Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Root Beer Road Trip: Mr. D'z Route 66 Diner

Before we begin, I would like to note the appropriate, but coincidental fact that this is my 66th root beer posting. I know the list on the left says this is technically my 67th, but since one of those was only a diet version of another root beer listed, I'm not really counting that one. Onward then...!

Fill 'er up.
(Kingman, AZ, August 2011)

On the drive to the Grand Canyon, you’re bound to find plenty of reminders of America-gone-by. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, across the street from a power-station-cum-Route-66-museum and still-operating Santa Fe Railroad tracks, is one of those places. The structure was originally a service station, but was converted into a diner and has stayed that way for roughly the past 35 years. It still retains the same road-side charm that draws locals and tourists alike.

Pardon the product placement...

But history buffs though we are, that’s not why we’re here. This is why:

The Pooj looks a little flat.

Current owner Armando Jimenez, a veteran of the Las Vegas restaurant scene, developed the brew along with his brother Nacho. Apparently Oprah liked it so much she had nearly 20 cases shipped to her studio in Chicago to give away to her audience (Big Give indeed…!).

The flavor is a good meld of wintergreen and licorice, sweet, but not too sweet as many HFCS beverages can be. The flavor is actually a little thin for my tastes, like Mug, but not as cloying. Mind you, I’m not saying it tastes like Mug, since those would probably be fighting words in the root beer realm. Mug is cloying and flavorless; Mr. D’z is what Mug wishes it was. Since Mr. D’z also bottles their brew, we can sample again in a controlled environment, away from the train whistle charm and Oprah afterglow…

The Pooj is looking more like himself.

Although the label says that the bottled version is produced for Mr. D’z by the Black Mountain Brewing Company in Cave Creek, somewhere north of Scottsdale, a quick Google search for the company reveals that it neither operates under that name nor is located in Cave Creek. The brewing company is now called Chili Beer (so named either after owner Crazy Ed Chilleen or after Crazy Ed’s propensity to spitefully drop a Serrano chili in any beer whose owner asked for a wedge of lime, instead of the requested lime) and now operates out of Tecate, Mexico. So I really don’t know where this stuff comes from…

Disputed origins aside, I actually slightly prefer the bottled brew to the fountain version. Its scent starts on the licorice side, with a menthol finish. The initial taste is pretty sweet, with a tangy flavor that I can’t really pinpoint – not quite citrus-y, not quite ginger-y, more like the slightly sour taste you get when something sugary starts to molecularly break down in your mouth. A good root-y flavor follows that, slightly smoky with good blend of wintergreen and sassafras, and a licorice essence that travels up into the nose. I wouldn’t call it caramel-y, like the label claims – I don’t think I would have even thought to look for a caramel flavor if it had not already been described as such on the label and on Mr. D’s menu – but it does have a rich texture I don’t normally get in a HFCS-sweetened root beer (as this one is). Perhaps its brewing company origins (as opposed to simply coming from a carbonated soda plant) are responsible for the added smoothness that’s often lacking in thin HFCS beverages, but I can’t say for sure.

I won’t be pulling an Oprah and carting cases of Mr. D’z Root Beer back home with me – that strange sourness is sadly keeping this brew, which otherwise has a really good flavor, from getting a much higher rating. However, I’ll definitely make a point of stopping in Kingman for a brew every time I’m on this stretch of the I-40. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner Root Beer gets a high 3.5.

Friday, September 23, 2011


The Pooj plays it again, for old time’s sake.
(Galco’s, July 2011)

George Filbert was a turn-of-the-century Chicago delivery driver who carted milk, ice, coal, and people’s belongings around in his horse-drawn wagon, often also carting his son Charlie along with him. It was Charlie who developed Filbert’s root beer in 1926, during Prohibition, which George also delivered in his cart, supplying half barrels to local restaurants. Filbert’s Old Time is still family-owned today, and still supplies over 20 different flavors of soft drinks to local Chicago-area restaurants, where their root beer is often served on draft.

Filbert’s initial menthol scent gives way to a slightly more licorice flavor that blends together quite nicely with the wintergreen. While the flavor is good and rich, it fades quickly, so there’s really no aftertaste to speak of. The flavor is actually a little difficult to discern in smaller sips, leaving an almost watery feeling in the middle of the mouth – I’m not really sure how to describe it. I’m also not really sure how to explain the “sugar and/or corn sweetener” ingredient listed – does this mean they vary using sugar, HFCS, or a combination of the two from batch to batch…? Judging by its smooth texture, I would assume I got at least some real sugar in my bottle, but I’m not really sure how that all works.

Ingredient confusion aside, I’m still somewhat torn as to how to rate Filbert’s Old Time Root Beer. The flavors and texture make me want to rate it higher, but the fact that those flavors don’t really shine out or linger at all makes me want to rate it lower. Filbert’s is a good root beer – one I would have again – but the relatively “brief” flavor takes it out of the regular root beer rotation for me. Hence, I give it a 3.5.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Route 66

The Pooj kicks it up a notch.
(Grand Canyon Railway Depot, Williams AZ, August 2011)

Many root beers lay claim to Route 66 imagery, but if there was ever one that could lay claim to the title “Official Root Beer of Route 66,” this is it. Route 66 Root Beer is everywhere along Route 66 – Route 66 Sodas makes a point of distributing their beverages to all states through which Route 66 used to run, including the company’s home state of Missouri. You’d think that the marriage of drive-in car culture and root beer would produce so many different kinds and labels of root beer, but this is really the only one I saw in all (or any, for that matter) of the little kitsch shops along the Route between the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles. This is slightly ironic, seeing as the Route 66 Sodas, the company, didn’t come into existence until 1996, more than a decade after US Route 66 was decommissioned by the US Highway System. But true to their namesake, Route 66 Sodas supports and promotes the various associations in the various states with an address on America’s Main Street.

As far as the brew goes, Route 66 Root Beer is pretty good. There’s a slight licorice leaning to the initial smell, but no dominant leaning in the flavor. It’s got a pretty good blending of licorice and wintergreen, well rounded and not too sweet. While the flavors are good, they are a bit mild – I wouldn’t characterize them as thin per se, but I do wish they were bolder and/or stronger.

On the whole, Route 66 Root Beer is a very accessible beverage, such that it should appeal to most people stopping for a cold drink along their journey down the Mother Road. Hardcore root beer aficionados will want something stronger, but when nothing else is available, this is more than adequate. I’ll give it a low 3.5.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Old Town D-n-A

The Pooj examines the evidence.
(Old Town Root Beer Company, June 2011)

As we had covered earlier, the Old Town Root Beer Company makes three different varieties of root beer. This particular version is named D-n-A, after Dallas-n-Austin (yes, those are really their names), the youngest generation of the Montgomery clan and hopefully the future of the Old Town Root Beer Empire – I mean, when your pictures are on the bottle label, how can you not go into the family business…?

Just as the label depicts the lesser generation (in the classical use of the term, not to imply the young’uns are of diminished quality), the contents of Old Town D-n-A Root Beer are a lesser, milder version of the flagship brew. Which is not to say it’s of any diminished quality either – in fact, it’s quite good. D-n-A starts with a nice head and a slightly harder carbonation, with a good licorice-heavy scent. The taste is a lighter honey flavor than the original, but not really in a less-honey way, almost like the original uses a richer, darker honey and this one uses an actual lighter honey. I could be mistaken, since there’s also a distinctly cane-like flavor to the sugar which I may be reading as the honey. Either way, the result is a refreshing sweetness, not unlike that of sugar cane tea. As far as herbs go, there’s a slight horehound leaning in addition to the licorice, with a wintergreen finish that leaves a faint menthol-y cool feeling. Perhaps it’s just a matter of perception, but it did seem that the herb flavor grew fainter as I got further down the bottle, resulting in the sweetness getting stronger – I wonder if this is simply my taste buds getting accustomed to the root-y flavors.

Of the three Old Town root beers, I think my favorite is still the original, followed by the Route Beer 66, followed closely by the D-n-A. There’s one more Old Town beverage to try, but that will be the subject of a SCIENCE! posting:

Hey, hey, the gang's all here.

Having said that, though, I like all of the Old Town offerings, so while Old Town D-n-A is down the rankings from its sister brews, I still liked it better than most other root beers out there. I’ll give it a 3.5.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Best Health's

The Pooj gets a check-up.
(Old Town Root Beer Company, June 2011)

This stuff’s made in New York City…!

OK, now that we’ve got that out of our system, I can at least establish that yes, Best Health’s Root Beer is made in New York City – Brooklyn, to be exact. The Brooklyn Bottling Corporation began as a seltzer company in 1937, founded by a Polish immigrant named Jack Miller who delivered his wares from a horse-drawn wagon. Miller, along with his fellow seltzer purveyors, would mix flavored syrups with their fizzy waters in old Czechoslovakian squirt bottles, now obsolete because the plants that made them were destroyed in World War II. Jack’s grandson Eric now runs the company and still sources water from New York, where he contends soda was invented. Best Health’s Natural Gourmet Sodas did not actually get their start until 1988, but Eric drew on the traditions that had sustained his family’s business since its inception and a Miller family member still oversees the mixing, blending, and production of each batch of beverages they ship out.

Best Health’s flavor is actually a little hard to pin down. On the one hand, it really tastes like cherry cough syrup (a little more “healthy” that I think any of us want our root beer to be…), but not really in an altogether unpleasant way. It’s more like a very strong, bitter Cheerwine that goes down smoothly because of some added sugar (I’ve heard from credible sources that a spoonful of it really does that to medicine). The aftertaste is similar to that watered-down taste you get when you rinse out the cough syrup dosing cap, but with a little bit of vanilla and just an inkling of root-y undertones. Since the sugar also hits a little harder in the aftertaste, you get something less herb-y and more cherry-crème-y, if your cherry crème was heavily medicinal.

I don’t really consider drinking cough syrup a good Friday night activity or anything, but like I said, despite the NyQuil effect here, it’s not altogether unpleasant. There are some “natural flavors” listed with the ingredients, as well as some vanilla, but again, the vanilla really only comes through slightly in the aftertaste – I can’t really speak to the rest of those “natural flavors,” whatever they are.

“Not-altogether-unpleasant” isn’t really one of my rating descriptors, but I’d venture to say it means I’m probably not going to get any more anytime soon. But since it was not altogether unpleasant as opposed to just plain unpleasant, I won’t give Best Health’s Root Beer an abysmal rating. Let’s leave it at a 1.5.