Pocket Pooj ponders a pint.(Steelhead Brewing Co. – Irvine, August 2013)
Although I've stopped in at Steelhead several times in the past several months to pick up a sixer of their Honey Vanilla Root Beer (and once just so the pregnant Missus could use the restroom on our way to San Diego...)(...which I took as a cosmic sign that I should also pick up more Honey Vanilla Root Beer...) I had yet to give the Spicy Draft a second chance. Since my gainful employment recently brought me, quite literally, across the street around lunchtime, I figured it was high time for some gainful root beer imbibement.
First off, I'm relieved to report that there is in fact more carbonation than my previous experience. While the bubbles are small, there are a lot of them. There's really no head to speak of, which I am a little disappointed by, given that it comes from the tap. Of course, this could be because they serve it over ice, which I typically don't prefer, but am also not really fussy enough to ask them to do otherwise -- if this is what Steelhead sees as the optimal way to enjoy their product, then who am I to disagree, right? Normally, you'd expect the ice to dilute the flavor down to nothing, but I think I'm able to take down enough before any harm is done. Plus the flavor is so strong on the menthol that I don't think the ice is doing it any real harm. So, as I said of my previous experience, they aren't lying when they call it Spicy Draft because it's pretty strong stuff, and the added carbonation, as you would probably expect, doesn’t change the flavor much from before. It’s still heavily favoring the aforementioned menthol (maybe wintergreen?), along with a healthy kick of licorice thrown in the mix with the other bark-y flavors. Either way, carbonated or not, it's still strong enough to border on bitter, and those bitter leanings linger on the top of the tongue for a long time. The menthol sticks around for a while too, leaving a cool feeling in the back of my throat.
And while being carbonated still doesn’t make this a chugging root beer (but really, who would want to chug a good root beer anyways?), I still think it’s good (definitely better when carbonated) – not too sweet, very complex and bold enough to stand up against anything you pair with it. That makes it a perfect accompaniment to my lunch, and perhaps one day I will test whether mixing it with their Honey Vanilla Root Beer – which is very smooth and much sweeter, though milder on the scale of rooty-ness – would perhaps result in the world’s perfect root beer. But no time soon, since I clearly can’t get a whole gallon home before it goes flat like last time.
This does make me doubt Steelhead's decision to only allow the Spicy Draft to be sold in the gallon cubes when they clearly leak air and thus cannot keep the soda fresh for more than a few minutes. I would gladly pay the start-up cost for a growler and bring it back to get refilled, but they have a strict beer-only policy with their growlers. Until then, I’m more than happy to stick to buying the Honey Vanilla to go, since I think I still like that variety better than the Spicy Draft. Having said that, Steelhead Spicy Draft gets raised to a 3.5.