Monday, May 14, 2012

Shine Classic

The Pooj sheds some light on the subject matter.
(Fresh & Easy, May 2012)

Shine Classic Root Beer appears to be the store brand root beer for Fresh & Easy, but it’s actually made by Cott Beverages, which if you recall, has been the producer and distributor of Ben Shaws sodas since 2005. Cott was already a known brand of soda in New England since early mid-Century, but it did not become the company we know now as Cott Beverages Ltd until it moved to Quebec in 1952. They are today, at least by their company website’s estimation, the world’s largest retailer-brand beverage company. What that basically means is that Cott develops soft drinks, amongst other beverages, for grocery stores’ and retailers’ private labels (read: generic store brands). For trivia’s sake, it’s worth noting that Cott was also the first company to develop a diet soda, done so in the late 1950s at the request of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal for its diabetic patients.

Withstanding a few of digressions, I’ve typically stayed away from store brands for my purposes here for the simple reason that they have not been particularly impressive in my past experiences (specialty store private labels being the exception, but those are usually a different story). However, the Cott name drew my attention because of its aforementioned connection with Ben Shaws, and because Fresh & Easy’s store brands have treated me reasonably well in the past, so I figured, why not? Plus, knowing that Fresh & Easy’s parent company is Tesco, one of the UK’s biggest grocery chains, I thought that there might be a slight possibility that Shine is geared more towards those sensibilities, even though the particular branch of Cott that produces Shine hails from Tampa, FL. It might actually be a more interesting experiment to track down all of the store brands that Cott produces and see whether there are any differences at all from one private label to the other, or whether Cott just makes the same root beer for everyone and then simply puts different stickers on them.

Perhaps my expectations are set too low, but I actually think Shine is moderately good. The initial scent is herb-y, slightly licorice-y, with hints of vanilla (probably vanillin, actually…). It’s pretty sweet, as store brands tend to be, but there is actually a root-y statement in there somewhere. As far as distinct flavors go, there are none to really speak of, but it does have an herb-y aftertaste. Make no mistake - it does tastes more than slightly artificial, but no worse that some glass-bottled root beers that cost easily 5 or 6 times more per ounce than the mere $0.88 I paid for a 2-liter tankard. After a while, I do get pretty numb to the flavor, so it’s not that strong, but for a store brand I can definitely do worse. Fresh & Easy – you have not done me wrong yet, and I will be sad to see you shutter when Tesco pulls out of the US in the next few months. With tempered expectations, I give Shine Classic Root Beer a 3.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Twohey's, Part Two(hey)

The Missus is still a better date than the Pooj. Sorry again, Pooj...
(Twohey's, May 2012)

A couple Fridays ago I had a hankering for a chocolate malt at 11:00 pm, which was problematic because I live in a part of town where all of the establishments from which a person might obtain a good chocolate malt shut down well before 11:00 pm (well, and problematic because I probably shouldn't be having chocolate malts at 11:00 pm...). Failing to shake my craving for a shake, I got in the car and headed towards the nearest In-N-Out, where I could at least settle for a non-malted frozen dessert. Lucky for me, my nearest In-N-Out shares a (relatively small) parking lot with Twohey's, which we visited in the early days of my root beer documentations, and is just the kind of place that can provide a chocolate malt at 11:00 pm with nary more than a negligible detour from my original path. Believing that my previous root beer experience was perhaps a fluke, I wanted to give Twohey's Root Beer another chance, but given that I could barely justify having a chocolate malt at such an hour, I reeeally couldn't justify tacking a second sugary beverage on top of it. Thus I left with just my malt (which, by the way, was very very good), which I enjoyed whilst taking a drive through the local neighborhoods that I would never be able to afford to live in, and that would certainly not be the parts of town that would yield malted desserts at 11:00 at night.

Fast forward to present day, when the Missus insists (yes, practically twisting my arm) that I take her to Twohey's for a malt. ... seeing as I left her asleep on the couch during my last foray... Anyways, I am somehow able to justify both the malt and the root beer this time (which, by the way, still isn't really justifiable), and therefore Twohey's Root Beer gets another shot.

Indeed, I’m calling last time a fluke, since Twohey's Root Beer is much better the second time around. The root beer is actually not made in-house as I had previously thought, but made especially for Twohey's by Brewbakers, a brewing house in Huntington Beach that also has brewing facilities available for amateur brewers’ use, which incidentally is also where the firemen of Firemans Brew first developed their beers, one keg at a time. Most everything else at Twohey's does appear to be made on the premises, possibly even including the ice cream in the aforementioned malt. Regardless, the root beer has a strong vanilla scent and flavor, a decent amount of foam, and a slightly herb-y kick that extends into an ever-so-slightly bitter aftertaste. Said bitterness is tempered by a faint honey aftertaste - the honey listed with the ingredients seems to add more texture (i.e., smoothing it out) than flavor. Otherwise, there are no particular distinguishing flavors present; just a general root-y flavor that, although better than my previous sampling, is still somewhat watered-down and/or bland.

But as I said, I did find it to be better upon reconsideration. I'm not sure if Twohey's uses their own root beer to make the floats also offered on their menu, but I do think that a root beer this subtle would easily get overpowered by any ice cream (homemade or otherwise). Still, it warrants an improved rating, albeit a small one – today I’ll give Twohey's Root Beer a 3.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Firemans Brew

The Pooj reminds us that only you can prevent root beer fires.
(Rocket Fizz Westwood, February 2012)

Fireman’s Brew is in fact brewed by firemen. Well, it’s probably more accurately brewed by professional brewers now, but it was in its nascent days brewed by firemen – two firemen to be exact. To be more exact, those firemen are Rob Nowaczyk and Ed Walker of our very own Los Angeles County Fire Department. Back in 2000, the pair were fighting a brush fire in Glendale when the barley growing around them (which presumably was not on fire at that very moment) left them craving beer. Seeing as they were in the middle of a barley-covered incline (in flames or otherwise) at the time and nowhere near actual beer, they instead dreamed up the idea of making their own beer and even came up with a clever slogan for it which is now emblazoned across their product’s label. After starting and stopping production (for principled reasons – they did not want to appear as though they were using the post-9/11 swell of support for first responders as a business advantage, proving once and for all that these firefighter fellows are an honorable lot), Firemans Brew launched again in earnest in 2006, first selling beer and coffee exclusively to firehouses and then selling to the public once they had some momentum going. Coming full circle, the company donates part of their proceeds to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (source).

Yet another reason why everyone likes firefighters: they make some really good root beer. It’s got a really good herb-y scent that leans heavily towards licorice, and the taste follows suit. There’s a spicy sting to it, but I’m pretty sure that comes from a strong carbonation that holds a solid head. Once the carbonation settles down, there’s a good strong root-y flavor that I can’t pin down entirely, but is certainly high on sassafras, wintergreen, and as I mentioned earlier, licorice. All together, it’s a bold and rich flavor, with a sweet aftertaste. While I don’t usually mention much about color, I think it’s worth noting that Firemans Brew is completely opaque, even when I hold it up to a light – I don’t know that this has any actual bearing on flavor, but it did stand out to me.

This is definitely one of the best root beers I’ve had in a while. As I said earlier, it is a bit strong both in the herb sense and in the carbonation sense, so it’s definitely not for everyone. In fact, there’s little indication of the honey and vanilla flavors that dominate the root beer palette these days – if there is any in there, it’s blended in well enough to not dominate. Either way, carbonation stinging aside, which, if you don’t let it wear off a bit, will make things taste somewhat acrid - my only criticism - I highly recommend it.  Firemans Brew gets a very high 4.5.