Thursday, September 10, 2015

Iron Horse root beer

Background information: (from the website) "In 1869, Central Pacific's steam engine the Jupiter was nicknamed IRON HORSE. It met Union Pacific's #119 at Promontory Peak, Utah, uniting the Atlantic Coast with the Pacific. Today, IRON HORSE still unites rich flavor with original refreshment. Our commitment to authentic recipes blend quality ingredients with a cool, low carbonated taste enjoyed by those who built the rail lines so many years ago."

Product details: 12 fl. oz.  Distributed by Iron Horse Products, Inc., P.O. Box 24824, Edina MN 55424. 180 calories, 45g sugar.  Glass bottle with twist off top.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate (as a preservative), and natural and artificial flavor.

My thoughts: The label design and brand name are excellent exercises in advertising, as they connote a connection with a time of steam locomotives, when almost everything food related was manufactured from natural ingredients. This was an era where sugar came from the cane, well before high fructose corn syrup became commercially available in the 1970s. So it's ironic that in the world of small batch root beers dominated by cane sugar for sweetening that this drink would buck that trend by using the cheaper, lower quality HFCS. But does that translate into a worse drink?

The flavor is very sweet up front, with not a whole lot of sassafras rootiness and just a touch of vanilla. There is also the slightest bitter taste, one that I had to keep searching for to determine if it was really there or not, but it was. Besides the weak root beer flavor, there isn't much else going on with the flavor. There might be a very minute hint of wintergreen in the aftertaste, but maybe I'm imagining things.

Buster is just as excited about this root beer as I am.
While the sweetness isn't bad, in fact it would serve quite well in many other root beers, I feel like it overwhelms the weak flavor, making it seem stronger than it really is. They say they purposely keep the carbonation low to "keep the flavor rich", but I didn't find it to be very low. While it may not assaulted my tongue with spark and tingle, it certainly seemed up to the task and lasted all the way until the bottom of the bottle. This drink is a little bit creamy, giving it a nice smoothness that contrasts well with the carbonation levels.

At the end of the day, this isn't a root beer I'd invest in again. I think it has serious flavor issues (not surprising as "flavor" is the bottom ingredient on the list). The carbonation is great, but isn't enough to save this drink. Just like the steam powered locomotive, this drink can't keep up with modern competition.

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

edited to add: many times after I write my review I will browse other reviews to see how other's thoughts line up with mine. I never read the reviews before I drink a root beer (so I don't go in with a preconceived notion). What I found interesting is that there are quite a few extremely good reviews for Iron Horse, saying it had fantastic flavor. I noticed most of these reviews are from ~2011 or earlier. The couple more recent ones I found weren't super impressed with this drink, drawing similar (though not always agreeing) conclusions as I. It just seemed interesting that the once lauded flavor seems to have been abandoned for a recipe that hasn't received nearly such effusive praise.

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