Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Root Beer Field Trip: Joe Jost's

Pocket Pooj ponders for peanuts.
(July 2013)

For the better part of the last century, Joe Jost's tavern and pool hall has anchored the port city of Long Beach. Joe Jost the man (pronounced "Yost," though Joe himself essentially said in a 1972 interview that even he pronounced it "Jost" for those who don't speak Hungarian) was born in 1890 and immigrated to the US when he was 16. Though he arrived on these shores trained as a barber, he was really a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. After a stint as an Army infantryman in WWI, Jost trekked from New York to Long Beach by way of Chicago, Denver, and Upland, finding work as a barber at each new location before eventually setting up a small ice cream, candy, cigarette, and sundries shop (with a pool and poker hall in the back of the store) in nearby Balboa in 1920. What stands as Joe Jost's today came to be in 1924, combining everything the Balboa location had been with the addition of a barber shop. When Prohibition was repealed, Jost also started serving beer and sandwiches at his shop-of-all-trades until the Lords of Barberdom (i.e., the Barbering Commission) (honestly, I never knew such a thing existed...) took issue with barbering occurring in such proximity to alcoholing, at which point Jost ditched the shears and focused on the beers (and sandwiches) (sources: 1, 2).

Of course we're interested in Joe Jost's primarily because of the large neon-lit root beer mug on the sign:

Can't go wrong with that combination, if you ask me. 

And as the sign advertises, Joe Jost's has long been known in Long Beach as the place to go for a root beer from the tap, as well as pickled eggs and Marmion's Peanuts (another Long Beach institution), amongst other things. I discovered upon arrival that the root beer is not made by or specifically for Joe Jost's, but instead is Death Valley (back in 2009, they were serving Surf City, according to another blogger -- more on Surf City coming soon) -- still, it was on tap, it was frosty, and I like Death Valley Root Beer, so no reason to complain. The Marmion's peanuts are fat Virginia peanuts roasted in this old coffee roaster, just like William Henry Marmion did it back in 1907: 

Giving new meaning to Chock full o'Nuts... 

Current Joe Jost's tavern owner (and past, present, and future Joe-Jost-the-man's grandson) Ken Buck purchased the roaster from the Marmion family in the late 80s after they closed their own shop, and keeps it alive and running here. The peanuts were still warm in the bag when I got them, which made for a nice contrast to my cold Death Valley. And although Joe Jost himself isn't around any more to see what's become of his place (he passed away in 1975), I'm sure that he would be proud to see that it's still what it always was -- no frills, packed full of customers (even at 3 in the afternoon when I was there), and still the neighborhood's favorite bar.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Capt'n Eli's Revisited

So my holiday weekend hasn't really included the requisite amount of blowing-crap-up that this fair nation's birthday typically calls for, but I have partaken of the traditional eat-yourself-silly aspect of just about every holiday.  This, of course, comes down to declaring my independence from keeping track of how much sugar I'm ingesting.  But who are we kidding; I already did that weeks ago...

At any rate, such a turn of events has allowed me to look again at Capt'n Eli's. You'll recall (or not, depending on how much mental energy you personally expend on perusing online root beer pontification...) that my previous meeting with the Capt'n literally left a bad taste in my mouth, which seemed contrary to every other thing I've heard/read about Capt'n Eli's Root Beer as well as all of our other much-earlier meetings (admittedly, it had been a while).  I am happy to report that, upon a more recent encounter, the Capt'n and I have mended our fences and are on much better terms.

Which of course makes me wonder what happened to the last bottle I drank.  Or maybe I shouldn't try to wonder so much because, well, eww...

Yet I only need to revise my previous description of Capt'n Eli's slightly.  Take away the medicinal acridity, and you're left with everything good I had earlier described: still complex, still heavily favoring licorice in scent and flavor, still matching almost word for word my earlier description -- "molasses-y finish, with wintergreen menthol around the edges, [imparting] a rather woodsy, bark-y taste."  And really, all you have to do is take away the acridity and what remains is excellent.  

The U.S. of A. is all about second chances, right?  So happily I give myself a second chance to like Capt'n Eli's Root Beer, and happily the Capt'n obliges me.  Upon further consideration, Capt'n Eli's Root Beer gets a solid 4.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


The Pooj is for lovers.
(Galco's, July 2012)

Happy Independence Day to all! And what beverage is more American than root beer, right? Drinking root beer on the Fourth of July, therefore, is not only a privilege, but my patriotic duty! To that end, Dominion seems the perfect root beer for such an occasion.

Much, of course, has been written, re-written, alleged, and disputed regarding the history of the beverage we now know and love as root beer, but Dominion Root Beer may be the only root beer to have the weight of government behind their historical claims – it’s made according to root beer recipes preserved at the Library of Congress. Company founder Jerry Bailey, a Federal employee (not sure if he actually worked for the Library of Congress though), used to brew beer for his own enjoyment until 1989, when he opened one of the first brewpubs in the DC area and started brewing it for a living. Bailey called his brewpub Old Dominion Brewing Company after the Virginia state nickname, since his establishment was technically in Virginia (source). Though the company was sold to a Maryland tavern owner in 2007, then to Anheuser-Busch 2 years later (who moved production to a larger brewing facility in Delaware), the subsequent owners all still maintained brewpubs in the DC area. Aside from root beer, Old Dominion makes ginger ale and roughly a dozen different beer varieties. Root beer, however, is by far their best selling single item, accounting for a full 20% of their production (source).

For good reason, too, because Dominion Root Beer is pretty good! It has an herbal-rooty scent that fades quickly, but the accompanying herbal-rooty flavor thankfully does not. Although there’s nothing particularly distinguishing about its flavor except for a slight molasses edge, it does hit all of the expected “root beer” marks. There’s a nice amount of sweetness that doesn’t distract from the herbs, so the honey listed in the ingredients doesn’t take over, yet still smoothes out the texture just a bit (not as much as honey typically can though). Pressed to find a word to describe the flavor, I would say that it is “clean,” and the aftertaste has the same crispness, with some herbs that fade away to leave a very slight menthol feeling. Head is decent as well – the bubbles are pretty big, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it foam, but it does stay around for a satisfying amount of time.

So while I haven’t been too keen on some of the things my government has done as of late, as far as root beer is concerned, I’m definitely proud to be an American. God bless root beer and God bless the USA – Dominion Root Beer gets a low 4.