High in the Eastern Sierras, near the Owens Valley where we of Southern California steal most of our water, sits Mammoth Mountain. While most people know already know Mammoth as a hiking and skiing destination, fewer know that it is home to the purported highest brewery on the west coast (which may be a generous assessment, given that Mammoth is some 200 miles from the ocean, on the non-coast-facing side of a massive mountain range, but we’ll just go with what they say for now…). Since 1995, the Mammoth Brewing Company has crafted their wares hereabouts, 8,000 feet above sea level. They've even recently expanded their capacity to produce an apropos 8,000 barrels of brew each year, of which some are presumably their Mammoth Imperial Root Beer (source).
It certainly helps to have friends in high altitudes, seeing as this growler of happiness was gifted to me by a local, but I will have to add a disclaimer to everything else I’m about to write: high altitudes also means long distances and infrequent visits, so at the time of sampling, this growler of happiness had already been happy-ing (??) in said local's fridge for a month. Although I’ve managed to keep fresh root beer fairly well maintained in the fridge for several weeks, a recent bad experience with some good stuff that I had forgotten about in the fridge for a little (actually, a lot…) too long suggests that even something so sugary has a definite shelf life. My point in saying this, then, is that I will need to do another test in the future, closer to the source (or at least closer to the time of purchase) before any real conclusions can be formed or preliminary conclusions verified.
On with the show then, shall we?
The good news is that the carbonation has held up – the bubbles are on the small end of medium and get smaller after the initial head dissipation. Since the head itself doesn’t actually stay for more than a couple seconds, the medium bubbles give way to smaller bubbles fairly quickly. From the growler and from the glass, the scent is heavily herbal and menthol, leaning towards licorice as well. Not surprisingly then, the flavor is also heavy on the menthol and herbs, with a hit of licorice as well. It’s not too sweet – it probably could have used a little more sugar to balance the bitterness of the herbs, which tends to skew the flavors sour – with a sarsaparilla-like aftertaste. Again, the menthol is also strong in the aftertaste, leaving a cool feeling on the tongue.
For now, in its current iteration, I like Mammoth Imperial Root Beer well enough. Perhaps a fresher batch would actually taste sweeter (the aforementioned spoiled stuff became much more bitter with time, like over-extracted tea or coffee), thereby counteracting some of the mild bitterness – the only thing I didn't really like about it. Either way, I would happily give it a second go for the sake of being thorough in my research. Mammoth Imperial Root Beer gets a high 3.5.