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+

Friday, June 30, 2017

Natural Brew root beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Blumers root beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jack Black's Dead Red root beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Rogue Soda root beer

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

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

Product details: 22 fl. oz.  Brewed & Bottled by Rogue Ales, Newport, OR 97365. 150 calories, 40g sugar.  Glass bottle with pry off top. (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-