The Pooj wonders why everything sucks at American airports.
(Some Sandwich Stand in the US Terminal of YVR Airport, June 2012)
We had disembarked in Vancouver not 3 hours before finding our first root beers. Granted, they were all the same brands as the ones we have back in the US - A&W, Barq's, and Mug - but then again, they weren't. Not only were the package labels different, but so were the ingredients. Instead of HFCS, Canadian mass-market sodas appear to use a combination of sugar and glucose-fructose. Before we run and grab our pitchforks thinking there's some great conspiracy to market HFCS only in the US, I should point out that glucose-fructose is simply what HFCS is called in Canada, and should therefore be chemically identical to what we have in the US. Theoretically that would make for a gustatorily identical beverage to the Barq's back in the US, except for the addition of the actual sugar. Logically, the best course of action would have been to acquire a can or bottle in the Great White North, and bring it back to the Great Brown South (seriously, that was pretty much the color of sky greeting us at LAX...) for further study, but I'll say more on that later.
My first encounter with Barq's Canadian sibling was actually at a falafel joint at the Public Market, sort of a farmers' market type place on Granville Island, sort of an artsy retail type place under a bridge in Vancouver (it's actually much cooler than I just made it sound...). Since I had falafel in one hand, a salad roll (the biggest dang Vietnamese spring roll I'd ever seen) in the other, and salmon candy (...) in the other (...), I was unable to perform a true analysis, and therefore simply enjoyed the experience of drinking the root beer with my hodgepodge lunch. Again, I figured the best course of action would be to bring one home for a side-by-side comparison with the US Barq's crowding my refrigerator door, and thus also figured I’d just pick up another can later at the supermarket or something. Unfortunately, only 2 liter bottles were available at the supermarket and the neighboring drug store only stocked A&W (more in that in a later post), despite the label on the shelf saying it was supposed to have been Barq's sitting before me. Given that our primary purpose for visiting Vancouver was shockingly not simply to drink root beer, I forgot about it for a little while and went on my merry way doing all those amusing little things one generally does whilst visiting friends abroad.
Upon arrival at YVR Airport (which was actually for the purposes of departure), I saw a vending machine outside the door selling Coke products, including Barq's. Confident that I would have another opportunity to grab a bottle once through security (instead of, say, hastily shoving the bottle into my checked suitcase, which was already quite full), I strolled past. Now YVR is a really nice airport (as far as airports go), with nice little shops and nice little restaurants. On top of that, they've got this convenient set-up where US-bound flights have their own little cordoned-off area in the International Terminal that is apparently considered American soil, wherein you can go through US Customs before even getting on your plane. The problem is, once you step through the portal into the American portion of the airport, YVR starts to suck the same way every other American airport does (and don't even try to argue that American airports don't suck, because they do – I mean, do you voluntarily go to American airports when you don’t have to, just for kicks and giggles...?). Here we were, surrounded by the same sucky newspaper and snack shops (seriously, how many Hudson News stores do you really need within a 20 yd radius?), mermaid-themed coffee bars, crappy food court booths and kitsch stands we have back at LAX, while the rest of the International Terminal mocked us from the other side of the glass with its wide variety of retail and dining establishments. Worse yet, none of the shops or vending machines on the American side had transportable root beer of any kind.
I finally located root beer at one (and only one) dinky little sandwich booth in the forgotten corner of the already banal food court. There I bought an airport-food-quality sandwich simply for the opportunity to get the diluted root beer from their fountain, which was broken and otherwise only served Diet Coke, resulting in that lovely photo you first saw a quarter mile up the page at the beginning of this post. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
You'll understand that this is not Canadian Barq's best outing, and will have to believe me when I say that my first can at Granville Island was actually a better version of Barq's than I usually get back at home. Sure, it may all be psychological – we're on vacation after all, so I'm in a better disposition than normal, everything tastes more exotic, everyday experiences seem more exciting, etcetera, etcetera – but I do think that the Canadian formula is better. Whether or not it's due to the real sugar content, I can't say for sure, since I don't know what other ingredients differ from the US version, but for now I’m willing to believe that that is the root of the improvements. I can say that whatever the difference is, the texture is smoother and the flavor is richer. The sugar seems to better bring out the sarsaparilla notes in the brew, which balance nicely with the rest of the herb-y hit one typically associates with Barq's.
The only sure conclusion I can make is that I'll need to revisit Canadian Barq's again in the future. All the more reason to revisit Vancouver, I suppose. We never got Nanaimo bars either, so we'll need to return for those anyways… …Of course, we should probably go more often just to visit our friends there, and not just for the pastries and soda, but you get my point… In the meanwhile, I'll give Canadian Barq's a tentative low 3.5.