Monday, October 31, 2011


The Pooj is feeling light-headed.
(Rocket Fizz Pasadena, October 2011)

“Baumeister” literally means “master builder” in German, so as an architect, Baumeister Root Beer really should be my root beer above all others. No pressure or anything…

A little research actually reveals that Baumeister isn’t really named for any master builder in particular but for Heine Baumeister, who started the Baumeister Soda Company in 1907 using water from an artesian well in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. While this may get Baumeister Root Beer somewhat off the hook for being my root beer, the fact that it placed 2nd in the Midwest in a recent “Great American Root Beer Showdown” (a panel taste test conducted by the Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi) puts it on another hook entirely. There’s no mention of who took first place in that contest since the web-page for the storied competition (OK, I don’t know how “storied” it actually is, but hey, it’s a root beer tasting, so that should already qualify it as stuff of legend…) shows the last panel occurring in 2003, when Baumeister was absent. It is worth noting that, according to the archives, Baumeister actually finished first in past rounds of the competition.

Initially there’s a slightly licorice scent that may tease at a little bit of clove as well, but the smell fades quickly once the air is let out of the bottle. There’s a decent amount of foam, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it heady. Both “HFCS and/or sugar” are listed as sweeteners, and I’m guessing there is actually sugar in this one, since it’s much smoother than you’d typically get with just HFCS. Either way, it’s pretty sweet, and sweet is really the dominant flavor. Not that it’s devoid of any herby-flavors – there’s a mild root-iness with a slight licorice leaning. Perhaps there’s also a little clove in the aftertaste, but it’s hard to tell since it doesn’t linger long and is also slightly covered up by a sweet aftertaste.

More than anything, I think I would describe Baumeister Root Beer as “accessible,” meaning that it’s just root-y enough for root beer fans to like it, it’s got a better herb-y quality than mass-market brands, but it’s also not so root-y or herb-y that occasional root beer drinkers would have difficulty with it. Definitely above average, so Baumeister gets a 3.5.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Margo's Bark

The Pooj wags the root beer.
(Galco’s, July 2011)

If the story of Margo’s Bark Root Beer doesn’t make you happy, something’s broken. Young Oscar Youd of Los Angeles wanted to make root beer (more precisely, he wanted to make natural carbonation with yeast and sugar) for his science fair project when he was seven years old, and the results were so successful that his family decided to perfect their recipe, then bottle and sell it. Oscar named his brew after his presumed best friend Margo, a black labrador-pit bull mix whom the Youds adopted from an animal shelter after she was found abandoned in a Long Beach parking lot. All proceeds from sales are donated to animal shelters and other pet-protection programs in honor of Margo’s compatriots.

While I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend drinking every seven year-old boy's science fair project (I think I grew bread mold for the science fair when I was seven...), I’m willing to make an exception here. Initially, the carbonation is very hard, making it really difficult to taste anything. Fortunately this is really the only negative thing I can say about Oscar’s brew because some very good flavors become apparent once the carbonation has dissipated a bit.

The ingredients include molasses, vanilla, cloves, cassia, nutmeg and wintergreen, and are all blended so well that, despite having some potentially overpowering components in the mix, everything comes together quite well to create a very rich, full, root-y flavor. Molasses tends to drown out most other flavors, in my opinion, but is used very well here to add a smooth texture. Adding both cloves and nutmeg might also give you the impression that this would taste like a pumpkin pie, but those spices are also handled very well – I did notice a little more of a clove-leaning scent and potentially a little nutmeg-leaning aftertaste, but I’m not sure if I would have noticed them if I didn’t know they were there and therefore wasn’t looking for them. This, of course, is not an indictment of any sort – as I said earlier, the reason there is no dominant flavor is because everything blends together very well and you taste everything together rather than tasting each individual ingredient separately. Yucca extract is also included and results in a good amount of foam, maybe the lasting legacy of Oscar’s science fair experimentation. Potentially psychologically-induced nutmeg highlights aside, the aftertaste is otherwise bark-y with a menthol-y feel and a sweet finish, perhaps a little too bark-y for some but generally up my alley.

Maybe I’m just getting warm fuzzies from the Margo’s Bark story. Or maybe I’m just biased because this is one of the few Los Angeles-based brews I’ve run across. Perhaps I’ve just had one too many middle-of-the-road root beers as of late. Or perhaps Margo’s Bark Root Beer is just that good. Whatever the case may be, Margo’s Bark gets a 4.5.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Red Ribbon

The Pooj is feeling just a tiny bit terrible.
(Galco’s, July 2011)

Pittsburg, according to a 1992 New York Times article, is the root beer drinking capital of the world – perhaps fitting, as many historians attribute the creation of what we know today as root beer to a pharmacist from Pennsylvania (more on that bit of trivia when I get my hands on a can of it – it’s still out there, but hard to find on the West Coast). Red Ribbon Root Beer owes its existence to the Natrona Bottling Company and is still actually made near Pittsburg, as Natrona only operates out of a single facility in neighboring Harrison Township where it has been since 1904. Though Natrona has changed hands a handful of times during its first several decades, the family that now owns and operates the company has done so since 1939.

Red Ribbon Root Beer has a good blend of flavors, though nothing dominates. There’s a vanilla-ish flavor and smell, with a root-y aftertaste that leaves a menthol-like feel in the mouth. While the flavors are not particularly strong, slightly overpowered by the sweetness, the sweetness also adds a very smooth texture. You’ve got to give the initially hard carbonation a few minutes to dissipate before you get to the smoothness, but it’s nice when you get there. It’s also got a slight bitterness in the aftertaste, not unlike that of a strong tea, but I don’t really mind that, since it’s more of an herb-y bite that I generally like.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Red Ribbon Root Beer an every-day root beer for me (considering my previous posting about shying away from root beer every day…), but if all root beers in Pennsylvania are at least this good, I can understand why people drink so much of it there. Like I said, not really one of my favorites, but I can understand why other people might like it – that’ll get you a 3.5.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Pooj has no naturally-occurring substitutes.
(Whole Foods Market, October 2011)

The herb stevia, also called sweetleaf and sugarleaf, has been used for millennia in South America as a natural sugar substitute. Here in the US, steviol glycosides derived from stevia were approved for use as food additives only back in 2008 but were already available as dietary supplements, and while still dietary supplements became the namesake for Zevia soft drinks. Rebaudioside A, better known under the trade name Reb-A (which Zevia uses), are anywhere from 40 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, yet have no calories and negligible affect on blood sugar. Stevia is actually only Zevia’s secondary sweetener – the primary sweetener is erythritol, a sugar alcohol produced by fermenting glucose with yeast. Erythritol has at most 70% of sugar’s sweetness, but because is barely absorbed by the body, and therefore simply expelled as waste after consumption, also has negligible calories. I’m not ready to jump on any sugar substitute’s bandwagon, naturally occurring or otherwise, but since I’m securely on board root beer’s bandwagon, I figure I’ll give it a fair shot.

Aside from the thin texture and lingering aftertaste you typically get with alternatively-sweetened beverages, Zevia Ginger Root Beer is actually pretty good. Most sugar-free sodas only differ from their sugar-sweetened originals by using artificial sweetener, but Zevia seems to benefit from being sugar free from the start since this basically requires an actual root beer formula. Zevia’s creators certainly put in their time in the lab, evidenced by the inclusion of wintergreen oil, anise oil, lemon oil, and orange oil in the ingredient list, as well as the ginger extract that the “Ginger Root Beer” title implies. Despite that title, and thankfully so, there’s actually very little ginger flavor, save for the subtle lingering heat you get in the back of the throat (not that I have a problem with ginger – I just don’t want it to be the dominant flavor in my root beer). For the most part, it’s wintergreen and licorice in the scent and the taste, with maybe a little tangy-ness from the citrus oils (or at least from the psychological effect of knowing they’re there). I’m actually surprised the root/herb flavors are not more prominent, given the very deep old-fashioned root beer scent – a scent that would normally portend a rich, smooth flavor in other sugar-sweetened brews, reinforcing my theory that real sugar adds as much texture as it does sweetness. Perhaps a root beer’s chosen sweetener can be likened to the vessel on which its root-y, herb-y goodness is delivered, where sugar is the smooth sailing yacht and sugar substitute is really more of a raft that’s just seaworthy enough to get from Point A to Point B. Comfort of travel aside, however, the lack of sugar is not a bad thing here since it allows the root-y flavors to take the main stage.

I typically reason that if I need to start drinking sugar-substitute beverages, then I should probably be cutting sugary beverages from my diet to begin with, and Zevia doesn’t change my mind all that much in that regard. On the off chance I ever get to the point that I’m posting new root beer write-ups daily, any readers would serve me better to just tell me to stop drinking root beer every day… As with most flavor enhancers, sugar is not a bad thing when consumed in moderation – in fact, it is a good thing when it comes to root beers, as my nautical analogy above would suggest. But if I ever had to recommend a sugar-free root beer to anyone (say a diabetic, for instance, assuming that the science about the blood sugar effects of erythritol and stevia stands the test of time), this would be it. Zevia Ginger Root Beer gets a high 3.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dad's (with Sugar)

The Pooj wonders why you don’t call or write more often.
(Galco’s, July 2011)

Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer is one of several Chicago-based root beers I’ve been running into recently, which makes me think I should visit Chicago soon, it being such a big root beer town and all. The fact that it’s where Route 66 begins is no small draw either, so I’ll have to file it away in the road-trips-to-do list. Like many other brew-masters, Barney Berns and Ely Klapman, the latter to which belong both the eponymous father and the basement where the beverage was developed, got things started in the 1930s. In the 1940s, Dad’s became the first beverage to be sold in the now-ubiquitous six-pack. Each bottle in said six-pack was a 7 or 10 oz. “Junior” size, with quart-sized “Mama” and half-gallon “Papa” marketed as the rest of the family tree.

That would make the current 12 oz. packaging an adolescent sibling, I suppose…

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, Dad’s was until recently made with real sugar. While the 1- and 2-liter bottles and most of the glass bottles are now made with HFCS, there still are glass bottles out there with sugar-sweetened contents. These are a little harder to find in California except in some root beer gift boxes/variety packs that have made their way into stores as of late, with single bottles sometimes available in smaller specialty stores. You can usually distinguish the sugar from the HFCS variety by simply looking at the label – the sugar variety has a paper label whereas the HFCS variety has a clear plastic decal label, with slight variations in the graphics of the two.

Dad’s sugar-sweetened formula or my tastes have changed since the last time I had one (probably me), because I am actually quite pleased with this version. It certainly benefits from some added smoothness compared to the HFCS recipe, as well as a deeper, richer flavor. While the scent is very heavily menthol-y, the taste is much more on the licorice and slightly more on the molasses sides of the spectrum. There seems to be some combination of cloves or nutmeg, possibly even cinnamon in there somewhere, but I can’t clearly pinpoint any one in particular – the clove flavor is a little stronger, but again, not so much that I could clearly identify it as such, and thus can only really characterize it as having a slight “harvest spice” taste to it. Overall, it’s root-y, even bark-y in a good way, though the sugary sweetness tends to overpower the herbs. Flavors progress from primarily sweet to primarily herb-y the further I get in the bottle, and the molasses flavor builds a little higher than I would prefer with each successive sip.

Still, I liked Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer. If the sugar didn’t drown out the herbs as much, and if that ever-increasing molasses flavor wasn’t there, I think I would like it even more. Not really an everyday brew for me, but certainly not one I’d avoid as much as I used to either – that’ll make it a 3.5.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pop Shoppe

(Old Town Root Beer Company, June 2011)

The Pop Shoppe was born in 1969 in the Great White North of Ontario, Canada, so this
technically qualifies as foreign root beer. Although Pop Shoppe remained popular in its home country throughout the 70s, bolstering its Canadian cred with several hockey-legend endorsements, 1983 saw the company shutter until an enterprising individual restarted things in 2002. Given my lack of success with root beers sourced outside US borders, how do we fare when we’re at least on the same continent?

Well, Canadian root beer is at least as good as anything you can get from the US mass market. Pop Shoppe starts with a strong root-y smell, heavy on the birch, and has a surprisingly thick head. The flavor is pretty sweet, with a slight molasses and slighter licorice leaning. It's also pleasantly smooth despite being HFCS-based instead of sugar-based. While the flavor is nice enough, it does tend to fade rather quickly, so it’s not particularly memorable.

All in all, it’s just pretty good – that’s a high 3.