Monday, May 29, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

The good folks at Real Soda have made a habit out of resurrecting old standards in the Soda and Root Beer world and making them the way they should be made. Dad's Classic Draft Root Beer, another label owned by the Monarch Beverage Company and licensed to Real Soda is one of those classics. Dad's Root Beer has been around since 1937 and has stood the test of time, even going through some sweetener changes along the way. The folks at Real Soda have made a point of making sure that Dad's was returned to its original form and sweetened with sugar, rather than HFCS, unlike some other recent reiterations. That was a good decision on their part as the sugar adds an extra dimension to an already complex flavour.

Dad's has the easily identifiable aroma of a draft style Root Beer and and sports a soft vanilla undertone. While this brew has no head to speak of the carbonation is just right and adds to the flavour. Dad's Root Beer is a sweet Root Beer, pushing the limits of just how much sweetness is enough. The Cane Sugar adds a strong taste to this well crafted brew and doesn't detract from the other flavours that are present. There are subtle hints of licorice, wintergreen and, (I won't swear to this!) perhaps nutmeg. There is almost a suggestion of fruitiness to the flavour of Dad's. The mouthfeel is not as thick as I might normally like but it is not Soda thin as some brews are, it strikes a decent balance.

Overall Dad's is a good Root Beer, even tho the taste takes a bit of getting used to. This is not a run of the mill flavour in Draft Root Beers, but I wouldn't expect something that's been around for almost 70 years to be a run of the mill Root Beer. While Dad's Root Beer won't be classed as my favourite I'll never have a real issue with revisiting this brew!

Carbonated Water
Caramel Color
Natural and Artificial Flavors
Sodium Benzoate
Citric Acid

Carbonation: Dad's has a decent amount of carbonation and it enhances the Root Beer.
Head: Not enough to matter and it dissipates quickly.
Aroma: A nice Draft Root Beer scent with some vanilla
Mouthfeel: Not bad. Not as creamy as I might have liked but not bad.
Root Beer Flavour: There's definitely a Root Beer flavour here but it is a complex flavour. Hints of wintergreen and vanilla fight it out with other ingredients. I am pretty sure there is some nutmeg in this brew, since it has a slight "medicinal" quality, rather than a spicy quality. It's not bad, tho. Just different.
Aftertaste: This is where the sugar really pushes the envelope because the cane taste sticks around and coats your tongue. It's not a bad thing but it could be almost too much for some people. Not me, though.
Overall: Dad's is a pretty decent Root Beer and between the bottle and the cane sugar used to sweeten it make for a good beverage. It doesn't disappoint but it does puzzle the tastebuds.

Dad's Classic Draft Root Beer gets a 6/10 or a B-

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Natural Does Not Mean Good

After decades of direct experience with that axiom I must say that it holds true. Some things labeled "natural" are quite good, while many others using that label are not tasty at all. This is the case with Natural Brew Hand Crafted Root Beer. It falls into my "not good" category. The label states that it is a "complex flavor of sweet birch, licorice root, sarsaparilla, cinnamon, clove, anise and wintergreen." Complexity does not necessarily make for a tasty beverage and in this case it certainly held true for me. The taste which we normally identify as Root Beer, specifically "Draft" Root Beer, which Natural Brew claims to be is almost totally lacking here. The flavours of sarsaparilla, licorice and the other ingredients combine to make a taste which is not pleasant, in my opinion.

The brewers of Natural brew make a note to tell the consumer that they add pure vanilla to their product...unfortunately that vanilla, like any Root Beer flavour it may have possessed is lost amidst the jumble of the other mismatched flavours in the Brew. While I am certain that this drink has many fans out there, otherwise they would not continue to make it, I am never going to be one of those folks. Sorry.

One the props side, tho Natural Brew does have a nice head, decent mouthfeel and nice carbonation. The cloying quality of the aftertaste tends to put me off, as well. Since this brew comes from the Smucker Company I can feel comfortable in saying that this is more mass produced swill. And not very good swill at that. It's a bad use of ingredients.

Sparkling Filtered Water
Evaporated Cane Juice
Natural Flavors
Caramel Color
Vanilla Extract
Phosphoric Acid
Licorice Root and Sarsaparilla Root Extracts

Carbonation: Fine with a bit of a bite
Mouth Feel: A bit of creaminess
Root Beer Flavour: Not even remotely. What small hint of Draft Root Beer Flavour that exists is covered up the hodgepodge of flavours from the other ingredients. Too much sarsaparilla, as well.
Aroma: It smells like it tastes. There's no easily identifiable Root Beer scent here.
Head: Natural Brew has a nice head. That's a mark in the plus column.
Aftertaste: A cloying sweetness that just lasts for entirely too long a period.
Overall: Unpleasant to my taste buds and not something I plan on revisiting any time soon. This is not a good Root Beer.

Natural Brew gets a 2/10 an F

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Friday, May 19, 2006

A Root Beer Related Interlude

Every so often a Root Beer interlude comes to mind and today offers one of those moments. While puttering about, listening to my youngest sing "Wake Up" while banging on a Chinese drum, I had a Root Beer moment flashback to a long ago summer when my family and I were living in Gulfport, Mississippi, prior to departure for an overseas assignment. We had an apartment in Orange Grove, just north of Interstate 10, in the same complex my Aunt Linda, (known as Aunt Dodo, due to my inability to speak well as a toddler) and her family. That was a pretty good summer, especially having my favourite high strung Aunt around. (Note to Yankees: Ya'll don't have Aunts like we Southerners do. Ours make a lifetime habit out of threatening to whoop someone's butt for messing with family. It even happens now and again. And they never stop drinking coffee.!)

That was a good summer for me. The sun always seemed to shine, it never became too oppressively hot and Barq's Root Beer lined my pockets with money. Not tons of money, but it certainly kept me in Icee's, comic books and the occasional movie. How did Barq's Root Beer manage to do that for me? Simple. There was a bit of a building boom in Orange Grove at that time, a bank here, a building there and what have you. Since it was Mississippi and summertime it was inevitable that the work crews would have to have a few bottles of Soda during the day and most of them had a Barq's. Or two. When their workday was done I would make may way around the sites and gather up the bottles left behind or tossed hither and yon and take them over to my friendly neighbourhood 7-11 and cash them in. At a nickel a pop, I managed to do pretty well for myself.

There was the occasional Coke, Dr. Pepper or 7-Up bottle, but the vast majority of those bottles were Barq's. I did this virtually every day, up until we left for our overseas destination and I cannot help but think that Barq's, the ones I drank and the empties I collected made for a great summer. That was the last time I ever lived in Gulfport, but it certainly wasn't the last time I went back.

We made it a habit to visit the Gulf Coast for the past decade or so and we managed to do it last year, just before Hurricane Katrina wrought its devastation on my old home. On our way back north we stopped in at a roadside stand in Orange Grove to procure a unique Southern delicacy, some delicious boiled peanuts, (I would have liked to have found a tamale stand somewhere, but that fine old Southern Mississippi tradition is, unfortunately long gone in most places. For those who aren't familiar with it tamale stands were once more common than McDonalds in Mississippi!). We had already taken the time to drive slowly by the place I used to live, the bank they were building is there, finally completed. But that 7-11 which had sheltered me on those hot summer days was gone. The apartments still stand, looking much as they did way back then even if their age is showing. Despite time and the ravages of storms you can still count on one thing, tho. On that slice of the Gulf Coast you'll always be able to get a Barq's Root Beer and it'll be in an ice cold glass bottle. Some things, thankfully never change.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

The Night Chicago Died

That was February 28th, 2006, the night the venerable Chicago culinary institution called The Berghoff closed its doors for the final time. While I never got to eat there, I did get a chance to enjoy one of their Root Beers last night and this afternoon. For over 50 years the Berghoff name has been attached to their Root Beer which, despite the restaurants closure is still being produced. That's a good thing, too!

The last Chicago Root Beer I tried was not very good, but Berghoff's has managed to win back some respect for their city, (altho, I am never going to like Chicago Style Pizza, no matter what). While I could conceivably still enjoy a cold draft mug of their brew at the Berghoff located in O'Hare International Airport, I don't believe that I'd like to submit to a TSA body cavity search for a mug of Root Beer. I will have to content myself with finding and drinking the occasional bottle of this nice Draft style Root Beer and make my own hand carved sandwich.

My Berghoff's acquisition was a 32 ounce screw-top bottle of Draft Style, cane sugared goodness. Chilled and served in my trust frosted Berghoff 100th Anniversary mug this elixir was a nice change from run of the mill Root Beers that seem to dominate the market, (you know who you are, people!). The first thing to hit you is the nice Draft Style aroma laced with a cane sugar scent. Then you pour it and get to see a nice head on it for the short time it's there. Then the tasting comes and you get the carbonation, a soft bite of bubbles and the flavour we all easily identify as Draft Root Beer, enhanced by the predominant taste of Cane Sugar.

While I caught a very occasional slight taste of anise, the taste which rules this Root Beer is that of Cane Sugar. The Root Beer flavouring is light, as is to be expected of Draft Style, but it still leaves no doubt that you are drinking a Root Beer. The aftertaste that Berghoff Root Beer leaves is that of Cane Sugar. Nice and clean with none of the cloying quality you often get with High Fructose Corn Syrup. This Root Beer is yummy! As another Chicago icon would say, "Berghoff Root Beer gets a thumbs up!".

Carbonated Water
Pure Cane Sugar
Caramel Color
Sodium Benzoate
Natural Flavor
Citric Acid

Carbonation: A medium carbonation. Just what you'd expect in a Draft Style Root Beer
Mouth Feel: Not a creamy feel. Just right for a bottled Draft Style.
Root Beer Flavour: Light Draft Style flavour. I picked up hints of anise every now and again. Nice.
Aroma: Cane Sugar and a light Root Beer scent
Head: Decent. Not long lasting, tho.
Aftertaste: Cane Sugar goodness that hangs on the tongue. Niiiice.
Over All: A delightful Cane Sugar and Root Beer flavour that doesn't disappoint.

Berghoff Root Beer gets a 7/10 or a B+

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Big Bear, Big Taste

This is the time of year where it becomes difficult to find a spare moment to write about my beloved brew. Yard work, kids and repairs. Did I mention yardwork? Well, I finally got the time and I had a Root Beer in the fridge ready and willing to give it up for the cause, Bennett's Big Bear Root Beer.

This is an odd Root Beer that uses molasses as a dominating flavour and manages to make it work. I've tried a couple of other brews that used molasses and didn't care for them at all, but Bennett's changes that for me. As a good Southerner I actually do like the flavour of molasses in many things. It's the original American sweetener and is used much too infrequently these days . Big Bear manages to make good use of the flavour, even if it overshadows the Root Beer extract they used.

This was a nice Root Beer, despite the HFCS and I can easily see why B. Scott Bennett developed this particular Root Beer for use as a Float Brew for his Los Angeles Farmers Market Ice Cream store, it would go well paired with a scoop of vanilla. From what I can gather, that's what Big Bear was created to do and it likely does it well, (I didn't have any ice cream around or I'd give you a definitive answer to that one!). On its own, tho it still stands as a drinkable Root Beer.

Filtered Water
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Root Beer Extract
Sodium Benzoate

Carbonation: Nice carbonation that adds bite.
Mouth Feel:Not too creamy.
Root Beer Flavour: The flavour of Big Bear is old style draft when it's not overwhelmed by molasses.
Aroma: Molasses and light old style draft Root Beer smell.
Head:Nice head.
Aftertaste: Need I say it? It has a molasses aftertaste. Nice.
Overall Taste: Molasses dominated Root Beer in this one and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Root Beer flavour is hiding in the background but it is there. Overall this brew has a nice flavour and I won't turn one down if offered!

Bennett's Big Bear Root Beer gets a 6.5/10 or a B

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