Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goose Island

The Pooj passes the brick.
(Home Goods, May 2011)

Goose Island owes its existence to an airport delay, an in-flight magazine, and a fondness for locally-produced European craft beers. There’s more to the story of course, but I’ll not bore you with the details. It’s probably enough for us to know that Goose Island founder John Hall, formerly in the packaging industry, decided to open up a craft brewery in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago in 1988 mainly because he did not know of many local beers being produced in the US. Since then, Goose Island has expanded to two brew-pub locations in Chicago where patrons can watch the beer brewing process, and opened a bottling plant from which they produce and distribute the most popular of their craft brews. Lucky for us, they also make root beer!


And lucky we are indeed, since Goose Island does make a good root beer. Initially, I was surprised that there was little scent from the bottle, save for a slight waft of licorice. The dominant flavor is also slightly on the licorice side of things, but it’s very well balanced with the wintergreen, resulting in a solid herb-y taste. Said root-y herb flavor lingers pleasantly on the tongue for a while as well. While it’s also pretty sweet, it’s not overpoweringly so, thus the sugar actually contributes positively to the richness of flavor. From a glass, the scent isn’t really stronger, but there is a nice light head when poured – maybe indication that a foaming agent is used, though none is listed in the ingredients. Oddly enough, the flavor is actually stronger from the bottle than the glass – one would think being able to smell would enhance my perception of flavor, so perhaps there are lingering effects from my recent bout with a cold.


If indeed I still have the vestiges of an illness, my sense of taste may be slightly impaired, and my evaluation may not be entirely accurate. However, given that a stuffy nose usually deadens taste perception, and despite that I still enjoyed the flavors here, things look good for Goose Island. Luckier for us, since it came in a multi-pack, I still have a couple bottles in reserve, so we may indeed revisit Goose Island when I know my cold has completely cleared. Even so, Goose Island Root Beer gets a low 4.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rat Bastard

The Pooj hears no evil.
(BevMo Pasadena, April 2011)

Rat Bastard Root Beer asserts that it “tastes like a son of a bitch.” Seeing as I’ve never licked a dog before, I can’t really say for sure what that’s supposed to taste like. I suppose if it tastes like root beer, maybe I should lick more puppies… At any rate, based on the random collection of somewhat off-color statements printed on the bottle, Rat Bastard seems poised as the anti-Jones. That is, whereas Jones may be the hipster of root beers, Rat Bastard is the punk/skater.


A quick glance at the ingredients, however, may belie more of a new-age hippie. The herb blend includes ginseng, jasmine, cloves, dong quai, skullcap, capsicum, kava kava, ginkgo biloba, gotu kola, goldenseal, echinacea, reishi, shiitake, and cordyceps. It’s like a whole herbalist shop poured into a root beer bottle... Dong quai is a mild sedative, and perhaps offsets Rat Bastard’s inclusion of caffeine, but is more commonly used in Chinese medicine to treat menstrual ailments, which kind of knocks holes that whole punk/skater fa├žade. I mean, that’s about as punk rock as Manny Ramirez using female fertility supplements to mask his use of performance-enhancing drugs… Skullcap, also used in traditional Chinese medicine, is supposedly an immunity booster, but is smoked recreationally in other cultures. Kava kava has somewhat similar qualities to skullcap’s latter use, and is used as a social sedative by Pacific Islanders. Ginkgo biloba could potentially counteract those effects, as it is believed to enhance memory and prevent dementia. Gotu kola, also touted for similar benefits, can be eaten as a leafy green as they do in Sri Lanka, and legend has it that it even extends lifespan. Goldenseal, an anti-microbial, is said to cure cancer, so maybe it actually does increase life expectancy. Reishi, a type of mushroom, is said to have the same cancer-fighting properties as well. Cordyceps, finally, is also used in traditional Chinese medicine to fight cancer, which seems odd since it’s actually a parasitic fungus that invades a host insect, slowly taking over it and killing it in the process (!!!). The cordycep growth process aside, Rat Bastard Root Beer actually sounds healthy!


But alas, it has HFCS, so no self-respecting hippie would touch it… Aside from that, though, Rat Bastard is actually pretty good. The initial smell is heavy on the cloves, though the taste leans more towards molasses – just enough without being overpowering. I spy a little cola-ish flavor as well (possibly from the gotu kola? Assuming that gotu kola is any relation to the kola nut?), with a hint of ginseng (which is good that it’s only a hint, since straight up ginseng can be rather bitter), and a lingering heat in the aftertaste that may be coming from the capsicum. Even with the HFCS, it’s not too sweet. However, probably because it uses HFCS instead of sugar, the overall flavor and texture is a bit thin, which is too bad, really, because the flavors are actually quite complex otherwise.


I’m willing to bet that if Rat Bastard ever makes their root beer with real sugar, I’d give it a higher rating. For now, it gets a 3.5.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jones

The Pooj experiences a paradigm shift.
(BevMo Pasadena, April 2011)

Jones Soda Co. is an interesting animal in the soft drink menagerie. The company started as the Urban Juice and Soda Company in 1987 primarily as a beverage distributer in Western Canada, expanding to cover much of the Pacific Northwest before moving their base of operations to Seattle. While they did start creating their own products in the mid-1990s – including the Jones Soda line for which the company is now named – I wouldn’t necessarily call them a regional brand, since regional brands typically have fairly small spheres of influence. Although Jones’ “alternative” marketing strategy for their sodas stayed out of the mainstream – they sold almost exclusively in board shops, tattoo parlors, and clothing and music stores – their bread-and-butter distribution operation moved products like AriZona Iced Tea all over the country. Eventually Jones Sodas started popping up in Starbucks, Panera Breads, and stores of similar ilk, and for a time was even the exclusive beverage vendor for the Seattle Seahawks. So they managed to become sort of a big, expensive fancy-pants kind of soda company, while still trying hard to look like an obscure little guy on the drink radar (one of their slogans is “run with the little guy”).


I guess you could say that makes Jones the hipster of the soda world. Sure, it might want you to believe it only engages in commerce with local mom-and-pop shops, eats from the farmers market’s offerings, shuns brand-name clothes, and spends its weekends meditating in various yoga poses, but in reality, it drives a $40K European car, works for a mega-chain investment broker, and overspends its disposable income crowding into dimly lit indie music venues that feature unique acts that sound exactly the same as those other unique acts playing in the ten other virtually identical dimly-lit indie music venues down the street (that's right Los Feliz, I'm talking about you).


What were we talking about? Ah, yes, root beer. Jones Root beer tastes like … marshmallows… Big, fluffy, jet-puffed marshmallows. Don’t get me wrong – I like marshmallows as much as the next guy, but until they make root beer marshmallows, my root beer should not taste like marshmallows. And I think I just typed the word ”marshmallows” more times in this paragraph than I have in the previous five years of my life. The flavor is almost holiday-ish to me, possibly because it reminds me a little of the frosting we used to use as children to assemble gingerbread houses. Since Jones uses inverted sugar – a type of sugar typically used in gummy candies and the like because it remains in a more liquid state without crystallizing like regular sugar – I would have expected a fuller texture. Maybe I was expecting the inverted sugar to give off more honey-like properties, since honey may be considered by some as a form of inverted sugar, but the texture was rather uninspiring as well.


Yeah, so Jones Root Beer smells a little like root beer when you first open the bottle, but that’s where the root beer side of things ends. Jones gets a 1.5.