Friday, August 17, 2012

Root Beer Field Trip: Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer

(May 2012)

Spanish soldiers first colonized San Diego around 1769 and thus became the first Europeans to settle in what would become California. San Diego came under Mexican control after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1822, and the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park preserves life as it would have been in the period after that, as San Diego was transitioning from Mexican control to American control after the Mexican-American War (source). Buildings of the period still standing, including the first public schoolhouse in California, have been restored and converted mostly into museums, though some are now home to your typical tourist trap shops. 

But we all know that shops specializing in exotic jerky and root beer beverages are far from typical.

Horseless wagons driven by barrels of root beer are also atypical.

Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer actually started at another old town: Old Town Temecula. I did not recall seeing it at all while we were in Temecula visiting the Old Town Root Beer Company, but I’ll chalk that up to being distracted by the heat and the fact that I had already just purchased a dozen bottles of root beer – I’ll have to pay more attention next time we’re down there. Regardless, Old Town House of Jerky and Root Beer has the advantage of a versatile name, and since most cities in California have some portion referred to as “Old Town” (officially or otherwise), they can practically set up shop wherever they so please.

The San Diego shop is not actually in one of the historic buildings of Old Town, unless former Mexican restaurants and/or kitsch shops are somehow historic. I’m not certain exactly how long this particular outpost has been in operation, but I do know that House of Jerky & Root Beer has been around for maybe a decade and a half, originally opened by roadside jerky purveyors Ron and Jani (yes, we’re on a first name basis already). Current owner Evelyn Honea took over around 3 years ago and now operates the House(s) along with her daughter (source).

We did not try any of the jerky, but we did leave with a modest root beer haul, which you’ll see soon enough. The store is stocked with over a dozen root beer varieties and a couple dozen more non-root beer beverages. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture while we were inside (it was pretty crowded), so instead I’ll have to leave you with a picture from inside La Casa de Estudillo, of where you would have ended up back in 1821 if you had too much root beer… 


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Root Beer Field Trip: Bruxie

 (Old Towne Orange, August 2012)

Ninety-nine bottles of root beer on the wall…

Just north of the Orange Plaza in Old Towne Orange, the largest historic district in all of California, sits Bruxie. Co-owner Dean Simon, inspired by the waffle vendors he encountered a little over a decade ago on the streets of Belgium, developed a recipe for “Brux Waffles” which he sold to restaurants and cruise ships. With the help of chef Kelly Mullarney, Brux Waffles expanded beyond the narrow confines of breakfast to become vehicles on which all manners of sandwich items could be devoured. Thus a mini Belgie empire was born, having since expanded to include 2 locations in addition to its original Old Towne presence (source). At peak production, according to a recent OC Register write-up, the three Bruxie restaurants combine to produce up to 560 waffles per hour – 160 alone at the 400 square foot Old Towne stand – which by any estimation is a lot of waffling around (source).

While the weekend-special Carolina pulled-pork waffle sandwich is probably in and of itself worth the trek to Old Towne (particularly if antiquing is your thing…), we need more compelling reasons to stand out in the 100 degree heat today. And compulsion is delivered in the form of Bruxie’s Old Fashioned Cane Sugar Root Beer. 

The Pooj wonders if this root beer is – what – Belgian??

Bruxie’s root beer is not produced in-house, but rather produced specifically for Bruxie by local soda makers (who apparently remain nameless). Cane sugar appears to be Bruxie’s selling point for their soda offerings, and cane sugar is the dominant flavor that hits first. The sugar lingers for a little while before it’s followed by a birch-y root-y flavor that’s good, lightly sharp around the edges, but isn’t especially strong nor especially long-lasting. It finishes with a cola-ish tang that resolves back into the cane sugar.

That cola-ish tang makes me wish I had also sampled Bruxie’s cola for contrast. All in all, the root beer is good, but still tastes more like a strong root beer mixed with a pure-sugar cola to maybe a respective 60/40 ratio. Either way, it’s still pleasant refreshment on a hot day. Bruxie’s Cane Sugar Root Beer gets a 3.5.

Friday, August 3, 2012

SCIENCE! Flat Steelhead Spicy Draft

Given my lackluster response to the Steelhead Spicy Draft (which, again, still requires a re-taste at the source to eliminate possibility of flattening during transport), I still have a not-insignificant amount of it languishing in the fridge. Also, given that it was somewhat flat-feeling to begin with, you can imagine that the extended stay in the fridge didn’t exactly improve that situation. So I did what any responsible root beer swilling adult would have done under those circumstances.

I dropped a Fizzie in it.

The Pooj is pretty sure this is a bad idea.

Before we go any further, I should amend the post title since this isn’t strictly SCIENCE! with a capital SCIENCE! It’s more pseudo-SCIENCE, much like alchemy or marine biology. Semantics aside though, here’s the Fizzie in action:

Plop plop, fizz fizz.

You can see the Fizzie mid-fizz(ie) on the left, and the finished product at right – clearly it succeeds in adding some carbonated life to the flat Steelhead Spicy Draft. Curiously enough, it also seems to alter the color of the original beverage, which is fairly dark on its own. The fizzing process itself seems less smooth than last I activated the bubbling beast, with carbonation fizzing forth from the tablet in relatively regular but distinct spurts. Perhaps this is a normal tablet reaction upon contact with an already saturated solution, but that’s hard to prove one way or the other. It also leaves an oil-slick-type sheen on the top of the beverage, which I don’t recall happening in simple water-based Fizzie. Maybe the sheen was there before, too, but there just wasn’t enough contrast in the clearer fluid than there is now in the darker base – who knows?

Regardless, it’s bad. Very bad. It still smells like root beer, but given how strong the Steelhead Spicy Draft was before, that’s not altogether surprising. The scent is diluted slightly compared to that of the base material, but not nearly as dramatically as the taste is overpowered by the Fizzie. As sharp as the Spicy Draft once was, the Fizzie flavor completely takes over, and I get a thick, tart, and cloying result. Drawing comparisons is difficult, since I’ve never tasted anything like this before (and hopefully won’t ever again…).

Needless to reiterate, this stuff is pretty gross. It leaves a heavy, sour taste in my mouth and makes my teeth feel squeaky. Don’t say I never took one for the team, and definitely don’t try this at home.

Carry on then, carry on.