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. (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.

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.

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.

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

O-So Butterscotch root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Orca Beverage was created in the 1980s by owner Mike Bourgeois while he was studying a new and emerging class of beverages called the “New Age Beverage Category” at the Albers School of Business at Seattle University. This new and exciting extension of the larger Carbonated Soft Drink category was made up of products that were alternatives to the mainstream brands that dominated the industry."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  O-So Delicious is a trademark of Orca Beverage Inc., Mukilteo, WA 98275 425-349-5655. 170 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

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

My thoughts: Having reviewed the O-So Vanilla Butterscotch root beer about two and a half years ago, I can't exactly recall what it tasted like, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this "non-vanilla" butterscotch root beer is the same drink, minus the "vanilla" in the title. I'll skip looking at my review from then (so as to not influence the outcome of this one) and then go and compare this to the old review after composing my thoughts.

Now, as I was then then, I'm a fan of butterscotch root beers. On the butterscotch front, this doesn't disappoint. There is a very strong butterscotch component to this drink, with that flavor perhaps overwhelming the usual sassafras flavor that root beer is known for and leaving me wanting a bit more rootiness. I feel like the vanilla gets a bit outdone as well, but is still noticeable. After the initial flavor, which quickly fades, I'm left with predominately a lingering of the butterscotch taste, and nary a hint of sassafras. After some time, I feel that I can also detect a lingering hint of coolness that is normally a side effect of wintergreen, though I'm not noticing any sort of the flavor.

The drink feels excellently sweetened, tasting nice and sweet (butterscotch does benefit from a slightly candy-like sweetness), but without leaving a syrupy coating of sugar in my mouth. They seem to have struck just the right balance with this. In full disclosure on carbonation, I've had this bottle sitting around for quite a while, so perhaps the carbonation has decreased from when it was fresher (I don't know if carbonation decreasing is a thing as drinks sit unopened), but it's pretty flat. Not much fizz or bite to the carbonation. I can hear the bubbles, but don't really feel them. Smoothness is a mixed bag, as the lack of carbonation makes it fairly smooth, but it also lacks the punch to generate a creamy foam. I think some extra carbonation would go a long way to improving the consumption experience.

So, now I'll go look at my "vanilla butterscotch" review and see how they compare...

Seems like the flavor has stayed more or less the same, with a weaker root beer flavor than I generally like. Interestingly, my carbonation experience last time was vastly different than this go-around. Did I let my bottle sit too long? Did I get a bottle from a  badly carbonated batch this time? Was the last one from an exceptionally carbonated batch? It's hard to tell without going out and finding a third bottle to see which side of the equation it falls on. I'm going to err on the side of caution with my ratings and consider the carbonation and smoothness scores a little less than I normally would. At the end of the day, however, I think this is the same formula as the previously tested "vanilla butterscotch".

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

American Classics root beer

Background information: (from the website) "We love ginseng and what it does for you. But how can we share this with every generation, and to the world?

And it all started with this one simple question.

In 1981, Ginseng UP company set about crafting a soda packed with premium ginseng, in pursuit of bringing this beneficial root to many in a convenient way. Specializing in the finest Korean ginseng, we set about infusing ginseng with high standard of quality ingredients combined with triple filtered water, all carefully packed into a single bottle. With uncompromised standard in taste and quality, Ginseng UP Original soda was born.

Since then, the company has innovated to offer a full line of craft sodas and drinks, made without preservatives or high fructose corn syrup, in all the favorite flavors. As we continue to craft premium soda in our own bottling plant in Massachusetts, we are committed to continually develop our flavors; and invite you to join in our journey of spreading Ginseng UP to the world."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Ginseng Up Corp, Worcester, MA 01604. (508) 799-6178. 150 calories, 45g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Triple Filtered Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Wintergreen, Oil of Cloves & Other Natural Flavors, Gum Acacia, Caramel Color (From Caramelized Cane Sugar), Korean Ginseng Extract.

My thoughts: After a not-so-brief time away from reviewing root beer, I'm back with a "100% all natural" root beer. I tend to like my naturally flavored root beers, so look forward to seeing what this drink has to offer.

Right off the bat, this has a very strong root beer flavor, with sassafras to spare. Though wintergreen is listed fairly high on the ingredients list, it isn't nearly as strong as I would have thought. While present, it doesn't leave an overly minty feel in my mouth. Vanilla, as is normal, makes itself known, along with some other spice sensations that I can't quite identify, though one of the flavors I suspect is clove. The aftertaste brings a little more of the wintergreen to the front, but nothing to egregious.

While obviously a sugary drink, as all decent sodas are, it feels right on par with what I expect from a carbonated beverage such as this. No overwhelmingly sugary coating is left in my mouth, just the normal amount. Carbonation is moderate, if a little on the weak side. I prefer a bit of bite to my bubbles, and this one didn't quite get there. As such, it is fairly smooth, but is missing the creamy foam that some of the more frothy root beers produce.

By the end of the bottle, I had to admit that it was an admirably tasty drink, though one with a couple shortcomings. The natural taste was slightly undone by falling a bit flat on carbonation and froth, keeping it from being a truly great root beer. I wouldn't hesitate to drink it again, but don't plan on making this one of my go-to root beers.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Crooked Oak root beer

Background information: The website, as I've noticed with many other root beer/soda sites, is pretty much pointless. This one has no information at all about the product and instead focuses on the feel they're trying to invoke, with a picket fenced house and rolling fields of green grass. Completely useless in learning more about the drinks they sell.

(from the bottle) "The contents of this bottle are crafted using a traditional recipe and original technique to create its unique and refreshing flavor experience."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Created by the fine people at Columbus Brands, Los Angeles, CA 90640 150 calories, 45g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, sugar, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate, natural flavors.

My thoughts: The bottle adorned with buzzwords such as "handcrafted", "single batch", and "limited production", I have lofty expectations for this particular root beer. It sounds very fancy, but was this merely an exercise in marketing gone wild, or do the contents live up to the bravado of the label? Tune in next time, in the next paragraph where all will be revealed!

One thing is for certain, this isn't a generic root beer. It's definitely a root beer and exhibits the expected sassafras flavor, but there is a nice mixture of spices floating in there as well. It a very harmonious blend, with all the flavors meshing together to make it hard to pick out the individual flavors. I can't quite figure out what all I'm tasting and, judging by the three completely different sets of flavors picked out by other reviewers, there is no consensus from them either. I don't think I've ever had such a hard time picking out individual spices. Suffice it to say, there is a hint of sourness to it (extremely subtle) and maybe the barest hint of wintergreen in the aftertaste. Overall, it has a very natural feel to the flavor.

Sweetness is well regulated, leaving a slightly less than average sugary feeling behind. This drink is extremely smooth, though could stand to be a little more creamy. I think the smoothness is a combination of the flavor as well as the very non-aggressive carbonation. The bubbles seem small, though they do a pretty good job of keeping the drink carbonated, but I personally prefer just a bit more bite out of my carbonation.

While this drink does a lot right (very natural tasting, interesting blend of spices, good sweetness), I feel that the flavor could use a little more separation and that the carbonation could be more aggressive. Back to the label jargon, I think this root beer has the traits I'd expect from such descriptors. This is a really good root beer that I don't hesitate to recommend, but it just missed the cut from the very best tier of root beers.

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