Friday, November 4, 2016

Damn Fine Root Beer Road Trip, Part 2: The Root Beer Store

One day those logs will have something to say about this.
The store is actually to the right; straight ahead is a … um … cemetery…
(Redmond, WA – September 2015)

In light of the recent news that The Root Beer Store is moving all operations to Idaho – that, and the fact that it’s been well over a year since I made this trek – it’s probably high time I finish writing this post…

Let us harken back, if you will, to oh-so-long ago when life was simpler (um ... not really) and the Missus and I were in the Pacific Northwest for a wedding (yes, really).  As luck would have it, said wedding just happened to put us on the path of a couple different root beer-related field trips that I’d had my eye on for a while.  We’ve already covered the first one (an exciting update on that one is coming soon!) (who am I kidding; nothing happens “soon” any more around here) (let’s just say, “an exciting update on that one is coming … eventually … before the sun supernovas and our solar system collapses … hopefully … and if it doesn’t, we won’t be around to worry about it anyways …”), and the second should be a required pilgrimage for all who number themselves amongst the root-beer-inclined.

Corey Anderson first opened The Root Beer Store in Redmond, WA in 2010.  At the time, he was already a successful small business owner, having spent the past 2 decades running several enterprises including a janitorial service and a wholesale feather duster distributor, the latter of which’s office would become the flagship Root Beer Store (which is the one I visited) [2016 Update: Per Corey’s newsletter regarding the impending move, that feather duster operation has actually been floating the root beer operations for some time now, factoring largely into the decision to move].  Having also grown up making root beer at home with his family, Anderson had originally set out to create his own root beer label.  During an educational excursion down to California to learn from industry professionals / to take a root beer making class, however, Anderson discovered several dozen different root beer labels already in existence, and thus decided to focus on bringing those already-varied brews to the public instead.  The first Root Beer Store started with around 30 different root beers, and has since then expanded to offer, by their own estimate, over 100 varieties in their brick-and-mortar stores and their online operation (sources: 1, 2 this link might be dead, 3).

Pocket Pooj ponders a plethora of pop.

Some of the shelves were partially empty during my visit, which was slightly disappointing since I was hoping to pick up a couple of the out-of-stock labels that had been on my list for a while – not sure if this was due to the fact that it was close to closing on a weekend, or that those items just aren’t available any more.  On the whole though, it was a very successful outing, the highlights definitely being a very helpful “tour guide” finding a bottle of the 30th Anniversary special edition Sprecher for me that wasn’t even on the shelves (!!!), and finding the can of Hire’s that I already posted about.  There was probably somewhere around 50 different brands of root beer available, with probably 30 more non-root beer varietals, as well as an archival wall of maybe 60 labels (root beer an non-root beer alike) that are out of production.  Non-beverage items included root beer flavored candies and BBQ sauce (no root beer themed feather dusters, to my knowledge...).

Not quite 100 brands today, but still a heck of a lot. 

And for the record, yes, I did ship more soda and glass back to CA than a logical person should have, and yes, I did get a membership to the Association of Root Beer Enthusiasts.  Said membership also came with root beer (naturally), a license plate frame (kind of random, but still amusing), root beer barrel candy (always good), and root beer taffy (very good, I might add).  Also, given how late I’m posting this, said membership has also since expired.  …but at least I still have the license plate frame …

Best of luck with your move, Root Beer Store – see you someday in Idaho…!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Melt

Pocket Pooj ponders a pickup peddler.
(The Melt - South Coast Plaza, May 2016)

The Melt is part of a relatively recent trend of food trucks setting down brick-and-mortar roots.  More accurately, The Melt started as a Bay Area brick-and-mortar fast-casual grilled cheese joint, which then expanded into a fleet of food trucks (converted from retired school buses), some of which then shuttled down to Southern California, where they then [retired for good (the Southern California ones, at least), and] once again became brick-and-mortar grilled-cheese (and burger, and soup) joints (source). Confused yet? Good.  

All that, of course, is beside the point. Though I'm generally not hip enough to know the latest news in the food truck world, I at least try to Facebook-stalk the root beer world (you can see, doing his own stalking in the background of the above photo, the reason why even the latter has been lacking as of late).  Which, long story short, is why I happen to know that The Melt's menu is developed in part by chef Michael Mina, whose restaurants have been rumored to serve a house-made root beer (which I have been unable to verify; see the aforementioned "not hip enough").

I don't actually know if the sodas they serve at The Melt are the same Michael Mina recipes, but they do advertise them as "all natural." I also don't know with absolute certainty that the sodas are house-made, since the four available flavors -- cola, lemon-lime, black cherry, and root beer -- could be from any number of soda makers.  All four are actually pretty good, but my completely biased opinion is that the root beer is the strongest.

From the tap (and it's actually a tap, not just a soda fountain) there's a respectable head, but it's gone before I make it back to my table.  Bubbles are pretty big, which may account for the speed at which the head disappears, though the carbonation is only mildly sharp.  It tastes a little watered down, but I'm not sure if that's by design or just an unbalanced mix from the tap. The sweetness is balanced though; not too sweet, and if not watered down might actually be a bit on the bitter side -- there's a little medicinal aftertaste that goes up the sinus, as well as a little licorice.

Not bad; the flavors are all there, just a bit too watered down for my liking. I'd still drink it again if I happen to be eating at The Melt -- in fact, the food and beverage is good enough that I dare say that I would prefer eating at The Melt over other comparably-gimmicky mall restaurants, assuming there's one available.  But I still probably wouldn't make a special trip to eat here just for the root beer.  That's a high 3.