Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pseudo-SCIENCE: Cooking with Root Beer

As much as I like root beer, it's somewhat surprising that it's taken me this long to use it as a cooking ingredient. It's not for lack of suggested uses available on the interwebs, what with all the root beer bbq sauces, roast enhancers, and cocktails out there. Perhaps it has something to do with not wanting to dilute the full root beer effect, opting to experience my root beer in pure form? Or maybe it's my lackluster response to other root beer-inspired/flavored/what-have-you items that I've sampled in the past.

But wait no longer! Thanks to the wonderful folks over at Serious Eats, I'm now sufficiently inspired to go to the store to pick up some ingredients. I present to you Root Beer Sherbet:

Stand back; churning in progress.

I used Steelhead Spicy Draft as my base, since it has a stronger flavor and has little carbonation to muck with the mixing and churning process.  Since I didn't have enough corn syrup on hand, I added more sugar and a little more Steelhead, but I'm thinking that might have made the finished product a little too sweet.

Sassafras and horehound drop garnish optional.

The finished product basically tastes like a root beer float, which should come as no surprise. Next time, I'm going to try using Anacapa. Eventually I'll try making Serious Eats' actual DIY root beer recipe, but I'm not quite that ambitious yet...

Wonderful World of Root Beer: Cariboo

The Pooj gets run over by a reindeer.
(Steamworks Brewing Co., Vancouver – June 2012)

Cariboo is part of Pacific Western Brewing Co, established in 1957 in Prince George, BC on a fresh water spring. Originally called Caribou Brewing, it claims title as the longest-running BC-based Canadian brewery, as well as title for first Canadian brewer to export to China (1991) and Russia (1996). Although it's now just one line of many Pacific Western products, it still does hold additional significance in that each case of Cariboo-label product sold results in a new tree planted in the Cariboo Regional District (presumably near Cariboo bottling plant). So far 150,000 trees have sprouted (and a lot of beer ingested....), part of an eventual goal to plant 1 million by 2020 (source). No comment thus far from Canada's collective liver...

This was the first uniquely Canuck brew I came across during our brief jaunt to the Great White North a couple summers ago (not the first Canadian root beer I've ever had; just the first encountered during the trip), so I'm pleased that it's a local brew. It's also the first root beer I've encountered so far that actually has ABV (albeit just a small amount only 0.5%), harkening back to the days when root beer was still called small beer and was still fermented like beer beer. Does the retained alcohol, however, positively affect root beer?

Positive or not probably depends more on what your feelings are regarding beer beer. I, myself, am not really a fan of the taste of beer (which is not to say I'm not fascinated by the process of making beer, and the endless variations of beer that can come about just by making small changes to that process), which might make the presence of the alcohol in Cariboo more pronounced to me than to others more accustomed to the taste. Though it does taste a little yeasty, the "beer" flavor is actually more in the smell and aftertaste (which is also slightly acidic, slightly sour), and in the slight alcohol sting in the throat, than in the "root beer" flavor itself, so I wouldn't say it's that prominent. However, it may also seem more prominent to a non-beer-beer drinker like myself because the root beer flavor isn't particularly prominent by comparison – some notes of birch and molasses, but otherwise generic.

The yeast fermentation process does have one clear benefit: head. While not as foamy as a typical beer, the head builds up to a pretty decent amount of medium-sized bubbles before it dissipates in the time it takes to drink the first couple ounces (a few minutes, depending on how fast you drink). Given the opportunity, I would like to give it another shot – since my can of Cariboo is a year and a half old, there may be some loss in flavor. At the very least, there is a metallic smell that might come more from the fact that it has been sitting in its can for so long than anything else. For now, Cariboo Root Beer gets a low 3.