Monday, May 5, 2014

Root Beer Field Trip: BrewBakers & Surf City

(BrewBakers Huntington Beach, September 2012)

Aaaaaaaaand we’re back…! …for the time being, at least… There’s a pretty big back-log of root beer sitting around the house right now that needs drinking, but having an infant doesn't really allow much time for any real hobbies, even those as simple as drinking and cataloging root beer. Not that I’m complaining, of course, since the little guys is pretty entertaining all on his own. Besides, one of these days, when he’s older, he and I can head down to BrewBakers to make root beer together and thus make root beer a multi-generational/family kind of thing instead of just dad’s weird obsession (not that root beer is weird; only the obsessive levels at which I regard it). 

Baker-by-training and food-broker-by-trade Dennis Midden got caught up in the budding craft brewing movement of the 90s and decided to open a unique kind of brewery where customers could bud their own brewing craft. Not satisfied with just that, Midden also decided that he would utilize his expertise with wheat and barley to convert the freshly spent grains in the brewing process – otherwise discarded and wasted – to bake bread at the same time the tipple is brewing. From the merging of Midden's passions, BrewBakers was born in 1996.

Gets you where you wanna go.

Here, customers can choose from anywhere between 80 to 100 craft beer formulations, or develop their own, and cook it all up in one of BrewBakers 6 26-gallon brew kettles, each named for one of Midden's 6 brothers.

The got a party growin'

Two weeks of fermentation later, customers return to complete the sugar-carbonation process (in the meantime, they get to take home a loaf of bread made from their own brew's spent grains) and bottle their concoctions at one of BrewBakers' 4 bottling stations (each named for one of Midden's 3 sisters and his wife Linda), which they'll leave for another week to carbonate before coming back to custom label their bottles. All the while Midden makes somewhere around 15 varieties of bread (pretzel rolls!) which he'll either sell in his shop or deliver to local businesses (along with their custom brews) in his restored vintage Helm's Bakery coach (sources: 1, 2).

Not a Woody, but still a goodie.

And as great of a story as this already is, we of course wouldn't be talking about BrewBakers if not for these:

Two root beers for every Pooj!

In addition to the DIY beer facilities, as alluded to in the first paragraph above, BrewBakers also lets customers try their hands at soda-making (a birthday party for the child is happening here at some point, mark my words). Midden also supplies custom root beer formulations for local businesses, just as he does with craft brews – we’ve actually already had a taste of his handiwork, since BrewBakers makes root beer for Twohey's house label. Surf City, our subject for today, is BrewBakers’ own label root beer.

First of all, Surf City Root Beer does not taste like Twohey’s Root Beer, which suggests that business-specific root beer recipes are, in fact, proprietary. I may be wrong, so there may need to be a SCIENCE! post devoted to a comparison later (much later, given the aforementioned back-log…). The scent from the bottle is slightly acidic and slightly yeasty (though the first ingredient is carbonated water, which seems to imply that sugar fermentation isn’t used to carbonate their sodas – more on that later), and otherwise generically root-y. 

Right after I took a swig, the bottle bubbled-over, so there is a real, soft, foamy head to speak of. Most likely this comes from the inclusion of maltodextrin in the ingredients, commonly used for head retention and smoothness in sodas – it works well, seeing as the head even stays in a glass for a long time. The maltodextrin may also be responsible for giving the beverage some body despite its HFCS sweetening. Raw honey is also included, though not particularly apparent in the flavor, but which probably helps the maltodextrin in providing said body. I also think the maltodextrin’s starchiness might be where the yeasty smell and taste originate, given that there’s probably no actual yeast used in the brewing process.

Only the vanilla, listed relatively low in the ingredients, seems to have had a noticeable effect on the flavor, which isn’t particularly distinctive on the whole. There is a slightly spicy herbal aftertaste that coats the sides of the tongue, but again, the flavor is fairly generic. Since this is a small batch brew, there might actually be quite some variation between one bottling and the next – I would be curious to see if this is the case in subsequent productions. For now though, Surf City Root Beer rates a high 3.