Thursday, November 17, 2005

In The Beginning

As with any good story the only place to start is the beginning. I am certain that I had many Root Beers before I developed my taste for the divine brew. In fact I clearly remember drinking A&W's as a kid at the now sadly gone A&W in Meridian, Mississippi. Those frosty mugs, accompanied by fries and chili dogs are etched in my memory even now, many decades after. I also clearly remember drinking bottles of Frosty Root Beer in my Great Uncle Eugene's store in Collins, Mississippi. He dispensed his beverages from an old, ice filled metal cooler that was a blessing on hot Mississippi summer days.
But those are not the brews that gave me my desire to imbibe. Nope. That belongs to Barq's Root Beer. Not the Barq's Root Beer that so many are used to now, the mass produced crap from the once great Coca-Cola Company. No. The Barq's I drank was the original. Made and bottled in its original home in Biloxi, Mississippi. Filled with delightful acacia bite and beautiful cane sugar sweetness. Nothing compared to that brew.
Some of my fondest memories as a kid revolve around that old Root Beer flavour. I had the distinct honour and joy to be a kid on the Gulf Coast and one of my favourite places as a kid was The Dog House, Jr. in downtown Gulfport, Mississippi.
The Dog House, Jr. was a hot dog joint, stuck across the street from train station and around the corner from J.C. Penny's it was home to the worlds greatest chili dogs. Even after all these years I have never found a better chili dog than the ones which this small hole in the wall served. Great hotdog, yummy chili topped with American cheese and steamed to perfection. And, to top it all ice cold Barq's in a glass bottle, (the only way you could get one in those days). Droplets of ice water and condensation forming on the outside of the bottle brought the beautiful diamond pattern of the bottle to life as we sat back, enjoyed our dogs and drank our wonderful elixir of sugar, acacia and Root Beer flavoured carbonated water. There was and never will be anything quite like that again.
Sadly, the old Dog House, Jr. is long gone, (despite a half-assed attempt by know nothings to bring it back) and so is the Barq's of my youth.
My last taste of one of those glass bottled Barq's came this past summer at the White Cap Restaurant in Gulfport. Over oysters on the half-shell and fried seafood with my wife and kids, I found that most of the joyful taste had gone from the brew. The American mega-corporation had touched something beautiful and ruined it. Sad to say. In the wake of hurricane Katrina my favourite seafood joint is gone, swept away along with my memories of a Root Beer that once ruled them all.
Some of the bite is still there in the glass bottled version but that bite is missing all of the full bodied flavour that was imparted from the sugar they used. Whereas the original brew of my youth would rate a solid 8 out of 10 the new brew, sweetened with high fructose corn syrup gets no more than a 4.
Soda and Root Beer companies should take note. While high fructose corn syrup is cheap and sweet it brings nothing to the party. The original formulae for these venerable drinks were based upon using a specific sweetner. That sweetner was cane sugar in almost every case. You may be enhancing your bottom lines by using this heavily government subsidised sweetner but you are doing your product and your customers a grave disservice. Barq's, a Southern tradition deserves better than you folks accord it.

Barq's Root Beer:
Original: 8
New version: 4


Anonymous said...

Dog House Jr. was my grandfather's place. I'm very happy to hear you have good memories of the place. I always like hearing stories from my aunts and dad about the place.

JJ Nichols
San Antonio, TX

Anonymous said...

I remember that place. I loved going there as a kid in the 60s.

I remember the chef/waiter asking me what I wanted to drink. I asked what he had. He replied, "Everything except whiskey and goats milk".

Really great memories of a really great place.

Baton Rouge, LA