Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sparky's root beer

Background information: (from the bottle label) "Leading the root beer revival.  Sparky's Fresh Draft Root Beer is lovingly kettle-brewed in small batches using the finest ingredients.  After home brewing our delicious family recipe for many years, it is now available to you!"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Knox Brewing, Pacific Grove, CA 93950. 831-649-0529.  ? calories, ?g sugar.  Glass bottle with pry off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated filtered water, pure cane sugar, honey, natural and imitation flavorings, spices, sodium benzoate to preserve freshness, phosphoric acid and caramel color.

My thoughts: "Get to da choppa!"  Upon opening, a strong minty sensation wafts up to my olfactory nerves, along with a sharp root beer scent.  Wow, this has a lot of flavor going on.  The initial wave is primarily the mint (wintergreen?) and root beer, and is extremely strong.  This is followed by a similarly strong aftertaste, with mint continuing to dominate and some licorice undertones, while the root beer flavor is unfortunately minimized (or maybe just overpowered).  All this mint is a bit overwhelming, but at least it doesn't feel like toothpaste, like some other mint root beer's are prone to do.  Carbonation is slightly low, lending a moderately flat feel.  On the flip side, this is a smooth root beer, feeling rich and creamy.  This is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of root beers: extremely strong, in your face, none too subtle, and certainly a specific stylistic choice.  Just as Arnold is a great choice for action and comedy, but poor for drama, sentiment, and nuance, so this root beer is similarly handicapped by its choices.  I feel it is interesting and certainly different, which I enjoy, but at the same time I feel that it is a root beer that I want only on very specific occasion rather than an excellent all-around beverage.

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

dougieDog butterscotch root beer

Background information: (from the website) "At dougieDOG, we celebrate the hot dog culture by offering all-natural dogs, free of hormones, preservatives and chemical additives. Try one of our signature all-natural dougieDOGS with a side of homemade mac ‘n cheese, chili, yam fries, bacon chili cheese fries, and our very own special poutine.

Housing Vancouver’s largest selection of root beer, including our exclusive dougieDOG Butterscotch Root Beer, our staff will help pair your dougieDOG with the perfect frosty brew. From our selection of over 25 unique toppings down to our homemade sides, everything on the menu is made in-house and served hot and fresh to order."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Distributed by Sea-Van Distributors, North Vancouver, BC V7J 1H3.  160 calories, 41g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top. MFG DATE 091212

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural & artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate (a preservative).

My thoughts: Mmmmm, this one smells of butterscotch.  This is a far superior flavor experience to my last butterscotch root beer encounter (the considerably inaccurately named Dang! That's Good).  First off, there is a pleasantly strong root beer kick, with just a hint of butterscotch and I believe some vanilla.  As this initial flavor rolls off the tongue, there is a nice lingering aftertaste of butterscotch; not too strong, but certainly palpable.  Carbonation is superb, with a nice sparkly feeling that stops just short of feeling prickly.  The mix of flavors gives it a creamy sensation, but the sugar levels feel slightly too high, meriting an average score.  I really ended up liking this root beer and appreciate the slight flavor variation from my normal 'non-butterscotch' taste testing.

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dominion root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Our Root Beer grew out of original authentic American recipes found at the Library of Congress & has been perfected through many test batches sampled by our friends. Dominion Root Beer has captured an old-fashioned taste that is full-bodied, rich tasting & aromatic

Made with Pure Honey
No caffeine
No high fructose corn syrup
Available On Tap or In Bottles"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Brewed and bottled by Old Dominion Brewing Co.  170 calories, 42g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Honey, Root Beer Extract #214, Root Beer Extract #79-400, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate - a preservative, Yucca, Vanilla.

My thoughts: Smells pungent, sort of like souring root beer mixed with a hint of old gym socks.  Then again, sense of smell has never been a strong suit of mine.  Doesn't really taste any better.  I can't help but wonder if the buck on the label took a piss in the root beer vat.  The flavor quickly dissipates and the ridiculously strong carbonation -besides feeling unpleasantly prickly on my tongue- leaves behind the dreaded soda water taste.  Sweetness is nice and doesn't leave an overly sugary film in my mouth.  Alas, this is not worth drinking and I wouldn't even give it to people that I don't  like.  Save your taste buds and drink something else.  Anything really.  Like battery acid.*  Or drain cleaner.**  Or the stuff in the bottom of the port-a-potty after a sporting event.***

Rating: F
flavor: F
aftertaste: F
sweetness: B
smoothness: D-
carbonation: D
*Please don't really do this.  I was being facetious.
**Seriously, don't do this either.  Really.
***But you should maybe try this out.  However, I'm not liable for anything that happens to you afterward.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Anchor ginger root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Orca Beverage was created in the 1980’s 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."

(from the bottle) "As tribute to all the Sea Dogs and Scallywags looking for adventure on the high seas, Anchor has the sweet tase of root beer with a soothing touch of ginger to help keep you sailing all day - Enjoy!"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled by & under the authority of Orca Beverage Soda Works, Mukilteo, WA 98275.  170 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural & artificial flavors, caramel color, phosphoric acid, citric acid, sodium benzoate (a preservative).

My thoughts: Anchor lives up to its name, for just as an anchor vanishes quickly when dropped into the water, so the flavor similarly disappears upon consumption.  There is a nice, subtle ginger taste and which gets stronger as an aftertaste, never overpowering, but it can't make up for lack of substance in the other flavors.  Carbonation is okay, but not nearly as aggressive as it could be, especially considering this drink claims to be for "Sea Dogs and Scallywags looking for adventure on the high seas".  I like the ginger part of this drink, but unfortunately the rest of it isn't worthy of that one good attribute.  Anchor would be best used if you just toss it over the side of the ship.  Wait, strike that.  I'd hate for this to float away like some message in a bottle, only to wash up on shore of a deserted island where a shipwrecked sailor finds this root beer and excitedly drinks it down, thinking he is going to get a fresh, tasty brew.  No, no.  The disappointment of it's taste would likely be too much for his downtrodden spirits and he would abandon all hope, and I'd hate to be the cause of such despair and agony.  Instead, just pour it down the toilet, bypassing your digestive system, cause it's going to just end up in the sewer one way or another.

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dr. Brown's root beer

Background information: (from the internet) "Canada Dry Bottling distributes soft drinks and alternative beverages in the five boroughs of New York City including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island as well as Long Island, Northern New Jersey, and Westchester County. Canada Dry Bottling is one of the largest beverage manufacturers and distributors serving the New York metropolitan area. Canada Dry Bottling of New York currently distributes national brands such as 7 UP®, Sunkist®, Canada Dry Ginger Ale®, Evian®, Nantucket Nectars®, and Welch’s® to name a few."

(more history can be found here)

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled under authority of: Canada Dry Bottling Co. of NY, College Point, NY 11356 800-486-2379.  170 calories, 42g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors, gum acacia, citric acid.

My thoughts: Great Scott!  That's some thin root beer!  The initial flavor is nice and crisp, but quickly fades away, leaving a vague soda water flavor behind.  Blech.  They should have called it "Biff's root beer", as his character is more befitting of this lackluster beverage.  I think it might be carbonated fine, but relative to the low strength of the aftertaste it becomes overpowering once the root beer isn't there to cover up the soda water taste.  Smoothness is more George McFly than it is Marty; that is, not very smooth at all.  If only I could source some plutonium from some Libyan nationalists, then I could take my DeLorean up to 88, go back in time, and warn myself that Dr. Brown is nowhere near as amazing as Dr. Emmett Brown, saving myself the trouble of consuming this beverage.

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Abita root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Founded in 1986, the Abita Brewing Company is nestled in the piney woods 30 miles north of New Orleans.

In its first year, the brewery produced 1,500 barrels of beer. We had no idea what we started. Customers loved our beer! By 1994, we outgrew the original site (now our 100-seat brew pub) and moved up the road to a larger facility to keep up with demand.

We brew over 125,000 barrels of beer and 8,000 barrels of root beer in our state-of-the-art brewing facility. Our lagers and ales are brewed in small batches, hand-crafted by a team of dedicated workers with only the highest ideals of quality. This pride, along with our brewing process, is what creates our great brews.

We are privately owned and operated by local shareholders, many who have been with us since day one."

(also from the website) "Abita Root Beer is made with a hot mix process using spring water, herbs, vanilla and yucca (which creates foam). Unlike most soft drink manufacturers, Abita sweetens its root beer with pure Louisiana cane sugar. The resulting taste is reminiscent of soft drinks made in the 1940s and 1950s, before bottlers turned to corn sugar and fructose. Some soft drink makers add caffeine to their product, but Abita is naturally caffeine-free."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Abita Brewing Company, LLC, Abita Springs, Louisiana 70420.  177 calories, 38g sugar.  Glass bottle with pry off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, root beer flavor, phosphoric acid.

My thoughts: It's raining today.  For some reason the weather psychologically set me up to be disappointed in the root beer.  Upon tasting, however, this root beer became a ray of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day.  It has a strong, very defined root beer flavor that is good, but with slight leanings towards the artificial side; likely due to the fact that I've had some very spice-laden varieties lately.  This one skips the spices and goes straight for the sassafras, with little distraction from that (aside from a hint of vanilla).  As such, the aftertaste is just more of the same; root beer flavoring and nothing else to get excited about.  This drink, however, seems to be incredibly smooth and creamy, this in spite of it having one of the bubblier carbonation textures.  The fizz dances on my tongue, giving it an extra zest (it reminds me of the feeling of Pop Rocks, though slightly milder) but somehow managing to avoid the dreaded soda water taste.  This is perhaps the best carbonated root beer I've had to date!  The "pure Alabama cane sugar" is perfectly balanced, providing a sweet, but not saccharine experience.  If you're looking for just a straight up plain root beer taste, then look no further.  Abita is your root beer.  If you like the complexity of various spices, then you may not be quite as satisfied.

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Boylan root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Our story starts in 1891, when a Pharmacist named William Boylan created an elixir in his Paterson, NJ apothecary. He named that serum, a derivative of birch trees, Boylan’s Birch, and through most of the 20th century Boylan remained a Birch Beer brand local to New Jersey."

(also from the website) "BOYLAN ROOT BEER has a rich and spicy sassafras flavor, thanks to its blend of cinnamon, anise, black pepper, mushroom, sweet birch, extracts of chocolate and coffee, vanillin, and wintergreen oil. Sounds complex, but the end result is an authentic, traditional tasting root beer with only a subtle creamy note."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Boylan Bottling Co., 100 Hollister Road, Teterboro, NJ 07608.  170 calories, 42g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, natural yucca extract, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness).

My thoughts: Holy licorice Batman!  Upon twisting off the cap, I am struck by a strong licorice (anise) scent.  "Sock!  Pow!  Whap!"  The anise punches my tastebuds right in the face, leaving very little room for the sassafras root beer flavor to make itself known.  Since licorice isn't my favorite flavor, that isn't necessarily a plus.  I do, however, enjoy how natural this tastes, with little to no hint of artificial-feeling flavor.  The carbonation is just right and the sweetness compliments the other flavors just right.  There is a creamy feel to it, which works well with the carbonation level.  If you love licorice, then this is the drink for you.  Licorice doesn't appeal to my sensibilities, so it's not particularly one that I would get again, as it masks the other interesting flavors this root beer has that I'd prefer to be enhoying.  "To the Batmobile, boy-wonder!"  Check in tomorrow for the next part of my root beer testing.  Same bat-time, same bat-blog.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dang! That's Good butterscotch root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Imperial Flavors is a family owned and operated business that has been involved in the beverage industry for over 45 years.  Customer satisfaction is our guarantee and your success is very important to us.  Our success is a result of our ability to produce high quality products with the finest ingredients at a fair price.  Whether a fashionable Four – Star restaurant or the local neighborhood tavern we consider each customer a friend."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Imperial Flavors Beverage Company Inc., Milwaukee, WI 53218.  180 calories, 46g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, and sodium benzoate (preserves freshness).

My thoughts: Whew!  What a powerful minty smell it has!  This precursor doesn't look good, as too much mint overwhelms the flavor.  Throwing back a swig confirms my suspicions: in fact, it tastes more like a wintergreen soda then it does a root beer.  Not good.  The aftertaste is likewise extremely minty, though a little more root beer shows through.  The butterscotch becomes more apparent as an after-aftertaste, but is very subdued.  The carbonation is nicely balanced, but the sugar is a bit too much, leaving a syrupy coating in my throat.  I had been looking forward to a nice butterscotch root beer and was left sorely disappointed.  Dang! That's [not] Good.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hippo Size root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Orca Beverage was created in the 1980’s 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."

(from the bottle label) "Looking for a drink with GARGANTUAN flavor?  Go for the Hippo.  The original Texas size drink, Hippo Beverages satisfy that immense craving with a selection of great flavors using our best extracts and flavors.  Open wide and experience the little bottle with big taste - Hippo Size Beverages since 1927."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled by & under the authority of Orca Beverage Soda Works, Mukilteo, WA 98275.  160 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural & artificial flavors, caramel color, extract of wintergreen, sodium benzoate (preservative).

My thoughts: For a root beer with a Hippo logo, I'd expect a gargantuan taste of root beer flavor.  Alas, 'tis not so.  There is a moderate flavoring initially, but that flavor quickly thins out and is replaced with a very strong wintergreen flavor, too much in my opinion.  Carbonation is also certainly not 'hippo sized' as it comes up short, though the added flatness makes it feel creamier.  The sweetness isn't spectacular either; initially it is okay, but my mouth and throat felt like it had a thick syrupy coating on it after drinking, requiring me to drink something else to clear the sugary film off.  I really wanted to like this root beer more than I did, but there isn't anything to recommend about it.  If I need my hippo fix, I'll watch some BBC nature documentary instead.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Red Arrow root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Red Arrow Root Beer originated in Michigan and known for it's authentic root beer flavor. Made with hints of wintergreen and licorice and a spice kick to pull the full flavor together. Folklore says the brand was a tribute to the Red Arrow Brigade. Red Arrow Root Beer is bottled at our retro soda facility in Mukilteo, WA, 12 - 12 oz. glass bottle sodas."

(from the bottle) "Red Arrow Root Beer from Michigan, known for authentic root beer flavor.  Folklore says the brand was a tribute to the Red Arrow Brigade."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled by & under the authority of Orca Beverage Soda Works, Mukilteo, WA 98275.  160 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top. MFG DATE 052112

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, phosphoric acid, extract of wintergreen and licorice, sodium benzoate (a preservative).

My thoughts: Like any good root beer, Red Arrow tastes like root beer.  The advantage it holds is that there is a definite commingling of flavors, giving it a slightly above average complexity.  As the aftertaste kicks in, these other flavors become more apparent, resolving into a minty, licorice flavor.  These flavors are pretty forward, for better or worse, as they are a bit too strong for my sensibilities.  While I prefer this aftertaste to the usual store-brand, no spice-flavor taste that many cheap sodas use, it could stand to be dialed back just a little bit.  My mouth felt like I had just chewed some mint gum and toothpaste after I was done drinking, but without the refreshing clean feeling those two give (probably because this is full of sugar).  The carbonation is decent, though slightly flat.  It could use just a little more kick in that department.  Of course, the lowered carbonation lends to added smoothness, keeping it from feeling too harsh and also avoiding the dreaded 'soda water flavor'.  Sweetness isn't terrible, but along with the overpowering aftertaste, could probably stand to tone it down just a notch or two.  Overall, it could use a little tweaking of proportions to get it from overbearing to just right.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Capt'n Eli's root beer

Background information: (from the website) "In the early 1920's, the Forsley family started a fun tradition of making homemade root beer.  As a boy, young Eli Forsley pilfered root beer from his father's basement supply, gave some to some close friends and sold the rest around the neighborhood.  An entrepreneur was born!"

(see rest of story here)

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Shipyard Brewing Co, LLC, Portland, ME.  165 calories, 40g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, caramel coloring, natural & artificial flavors including wintergreen oil, anise, vanilla, spices, herbs, citric acid, sodium benzoate as a preservative.

My thoughts: (please read in your best pirate voice) Shiver me timbers!  This here root beer is a fine, sea-faring ol' scalawag!  Like the fresh salt air, it arrives with a zing and a dash o' flair.  Once ye have drunk it down ye hatch, the other flavors linger along, some of 'em landlubbers and some of 'em true pirates.  On the piratin' side are ye spices o' vanilla and win'ergreen, pleasant folks as they arrrrrrr.  But some landlubberin' flavor that reminds me o' sterilized surgical instruments also stays behind.  I ain't sure what it be, but good it certainly arrrrren't.  It may be from the carrrrr-bonation, which be running a bit like high tide; too much that is, givin' 'er the slight aftertaste o' soda water.  She go down pretty smooth, but worth walking the plank?  No, I say to thee.  But if I were to be stuck on a desert island with me treasure and a fair maiden or two, I'd be satisfied with this here beverage.  Arrrrrr, matey.

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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sprecher root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Sprecher Brewing Co. was founded in 1985 by RANDAL SPRECHER, formerly a brewing supervisor at Pabst Brewing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From 1985 to 1994, the brewery was located at 730 W. Oregon Street in Milwaukee's Walker's Point area. Through the first ten years the company grew steadily as more and more people found out about Sprecher's high quality beers and sodas. Finally, the company had outgrown its original facility and began looking for a new location to continue its growth.

In 1994, Sprecher purchased its current building, located at 701 W. Glendale Ave., a former elevator car factory. The new, larger brewery enabled the company to continue growing, and allowed more people to enjoy all of Sprecher's fine products."

(from the bottle label) "This truly old fashioned soda has the rich, creamy flavor that only comes from using pure Wisconsin honey direct from the combs.  Our extracts are prepared at the brewery in a hand-made, gas-fired brew kettle, by combining honey, vanilla and a host of aromatic botanicals.  The dark, honeyed brew will build a delicious frothy head when properly poured into a frosted mug."

Product details: 16 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Sprecher Brewing Co., Inc., Glendale, WI 53209.  220 calories, 54g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, glucose syrup, malto-dextrin, WI raw honey, natural & artificial flavors, sodium benzoate (preservative), phosphoric acid, quillaia/yucca extract, sodium chloride, caramel color, and vanilla.

My thoughts: Like a Michael Bay film, this root beer is bigger, louder, and ultimately devoid of anything meaningful.  Whereas most root beer bottles clock in at 12 oz, this one trumps that puny quantity with 16 oz.  The name and label design make it look German (probably playing off of Germany's history of beer) and they have a playful mascot, suggesting a giant bottle of fun!  But just as Transformers 3 was bigger and louder, that most certainly didn't translate into better.  The root beer taste is average, with nothing special to note.  Aftertaste is similar to character development in Transformers 3, as there is no additional development beyond the initial introduction and it seems no particular spice is willing to step forward and make itself felt.  It's still decent, but again -like Transformers 3- sort of boring.  It manages to get a few things right, as it is decently sweet and the carbonation is spot on.  I'd go so far as to say that the sweetness and carbonation are to this root beer what The Rock and The Island are to Michael Bay's movie catalog.  Overall, the bombastic nature of some aspects (size and packaging) outweigh the actual content, promising great things but only delivering mediocrity.  This root beer, while better than Transformers 3, is more akin to the original Transformers; good, but could have been better.

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Margo's Bark root beer

Background information: (from the website) "HI, I'm Margo. I am a black lab-pit bull mix and the spokesdog for Margo's Bark Root Beer. I also belong to the Youd family, and they belong to me. But it wasn't that way at first. When I was just a few weeks old, I was abandoned in a parking lot in Long Beach, before I was picked up by my foster parents and soon thereafter adopted by the Youds. I'm one of the lucky ones. There are far more dogs who wind up in city shelters, which is why the Youd family and I got into the root beer business. Here's how it happened.

I am in charge of a seven year old boy named Oscar Youd. For his school science fair at St. James School in Los Angeles, Oscar (with help from his mom Jessica and dad Tim) made home made root beer. The object of the experiment was to create carbonation in the soda, which occurs when yeast acts on sugar. As an aside, I can tell you that when a dog acts on sugar, she gets crazy and emits a different kind of gas. But that's another story.

Beyond the science of it, it was a great deal of fun. Oscar decided to name the root beer Margo's Bark, after the family dog, which is me. I patiently posed for my picture and together we designed labels for the bottles, and today's design reflects those original home made efforts.

At the science fair, I am told we served close to 300 people. I remain confused as to why I was not allowed to attend – I'm actually really into science. Evidently, my family heard many times over that we should be selling the stuff. And so, in the aftermath we actually started talking (and barking) about doing just that. And because the plight of shelter animals is something we have an ongoing interest in, we determined that making and selling Margo's Bark for the benefit of shelter dogs would be a wonderful adventure for us.

Once we decided on this plan, we became obsessed with root beer. They took a trip (without me!) to Galco's Old World Grocery in east LA, and picked up just about every brand of root beer that gets made in the US today. And for many months they have been sampling these to zero in on exactly what makes a root beer great. They have toured bottling plants and micro-breweries, and they have worked with flavorists to make what we all think is one great tasting beverage.

So twist off the cap of a nice cold Margo's Bark and drink a bite! All profits go to helping the cause of shelter and rescue dogs. And believe me, they need all the help they can get.

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Margo's Bark Soda Co., Los Angeles, CA.  180 calories, 45g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated natural spring water, evaporated cane juice, caramel color, citric acid, molasses, vanilla, clove, cassia, nutmeg, wintergreen, and yucca extract.

My thoughts: Unlike Star Wars' Han Solo, I've got a good feeling about this.  Just twisting off the lid revealed a strong root beer scent, something none of the other root beers have exhibited so far.  The force is certainly strong with this one, and being a dark root beer, is surely leaning more towards the Sith side.  But like Lord Vader, not everything is as it seems.  Beneath the manly root beer exterior lies a tinge of minty, wintergreen-vanilla aftertaste that leaves just a hint of cooling sensation on the lips.  Despite all the flavors listed on the ingredients, there is a nice meshing between them were they aren't jockeying for attention, but playing along nicely together (unlike a certain Sith Lord and his son).  I wouldn't have minded a bit more definition of the various spices, as the wintergreen drowns the others out a little, but am pretty satisfied.  Unfortunately, just as the dark side of the force has some down sides, so too does this root beer.  The carbonation is a bit flat and could use a little extra effervescence.  Maybe they could get some advice from Lando Calrissian about the most effective means of dialing up the carbonite levels.  I hear he's got the machine to make it happen.  Being on the lower side of the carbonation scale, it also doesn't froth up, and I sure do like my frothy foam layer on the top.  But those two minor nitpicks aside (froth -or lack thereof- has no negative impact on the final rating), this is a very tasty root beer, and once you've had a taste of the dark side, it's hard to go back.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Virgil's root beer

Background information: (from the website) "REEDS, Inc. is making extraordinary beverages and confections using very old-fashioned, natural methods and wholesome, fresh ingredients. We are a growing family of passionate entrepreneurs who have developed food and drink, which in our opinion exceed any products within their categories in taste, quality and imagination, as we are certain you noticed by now!"

(from the bottle label) "Micro brewed with 100% natural ingredients imported from all corners of the world.  Originally brewed in the north of England, Virgil's is made with natural ingredients - nutmeg, imported anise, and wintergreen.  The brewing process gives Virgil's a rich, creamy body and a taste so pure, you'll swear it's made in heaven."

(also from the bottle label) "Made Naturally, For The Root Beer Connoisseur".  Virgil's is a superb blend of spices and herbs gathered from the world over; anise, licorice, vanilla (bourbon), cinnamon, clove, wintergreen, sweet birch, molasses, nutmeg, pimento berry oil, balsam oil and cassia oil."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by REED's Inc., Los Angeles, CA 90061.  160 calories, 42g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Purified carbonated water; unbleached cane sugar; caramelized unrefined cane sugar; citric acid, herbs and spices!

My thoughts: A very interesting, not particularly "root beer" flavor up front that is very natural tasting, which may be in part due to their claimed "no preservatives, no caffeine and no artificial anything."  I like my root beer, however, to taste like root beer, so the initial flavor is a tad underwhelming.  This drink has a lot going on.  It is quite smooth and creamy, but part of that feel may be from the under-carbonation, leaving the drink a bit flat.  This flatness likely also contributes to the lack of froth.  The aftertaste is a bit difficult to pin down, as there are a lot of spices at work (see background information above).  While the smörgåsbord of flavors sounds exquisite in theory, in practice it fails to tantalize the tastebuds as much as I had hoped.  I can certainly detect a minutiae of wintergreen (which I like) as well as shades of licorice (which I tend to like less).  In the end, I felt that it was trying to do too much and accomplished too little.  I will admit that as I reached the end of the bottle, the flavor had grown on me a little bit more and after finishing it off, I had a mild, but pleasant 'minty' sensation in my mouth.  Perhaps if they could dial up the carbonation a little bit more, then this would be a higher caliber soda.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Americana root beer

Background information: (from the website) "If the name didn't already give it away, Americana, this line of retro soda flavors harkens to the simpler times of soda fountains, sock hops and 5 cent sodas. While we can't bring back the 5 cent soda, we've tried our best to recreate the taste of classic American flavors. A traditional root beer with hints of vanilla, licorice and honey. The creamy licorice undertones balance all the flavors together for a smooth creamy addition to your root beer favorites. Made with pure cane sugar and bottled in a long neck glass bottles."

(from the bottle label) "The era of soda poppery began in the early 1900's.  Early soft drinks or "tonics" were brewed in a variety of flavors.  Our extracts and flavor ingredients are brewed to duplicate the authentic production methods of yesteryear -- we think this method creates the most flavorful soda.  Enjoy well chilled.  Cheers!"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled by & under the authority of Orca Beverage, Mukilteo, WA 98275.  160 calories, 43g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural & artificial flavors, caramel color, pure organic honey, extracts of licorice and sassafras root bark, citric acid, phosphoric acid.

My thoughts: Very strong, complex root beer flavor right up front.  This root beer follows the advice of Faith No More: "I swallow, I swallow, I swallow.  Be aggressive! B-e- aggressive!  B-e-a-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e-!"  The sharp, aggressive flavor is nicely balanced with a soothing sweetness of cane sugar and honey, giving it a nice natural taste, but not very creamy (an attribute I like in my root beers).  Not only is it well flavored, but the liquid has excellent viscosity; neither too thin and watery nor overly thick and syrupy.  Once the initial kick recedes, a pleasant aftertaste of honey with a very subtle hint of licorice sets in.  I typically don't like licorice flavor, but this is so subtle that I actually like it.  Carbonation is dialed in just right, with the effervescence superbly matched to the strength of the flavor.  Just when everything seems to be so right, it strikes me: it isn't frothy at all.  I partially blame this omission of froth for the aforementioned lack of creaminess, as the froth helps to carry that particular attribute.  While I don't let froth factors determine the final score (as pouring it into a cold mug may significantly alter any given root beer's frothiness), it keeps this root beer from achieving the loftiest of heights possible, only flirting with greatness rather than reaching the pinnacle of perfection.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Red Ribbon root beer

Background information: (from the website) "In the year 1904 a man named Ed Welsh started the Natrona Bottling Works. It wasn’t until a while later that the Bowser family got involved with the business; in 1939, John Bowser bought Natrona Bottling outright from Rosella and Lou Roll, who owned it at the time. When John took the reigns his younger brother Paul, who at the time was only 15-years-old, began helping out in the plant after school in the evenings and on weekends. What started as a simple teenage job for Paul became his career and lifelong passion—Paul now owns the business, and is still actively involved in running and managing it."

The website also tells us, "There aren’t many left like us. Our machinery is older. Our production volume is lower. We only operate out of a single building, and it’s quite modest. Our entire company is like that, in fact; simple, small . . . you might even say quaint. So why do we still bother?

Well, it’s quite simple. Because we do it better.

It’s a labor of love. When the big companies were rapidly buying everyone else out and shutting down all of the small operations like ours we simply said “no, thanks.” Because we know we have something special, and we want to continue to share it with our customers."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Natrona Bottling Company, Natrona, PA 15065.  120 calories, 30g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid and caramel color.

My thoughts: Decent up front flavor, maybe a little thin in texture, but aftertaste leaves a very artificial flavor in the mouth, as if a robot had developed it and his metal sensors and had told him that this is what root beer tastes like.  And then the robot swishes every batch of this root beer around in his mouth before spitting it into the bottle with a little bit of his synthetic robo-saliva mixing in.  The carbonation seems a bit high, which may be what it contributing to the sterile aftertaste I'm feeling.  Sweetness is fine, but the ratio is a little on the high side due to the thinness of the flavor.  There are no subtle flavor textures, as I can't seem to detect any spices or flavors other than the generic root beer taste.  Not creamy or smooth at all and zero froth.  It's not a bad root beer by any means, falling somewhere in the middle of the road, and is held back by it's over-simple texture and mechanical aftertaste.  I only hope that we can convince our future evil-robot overlords to synthesize a superior root beer to quench humanity's thirst.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Henry Weinhard's root beer

My go-to root beer and subject #1 in my taste testing.

Background information: After moving from Germany to what was known as the Oregon territory, Henry Weinhard founded the Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Co and he opened a brewery (for beer), which remained until 1999 before being bought out and moved.  The gourmet soda distribution wing, however, is currently based in Fort Worth, Texas and is produced by the Blitz-Weindhard Gourmet Soda Company in the oldest continually operating brewery in the country.

The bottle label tells us, "Enjoy a truly great American Root Beer originally crafted by our master brewers during prohibition.  This gourmet elixir, brewed with sassafras, vanilla and honey, proved to be a popular alternative for our beer-drinking loyalists.  Our tradition of providing only the highest quality beverages continues today in each bottle that bears our founder's name, brewmaster Henry Weinhard."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Manufactured by Blitz-Weinhard Gourmet Soda Company, 7001 South Fwy, Fort Worth, TX 76134.  170 calories, 42g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.  FEB1813

Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, vanilla extract, natural and artificial flavors, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness), honey essence, acacia sassafras extract.

My thoughts: Excellent viscosity, initially feels slightly thick with sufficient body, but not syrupy.  Superb up front root beer flavor with a nice creamy vanilla flavored aftertaste lingers as the liquid rolls down the tongue, but it's difficult to distinguish any other flavors or spices which makes it feel a little less textured and perhaps a bit bland.  The aftertaste fades very quickly however, which may give the beverage a bit of a "thin" feel to it, but this is preferable to an overwhelming syrup coating being left behind.  Moderately frothy, but not overly carbonated.  The sassafras extract provides a nice, natural root beer flavor while the honey gives the sweetness a slightly less sugary feel, which helps assuage my disappointment that they use HFCS instead of cane sugar or similar more-natural sweetener.  This root beer plays it safe, with no aggressive flavors giving it any substantial or overbearing bite or kick, resulting in a very harmonious balance of flavors that is pleasant, but a tad simplistic.  Upon finishing the bottle, there is a nice layer of foam at the bottom that is tasty as well.  Overall, a very solid root beer and far superior to the run of the mill canned soda that comes out of the vending machine.  An excellent choice for a higher-end root beer, yet quite affordable ($4-5 for a 6 pack) and widely available at most grocery stores.

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Let there be root beer!

As a teenager, I was a big fan of root beer (or, 'the nectar of the gods' as I like to call it).  From my hometown, I searched the many stores and sampled the various incarnations of this blessed beverage.  I remember trying bottled root beers from: IBC, A&W, Henry Weinhard's, Stewarts, Thomas Kemper, and Snapple (yes, Snapple made a root beer for a short time!), just to name a few.  Alas, my search was hampered by the small quantity of brands available to me at that time and after trying the dozen or so varieties that could be found, I concluded that Snapple was my favorite followed by Henry Weinhard's.  Unfortunately, my hometown was a test market for Snapple (or so I was told) and after a couple months, the beverage became unavailable (though I hear it is still out there, like a specter in the night).  As such, Henry Weinhard's became my go-to root beer and has remained so for the past decade and a half.

While recently doing research on soda pop tax, I got a hit on Google for a little place called Galco's Soda Pop Stop, which happens to be in a neighboring town.  As I perused their homepage, I stumbled upon a vast trove of root beers, a few familiar, but most had strange names such as: Dog n Suds, Red Arrow, and Squamscot.  So a new quest was presented to me: I was to seek the holy grail!'s not quite right...  Ah, yes!  This is it: to seek the ultimate root beer!

I know not if Snapple is really as good as my faded memory tells me it was (and seeing as how I sampled it within a supposed test market, the final formula may not have even been what I tried), but I do know that Henry Weinhard's is the baseline "A" level root beer by which all others will be judged, with A&W representing the average "C" level root beer.  My intention is to try a different root beer every day for a month, reporting my conclusions on a day-by-day basis.  I will try to purchase them in glass bottles (when available) and will fall back onto the canned variety when necessary (hint: A&W straight from the tap at an A&W restaurant is better than A&W from a can).  I will also be drinking directly from the container rather than pouring into a frosted mug, which I feel better replicates how most people would be consuming their root beer (for this reason, froth will not skew the scores).  To insure that I am tasting all the flavor the root beer has to offer and that outside flavors aren't skewing my experience, I will make sure that I haven't consumed anything for at least an hour prior to sampling the root beer and will commence by drinking some water to rinse out the ol' mouth.  Sure, not purely scientific, but it'll have to do.

Once my 30 days of root beer are up, I plan to continue sampling this delicious beverage and will post my insights from time to time.  I talked to the owner of Galco's today and he said that they have enough different root beers to last me two straight months without repeating, but I'll tackle the other month's worth at a more leisurely pace.  To kick off the root beer reviews, I will be using my "A" level baseline root beer, Henry Weinhard's, so that I might remind myself (and my tastebuds), what a quality root beer tastes like so I can more accurately judge the others.  Look for that in the near future!