Friday, July 18, 2014

Starbucks Fizzio

Call me Porta-Pooj.
(Starbucks, July 2014)

So I’m assuming you don’t need me to give you the background story for Starbucks, right?  OK, good.

Nearly everybody has an opinion about Starbucks’ coffee, so I’ll spare you from going into detail about mine. Suffice to say, when I heard that they were rolling out a line of “handcrafted” sodas this summer, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong, I think Starbucks is actually a great organization – they treat their employees very well, and they teach them to really know and love their product. For the most part, this results in a very good customer experience, so no complaints there, either.  It's just that I don’t typically think “coffee shop” when I want a soda (and for that matter, I don’t typically think “Starbucks” when I want a cup of coffee, but that's a different story…). But, of course, root beer is a great motivator, so I visited my local Mermaid to give their “new twist” on a “beloved classic” (their words in quotation marks, not mine…) a whirl .

The problem is that this “new twist” barely acknowledges any of what is beloved about the “beloved classic.” At first, it tastes a little fruity and a little floral, so there’s probably a healthy dose of birch syrup – that’s where the similarities to actual root beer end. I can’t really taste anything else aside from nutmeg and clove – A LOT of nutmeg and clove (otherwise, it’s rather tart). Now they do advertise it as "spiced," so it certainly meets that criteria – just too much for my liking. Were there ever a time to say something tastes like Christmas, this is it – the aftertaste even tastes like a gingerbread cookie.

At least I had a gift card, so I didn't really have to pay for it. In fact, I didn't even finish it. Given its “handcrafted” nature, I suppose that there’s a chance that it might be better if a different barista mixed it next time. But is that enough for me to want to try it again? To borrow from another Starbuck, “No frakking way.” Sorry Starbucks Fizzio, that’ll only get you a 1.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dorothy's Isle of Pines

The Pooj feels a rumbly in his tumbly.
(Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer, May 2012)

So…evidently I’m not as “back” as I thought… When there’s an infant in the house, you become much more cognizant of the fact that there are only so many waking hours in a day, and only so many of those hours in which the child is also awake, and only so many of those hours in which the child is in a good mood. During the first of the three, you try to get as much of the stuff done that you can’t do during the second; during the confluence of the latter two, all you really want to do is hang out with the child. It’s not that you don’t want to do anything else, like say, drink tasty beverages, take goofy photos of a stuffed giraffe (but don’t tell the Pooj that I referred to him as “stuffed”), and blogging – you would just much rather enjoy the fact that the child is awake and in a good mood. But enough excuses; moving right along…

It’s probably fair to assume from the that fact I’m writing this and the fact that you’re reading this that root beer is the one drink you and I would choose to have with us were you or I ever stuck on a deserted island (OK, maybe water would be more conducive to, well, staying alive, but I’m assuming the deserted island is akin to the spring-filled one from Lost, except, you know, with fewer magic corks and polar bears). Dorothy Louise Molter was perhaps the only person who could say that she actually lived that claim. Called “Knife Lake Dorothy” and “Nightingale of the Wilderness,” Ms. Molter first visited the Isle of Pines Resort in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness bordering the US and Canada during a fishing trip in 1930, and decided to stay there as a nurse for the resort’s owner and visitors. She ended up staying in the 2 million-acre collection of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes for the rest of her life – 56 years in total – becoming the last non-indigenous person to live in the area.

The Feds actually tried to remove Dorothy on several occasions – first in 1948, when roads and buildings were demolished and seaplane traffic banned in order to return the developed areas to wilderness; then again in 1964, when the Federal Wilderness Act prohibited habitation in the BWCAW. Public outcry on Dorothy’s behalf caused the Government to relent, and she was allowed to stay until 1975, at which point the National Forest Service appointed her as a volunteer and let her stay permanently. When motorboats and snowmobiles were banned in 1978, access to the Isle of Pines (willed to Dorothy by its original owner, and no longer a resort) was limited to canoe traffic, and Dorothy became well known as the “Root Beer Lady” for serving homemade root beer, cooled in an old-fashioned ice house with ice cut from the frozen lake, to passing canoeists. Here Dorothy stayed, 36 miles away from the closest town, until her death in 1986 (Sources: 1, 2)

Dorothy’s 1986 obituary (source)

Dorothy’s Isle of Pines Root Beer initially smells like root beer candy and vanilla in the bottle, though there isn’t much of a scent once it’s poured into a glass. It has a hard carbonation, with larger bubbles and no real head (the bubbles only stay for a couple seconds). While it’s not too sweet, the sweetness build as you drink it, finishing with a pleasant sweet aftertaste. The flavor is not remarkable (I’m not sure if they use Dorothy's recipe), but does have a nice little bite – it doesn't taste vegetal enough to be birch, but I can’t quite place it otherwise (I might be out of practice). As far as I can tell, there’s no anise or licorice of any sort, and the aforementioned vanilla is more apparent in scent than in taste.

Still, I liked it well enough, and I think it’s a fitting tribute to a unique individual who furthered the cause of root beer. All proceeds from the sale of Dorothy’s Isle of Pines Root Beer go back to funding a museum in Dorothy’s honor in Ely, MN, which is nice, too. I’ll give it a high 3.5.

In other news, this is happening:

Any fellow root beer fanatics/root beer bloggers/root beer blog readers in the Greater LA area interested in joining me for the festivities? It’s at a great place and it’s for a good cause. Leave me a message in the comments if you want to meet up – let’s put our “skills”/obsession (/cavities…) to good use…!