Friday, October 19, 2012

Root Beer Road Trip: Rocket Fizz

Rocket Fizz’s flagship Camarillo Store. 
(December 2011)

In honor of the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s epic 2-day commute through the streets of my fair city, as well as Felix Baumgartner’s epic stratospheric skydive, today we drink some hopefully-epic root beer! By its very nature, root beer is a land-based affair (in case you didn’t already know that…), and the closest we’ve come thus far to even self-appointed space-age root beer has been the Fizzies tablets (and we all know how well that turned out…), so as much as I’d like to say we are sampling root beer from space, or that has at least travelled to space and back, alas, we are not. We are, however, getting the next best thing – root beer from a store with space-themed name…! Yes, I realize consuming even celestially-themed-name fizzy drinks is not near as impressive as either space shuttling or stratosphere diving, but I will say that today’s root beer comes with a rather epic road trip.

And this post has been a long time coming, so please excuse the potentially outdated photos…

Since we had a couple days off after Christmas last year, the Missus and I decided to pack our bags pre-New Year and head north for some much needed R & R. Little did the Missus know that at zero hour, 1 pm, she had also been roped into doing some not-as-much needed root beer reconnaissance, to be performed by hitting up every Rocket Fizz location on the Ventura Freeway-CA134/101 corridor…

Whatever fine line exists between hobby and obsession has officially been crossed.
 (Clockwise from the top left: Westlake Village, Burbank, Thousand Oaks, 
Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, and Glendale. Not pictured: Pasadena and Ventura.)

Rocket Fizz is one of my go-to soda and candy shops (second only to Galco’s). The original store opened in Camarillo, CA in 2009, and the company has since grown to 26 locations (both franchised and company-owned) in 7 states – by November there will be 28 total stores, with 11 more still planned in 2 more states. I’ve personally visited 12 shops in 2 states (amassing a full third of my collection from their stores) and the root beer selection appears to be mostly the same at all stores (an article on their site claims to have over 70 different root beers between their stores, but I doubt that claim since I have already exhausted their root beer options), probably because co-owners Rob Powells and Ryan Morgan approve every product and vendor themselves. The company also produces several lines of sodas: Lester’s Fixins and Melba’s Fixins, named for Morgan’s grandparents; Judge Wapner, named for Powells’ uncle; Martian Soda, named for Powells’ 4th grade teacher; and Snooki Wild Cherry, named for, well, Snooki… (source) Since May of 2011, Rocket Fizz has also bottled another line of sodas under their company name – 19 different varieties including the one you see before you now.

The Pooj misses the Earth so much.

As you would expect from something called “Root Beer Float” as opposed to just “root beer,” there’s a very heavy dose of vanilla in both the scent and the flavor. However, that vanilla is overwhelming in a scented-candle or hand-soap kind of way – in other words, not particularly in a real-vanilla kind of way. The same idea applies to the Root Beer part of the Float – not particularly distinctive to any root or herb, but just generically “root beer.” I think the best way to describe this is as something that’s supposed to taste like root beer rather than actually be root beer (not unlike the chewing gum from the previous post). While it is sweetened with real sugar instead of HFCS, I still get an empty taste overall. Other than being really sweet (both in taste and aftertaste), there’s not much else to it.

Unfortunately then, Rocket Fizz Root Beer Float is far from stellar. This is not to say that Rocket Fizz is not a good store. Stores like Rocket Fizz sell an experience – that fun, carefree, and nostalgic experience of drinking soda and eating candy – and Rocket Fizz does a fabulous job providing that experience. I simply can’t expect them to apply the same attention to detail to producing good root beer, which is still better left to those who are exclusively in the business of making soda (and beer). Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because for Rocket Fizz to fully provide that experience necessitates selling the products of those who make good root beer, and as long as they continue to focus their efforts on selling soda and candy, I will continue to be a customer (particularly since they are they are the exclusive merchant of Fireman’s Brew Root Beer).

… I just think it's going to be a long, long time 'til I'll be buying their own label of root beer again. Rocket Fizz Root Beer Float gets a 2.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pseudo-SCIENCE: Root Beer Substitute for the Non-Soda Inclined?

A real post is coming soon – I promise. This has been a very busy month, with little time for root beer-related prose, and even less time for recreationally-imbibed fizzy beverages. In the meanwhile, I’m at least still maintaining my self-appointed position as guinea pig of all things root beer related, and in following, felt compelled to plunk down my $1.50 when I came across this at the store today. 

The Pooj is simultaneously fascinated and appalled.

Extra Dessert Delights has several different kinds of dessert-themed sugar-free chewing gums. Now I’m typically averse to stated sugar-free items, since, well, what’s the point? Having said that, I have tried several different kinds of Extra Dessert Delights in the past (hey, I needed cash, it was the cheapest thing in the store, and at the moment of purchase, I smelled like pastrami every time I spoke) with varying degrees of success. I knew there was a root beer version out there, but had not seen it until recently, and in theory, what’s to not like about having breath that smells like root beer? Granted, my preferred method of attaining breath-that-smells-like-root-beer is by drinking root beer, but these will at least fit in my pocket a lot easier.

Surprisingly, it does smell like root beer – very heavily weighted in the vanilla direction of things, and otherwise a little empty smelling, but like root beer nonetheless. That is, however, where the similarity ends. If I don’t already know it’s supposed to be root beer flavored, I don’t think I would guess it is root beer flavored. Were I to focus very hard on the flavor (and mind you, I am focusing much harder on the flavor of this gum than any gum-flavor should typically warrant focus), and can pick out some spicy notes, but again, it’s mostly generically sugary without any particularly distinctive root-y flavors.

This is not to say that Extra Dessert Delights Root Beer Float chewing gum is not successful on any level. While the suspect root beer flavor does wear off rather quickly (seemingly contrary to Extra Chewing Gum’s intended goal), it does leave a root beer-ish aftertaste not unlike the menthol feeling leftover from drinking a real root beer. Now this could be from actual menthol, to which gum is no stranger, but there is also a distinct additional “otherness” to the aftertaste that can very much fall into the herb-y category – certainly moreso than some of the lesser root beers I’ve written about in the past. And when you think about it, chewing gum is probably more in the business of aftertastes than …er… foretastes … so in that regard, Extra Dessert Delights Root Beer Float does actually fulfill its intended purpose.

Of course it will never replace the satisfaction (not to mention the flavor) of actually drinking a root beer, but I can certainly do worse when it comes to chewing gum. … Like, for instance, the Orange Creamsicle variety of Dessert Delights, which tastes like how citrus-scented dish soap smells. And that’s probably much better than the Apple Pie version – I’m not touching that one…