Monday, August 22, 2011

Old Town Root Beer 66

The Pooj plans his route.
(Old Town Root Beer Company, June 2011)

One thing we learned during a recent road trip along Route 66 is that root beer is as much a part of its imagery as the cars carrying the root beer drinkers. This probably owes to the drive-in car-hop culture that still holds sway in the more touristy stretches of the Mother Road, and of course where we have drive-ins, we have burgers, malts, and root beer floats. I’ll have much more on that in a later posting about said road trip, but I figured a good precursor to that post would be some Route 66 imagery from my first Root Beer Field Trip to the Old Town Root Beer Company. While Old Town did at one point have branches along Route 66, both in Chicago and Barstow, research seems to indicate that their only remaining store is the one in Temecula, far from this home-brew’s namesake. But root beer is root beer, and far be it for me to judge one by its location of origin, current or otherwise. My job, as far as I’m concerned, is just to drink it, and so drink it I did.

Like Old Town’s original brew, Old Town Root Beer 66 has a good blend of root-y flavors and a smooth texture. The latter is probably from honey, similar to the original brew, except there’s no real honey flavor here, and from there the two brews continue diverging slightly. Overall, this version is milder than the original, less sweet, with a less pronounced herb flavor that starts with licorice and ends with wintergreen birch, culminating in a subtle heat from some added cinnamon (not in the original). Whether the licorice or wintergreen birch dominates changes a bit from sip to sip, but the scent is noticeably cinnamon-y and vanilla-y throughout.

All in all, I did like Old Town Root Beer 66 well enough, but not quite as much as I like their flagship beverage. While the original Old Town stands up well even with a big dollop of ice cream dropped in it, I doubt that I would be able to discern much root were they to use Old Town Root Beer 66 in their floats. But like I said, I still liked it well enough, so I’ll give it a solid 3.5.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jackson Hole

The Pooj polishes his lariat skills.
(BevMo Pasadena, June 2011)

Nestled in the Jackson Hole Valley at the gateway to the Grand Teton Mountains, you’ll find the appropriately named Jackson Hole Soda Company. True to its name, Jackson Hole brews their beverages with water from the Rocky Mountains, of which the Grand Tetons are a sub-range. Also in fitting with the whole wild western theme, Jacksom Hole makes old-fashioned soda flavors like huckleberry, strawberry rhubarb, and of course sarsaparilla and root beer, adorning their bottle labels with frontier-era photos. While the company website doesn’t offer any information about their origins (actually, the website doesn’t really offer that much information at all…), it does boast “the Best Buckin’ Root Beer in the country.”

Well, maybe Jackson Hole Buckin’ Root Beer is the best “Buckin’ Root Beer,” but it’s not really that great of a “just normal root beer.” Not for lack of effort though: there’s a strong root-y smell that I think leans way to the wintergreen birch side, with a slightly spicy smell that could be cloves. The flavor leans convincingly to the bark-y side as well, which the sugar rounds out nicely. It doesn’t seem that licorice-y, but I could be labeling my herbs wrong – either way, it’s got a lot of one thing and not a lot of the rest to balance it out, leaving a somewhat bitter aftertaste.

I wanted to like Jackson Hole Buckin’ Root Beer, but I’m kind of ambivalent about it. That would be a textbook 3.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Root Beer Field Trip: Root Beer Joe's

Seriously, how did I not know about place until now???

I first learned of Root Beer Joe’s existence from a Grub Street Los Angeles posting about its possible shuttering. Since there seem to be no further accounts confirming or denying such a claim, I figured the smart move would be to pay it a visit before it shut its doors to offer additional business so that
perhaps it would not need to.

A little bit of background: Root Beer Joe’s was started just this past April by a guy named – you guessed it – Joe from San Francisco who decided to trade in his bean counter (assuming accountants still count beans…) for a sandwich counter. The name came naturally, as Joe is a big root beer fan and regularly stocks his establishment’s refrigerator with a variety of root beers (and other vintage bottled sodas) sourced from Galco’s Soda Pop Stop (more on Galco’s in a later Root Beer Field Trip).

From his storefront way at the end of the very quaint Burlington Arcade – which is just as easy to miss as it is quaint, despite being in the middle of Pasadena’s Lake Ave shopping district, possibly accounting for Root Beer Joe’s potential closing – Joe serves up NorCal style garlicky sandwiches on Dutch crunch bread, as well as frozen yogurt.

Behold: the roast beef garlicky sandwich with everything on it, on Dutch crunch bread. The sandwich is indeed deliciously garlicky owing to a generous slathering of killer garlic pesto, and the bread is satisfyingly crunchy (though I can’t comment on its relative Dutch-ness).

Since we were at Root Beer Joe’s, I was obligated to get a root beer – I went with Faygo (in a can!), while the Missus went with an Americana Honey Cream.

Here’s a close-up of the Faygo (in a can!):

We capped off our visit with some cookies n’ cream yogurt whilst strolling through the rest of the Arcade, which really is rather quaint.

Best of luck to you, Joe – Pasadena is a better place with you in it, carrying the root beer banner. Hopefully you can stick around and carry that banner for a while longer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cool Mountain

The Pooj can see his house from here.
(Old Town Root Beer Company, June 2011)

Cool Mountain Root Beer supposedly hails from Chicago, but since I’ve only ever driven through Chicago (stopping in Oak Park for the FLW architectural tour probably doesn’t count as having been in Chicago…) I’m not sure which mountain is the cool one.
Maybe its carbonation fell off the mountain, because it’s as hard and sharp as a rock. The carbonation still doesn’t seem to dissipate much even after sitting for a while, which makes it somewhat difficult to taste anything. It smells nice, but the smell certainly dissipates faster than the carbonation, since it’s gone before I even take my first sip.

As far as that first sip goes, there’s a rather metallic aftertaste that’s pretty unpleasant, but thankfully goes away after a couple more sips. Perhaps it's bottle cap residue, which should have been absent because I usually wipe off the top of the bottle after opening, prior to sipping
. Weird... The carbonation clears a little once it’s in a glass, but it reveals disappointingly little flavor. It has an ever so slight licorice taste with maybe some molasses undertones, which is mild at best. Not that it’s overly sweet – in fact the sugar flavor is actually rather crisp – clean, for lack of better descriptors – giving off a feeling I’d liken to drinking something just pulled out of an ice box or served in a chilled glass. Mayhaps this is why they call it Cool Mountain – the experience is rather … snow-y… Unfortunately, that experience is not quite so root-y.

Cool Mountain was also supposedly featured on the Food Network's Follow That Food according to the company’s press release, but I can’t really see why. There are plenty of bolder, richer, and just more flavorful root beers to profile out there, even in Chicago, and Cool Mountain is average at best and forgettable at worst. …except for the carbonation, which will (uncomfortably) stay in you for a while… As I ponder more about it, I like less about it, so maybe I should just stop thinking about it. I mean, it’s not bad, per se, but not really something I’m going back for. Since I’m feeling generous today, I’ll give it a 2.5.