Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No Go For Faygo

Under certain circumstances I might say something like, "How the mighty have fallen" where Faygo Root Beer Soda is concerned, but that's not going to happen. I can remember Faygo products from my youth and, back then they were the equivalent generic Soda. Despite new packaging and marketing, not too much has changed over the decades.

I pulled out my 16 ounce bottle of Faygo, (obtained from the holy shopping mecca of Jungle Jims) and had high hopes that this longtime brand would offer me some nostalgic good taste. Fate, apparently had other plans for my taste buds this night.

In the halcyon days of my youth I lived in a number of places and Quonset Point, Rhode Island was one of them. As a military family we bought what the local stores offered but more often than not we shopped at the base commissary and were stuck with whatever the DoD decided was fine for us. While there was never a shortage of Coke, Pepsi or 7-Up products we did get two other brands. Shasta and Faygo. Now Shasta, (which I have not seen in years!) had a Root Beer that we liked, so we often bought their products. Faygo was another story and now I can see why.

After pouring this Root Beer Soda into my trusty, iced mug I was presented with my first concern, the head...or lack thereof. The head on this drink disappeared almost as fast as it formed. This was my first clue that this was a Soda and not a Root Beer. The aroma had some vanilla qualities and a Draft Root Beer scent that wasn't unpleasant, so I plunged into the tasting. The carbonation was biting but there was nothing for it to enhance. The flavour could best be described as Root Beer-ish, it's nothing to get excited about. This is a Root Beer Flavoured Soda , not a Root Beer. There was no mouth feel at all here, none of the qualities one normally associates with a true Root Beer. There's also an unpleasant aftertaste from their extract and the High Fructose Corn Syrup. It's a dry, almost metallic sort of taste, not a good thing.

At least Faygo labels this product correctly. It is a Root Beer Soda and not a Root Beer.

Carbonated Water
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Caramel Color
Potassium Benzoate
Citric Acid
Natural and Artificial Flavour
Gum Acacia

Carbonation: Soda style carbonation. Fast and biting.
Mouth Feel: None to speak of. It has the consistency of bubbly water.
Root Beer Flavour: Root Beer-ish, but not great. There's nothing here to write home about.
Head: Nonexistent. What there is dissipates almost as fast as it forms.
Aftertaste: Unpleasant. A dry, almost metallic taste that I have noticed in some drinks with HFCS and lower quality Root Beer extracts.
Aroma: A Draft Style aroma with vanilla.
Overall Taste: Not that great. As my wife is wont to say, "Mass produced swill". This is a Soda masquerading as a Root Beer and doing a poor job of it.

Faygo Root Beer Soda gets a 2/10 or big fat F.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Just Sit Right Back And You'll Hear A Tale...

And what a tale it is. After my debacle of a Soda tasting with Thums Up Soda I needed something to set my mind at ease and reassure me that all was, indeed right with the world. Searching through my available chilled Root Beers I selected one that I had been wanting to try for the last week. I reached in and took out my sole bottle of "Milligan's Island Awesome Root Beer", my trusty mug and sat down with no small amount of trepidation.

Things began well for me when, upon decanting this interesting brew I was rewarded with a truly nice head. This Root Beer could give Henry Weinhard's a run for the money in the head category! Frothy, long lasting and aromatic, it brings a nice quality that too many modern brews lack.

The folks at Milligan's did a good job on carbonation, too. It adds just the right amount of bite to the brew that the spiciness is accentuated in a pleasant manner. Combine this with the creaminess of the mouth feel and the initial old style draft flavour and you have a winner!

It is easy to find yourself almost literally devouring this brew in search of the flavours. I have yet to find any Root Beer which had a spiciness that used cloves in the same way that Milligan's does. It's not a common, upfront flavouring for Root Beer by any means, but it seems to work well. The cloves don't dominate in any fashion other than in the immediate, non-lingering aftertaste. It surprising and pleasant. I thought I also detected a hint of ginger and possibly some nutmeg in there, too.

After tasting and reviewing I took a trip over to the Milligan's website and was pleased to see that they have the right spirit for Rooties! A fun little site for fans of their product and a sure sign that they don't take things too seriously.

Carbonated Water
Cane Sugar or High Fructose Corn Sweetener
Caramel Color
Natural & Artificial Flavors
Citric Acid and Sodium Benzoate

Carbonation: Nice. Accentuates the spiciness and adds bite.
Mouth Feel: Creamy with a decent amount of body.
Root Beer Flavour: More reminiscent of "draft style" bottled brews.
Head: Great head. Comes on strong and lasts quite awhile.
Aftertaste: A clove taste in the initial aftertaste. It fades quickly to a vanilla taste.
Aroma: Vanilla with just a hint of the spiciness.
Overall Taste: Yummy. It could do with a more pronounced cane sugar taste, which I just couldn't discern. But, overall this Root Beer is very drinkable!

Milligan's Island gets a 7/10 or a B+

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

What's A Fan To Do?

It seems as if someone is always trying to suck all the joy and livability out of life and the things we love and today is no different, my friends. Many of you may have already seen the headlines in numerous news outlets concerning the presence of benzene in Soft Drinks. As usual there will be many different versions of the tale, as the spinmeisters and their news organisations take the information and rewrite it to suit their particular agenda.

So, what is a fan of Root Beer and Soda to do? Well, first things first....

That's the key now, isn't it? That and wait for some seriously solid numbers and data, which are sorely lacking in this matter. The Environmental Working Group, the folks who are doing the loudest yelling on this issue have some data available that tends to support their claim that benzene could form in drinks under certain conditions. They cite studies from the UK that tend to point towards the formation of benzene in some drinks towards the end of shelf life. Without seeing the data from which they drew their numbers I am unwilling to say whether they have a case or not.

Here's what I do know from reading up on this matter. Benzene may form in some drinks under certain conditions. If a drink contains ascorbic acid and a benzoate (Sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate) and is stored at warm temperatures for long periods of time then benzene MAY form due to the combination of chemicals, time and heat. I also know that this story is being spun. The headlines from all over are saying the benzene is to be found in "soft drinks" and, judging from what I have managed to read on this, the drinks with the highest levels appear to be Juice Drinks, not Sodas and the like.

After taking a look through my treasure trove of Sodas and Root Beers, I can rest easy. Most contain a benzoate, but none contained ascorbic acid. Do not confuse citric acid and phosphoric acid for ascorbic acid...they are different and there is no evidence that either of those two acids add any risk for benzene formation. It's all good!

The British have managed to do as they often do and they gave in to panic and yanked products from store shelves. I would say you should take note of their list of items removed. See a commonality amongst them? Yep. They are, by and large drinks containing ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), mostly in the form of juices. Not Sodas, folks...Fruit Juices and Fruit based drinks. Once again we are seeing panic mongering, agenda driven people maligning Sodas. All I can see from this is that Fruit Drinks may well be hazardous to your health, (I never did trust that Sunny-D stuff).

The industry went out of their way years ago and did a good deal of reformulation to specifically address this issue when it first reared its ugly head in the early 90's. While I have little trust in the FDA and question their motives on almost any given issue this is one time when I will look at the available data and lean towards trusting them and the beverage companies.

So, don't run out and throw your Root Beers, Sodas and the like in the garbage. Refrigerate them, keep them from prolonged exposure to heat and enjoy them at the peak of freshness. Oh, and avoid Fruit Juices....they're apparently really bad for you according to these folks. I think I need a Root Beer and maybe a Soda, too.

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