Friday, November 29, 2013

Waialua root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Waialua Soda Works, Inc. brings back the “experience” of drinking soda by using natural, high quality ingredients to create a refreshing and lightly carbonated gourmet soda. Down to the glass bottle, Waialua Soda Works is a source for the nostalgic soda connoisseur, and those who prefer to savor a purer beverage."

"Founded in 2003 by Waialua residents Karen and Jason Campbell, Waialua Soda Works’ recipes are inspired by the elements familiar to the Hawaiian Islands. Reviving a local soda bottling tradition that goes back more than 100 years, the company uses only clear glass bottles, pure cane sugar, and natural flavors to make its pineapple, mango, root beer, and vanilla cream sodas. The products feature local ingredients such as Maui Brand natural white cane sugar, Big Island vanilla, and honey from Kauai. Waialua Soda Works is owned and operated from a warehouse in the historic town of Waialua, located on the famous North Shore of Oahu."

"Reaching consumers through hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores as a wholesale distributor, Waialua Soda Works launched pineapple as its first, full-flavored premium soda in early 2004. With aspirations of reaching consumers worldwide, Waialua Soda Works' gourmet products will attract soda connoisseurs with the palate for a light and uniquely flavored beverage."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Waialua Soda Works Inc, PO Box 657, Waialua, HI 96791 USA 818.371.7556. 140 calories, 35g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sugar Blend (cans sugar and Maui natural white cane sugar), natural flavor, caramel color, phosphoric acid and hawaiian vanilla extract.

My thoughts: I had exhausted the variety of root beers from the local soda seller, but after a couple months, I thought I'd drop by and see if anything new had arrived.  Fortune was on my side, as I found a few new root beers, the first of which I decided to try was Waialua, Hawaii's own root beer.  So the question remains, is this root beer going to be more like Lost: Season 1 or the disappointing Season 6?

My initial impression is that it smells quite nice.  The flavor feels very natural, not at all like the cheap syrup flavor of the grocery store canned product.  The rootiness is nice and crisp, with a pleasant vanilla hint.  The flavor may be a bit more subtle than it could be and diminishes quickly, but instead of disappearing completely, it subtly lingers behind.  Sugar balance is perfect, as it leaves my mouth feeling clean and dry rather than sugar-coated.  The dryness is nice, but sort of reminds me of the sensation when I put a wooden spoon or Popsicle stick on my tongue.  Carbonation is not too bad, but could use just a little more kick to it.  It may seem like a contradiction, but the dry sensation left behind also has an oddly creamy feel to it.  I really like the aftertaste attributes to this soda.

My conclusion?  Waialua root beer is more Lost: Season 1 than it is Season 6.  Plenty of promise, intrigue, and a moderately complex but natural flavor that doesn't make me angry.

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

GuS (Grown-up Soda) Dry root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Founded in early 2003 by Steve Hersh and Jeannette Luoh, GuS was what the founders and their friends were looking for in a beverage; something not so sweet like everything else out there. But not so dull and lifeless like flavored seltzers and waters. Or artificial, like diet drinks."

"Steve grew up in a household where his father added seltzer to everything. This was done to cut the sweetness, and make juice and soda lighter and more refreshing. It also reduced the calories, but that wasn't really the point."

"Now that tradition continues with GuS sodas. They're distinctive sodas made with real juice and real flavor extracts, in refreshing flavor varieties. They're 100% natural, pasteurized and kosher, with no caffeine. And they're lightly sweetened with natural cane sugar, with only 90 - 98 calories in each 12oz. bottle."

(from the bottle) "Lightly sweetened root beer with birch oil & vanilla ."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Utmost Brands, Inc., New York, NY 10022 (212) 355-7454. 98 calories, 24g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Purified sparkling water, cane sugar, birch oil and other natural flavors, caramel color (from sugar), quillaja, citric acid.

My thoughts: With claims of being a"grown up soda", I was expecting a complex flavor, which GUS sort of delivers on.  The initial taste is quite good, with a nice blend of vanilla and rootiness.  It even delivers on the "dry" claim, a pleasant sensation on the tongue.  But where it really falls short is in the aftertaste.  The good flavor is fleeting, rapidly leaving behind the soda water taste I detest.  Sweetness is excellent, with just enough without leaving behind a costing of sugar residue.  Carbonation is almost spot on as well, with a pleasant smoothness that is a bit lacking in creaminess.  Overall, the overly rapid vanishing of flavor left me disappointed, and I wish it lingered a bit longer, as this could be a very good root beer.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

Saranac root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Our Hand-crafted Saranac Root Beer is made in small batches in our own hometown Brewery. The flavor will take you to the fresh root beer taste from days-gone-by.  We make our Saranac Root Beer with the best of ingredients - look for the fresh vanilla and licorice notes. Saranac Root Beer has the trademark rich, creamy head that only a real Brewery Root Beer can achieve."

(from the bottle) "In 1888, when our small brewery was founded, real rich, creamy root beers were not uncommon.  Thirty years ago, we brought this tradition back with the introduction of real brewery-fresh root beer on draft in our brewery's 1888 tavern.  Our Saranac root beer has been acclaimed by consumers from all 50 states and over 100 countries.  We hope you'll enjoy it too."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  The Matt Brewing Company, Utica, NY. 180 calories, 46g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Filtered water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness), natural & artificial flavors, citric acid.

My thoughts: It's been a little while since my last root beer, so perhaps my tastebuds would have been satisfied with anything, but this is awfully good.  The drink starts off with a nice hearty root beer flavor, not the artificial kind, but the delicious natural tasting stuff.  Behind this rooty taste there is something else just beneath the surface, but becomes more apparent as the rootiness dies down and the other flavors take over. This provides a complex, but pleasant aftertaste of vanilla, wintergreen, and a little licorice.  Not only is the flavor great, but this root beer is nice and creamy as well.  Carbonation is just perfect and if there were one thing I could change about this root beer, it would be swapping the high fructose corn syrup, which leaves a bit of a coating in my mouth, for cane sugar instead.  But a minor quibble for an excellent root beer.

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fitz's root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Fitz's Root Beer first appeared in St. Louis at a local drive-in restaurant back in 1947. Famous for its tasty draft root beer and hamburgers, Fitz's quickly became a local tradition. After sadly disappearing for a number of years, Fitz's Root Beer was revived in 1993 when Fitz's Bottling Company, America's original soda microbrewery opened in the historic and vibrant Delmar Loop. Please come watch us bottle Fitz's Premium Sodas while sipping on a frosty mug of root beer and enjoying some good homemade food from our diverse American menu."

"Fitz's Root Beer, our flagship soda, is made according to an original recipe developed in St. Louis in 1947. Our unique formula features fine ingredients including select natural roots, spices, barks and is exclusively sweetened with all natural pure cane sugar. Thanks to its robust and creamy flavor, Fitz's Root Beer has been recognized as one of the best root beers in the United States. We keg Fitz's Root Beer in 15 gallon barrels in our bottling room right inside our restaurant and serve it ice cold right out of the tap."

(from the bottle) "Original Recipe Since 1947"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Fitz's Bottling Co, St. Louis, MO. 160 calories, 40g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Filtered carbonated water, all natural pure cane sugar, natural flavors, caramel color, vanillin, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness) and citric acid.

My thoughts: Fitz's starts off with a subdued, but pleasant and simple rootyness that tastes very natural.  There is a hint of vanilla that grows in strength as the root beer flavor fades, becoming the dominant aftertaste.  I like it.  Other than those two flavors, there doesn't seem to be too much at work here other than a vague hint of wintergreen cooling, which is a pleasant and understated addition.  It seems slightly sweet, but doesn't have an overly sugary feel to it.  Carbonation is nicely balanced with the flavor, neither hiding it nor disappearing underneath the taste.  This drink also feels crisp, though slightly held back by the sweetness, yet smooth at the same time.  For some reason I wasn't expecting Fitz's to be that great, so it was a pleasant surprise when it delivered an perfectly good root beer expereience.

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

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bulldog root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Award winning honey root beer. Complex flavor blending root beer extracts, vanilla and organic honey. Sweetened with cane sugar, this top rated root beer is a rich blend of all the right ingredients for the perfect root beer flavor experience. Bottled in long neck glass bottles, each batch is made fresh at our facility in Mukilteo, WA. 12 - 12 oz. long neck glass bottled sodas."

(from the bottle) "Unleash the Taste"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Orca Beverage Soda Works, Mukilteo, WA 98275. 160 calories, 41g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, honey, maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate, real vanilla, phosphoric acid, salt.

My thoughts: Bulldogs bring to mind the attributes of strength, stoutness, and maybe some face puckering, all of which this drink lacks.  It's not a bad root beer by any means, but is extremely underwhelming.  The flavor is fairly tame, but on the weak side.  After the rootiness fades, I'm left with a bit of vanilla flavor and perhaps a touch of honey; nice and pleasant, but also a tad weak.  I like the level of sweetness, one of this drink's strengths.  There is a very glaring weakness, however, as the carbonation is terrible.  As in almost completely flat.  Of course, this makes the drink incredibly smooth, but smoothness should be a balancing act with carbonation, and this one is out of whack.  Despite the good taste, this drink is all bark and no bite, dragged down by lack of carbonation, and isn't one I would particularly recommend.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Filbert's root beer

Background information: (from the website) "During the early 1900's, George Filbert, his wife and their young son, Charlie, could be seen on a horse-drawn wagon in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood delivering bottles of milk to stores and homes. George also delivered ice and coal and provided general moving and transportation services to the Bridgeport community.

It wasn't until the height of prohibition that Filbert's began making Root Beer.

George's son, Charlie who had a love of Root Beer created a recipe that was distinct from other Chicago area bottlers of Root Beer. In 1926 he started making his own "draft style" Root Beer soda.

Since so many establishments had barrel dispensing equipment, it was manufactured in half barrels and supplied mainly to taverns and restaurants.  In fact, during the 1940's, Filbert's was supplying thousands of half barrels of Root Beer to customers across the Midwest.  Filbert's Root Beer supplied the Berghoff Restaurant with its own draft style root beer for over 50 years.

Now 85 years later, Ron Filbert, the fourth generation Filbert, continues to make his families famous Root Beer in the same Bridgeport neighborhood where his Great-Grandfather started it all back in 1926."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Distributed by Filbert's Root Beer Co., Chicago, IL 60608.  150 calories, 41g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, sugar and/or corn sweetener, caramel color, natural & artificial flavors, sodium benzoate (as a preservative).

My thoughts: After looking at the ingredient list and seeing "sugar and/or corn sweetener" llisted, my expectations weren't very high, as cane sugar seems to be the preferred sweetener of the finest root beers (to be fair, many of the worst use cane sugar as well).  Well, this drink is just like the regular canned stuff you find on your grocery store shelf.  It has a moderately artificial and strong root beer flavor, with none of the additional natural spices or flavorings that mark an attempt to be different.  Aftertaste is more of the same, and the usual sugary coating is left behind in my mouth.  Carbonation is pretty good, but nothing too special.  This root beer doesn't try to be anything out of the ordinary, and it succeeds wonderfully at that.  But success isn't always a great virtue, as this root beer is not worth buying over the far cheaper generic stuff.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tower root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Prospect Hill Beverages, LLC is bringing back Tower Root Beer to the New England area using the original recipe bottled and distributed by Prospect Hill Bottling and Soda Water Co. Tower Root Beer was first established in Somerville, MA in 1914 by Domenick Cusolito who immigrated to the United States from Salina, Italy and settled in the Boston area. After World War II, his sons, Jack, Richard and Paul, assumed the responsibility for the management and operation of the family business. Now, Larry Cusolito, Richard’s son (Domenick’s grandson) is heading up a third-generation of the family, to reintroduce the Tower Root Beer brand in the New England region and re-establish the Cusolito family tradition in the soft drink market.

Tower Root Beer is being bottled by EMPIRE Bottling Works, Inc., a contract bottling company located in Bristol, RI under the ownership of Mr. Ed Borges, until such time as a manufacturing facility can be secured for private production. Mr. Borges’ operation is also a family business with a tradition that goes back to 1930."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Prospect Hill Beverages LLC.  150 calories, 41g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Pure carbonate water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavor, caramel color, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness).

My thoughts: This root beer comes from Boston, and we all know what else is in Boston: Harvard, school of choice for Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerburg.  So does this root beer get liked or does it get banished to the dark corner of our wall, joining ranks with the aunt I never talk to and the political posts by people who haven't the slightest clue what they are taking about?

I have to admit that flavor isn't bad at all.  There is a nice strong rooty taste with a hint of wintergreen.  The aftertaste doesn't really reveal any additional flavors, but gives a vague creamy and almost buttery sensation.  This drink is very smooth.  Sweetness seems dialed in just right and carbonation is well balanced.  Nothing about the drink blows me away, but the parts work together to create a pleasant root beer that is a bit better than I expected.  This root beer gets a "like" in my (Face) book!

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jackson Hole Soda Buckin' root beer

Background information: (from the website) "We produce incredibly delicious, high quality sodas that honor the pioneer spirit of the old west. When it’s time to relax after a long day in the saddle, there’s nothin’ better than knocking back one of our old-time soda fountain favorites. Our flavors are as varied as the sun setting over our beautiful Grand Tetons and will bring a smile to your face!"

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled for JH Soda, 970 W. Broadway, Suite E, PO Box 30000, #87, Jackson, WY 83002, (307) 920-0018. 198 calories, 53g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, quillaia extract, caramel color, red #40, citric acid and sodium benzoate (to preserve flavor).

My thoughts: Jackson Hole is known for it's nature and outdoor life, which leads me to think that this root beer should also reflect the natural flavors and spices that can make a great root beer.  Well, if Cert's wintergreen mints are your idea of natural flavor, then this meets the criteria.  For me, not so much.  There is so much mint that the root beer flavor is quickly overwhelmed and the aftertaste is all wintergreen with some licorice/anise rearing its head.  I like a bit of mint, but this is just way too much.  Sweetness is fine (surprising, given the much higher than average sugar content), but the wintergreen still makes it seem candy-like, while the carbonation is average.  So if you like your root beers to  leave you feeling like you just brushed your teeth, then this one might be for you.  I, however, like to keep my teeth brushing and root beer drinking experiences separate (but equal!).

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mason's root beer

Background information: (there doesn't seem to be a real website for this brand, so here's what Wikipedia has to say) "Mason's Old Fashioned Root Beer is an American brand of root beer. It is owned by the Monarch Beverage Company of Atlanta but is not widely distributed.

Mason's Root Beer was first manufactured in 1947 by Mason & Mason, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois. During its early years, Mason's Root Beer and flavors line were widely distributed in the Midwest as well as some Southern states.

In 1970, the Rheingold Corporation entered the soda pop business with the purchase of Grapette, changing the company's name to Flavette. The Flavette division subsequently purchased the Dr. Wells soda pop brand and Mason & Mason, Inc. In 1975, Rheingold and its Flavette division were purchased by PepsiCo, Inc. in a hostile takeover. The Federal Trade Commission felt that PepsiCo owned too many brands and forced it to divest several of its brands. By 1978, Mason's Root Beer had been acquired by Monarch Beverage Company but was mostly shelved in favor of the higher-volume Dad's brand of root beer, which Monarch acquired in 1986."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Produced under the authority of the Monarch Company, Inc, Atlanta, GA 30342. 160 calories, 40g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

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

My thoughts: Just as some of the greatest buildings of the antiquities were expertly built by master stonemasons, so I expect this root beer to have been crafted by only the finest of sodamasons, exemplifying the pinnacle of technical and artistic achievement.  Part of that expectation is met: it was crafted, but certainly by no root beer artisan.  It has a nice strong typical root beer flavor upon initial taste...and not really anything else.  Maybe a hint of vanilla in the quickly dying aftertaste, but that's it.  Sweetness is average and uninspiring, and the carbonation is a bit weak.  This root beer does nothing above and beyond the generic stuff in the cans on your local grocer's shelf.  Boringly average.  Next!

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

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bedford's root beer

Background information: (from the website) "Bedford’s sodas have been a Pacific Northwest tradition for over 30 years. Handcrafted and known for outstanding flavor, Bedford’s is now available from coast to coast and considered a fine example of a regional soda made with care and quality ingredients. Enjoy a Bedford’s for flavor and refreshment."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Bottled by Orca Beverage, Mukilteo, WA. 180 calories, 44g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, caramel color, pure cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, gum arabic, quillaia, citric acid and sodium benzoate (a preservative).

My thoughts: Some root beers aspire to be more than just root beer flavored.  This is one of them.  There is a certain root beer flavor, but it's easy to tell that there is a lot of other things going on, not all of which are identifiable by my mediocre taste buds.  There seems to be some vanilla, but it there is also a fruity cherry aspect that hides just below the surface.  The aftertaste has the root beer fade a little and the vanilla gets a wintergreen companion, while the fruity note becomes stronger.  I like what it's doing (then again, I'm a big Dr Pepper fan).  Where this drink falls short is in carbonation, as it runs flat.  Sweetness is a little strong as well, feeling a bit sugary and leaving my throat a little more coated than I care for.  Overall, they are doing some nice things with this drink, but are held back by carbonation issues.

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