So, apparently it only takes me 3 short years to eat my words (in this particular case, that is; other cases much sooner…). Far from steering clear of Sparky’s Root Beer as I had previously stated I would, I’m actually purposely steering myself towards it, having specifically planned a portion of our road trip around visiting Sparky’s roost at the Old Monterey Farmers Market. Taste is subjective, and legitimately so, therefore I know a lot of respectable folks out in the Root Beer Interwebs (RBI, for short)(which, if not actually a thing, should be) love Sparky’s a lot more than I do – that hasn’t changed. However, what I will always love, respect, and go out of my way to learn, regardless of how I feel about a root beer itself, is a good story about how that root beer came to be.
Knox Brewing, which makes Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer, owes its origins to a home brewing kit from which founder Kevin Knox (who might actually be the guy on the left in the photo above) (and if that is him, I must add that he’s very friendly) first started making beer. From such beginnings, Kevin went on to win several home-brewing awards locally and regionally. Recognizing that neither he nor his family really drank that much beer, Kevin later decided to steer his brewing towards things non-alcoholic, unveiling Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer at the Pacific Grove Good Old Days Festival of 2000 after testing 115 different formulations. Named for the Knox family’s cat, Sparky’s Root Beer was originally only sold in kegs for restaurants and catering, as well as freshly drafted from a booth at the Old Monterey Farmers Market (per the photo above). As popularity grew, Knox Brewing starting bottling Sparky’s and selling it around the Pacific Grove/Monterey Peninsula area. Eventually, a friend and local grocer connected Kevin with Danny from Real Sodas in Real Bottles, who now distributes Sparky’s throughout the state, except in Central California, where, at least in 2009, Kevin still makes deliveries. (source 1, source 2)
Not quite replicating the logo...
As for my Farmers-Market-Fresh[ly]-Draft[ed] Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer, it’s a little watery, even before the ice melts. This, however, does not diminish its very strong wintergreen flavor, which I do remember being a little too strong for my tastes last time around. Had I thought through my transaction a little better, I would have ordered a float, which they make with ice cream from a local creamery – the added cream and vanilla would have made for a perfect confection, given that Sparky’s is not too sweet to begin with and herb-y enough to withstand any dairy-fied onslaught. I am pleased to report that fresh Sparky’s does actually come from a small barrel, which you would be able to see in the photo had I thought through my picture-taking a little better and waited until someone wasn’t standing between me and the booth (you can at least see a little of the barrel and tap in the photo, and to Sparky’s credit, the booth is pretty popular, so a customer-free photo would be hard to come by)... The stripey paper straw is also kind of cool, and possibly more environmentally friendly than a plastic one (stripey or otherwise), which I can get always behind.
While I emphatically believe that all root beer aficionados should do their best to get their hands on some Sparky's Fresh Draft Root Beer to decide for themselves, I still have to say that it isn’t one of my favorite brews. Unfortunately that probably means my recommendation isn't going to be published in their pamphlet anytime soon, as other RBI luminaries’ have. But at least I get to park next to their van in the garage…
The Spark[l]y steed.
Regardless, I still admire, respect and appreciate Knox Brewing’s effort immensely, and wish them the best as they take their self-proclaimed leadership in the root beer revival. Viva la revolución.