Friday, June 30, 2017

Natural Brew root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Born in the summer of 1994, Natural Brew® was specially formulated to meet the consumer's need for a quality-crafted carbonated beverage. We make Natural Brew using old-fashioned micro-brewing techniques to bring out the robust flavor of all key ingredients. Unlike most other soft drink companies, Natural Brew is brewed in small batches allowing the ingredients to blend together forming a full, rich flavor, free from any artificial additives or preservatives."

(from the bottle) "A Draft Root Beer unlike any other. To give our Root Beer a subtly rich, creamy flavor we add vanilla extract and other natural flavors to our recipe.

Draft Root Beer is created one small batch at a time with constant attention to every ingredient -- using only the finest ingredients."

"A complex flavor of bourbon vanilla extract, anise, licorice root, birch oil, wintergreen oil and other flavors."


Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Smucker Natural Foods, Inc., P.O. Box 369, Chico, CA 95927. 170 calories, 41g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.  http://www.natural-brew.com/


Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, sugar, natural flavors, bourbon vanilla extract, anise, licorice root, birch oil, wintergreen oil, caramel color, phosphoric acid.


My thoughts: Ah, a natural root beer. The bottle promises a lot, saying it's a "complex flavor of bourbon vanilla extract, anise, licorice root, birch oil, wintergreen oil and other flavors." With so many ingredients listed on the front of the bottle, I have lofty expectations for this drink.

There is a pleasantly strong rooty flavor, unmistakable as anything other than root beer, so that's a plus. Many of these "natural" root beers seem to forget that first and foremost they should taste like a root beer. Following this flavor, there are indeed many other subtle spices, with the anise/black licorice (I'm not sure why they listed two flavors that taste essentially the same) playing very mildly, which is how I prefer it. The vanilla makes itself known and I'm not 100% certain what birch oil tastes like (I guess sort of a caramel/molasses flavor, according to Google), so can't comment on that. The wintergreen is extremely mild, so no terrible toothpaste feel to this. The aftertaste lets me pick out the individual flavors a little more, as the rooty flavor slowly fades. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how it tastes.

Sweetness is about what I've come to expect from most of these root beers, a step above the grocery store average can of root beer, as they're not quite as syrupy. So everything seems to be going well so far...but now we come to carbonation. Now, I get that some people don't like super aggressive carbonation. I do. But I can also appreciate a moderately carbonated root beer as well. This one, however, is a little on the weak side. It doesn't ever go totally flat, but I wasn't very impressed with it. The small amount of carbonation leads to a lack of froth and suds, which I enjoy the creaminess those can impart. That said, it's decently smooth, but lacking in the creamy side of things.

Overall, a decent root beer. The flavor is pretty good, tasting very natural and offering a variety of spices. The drink is let down by the weak carbonation and lack of creaminess. I wouldn't hesitate to drink this again, but if you're looking for a top-tier root beer, this isn't the one you're looking for.


Rating: B
flavor: B+
aftertaste: B+
sweetness: B
smoothness: C
carbonation: C-


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Blumers root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Remember going to the drive- in and chugging down a frothy mug of root beer? When was the last time you had a good Old Fashioned Root Beer? Now you can… we use choice ingredients and flavors to achieve an Old Fashioned Root Beer taste that will take you back to the drive-in. Get your frosty mug ready!"

There's not much info on the website, as the parent company Minhas Brewery is geared more toward adult beverages, with the sodas seeming to be more of an afterthought.


Product details: 11.16 fl. oz.  Minhas Craft Brewery, Monroe, Wisconsin. 177 calories, 40.6g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.  http://minhasbrewery.com/


Ingredients: Carbonated water, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness).


My thoughts: Though Blumers was established in 1845, it wouldn't be until 21 years later that Charles Elmer Hires would invent the drink that we know as root beer (originally called Root Tea), however it would be another decade before root beer gained infamy when it was introduced at the 1876 U.S. Centennial Expo. So, does Blumers head start in the world of beverages give it a leg up on the competition, or did the later upstarts surpass their elders?

The flavor right off the bat is certainly rooty, with the sassafras flavor making this unmistakably a root beer. In that respect, I figure the recipe is probably a more modern interpretation. There's not a whole lot of flavor separation, with only a little vanilla peeking through. It's a decent, basic root beer, but not one that is going out of its way to do anything different.

I appreciate a Nutrition Facts label that is so precise that it lists the quantities to a precision of tenths of a gram. That precision must be unnecessary, however, as I find this root beer just a little bit sweeter tasting than I care for, which is unexpected considering it falls right in line with the norm. Carbonation is nice, with a strong effervescence that never becomes sharp, even though I do tend to like a bit of bite from my bubbles. Some root beers tend to flatten out a lot by the bottom of the bottle, but Blumers kept just enough carbonation around to do the job. While it's not a very creamy root beer, the lack of sharpness to the carbon dioxide helps it feel fairly smooth.

It seems that over all the years, Blumers has managed to craft a root beer that is friendly to the widest range of customers, with nothing too distinguishing that might turn away your average person. The good is that it's a decent root beer. The bad is that it doesn't offer anything exceptional that makes it worth tracking down.


Rating: C+
flavor: C+
aftertaste: C
sweetness: B
smoothness: B-
carbonation: B


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jack Black's Dead Red root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Real Soda" is essentially a name that was coined by original partakers. The concept of Real Soda was conceived in the 1980's by Ginsburg who had been collecting bottle caps since he was four years old and who could not accept the invasion of cans and plastic to the detriment of all of the great sodas that had once been available."

(very long and detailed background available on their website.)

(from the bottle) "Third time available in 420 years." and "Better Dead Red than just plain dead."


Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Real Soda in Real Bottles Ltd., Gardena, CA 90249. For nutrition facts, please call (310) 327-1700.  Glass bottle with twist off top.  http://www.realsoda.com


Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Caramel Color, Caffeine, Brazilian Guarana, Sodium Benzoate (to preserve freshness), Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Red #40.


My thoughts: So, Captain Jack Black, scourge of the Tenacious islanDs. I've been avoidin' you, knowing that pirates of ye sort are prone to questionable hygiene and taste in bev'rages, drinkin' down any sort o' swill that crosses yer paths. Will ye' be a rooty beer to satiate me thirst, or will I prefer walkin' the plank?

Yarrrrrrggghhh, what a mighty stench emanates from thy bowels. Is enough to wake the dead and thee kin. Alas, chargin' onward, I lift ye ol' bottle to me lips, to be greeted with the curse of that scalawag Davy Jones, as the flavor that passes into me is a pungent one indeed, that bilge-sucking swine! Some enterprisin' bastard has stolen the very soul of root beer and tainted it with something sour and bile. Even after swallowing down the bitter swill, the ghost of it continues to haunt me to the rotten core.

Can one so vile be sweet? Well, us pirates ain't a discernin' lot, so e'en the least sweet o' them girls is honey to our waggish tongues. So she be okay. To our rough hands, she seems soft and smooth, though the landlubbers might wager differently. As fer the waters, they be tumultuous with bubbles and bite, but we like 'em that way.

Give me the plank! The salty spray of the ocean is needed to wash out this abomination, surely dredged up from the very depths of Hades. The Dread Pirate Roberts might 'ave plucked out me eye, but I may wrench out me own tongue and keelhaul meself before submitting to Jack Black's Dead Red again.

*note: I believe this is the first root beer that I just couldn't finish the bottle. Also of note, I believe this is my 100th root beer review.

Rating: F-
flavor: F-
aftertaste: F-
sweetness: C
smoothness: C
carbonation: B+


Friday, April 21, 2017

Rogue Soda root beer

Background information: (from the website) "In 1987, some like-minded Rogues had an idea to start a “Brew Pub”. The next year, a Revolution in beer began in the basement of the Rogue Public House in Ashland, Oregon. The Brewery and Pub opened in October 1988 with the brewery housed beneath a 60 seat Pub. The first beers brewed were American Amber and Oregon Golden."

(from the bottle) "Crafted with all the care that goes into our ales and brewed with Rogue Farms Honey, Rogue Root Beer is a complexly delicious experience with a creamy texture, caramel richness and a rush of vanilla. Join the revolution in our fight against root beer "blandification"."


Product details: 22 fl. oz.  Brewed & Bottled by Rogue Ales, Newport, OR 97365. 150 calories, 40g sugar.  Glass bottle with pry off top.  http://www.rogue.com (21+)


Ingredients: Water, Brown Sugar, Root Beer Flavor, Sarsaparilla Flavor, Rogue Farms Honey, Wild Flower Honey, Sparking Foam, Sodium Benzoate, Citric Acid.


My thoughts: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a group of rebels stole the plans to a giant bottle of root beer. I kept putting off buying this, because it's one of the more expensive bottles of root beer I've come across, even when considering the greater than normal amount of rooty contents. At the price I paid, I hope this doesn't end up being the Phantom Menace of root beers (not that I ever wish for that, even on lower priced ones). I'm hoping for more Empire Strikes Back at this price point.

The bottle proudly proclaims that it's made with "Rogue Farms honey", and I can say with a certainty that I can taste it. Alongside that, the other sweetener is brown sugar, which adds a very unique flavor. There are a lot of spices going on with the root beer flavor, with anise lending a strong licorice taste to the concoction. A bit of vanilla sticks around, with the aftertaste being a vanilla/licorice mix. I'm not normally a fan of black licorice, but strangely don't mind it in this drink. There must be a little wintergreen in there, even if I'm not tasting it specifically, as the back of my throat has a cooling sensation that's usually indicative of some sort of mint.

As mentioned above, sweetness is achieved through both brown sugar and honey, lending the sweetness a new feel than I've had before. I like it. The carbonation bubbles are not very large, but they offer a sufficient amount of kick without feeling aggressive. I like a little more aggressiveness, but others may prefer the more subtle carbonation. As such, it's pretty smooth feeling without coming across as flat, but could stand to be creamier.

This is a whole new root beer flavor experience, one that I'm really enjoying. I do wish there was a little less anise, as I found the black licorice taste a little overpowering, possibly hiding other subtleties that might otherwise present themselves. While not one of my very top root beers, I highly respect the direction they took this drink. If you're ever looking for a bit of a different, but still pleasant, root beer experience, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one. In the end, it came across more as a Return of the Jedi, a solid effort that could have done with a little less Ewok.


Rating: B+
flavor: B+
aftertaste: B+
sweetness: A
smoothness: B-
carbonation: B


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tractor root beer

Background information: (from the website) "We launched Tractor Soda to take a product people have loved for decades and make it better. It’s as simple as that. Our commitment to sourcing only 100% organic and non-GMO ingredients comes from our immense respect for the farmers and growers who bring food to our plates each day. We hope they'll be proud of our product. And we hope you enjoy our hand-crafted sodas.

As we tread further into the 21st century, consumers continue to make it clear that they want an earth-friendly, healthier alternative to the products and services they've grown accustomed to. For years, the soda industry has refused to change. And, in many ways, it’s gone the opposite route entirely: producing beverages that are loaded with alternative sweeteners and other unnecessary ingredients. 

Tractor Soda was created for the consumer who’s mindful of the planet we live on. We give our retail partners the tools they need to present an alternative soda that’s new yet familiar, organic yet refreshing, simple yet full of flavor. 


Our innovative delivery system eliminates the excessive waste of traditional soda packaging, making Tractor Fountain Sodas an eco-friendly alternative to bottled sodas.
"

As a side note, I see that Tractor Soda Co. is based out of Coeur d'Alene, ID, the city right next to my small, childhood town.

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled by the Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shops, LLC. P.O. Box 3663, Camarillo, CA 93011. 118 calories, 29g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.  https://tractorsodaco.com/tractor-soda/root-beer/


Ingredients: ultra-filtered carbonated water, organic cane sugar, organic blackstrap molasses, organic aged bourbon vanilla, organic wintergreen, organic sassafras, organic sarsaparilla, organic sweet birch, organic bark/roots/spices (including organic licorice, organic nutmeg, organic cinnamon), organic caramel color, organic juniper berry extract, organic quillaja.


My thoughts: With a huge list of "organic" ingredients (did I mention they're organic?), this seems like a root beer that ought to offer a complex taste, with plenty of subtleties to be discovered. That said, the initial flavor is not super rooty. It's certainly a root beer, make no mistake, but the sassafras is a little on the weak side. It really wouldn't be a big deal, as there are plenty of other things going on here, however I do note that overall flavor could use another notch or two of intensity. As for how the other spices play out, I'd be hard pressed to pick out any particular flavor over another, as the blend is nice with no particular spice overpowering the others. The aftertaste does feel a like the sassafras stands out just a bit more. Interestingly, the wintergreen doesn't seem to add a minty flavor to the drink, but I can certainly feel it's cooling effect.

This is one of the less sugary feeling root beers I've had; sweet enough, but not making me reach for a water immediately after to wash down my mouth after finishing the bottle (looking at the nutritional facts, I note that most root beers have about 50% more sugar). I really like the carbonation, as I'm a fan of aggressive bubbles that sting just a little bit. Carbonation seemed to stay strong through the whole bottle. A general side effect of high carbonation is that often the smoothness suffers a little bit, and this is no exception. The bubbles of carbonation remained just that, without transforming into a frothy foam that makes the drink a bit creamier. In fact, this is probably one of the least creamy root beers I've had that lists quillaja (an additive to increase foaminess in drinks).

My end impression is that this is a moderately good root beer with a bevy of spices, however it's held back by the strength of the flavors, all lacking in intensity and making it feel slightly watered down. Keep the proportion of spices the same, but dilute them a little less and this could jump up into the "A" catagory. I wish more root beers nailed the carbonation the way this does, but they missed the opportunity to transform some of that effervescent might into foam. An admirable effort that needs a bit more work to really dial it in.

Rating: B-
flavor: B-
aftertaste: B-
sweetness: A-
smoothness: D
carbonation: A-


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Frostie Vanilla root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Frostie Old Fashioned Root Beer was first bottled in 1939 in Catonsville, Maryland near Baltimore.  George Rackensperger, then president of The Frostie Company rented an abandoned jailhouse to launch his Frostie operation.  A garage formerly housing the police wagon was used for bottling equipment and jail cells were employed to store sugar, crowns and other supplies."


Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Frostie is a registered trademark of Frostie Root Beer Co. LLC, Detroit, MI 48234  Glass bottle with twist off top.  http://www.frostie.biz/


Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Pure Cane Sugar, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate (a preservative), Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors.


My thoughts: Having tried the non-vanilla version of Frostie's root beer (review here), I'm curious how this one will compare. As a general rule, I like vanilla in my root beer, so if that continues to hold true, all other things being equal, I suspect I'll like this vanilla version even more. Considering that the regular version got one of my worst scores so far, it wouldn't take much to top the original one.

My initial impression is that the vanilla overwhelms the root beer taste. I'd describe the rootiness as "anemic", leaving me with the feeling that it's watered down. The flavor is a pretty simple affair, with little distinguishing characteristics to make any spices apparent. The aftertaste is more of the same, with a bit of wintergreen leaving a slightly minty feel. One interesting note is that a minute or so later the vanilla aftertaste was hanging in strong, which is something I like.

Sweetness is fine, though I've found that particular aspect is hard to screw up too bad. My mouth was left a little on the sugary side, but part of that feeling may stem from the lack of carbonation to draw my attention away from the sugar aspect. The first few sips out of the bottle were okay, though nothing amazing. It quickly went downhill and devolved into pretty dang flat. No bubble dancing on my tongue makes me an unhappy root beer consumer. Despite the flatness, I wouldn't call this particularly smooth. Sure, it doesn't crackle and tickle the tongue, making it seem smooth, but it lacks any sort of creaminess and froth.

Well, I'm not impressed. I certainly appreciate the added benefits of the vanilla boost, but besides that, this drink continues to be a letdown. I purposely didn't read my previous review from five years ago while writing this review, but now that I can go back and look at it, it seems this is more or less the same one dimensional root beer with a kick of vanilla to give it a little variation (and slight improvements to the flavor score).

Rating: C-
flavor: C-
aftertaste: C-
sweetness: C
smoothness: C-
carbonation: D-


Saturday, February 4, 2017

River City root beer

Background information: (from the website) "River City Root Beer MADE FOR ICE CREAM!! The Best on the River! River City Root Beer was designed to be an old fashioned style root beer using the 3 best features of over 50 root beers we stock. It contains Real Cane Sugar and the finest ingredients available. We make this in small batches to ensure quality control. We found this pairs especially well with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy a River City Root Beer Float today!"

(from the bottle) "River City Root Beer brings back memories of a time gone by -- when the sky was bluer and the clouds whiter and the breeze off the river kept you cooler. Enjoy doggone good soda pop the way it used to be!"


Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Produced by Blue Dog Beverage, LLC, Sacramento, CA. 180 calories, 46g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.  http://www.bluedogbeverage.com


Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Caramel Color, Natural Flavor, Quillaia Extract, Phosphoric Acid, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Potassium Sorbate.


My thoughts: With only a single "A" grade root beer for quite some while, I was ready for something to wow me. The bottle claims it's "made in small batches with the finest ingredients" so I'm hoping for something special. Popping off the top, I'm greeting with a pleasant whiff of rootiness, and my first taste is exactly what I had been hoping for: pure natural root beer flavor. It's been a while since I've had something with a strong sassafras flavor and this delivers. There's some obvious vanilla and the aftertaste leaves an interesting "dry" sensation in my mouth.

Sweetness is spot on, as have been a lot of root beers. It's hard to mess that one up too bad. The carbonation is nice and crisp, with small, lively bubbles giving it a nice effervescence. But one of my favorite parts of this root beer is the smoothness. I can't remember the last time I've had a root beer that felt this creamy. In some ways, it reminds me of a root beer float. I'm guessing the ingredient of Quillaia extract is contributing strongly to this aspect.

Having consumed a wide variety of root beers, I sometimes feel like I'm getting a bit tired of the drink. This one is the first in quite some time to make me excited about root beer again. They absolutely nail the amount of carbonation and creaminess, and the flavor is excellent and natural tasting, with the only knock on it being that I feel like it could be slightly more complex, offering a hint of another spice or two. But I'm just nitpicking at that point. This turned out to be one of my favorite root beers so far.
Rating: A
flavor: A
aftertaste: A
sweetness: A
smoothness: A+
carbonation: A