip your bartender/lab partner.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Anacapa Brewing Company

The Pooj lurks sketchily.
(Anacapa Brewing Company, Ventura, September 2010)

The Anacapa Brewing Company, named after Anacapa Island of the nearby Channel Islands, sits a short jaunt from the Ventura Pier. I first became acquainted with Anacapa during a buddy’s bachelor party while we had lunch at the neighboring Busy Bee Diner (really good chocolate malts), and subsequently wandered around Downtown Ventura for the afternoon. A couple weeks later, I paid Ventura another visit when I discovered that, in addition to a wide selection of micro-brewed beers, Anacapa also makes root beer.

So how good is it? Well, it’s kind of a long story…

My initial reaction to the glass set before me was, “Hmmm, this could be a really good root beer, but it’s kind of weak” – not off to a good start. But since it was drawn from a tap and it was served with ice, I had a feeling there might have been some diluting happening in the serving process. Since I had also ordered a burger and was still waiting for its arrival, I was willing to keep drinking and withhold judgment until after a refill. Lo and behold, when my refill arrived – delayed slightly because they had to pull a new tank/barrel of it, confirming my suspicions about getting the watered-down dregs of the previous tank/barrel – the flavor was much richer.

So how good is it? Well, let’s just say that this is the most I’ve ever paid for a bottle of root beer, but I paid it gladly so I could bring some home. Of course, it’s also the largest bottle of root beer I’ve ever brought home, so the cost is somewhat justified…

“It comes in half-gallons…?!”

OK, so technically it’s not a bottle of root beer so much as a growler of root beer (a growler being the vessel with which micro-brewed beers can be transported home), and the initial cost is justifiably higher due to the cost for the growler itself (refills are a downright bargain), but however you deliver it, this is an excellent – dare I say transcendent – root beer.

OK, so calling it transcendent may be a bit effusive, but it’s easily one of the best root beers I’ve ever had. From the bottle, the flavors are undiluted and complex – a perfect balance of sweet and herbs, with a pronounced clove taste and aftertaste. While cloves can sometimes be overpowering, it works well here, since it blends well with the other flavors and gives just enough of a root-y bite. The home-made nature of it means that, thus far, it hasn’t been exactly the same every time I’ve have it, though it’s still just as good every time. When I refilled my growler a few weeks later, the resulting brew was just as rich, just as complex, and just as flavorful, with anise taking a more prominent role
this time around.

The simple fact that I couldn’t even wait until I had written a proper blurb about Anacapa’s root beer to go back for more of it pretty much sums up how I feel about it. Anacapa Brewing Company’s root beer gets a 5.


The Pooj waxes nostalgic.
(Gelson’s, September 2010)

A&W Root Beer was probably the first root beer I ever had, just as it probably was with many other root beer aficionados out there. I remember, as a child, my mother relaying her memories of drinking A&W Cream Soda when she was in college in Oklahoma (they didn’t have any in Hong Kong or Macau back when she was younger, so that was her only memory of it), and I remember Joe Cool being A&W Root Beer’s pitch man at the time. Thus A&W set the bar high for mass-produced root beers – if you can’t get an endorsement from Snoopy, you must not be good enough, classic enough, quaff-able enough. My root beer tastes have evolved since then (along with all of my other tastes, one would hope), but unfortunately, mass-produced everything has devolved. A&W Root Beer sadly falls into that latter category as well.

Above all, A&W is bland. The balance of flavors is not bad per se – mostly sweet with a very mild root-y flavor that could be wintergreen or sassafras based. There’s a pronounced vanilla flavor, which is nice, but the mostly-sweet aftertaste turns acidic after a little while. If I didn’t know it was supposed to be root beer, it would be hard to figure it out – that’s textbook 2.