Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dang! That's Good Butterscotch

The Pooj attempts to nab a dag.
(...yeah, I know that one's a stretch...)
(BevMo Pasadena, January 2012)

Dang! That's Good Butterscotch Root Beer comes from Imperial Flavors, a syrup, beverage concentrate, and beverage-dispensing equipment company out of Milwaukee (actually, it's pronounced "mill-e-wah-que" which is Algonquin for "the good land"). Aside from the fact that the company was first established in 1964 and that the company also makes a line of energy drinks, there's not a whole lot more information available about them on their website. Some sources say that the name of the root beer comes from someone's grandmother's exclamation upon sampling it, but I'm not certain as to the veracity of such claims. I do know that the Dang! line does make a regular root beer in addition to the Butterscotch Root Beer I have here today, but all I can get a hold of at the moment is the latter version.

Undaunted, we press on...

Appropriately enough, the beverage smells like ... ... wait for it ... ... butterscotch and root beer! ... which also smells oddly reminiscent of a Sharpie to me, so I might need to get my nose checked out ... It foams up a little bit in a glass, but not much, so I can't say it has much head. From the bottle, it tastes more like butterscotch – very much like butterscotch, actually – but from the glass, it tastes more like root beer. My taste buds get used to the butterscotch flavor fairly quickly, so I don't notice it as much later on, which allows the root beer flavors to come through more. The root beer flavor itself is actually somewhat mild, so there's nothing particularly distinctive about it. When I take smaller sips, the butterscotch flavor takes over by-and-large, which understandably results in a very sweet confection and makes the whole experience rich and smooth, despite a fairly strong carbonation. Butterscotch flavor returns in the aftertaste, which actually gets sweeter the longer it sticks around.

Not having visited any of the Harry Potter theme parks, this is what I'd imagine a butterbeer would taste like. At least this is what I’d hope a butterbeer tastes like, as opposed to, you know, actual butter-flavored fizzy-drink (maybe a new Fizzies idea?  Certainly wouldn't be their worst...). Returning to the topic at hand, however, while I do like the butterscotch flavor – and you’d have to like butterscotch itself to enjoy the Butterscotch Root Beer – it really drowns out most of the root beer flavor. Since there is some modicum of noticeable root beer flavor in there, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s not root beer at all, but it does make me somewhat ambivalent about it as a root beer. Do I like it as a butterscotch root beer? Yeah, sure, if that someday becomes a category of root beer. But do I like it as just a root beer? Meh. That having been said, I do want to try the Dang! regular root beer to see what the flavors are like without the butterscotch overpowering them. So we'll revisit the whole Dang! universe soon, but for now Dang! That’s Good Butterscotch Root Beer gets a 3.

Friday, April 20, 2012

River City

The Pooj pours one for his friends sent up the river.
(Rocket Fizz Thousand Oaks, December 2011)

In celebration of Blue Dog Beverages' recent unveiling – recent as in this-was-really-just-announced-on-Sunday, and yes-this-blog-at-least-pretends-to-be-hip-to-current-trends-in-the-carbonated-beverage-world-however-irrelevant-they-may-be-to-the-real-life-important-news-world recent – of their Blueberry Lemonade, only the second soda in their River City line, we look back fondly on the days when they were but a single-beverage label. …Actually, Blue Dog Beverages distributes over 450 kinds of soda, so they really aren’t strangers to that aforementioned carbonated beverage world…so…never mind…

Moving right along, then…

Although company owners Janet and Bob Lake did not create their own River City Soda label until 2009, they've been in the soda distribution business since they opened shop in 2003. When the time came to make their own mark on the carbonated community, the fizzy fraternity, the pop proletariat (OK, maybe I should be more generous), the soda society what have you, the Lakes spent 12 months developing a recipe that would become River City Root Beer – named for their hometown, the River City itself, Sacramento (the rivers in question being the Sacramento and American Rivers). The company website states that River City Root Beer was made specifically with floats in mind, but I don’t know if that’s true or just press, seeing as they’re not the only people who describe their root beers within the float-making context. Personally, as much of a fan of the root beer float as I am myself, I feel that one should never adulterate a good root beer with any add-in, particularly something as potentially overpowering as dairy (which now that I think of it, adding cream to Manhattan Special Espresso Soda does sound good, but that’s a different discussion for a different time and probably a different webpage). Consequently, I generally perform my float-related activities with just-above-average root beers, and prefer to take the truly good root beers neat. Should a root beer actually require a plug of vanilla and cream to make it good, I feel its makers have missed the root beer mark.

That having been said, while I would certainly be interested in making a float with River City Root Beer, just to keep my root beer bases covered in case that is the intended method of serving, I do think it stands up pretty well on its own, with a few qualifiers that I will enumerate later. A freshly-opened bottle yields a decidedly molasses-slanted scent, though it’s still generally within the root beer spectrum of smells. On the contrary, the initial taste is not particularly molasses-y, though it’s actually a little bitter, akin to when concentrate is not diluted enough or something. It’s kind of strange because what I taste on both sides of my tongue is somewhat unpleasant, while what I taste on the top of my tongue is quite nice. Now I do realize that the idea of a “tongue/taste map” has long been disproved even though different parts of the tongue are still believed to be more sensitive to certain flavors than other parts, but that’s why I think this it’s strange that I taste distinctly different things.

Past that, the flavor grows on me the more I drink it – the bark-y bitterness isn’t necessarily that licorice-y though there’s definitely some essence of anise in the whole herb mix, in which molasses is still marginally the dominant flavor. Vanilla becomes more evident as I get further down into the bottle, more so in scent and aftertaste than in flavor. The aftertaste is also sweet, but retains that same bark-y kick, starting as a well rounded nice root beer aroma that leaves quite a bit of the kick once the sweetness fades. As far as head goes, there really isn’t any, but there are lots of little bubbles that result in a pretty balanced amount of carbonation.

So here’s where the qualifiers come in. On the one hand, I do like most of the flavors that are in the mix in River City Root Beer. And those flavors do blend well enough to give a full root-y experience. However, that initial bitter taste can be rather off-putting, so I don’t really enjoy it until I get past that point. Now this could in fact be what Blue Dog means when they say it was made for floats – perhaps the flavor purposely has that "concentrated" taste so that it can cut through, holding its own against the ice cream, which may in turn smooth out that bitterness. It’s hard to say for sure until I’ve actually tried it in a float, so I think I’m going to have to revisit River City. For now then, since I did like it enough to at least want to try it float-style, I’ll give it a 3.5.

Monday, April 9, 2012


The Pooj makes an obscure reference.
(Rocket Fizz Las Vegas, November 2011)

There is scant information online about Empire Bottling Works, save that the Bristol, RI company has been family owned and operated since Antonio Borges first opened shop in 1930. With that in mind, I don't really have anything else to add, so on with the root beer...! (And yes, I do realize that's the point of this page to begin with, so... yeah…)

With no accessory knowledge to cloud my perception of Empire's root beer, my introduction comes by way of an herb-y scent from the freshly-opened bottle that, while rather faint, is rather good. Poured into a glass, I wouldn't necessarily say it has a head, but there's a decent amount of bubbles that linger at least as long as a poured Coca Cola. On the whole, the flavor has a nice herb bite that's clearly root, but not bitter. It's not particularly smooth, but that's OK, since the smoother root beers also tend to be sweeter and fall into the vanilla-cream camp, neither of which characterizes this root beer. What matters is that the flavor fills both my gustatory and olfactory senses in a cloud of root-iness, then floats upward as a sweet aftertaste with a root beer candy-ish flavor, eventually settling somewhere between the roof of my mouth and my nose.  My only minor criticism is that while the flavor profile (:: the mix) is good, the overall level (:: the volume) could be dialed up a couple notches.

In keeping with the whole brevity thing then, Empire Bottling Works Root Beer is rather good, and so I'll give it a low 4.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


The Pooj takes matters into his own hands.
(Rocket Fizz Pasadena, October 2011)

Bedford's of Port Angeles, WA was founded by Seattle native Ed Bedford in 1984. Per a 2004 interview in Seattle PI, Bedford was just a soda and beer delivery guy when he decided to have a flavor chemist recreate the vanilla cream soda flavor he remembered from his youth, a flavor unmatched by any cream sodas marketed to him. At time of interview publishing, Bedford's was still based out of Port Angeles and Ed was the only full-time employee, though I'm not certain the latter is still the case now. While the label still proudly boasts the Port Angeles base, bottling now appears to be handled across Puget Sound in Mukilteo, WA by Orca Beverage.

I don't detect much more than a faint root beer-y scent straight from the bottle, though there's a slightly cherry-ish smell from a glass (or maybe my olfactory senses are still lingering on the dandelion and burdock experiences). The taste is distinctly on the molasses and vanilla side, but is also oddly reminiscent of Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, for lack of better terms. Given that the Bedford's flagship beverage is Vanilla Creme Soda (which also accounts for somewhere around 75% of the company's total annual sales according to the PI article), I would guess that the vanilla is their hallmark flavor. For the record though, there's actually little root/herb flavor.

Otherwise it tastes pretty sweet, with a sweet aftertaste that's quite pleasant, like what in my estimation an old soda fountain should taste like were I to ever decide to lick one (...hey, that's what came to mind...).  As far as texture goes, there's a slight bit of head that doesn't last long, though the carbonation leaves a tingle on my tongue. The overall experience is still smooth over all.

Although I definitely enjoyed Bedford's Root Beer for the vanilla flavor, I don't really think there is enough herb flavor for me to consider it a good root beer, per se. Taken as cream soda, it's really quite good; the additional molasses flavor actually gives it some extra body.  All this is probably good indication that the Vanilla Creme would be very good, but alas we are not here to speak of vanilla cream sodas.  We are here to speak of root beer, and as a root beer Bedford's Root Beer gets a 2.5.