Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dang! That's Good

The Pooj is about to wash someone’s mouth with soap. 
(Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer, May 2012)

Despite my numerous previous assertions to a newly-minted healthier diet, I’m going to be posting a flurry of root beers in the next few weeks.  Given the lackluster results described in my previous posting, I’m going to have to blast through some of the older items in my collection in an attempt to stave off any additional potential spoilage.  So here goes…

If you’ll recall from my previous Dang! experience, there wasn’t much information out there about Dang! beyond the Dang! little ditty about Imperial Flavors.  Well, that hasn’t changed at all in the past year, so I still don’t have any more Dang! background to offer.  Consequently, I’ll keep my foray into Dang! That’s Good’s regular root beer Dang! brief: there’s not much scent coming straight out of the bottle, save for a very very slight generic root-y scent.  Pouring it into a glass doesn’t make any difference, though it does demonstrate its lack of head.  There’s nothing remarkable about the taste – it’s generically root-y, just like the scent, and it’s pretty sweet, though the sweetness actually has some depth and richness to it.  Unfortunately, that slightly caramel-y sweetness doesn’t extend to the aftertaste, which is a little watery.

Were I pressed to choose, I think the Dang! Butterscotch variety is better.  While it’s not bad, Dang! That’s Good Root Beer isn’t all that Dang! good – sorry granny.  I’ll give it a 2.5.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Capt'n Eli's

The Pooj, with mournful tread, walks the deck.
(Galco’s, April 2012)

Capt'n Eli's Sodas were, in fact, named after a guy named Eli – Eli Forsley of Gray, ME, whose family had been brewing root beer in their basement since the 1920s. And while it's true that Eli did serve in the Navy during WWII, it's unclear whether he actually attained any captain-ship, though he did attain doctor-ship after his stint in the service. But alas, the soda is called Capt’n Eli's, not Dr. Eli's, so we will perhaps forever be left guessing. Maybe the soda market was already saturated with doctors, so captains seemed the next logical positional aspiration (insert Bones McCoy joke here).

Regardless, we do know that Eli Forsley did not actually start the company for which he is namesake. That credit belongs to Eli's son Fred, who opened Federal Jack's Restaurant and Brewpub in Kennebunkport, ME in 1992 (no word yet as to whether Jack was actually a Federalist) (insert Alexander Hamilton joke here). Fred started serving the family recipe root beer at Federal Jack's in 1996, and it became popular enough that he also decided to bottle it in 2002, selling it under the Capt'n Eli's moniker. Soon after, they developed a graphic novel to promote the Capt'n Eli's brand, which actually ended up gaining a footing of its own in the children's semi-educational graphic novel market (think Voyage of the Mimi-style edu-tainment). Eventually, Capt'n Eli's Root Beer expanded to include several additional soft drink varieties, produced for the Capt'n Eli's label by Shipyard Brewing Company of Portland, ME (which also produces Sea Dog Root Beer, amongst other normal beers), and is occasionally seen at various events around Maine in Capt'n Eli's Draft Van, an ingenious vehicle with soda taps sprouted (spouted?) from its sides (source)

My first impression is that it has a complex smell, heavily favoring licorice. My second impression is that it also smells a little like glue. In following, it does taste very licorice-y, but also tastes a little like glue (or what I would imagine glue to taste like, not having much of a glue-heavy diet myself). Whatever you call it, it’s definitely medicinal, in a medical product sense (i.e., tastes like ointment, though I don’t have much of an ointment-heavy diet either) and in a medical facility sense (i.e., has an antiseptic-like aftertaste, and it should go without saying that I don’t eat many medical facilities). One would assume these are not actually intentional flavors (because if they are, W...T…F...), but they do mix with what I would assume is an intentionally molasses-y finish, with wintergreen menthol around the edges, to impart a rather woodsy, bark-y taste.

The intensity of this tastes-like-how-a-barbershop-smells effect makes me wonder whether my bottle of Capt’n Eli’s hasn’t perhaps gone bad. As you can see from the date of purchase above, I’ve had this one sitting in the pantry for a full year (a combined result of over-zealous root beer collecting and the relatively-recent adoption of a healthier, soda-lighter regimen). In theory, glass is not supposed to allow sodas to lose flavor (or gain other flavors) over time – and I’ve saved several root beers in the past  for special occasions for longer than a year that have certainly been just as good when I did finally crack them open to suggest that this is true – so it’s hard to tell what’s nature and what’s nurture here. Glass bottles do supposedly have a tendency to lose carbonation over time, but that does not appear to be my case, as even the year-old Capt’n Eli’s has a very nice foamy head, which translates to a pretty smooth texture.

In fact, if I can get past that chemical burn, Capt’n Eli’s has a lot of good things to offer. The ingredients list alone indicates that thought and care went into crafting the beverage, and I can certainly appreciate that. And it’s not too sweet to boot, which I generally like. However, that burn – and the raw feeling it leaves on the top of my tongue – is more than a little difficult to get past, so I as much as I would like to love Capt’n Eli’s, this particular sample is hard for me to finish. Given my doubts about the freshness of my bottle though, I’m going to have to put an asterisk next to the 1.5 I’m giving it for now – this requires another look.

Friday, April 5, 2013


The Pooj is vertically challenged.
(Braum’s - Owasso, OK; August 2012)

Ask anyone from the Plains states and they'll know Braum's Ice Cream. My first Braum's experience was a cookies n' cream cone back in college during spring break, and seeing as I still remember it now, it clearly made an impression on me. I learned back then that Braum's does not operate anywhere farther than their trucks can deliver products fresh daily, which sadly means we'll not likely ever see one in California (oh well, we have In-N-Out, so I guess that's fair turnaround). What I did not learn until recently (i.e., doing research for this post...) is that those stores are specifically within a 300 mile radius of Braum's Tuttle, OK processing plant, and despite this geographic limitation, Braum's still operates close to 300 stores in 5 states: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and their home state of Oklahoma. This is due to the fact that Braum's is almost completely vertically integrated as a company.

Let's back up a bit first. Henry H. Braum started leasing a butter processing plant in 1933 in Emporia, KS, and built his company upward from there. By 1940, Braum had gained his own facilities, and had just added ice cream to the menu of dairy products handled at his plant. This ice cream, which they named Peter Pan Ice Cream for a local park, would go on to make quite a name for the Braums, so much so that when the family sold Peter Pan in 1967, a few years after Henry's son Bill took over, they had to agree not to sell ice cream in the entire state of Kansas for 10 years following the company's sale.

Consequently, the Braums moved their entire post-Pan operation to Oklahoma, dairy farm and all, eventually settling in Tuttle, where they remain headquartered today on a 10,000 acre dairy farm. And as if their 260,000 sf dairy processing center wasn't enough, the Braum's company also operates a 240,000 sf bakery on the property, and also owns several hundreds of thousands of acres of additional farmland elsewhere in OK and TX just to grow alfalfa and hay to feed their cows – quite necessary when you take into account that the Tuttle farm births 40 calves each day. These cows – an entirely private herd, 1,600 milked per hour – combine to produce 150,000 lbs of raw milk every day (not a small feat given that they do not give the cows hormones to promote milk production). Much of this is sold just as milk, but much of it goes to producing Braum's signature ice cream, making Braum's the only major ice cream producer in the US that milks their own cows – how's that for vertical integration (source)?

But as much as we like ice cream, it is beside the point – Braum's makes their own line of sodas, root beer included. Thanks to friends in flat places, I have acquired a significant amount of said root beer. Unfortunately, although the cans were purchased just last August, the date on the cans indicates that they expired this past January, and I did not receive them until recently, well past its stated expiration date. I feel that in the interests of full disclosure, I need to offer this disclaimer, in case this expiration negatively affects its flavor.

I am at least pleased to note that, despite its stated expiration, Braum's Root Beer does not taste like the can it came in. Not taking any chances, however, I'm consuming this from a glass rather than straight from the can, knowing what we do about how that can affect the perception of flavor. And the flavor's not bad at all – it's on the generic/weaker/milder end of the root spectrum, and mostly dominated by sweetness, so there's nothing particularly distinct about it, but nothing offensive either. The scent is also mildly root-y and mostly sweet, somewhat candy-ish, so it's not surprising that the taste can come off a little syrupy. Same goes for the aftertaste, which is decently root-y and lingers for a little while before finishing with a clean sweetness. Either due to the yucca extract foaming agent or the aforementioned syrup-iness, the texture is smoother and fuller than your typical HFCS-sweetened root beer.

While Braum's Root Beer isn't particularly special – not a "treat" root beer by any means, it's certainly good enough to accompany the burger I would get at a Braum's restaurant were I to visit one, which I will need to do at some point just in case my representative sample really did lose something in its expiration. Upon such an occurrence, should I discover that there is no difference between fresh and expired, then I might opt to save my calories for an extra scoop of frozen custard instead. For now, Braum's Root Beer gets a solid 3.