Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ramblin' root beer

Background information: (from the website) "A quick history of Ramblin' Root Beer. Following its introduction in 1979 Ramblin' became one of the most popular root beers in America.

The vintage brand's first commercial featured a cameo by a young Sarah Jessica Parker, and the accompanying jingle, "Ramblin' Root Beer's something more!" would be in the minds of Americans for years to come.

Today, with a lineup of new flavors and fresh, new package designs, the best root beer is back and brought friends along to remind the passionate fans what they've been missing."

So yeah, the website is pretty light on information. Not the worst I've seen (there have been some extremely sparse websites), but very basic.

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled under the authority of The Monarch Beverage Company, Inc., Atlanta, GA 30326, USA 800-241-3732. 150 calories, 37g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

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

My thoughts: Speaking of Ramblin', sometimes I enjoy prefacing my review with a bit of a ramble on a semi-related topic, usually related to the name of the root beer. Now, it might seem questionable to be so verbose when all people are looking for is a simple review about the beverage. I'd like to think that I'm whimsical and charming in my approach, but real life has revealed to me that I'm not quite so appealing and that I mostly come off as annoying in the real world. But what is the real world? Are we a simulation? A three dimensional projection from the two dimensional surface of a black hole? Perhaps we are part of the multiverse, where every possible version of ourselves exists somewhere out in the infinite cosmos. Science has a lot to say about that and...wait...what was I talking about before I started to ramble on about other stuff? Oh yeah, the root beer. So here are my thoughts.

This root beer has a very strong vanilla presence, which I like. It is certainly rooty, with a bit of the classic sassafras flavor root beer is known for, but falls a bit short on strength as that rootiness feels slightly watered down. Are there other flavors in there? Maybe, but the power of the vanilla overwhelms whatever else might be going on. Aftertaste is also dominated by the same.

Sweetness is pretty good, though perhaps a tad on the sugary side, as it leaves a moderately stronger than usual sugary feel in my mouth. That sensation is odd, seeing as how it has less sugar (37g) than the average root beer (generally 40-45g). Carbonation is decent, with a very fine bubble structure that doesn't prick the tongue. I wouldn't mind a slightly more aggressive effervescence to it, but it certainly isn't flat. As for smoothness, this is one of the creamier root beers, likely aided by the inclusion of quillaia extract, which usually lends a hand in this regard. It goes down nice and smooth.

Overall, this is a solid drink. It bests the generic store shelf cans of root beer, even if it does fall short of being one of the better ones. The vanilla makes a good showing, but the rest of the flavors don't pack quite enough punch. I'm sure that somewhere in the multiverse, this is the best root beer there is, and that isn't necessarily a bad place. In this part of the multiverse, however, there is stiff competition and plenty of alternative root beer options I could reach for when choosing a drink.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Reading Draft root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Same taste. New times. At Reading Soda Works, we produce 17 delicious flavors that are still packaged in glass bottles and have a true “old-fashioned” feel combined with a Pennsylvania Dutch taste that many appreciate and love. Handcrafting soda since 1921, the business has continued without interruption and has maintained its original location.

In addition to using pure cane sugar and natural ingredients, our sodas are triple filtered and undergo a slow carbonation process before bottling. Unlike many large soda manufacturers that flash carbonate, Reading Draft sodas contain pinpoint carbonation that is absorbed slowly and persists longer, leading way to smaller bubbles that give a smoother mouth feel and more pleasant taste.

Reading Draft is one of the few sodas on the market that employs this carbonation technique. The flavors in our sodas really get to shine and aren’t buried underneath excessive carbonation. When you sip our products, you can comfortably gloat without the bloat!"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Brewed and bottled by: Reading Soda Works & Carbonics Supply Inc, 614 Gregg Ave, Reading, PA 19611 610-372-2565. 170 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Triple filtered carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural and/or artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness).

My thoughts: I've been away for a bit, but it's time to kick off my first root beer review of 2018. I like reading and have a fairly large library, so I want to like this drink, as it's named after one of my favorite leisure activities. Alas, upon opening the top, I'm met with a slightly unpleasant smell, one that reminds me of the sickly sweet and sour taste of some of my least liked root beers. The odor did not betray the flavor, as it was exactly what I was expecting. It's more towards the less sour end of the sour spectrum, but still there nonetheless. Yes, it has a sort of rooty taste, but I just can't get past the initial flavor. The aftertaste is slightly improved, as the sourness fades fast, but there's not enough good taste remaining to save it. On the plus side, the sourness lessened as I got to the bottom of the bottle.

Sweetness is decent, but as I mentioned in the flavor, kind of a sickly sweet, so it's not very appetizing. I'm not sure I can separate the actual sweetness of the sugar from the sickly sweet flavor, so it's hard to judge. The intensity of sweetness is fine, but the flavor accompanying it isn't. At this point, however, we arrive at the one bright spot on this blighted drink: carbonation. It has a strong effervescence that tickles the tongue, with the actual bubbles being on the smaller side. While I do like sharp, strong carbonation, this one is strong, but mild (it doesn't bite my tongue). Smoothness is okay, though it's not a particularly creamy root beer.

Oftentimes, when I get one of these sour root beers, I can't help but wonder if maybe the root beer is old or something. Unfortunately, many of the bottles have no "best buy" or expiration dates, so I'm not certain if that's an issue or if a root beer can even expire. Whatever the answer, this was not one of my more pleasant root beer experiences and was a terrible way to kick off my 2018 root beer year. Alas, I'll stick to my reading of books and keep the Reading root beer off of my "things I enjoy" list.

P.S. I often will read other reviews of a given root beer after I complete mine (but not before, as I don't want other opinions to influence my impressions). It turns out that others have reported the same sour, fruity (that word feels like an adequate substitution for the "sickly sweet" taste I mentioned) flavor, so I guess it's not just me.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

KISS Army root beer

Background information: (from the website) "KISS wants you to join their Army! The KISS ARMY is the legendary and official fan club for the most exciting and electrifying rock band in the world, KISS! KISS ARMY ROOT BEER is loud & Proud."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  KISS Catalog, Ltd. Under license to Epic Rights. Bottled and distributed by the Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Store, LLC. 170 calories, 42g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Spring water, cane sugar, citric acid, ester gum, caramel color & natural flavors. No preservatives. Flash Pasteurized for Safety.

My thoughts: Another product of the Rocket Fizz Soda Pop people, who manufacture a variety of root beer labels, most of which are more towards the generic end of the flavor spectrum. But KISS is known for rocking sold out stadiums, putting on a show with explosions and fire, and generally creating chaos and commotion. So, will their root beer follow in their footsteps and face paint, offering a raucous experience, or will I get another ho-hum re-label? Let's dive in.

The rootiness is strong with this one, with a very powerful root beer flavor that's strong on the sassafras flavor, though more towards the artificial side, as there don't seem to be much spice action happening. It does have wintergreen, as that is the predominate secondary flavor and the major aftertaste, with some anise hiding underneath.

Sweetness is good, but maybe a bit sugarier than I prefer by just a small amount. The carbonation is nice and strong, though the bubbles must be tiny because I don't feel them bouncing around so much as leaving a bit of a sting on my tongue. I usually like strong carbonation, but this one is a bit more sting and less effervescence. Still, I'll take that over flatness any day. This isn't a particularly smooth root beer, lacking a creamy feeling and the carbonation sting adding some bite.

Strangely, even though I don't love any particular aspect of this root beer, the parts seem to work together decently well, as it's not a bad root beer by any means. In fact, I think I would slightly prefer it to the middle of the road, root beer in a can. But with so many other great bottled offerings, I doubt I'll be seeking this one out again. Oddly enough, if ordering from the Rocket Fizz website, it says, "Due to limitations beyond our control only 1 bottle per order. However if desired, you can place multiple orders." Seems like an odd way to make fans pay a bunch in shipping costs if they want multiple bottles, but hey, who am I to give the multi-million dollar KISS conglomerate business advice when they make more in a week than I've made my whole life?

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Boots Sarsaparilla root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Boots Beverages was created by Mark Kristen's father, when Kristen Distributing was little more that a Bottling Company. They bottled things like Dr. Pepper, Nesbitt, 7Up, and Frosty root beer. Boots Beverages featured seasonal flavors, similar to craft beers today. People didn't have much in those days. Getting a Dreamsicle or going to the picture show was a highlight of your day, and you talked about it for weeks. In honor of his father and the sacrifices the entire family made to keep the family business afloat, Mark reintroduced the brand, which features flavors that were popular during the 1940's and 1950's. A small way to remember the things that add the greatest flavor to our lives are often simple."

(from the bottle) "Ambrose Kristen - Ambrose voyaged from German to Galveston in the early 1800's. His father lost his life en route , leaving this 16 year old to establish the family foothold. Ambrose, an accomplished wheelright, set up shop on the German Trace near Industry. There, he helped other settlers on their journey to the Texas Hill country. In 1930, Ambrose purchased the Bellville Bottling Works. The honor of his courageous vision is our legacy."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bellville Bottling Works, Bryan, Texas. 170 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with pry off top.

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

My thoughts: Though Sarsaparilla has origins in its own beverage originating from the Smilax regelii plant of Central and South America, it too, like root beer, was sold as a medicinal beverage with a similar flavor to root beer. The modern "sasparilla" is now largely artificially flavored and lost the popularity war with its sassafras flavored, root beer counterpart. What does this mean for this "sarsparilla root beer"? I guess I'll see if I can taste anything distinctively different from the other root beers I've sampled.

Well, I'll get straight to the point. I quite like it. It has a pretty tame rooty flavor, but there is a strong vanilla influence to it, and, in a way, reminds me a lot of the butterscotch root beers I've tried. The non-rooty flavors are not subtle and there doesn't seem to be a lot of complexity to it, but it is a nice way to shake up the usual taste. The aftertaste is dominated more by the butterscotch/vanilla flavor, but it does go the slightest bit thin.

Sweetness is pleasant, though may feel a bit on the sugary side as the flavor feels a bit "candy" sweeter, but it's not prohibitively sweet by any means. I think the butterscotch candy flavor makes it feel that way, so isn't directly due to the actual sugar content (which seems to be right on average looking at the 43g on label). Now, the most disappointing aspect: carbonation. While it started off fizzy enough, the bubbles quickly lost their power and by halfway through the bottle, it was downright flat. Now, I've had this bottle sitting around for a little while, so perhaps part of that is age related, but I like my root beers to offer a bit more kick throughout the bottle. Smoothness is nice, as the addition of quillaja extract does it's usual job of creating a creaminess that I always find enticing. I'd be very curious to see how the creaminess would hold up if mixed with a more aggressive carbonation.

In the end, I didn't find anything particularly sarsaparilla-ish about this drink, as it was more of a caramel/vanilla flavor with a little rootiness, so either the artificial sarsaparilla is doing a superb job of approximating sassafras, or the name is just a marketing gimmick. I liked the flavor pretty well, but this drink is seriously hamstrung by the lack of effervescence.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Indian Wells Special Reserve root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Indian Wells Brewing Co. started on Father’s Day June 12, 1995. Our home is the site of the California Historic marker #427, Indian Wells. This is the spring that saved the Manly-Jayhawker party in 1849 during the California gold rush. They were lost in Death Valley and after 5 days of travel were saved by the Indian Wells Spring. We use only natural artesian spring water from this historic Indian Wells Spring. Located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, on highway 14, just 2 miles north of the 178 east junction and 2 miles south of 395 junction at 2565 Highway 14, Inyokern Ca. We invite you to stop in and visit our wonderful tap room and gift shop and view the brewery."

(from the bottle) "Aged in barrels made from Quercus Pyrenaica Chestnut, from the northwest Iberian Peninsula, to give it the special vanilla trace. Our recipe includes sarsaparilla, and birch root, wintergreen, ginger, wild cherry bark, licorices and pure cane sugar. Using only pure fresh spring water from our historic Indian Wells Spring. We hope you enjoy this old fashioned, hand crafted soda."

Product details: 22 fl. oz.  Indian Wells Brewing Co., Inyokerin (pop. 1163), California. 180 calories, 45g sugar (based off 11 oz. serving).  Glass bottle with wax sealed, pry off top.

Ingredients: Indian Wells artisan spring water, cane sugar, natural flavor, real vanilla, citric acid.

My thoughts: Isn't this a fancy root beer with its wax sealed top? I can't help but wonder whether or not the packaging is reflective of the actual beverage, or if it's just clever marketing to oversell a less than stellar product. Okay, let's try this. I just have to peel off the wax...errr...this is really on there. *peel, peel* Hmmmmm.... *chip off small piece* (five minutes later)...and the top it off! Whew, that was a lot of work. Now, the drink!

It has a strong, rooty flavor, the kind I really like. It's very complex, with lots of spices in there, though they blend so seamlessly that it's hard to isolate the individual flavors, though vanilla is probably the most prominent. The aftertaste reveals a subtle hint of black licorice. I really like this root beer.

Sweetness is just fine, with just the right amount of sugar. The carbonation is interesting, where the bubbles are so fine that I don't really feel the carbonation in the traditional sense, but there is a strong sting to it. Usually that sensation is accompanied by much larger bubbles that distinctly bounce around my mouth. Smoothness is pretty good, with a frothy and creamy feel to the drink.

Despite being a pain to open the bottle, the contents are well worth the struggle. It's possible that I, with no experience opening a wax sealed bottle before, am just lacking in proper technique. If I could change any one thing, I'd make the carbonation have a bit more texture to it. I like the sting, but I also like to feel the bubbles bouncing around. Overall, a fairly minor nitpick that wouldn't stop me from recommending this particular root beer.

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hosmer root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Hosmer Mountain Bottling Co. was purchased in 1958 by Arthur J. Potvin from Mrs. Fred Meyer, whose husband had passed away the previous summer. The Potvin’s then became the fourth family to run Hosmer. With the help of his wife and two eldest sons: Bill and John, Arthur began the arduous tasks that make the soda business a difficult one. He worked hard at keeping the machinery operational and the trucks on the road, blending the soda varieties, and keeping the customer happy. He learned how to make good soda with the help of a salesman and through trial and error. All soda was made with bagged sugar in those days and dry ice was converted to gaseous CO2 for the carbonation. All cases were wooden and bottles were all heavy refillable glass bottles. Two more sons, Andrew and Chuck, joined the operation in the late 60’s.

Early changes included getting a company logo (the shield that is still used today) and going to reusable fiber cases. However, the use of glass bottles has remained constant. Many of the same flavors are still available today along with the addition of diet beverages, seltzer water, and some new trendy drinks."

(from the bottle) "Made with micro filtered naturally pure water."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Hosmer Mountain Bottling Co., Willimantic, CT 062265. 180 calories, 45g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated non chlorinated water, high fructose corn sweetener, natural & artificial flavors, caramel color, benzoate of soda (preservative), phosphoric acid.

My thoughts: Hosmer skips the fancy label, goofy names, and wacky mascots to deliver a root beer bottle that is pretty nondescript. Without the glamour and glitz to tell me what to think, I have to rely on my own rooty prowess to suss out what this drink brings to the table.

Taste-wise, this is a down to basics root beer. It has the regular rooty sassafras flavor, the tiniest bit weaker than I prefer, but pretty solid nonetheless. There's no mistaking this for any other flavor of beverage. Underneath the basic flavor is a touch of vanilla, which becomes slightly more pronounced as the overall flavor fades away into the aftertaste. No hints of wintergreen, anise, or any other spices that I can make out.

I rarely run across a root beer that screws up the sweetness too much and this is no exception. It has the expected amount of sugar and isn't obnoxiously syrupy. Carbonation comes in the form of small, subtle bubbles that do their job of keeping it effervescent to the end of the bottle. I do like my carbonation a little more on the aggressive side, so most people should be perfectly pleased. It's not particularly foamy or creamy, so isn't exactly what I'd call "smooth", as I think that term encompasses more than just texture related to the carbonation factor. It's about average, with only a slightly creamy texture offering a small bump up.

While it may seem that I'm a bit down on this particular root beer, I assure you it's a perfectly serviceable drink. However, for a "step up" root beer from your average supermarket root beer, it really doesn't offer anything to justify the added expense. It's just slightly better than average and, therefore, gets just slightly better than an average score. I initially gave it a "C+", but upon further reflection decided that it just ekes out of the "C" range and into the lowest tier of "B" scores.

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

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Private Selection creamy ginger root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Private Selection™ places an emphasis on fresh, authentic ingredients to bring you only the finest culinary experiences. Our gourmet and artisan items continually change as food trends evolve, so you can be sure we’re always offering you the best. From artisan-inspired breads to creamy Greek yogurt to applewood-smoked bacon, our products will feed your passion for gourmet food experiences in your own kitchen. Indulge your senses, enliven your taste buds and enjoy the moment with Private Selection."

(from the bottle) "The Private Selection journey rewards your sense of good taste. Inspired by food artisans and crafted with authentic ingredients and tantalizing recipes, each Private Selection offering is sure to feed our passion for gourmet foods."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Distributed by The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. 140 calories, 36g sugar. Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, natural flavor.

My thoughts: Having already tried another of Private Selection's non-root beers, and enjoying it, I'm hoping that this one also offers an interesting take on your every day soda. While I'm not a huge fan of strong ginger flavor, I am known to enjoy some subtle ginger from time to time. So, where does this fall? The main flavor seems very much like a ginger ale, with some hints of a root beer. I don't think they mesh very well, however, as the ginger isn't very natural tasting (I expect ginger to have a bit of bite to it), falling more along the lines of the fake flavor we're used to in the generic ginger ales. The aftertaste reveals a little more of the root beer and vanilla tones, but they seem to play second fiddle to the main taste.

Sweetness is okay, but the ginger ale gives what sugar is there a sickly sweet taste. Not entirely pleasant. I would have expected that the lower than usual sugar content would translate to a less sweet sensation, but the sweetness that is there is exaggerated by the combination with the flavor to the benefit of neither. Maybe carbonation will be the saving grace? Think again. While it starts off at a moderate level of effervescence, with small bubbles dancing on my tongue, those bubbles quickly subside as I make my way down the bottle. By the halfway point, it's pretty tepid as far as carbonation goes. Bah. I almost don't even care about creaminess at this point. With little foam and almost no carbonation to froth things up, it's not what I'd call smooth. Sure, it's not harsh, but lack of harshness doesn't necessarily make it smooth.

At the end of the day, this is more of a ginger ale with some root beer taste mixed in. I think it would have worked better as a root beer first and foremost, with a more ginger root flavoring (as opposed to the faker ginger ale flavor). As a root beer, it fails. As a ginger ale, it also fails. These two flavors just do not mix well at all, with both being a detriment to the other. I'm glad I tried a different Private Selection soda before this one, or else I would have written off the whole brand.

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