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FRIDAY SURPRISE: Root beer revisited.

It struck me last night that I'd not talked about root beer in a while, a sad state of affairs that must be remedied.

You may recall my telling you that my wonderful sister-in-law provided me with a couple week's worth of previously un-sampled brews last February. I binged for two weeks -- one bottle every evening -- but since that time I've gone back to one bottle a week, enjoyed with my wife while watching British comedies on PBS. That's all my primal/paleo diet will allow me to have!

Prior to her gift my all-time favorite root beer was Sparky's from California. The treasure trove of brews provided pushed it down to third place, but that's hardly anything to be ashamed of: it's a close race and all of my top picks are terrific.

My rankings have changed a bit since that last update. At this point I believe my favorite has become Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer. The name is perhaps a bit misleading as there is only the faintest hint of molasses taste, but the color definitely shows the ingredient. It is the darkest root beer I've seen; even the head, which is coarser but more fragrant than other brews, shows the dark blackish-brown color of the molasses.

The interesting thing is that Old Rhode Island wasn't my favorite in any one area: it's got good flavor, but from a purely objective standpoint Eli's is better. The head is good, but not the most impressive; the nose is pleasant, but there are others that are just as nice; the carbonation is darn near perfect, but so are others. In the competitive taste testing it came in a respectable tie for fourth place, but after drinking it a while it's popped up to the top of my favorites list.

It's the combination of things that makes it so pleasant, a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It's just a very pleasant root beer to drink. Everything comes together perfectly to make a great root beer experience. It’s a good illustration of why I consider the question “what’s the best...” to be inane when applied to just about anything. “What’s your favorite and why” is far more useful and appropriate.

Since I only get one root beer every seven days, I want it to be something to look forward to. Olde Rhode Island is one I definitely do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Getting to the root of the matter.

I have the world's coolest sister-in-law. A couple of weeks back she gave me the perfect gift: 13 bottles of rare (in Oregon) root beers, brews that I'd never tasted before. For the last 13 evenings I've savored a randomly selected bottle, carefully comparing them to my benchmark favorite suds, the hard-to-get
Sparky's Root Beer.

What happened? Well, Sparky's - as wonderful as it is, and as much as I like it - has become my third favorite. I feel like such a tramp.

The top spot in my root beer favorites list is now held by
Jackson Hole Soda Company's 'Buckin' Root Beer'. It has a very intense pure root beer flavor, a very traditional taste. It's one of the few root beers in this batch that had a strong nose; creamy and rich. When the bottle was gone I found myself wondering how hard it would be to hijack a semi truck and head to Wyoming. It takes a special root beer to make me contemplate sitting in a Peterbilt for 20 hours straight!

Number two on my list is
Capt'n Eli's Root Beer. Personally, I've not encountered many products from the state of Maine, and if you'd told me a few weeks back that they knew how to make good root beer I'd have laughed in your face. That was then, this is now. Capt'n Eli's, like Buckin', is a traditional root beer with strong sassafras and vanilla flavors, but without the wintergreen hints that give Buckin' (and Sparky's) that little extra 'something'. The aftertaste of Capt'n Eli's is what sets it apart: five minutes after the last sip my mouth still tasted like root beer. Hmmm...I wonder how long it takes a semi to drive to Maine from Oregon?

Sparky's sits in a comfortably secure third spot, with its unique wintergreen and vanilla overtones giving it a slightly different take on the traditional root beer. Its only major failing is a rather weak carbonation, which makes the taste just a little flat compared to the others.

Fourth place brought a couple of newcomer that tied with an old favorite.
Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer is an old recipe, and it's still unique because of the cinnamon and spice notes in the normal root flavor. (Caveat: the stuff in the cans doesn’t taste the same as what comes in the old-fashioned bottles. Different recipe, perhaps?) Kutztown Birch Beer tied with Dad's because of it's earthy, fruity quality. Birch beers are a close cousin of root beer, and Kutztown is the best of the breed I've yet tasted.

The other tie was
Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer. It has a very slight hint of the molasses in its name, and the color and the head are incredible. Very sweet brew with slight anise and citrus tones, this is the only root beer on my short list that can be said to have 'bite', thanks to a very slight citric acid tang. Of the beers I’ve tasted, this is one of the most memorable.

Yes, I'm serious about my root beer!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A few updates.

- I wrote a few weeks back about
a new feline inhabiting my workplace. Some disagreement exists regarding the name of said feline - I think "ShopKat" is perfect, my wife prefers "Cali" - but the little furball is already doing good work. Mice infiltration is down, and she's managed to snag one or two rodentia herself. This is in stark contrast to the lazy cat at home, who spends all of his productive time curled up in front of the woodstove.

- Several people have asked if I managed to find a line of
shirts I like. So far readers have suggested two good candidates: the Overland long sleeve from Triple Aught Design ($$$ but made in the U.S.), and the Safari Shirt from Long Grass (made in South Africa, but not so much $$$.) I’ve not actually ordered either yet, but I'll get around to trying them in the next month or so. Thanks for all the suggestions!

- My wife came home with a big surprise recently:
Sparky's Root Beer, elixir of the deities, is once again available in Oregon. I can't tell you how happy and excited I was to find that I now have semi-regular access to my absolute favorite brew! I say semi-regular, as it's only carried by the local speciality food retailer, but the fact that I can get it at all is cause for celebration. My fellow Oregonians, gettest thou to your local Market Of Choice and try Sparky's for thyself!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Friday Surprise: Rooting around.

It occurs to me that I've yet to write about one of my favorite things: root beer. I don't drink much of it anymore, as I dislike what it does to teeth and waistlines, but on occasion I'll treat myself to a single bottle.

By now you should know that I'm a little on the anal retentive side about everything, more so with things I'm passionate about. Root beer is one of those things.

My all-time favorite root beer is
Sparky's. Brewed by a tiny company in California (one of the very few good things to come from our neighbors to the south), it's only sporadically available in these parts. It's worth seeking out because of the intense root beer flavor, perfect level of carbonation, and hints of mint in the aftertaste that covers up the normal sugar taste decay.

Because it's rarely available to me, I have to console my tastebuds with an excellent local brew,
Crater Lake Root Beer. It is reminiscent of Sparky's, but not nearly as intense. It could stand a little more carbonation, but it's a very good root beer.

I could go on forever, but luckily there are other people who share my affliction and have done the work for me. My favorite root beer review site, authored my someone whose tastes run almost parallel to my own, is
Anthony's Root Beer Barrel. Many people have done similar things, but my general rule is that a root beer reviewer who can't tell a corn-syrup-flavored drink from one made with cane sugar probably has no actual operational taste buds. I avoid them.

Hmmm....I just realized that I haven't had a root beer in a couple of months. Now I'm thirsty!

-=[ Grant ]=-