This is the blog of Eric's Gourmet Root Beer site, one of the oldest root beer reviewing sites on the web and the only site to focus entirely on gourmet root beer. Eric has been reviewing gourmet root beers since 1998 but only recently added a blog. This blog will be updated with a new root beer review every Wednesday.
Last Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet one of the world’s leading collector’s of root beer paraphernalia, Vince. He was up in Minneapolis for some reason and I had empty bottles to get to him for his collection. I told him to meet me at Indeed Brewing Company, cause I knew they had a brew that I needed to try. To be honest I don’t know much about this brewery, other than one of my coworkers told me they have root beer. It’s a rather larger brewery by some railroad tracks about half an hour from my house. They don’t have any food in their taproom, owing to those pesky Minnesota laws, but not even the popcorn or peanuts that are quite common in others. I met Vince and his friends and got down to business.
The Body isn’t overly sweet and it’s a little dark. There’re distinct honey and wintergreen flavors as well but the proportions aren’t quite right. The Bite is a little spicy but still on the mild side. The Head is very nice, it pours out tall and stays foamy for awhile. The Aftertaste is of honey and a little wintergreen with some bitter notes.
This isn’t my favorite root beer by any means. It’s got the right flavors but not in the right ratios. I don’t know why this is called Ideal Root Beer, maybe it’s their ideal but it surely isn’t mine. It’s still drinkable and was worth the trip to meet another root beer lover. He was able to get one of their root beer taps to add to his collection, so a success all around.
Last week I was in Toronto for work, doing the things I do when I go off to travel for work. I’d been there in the summer, for less than a day, and had been frustrated that the Mill Street Brewery pub in the airport was in a different terminal than the one I flew out of, so I couldn’t get any root beer. This time I had many a evening free, but I was determined to get it my first night, just in case. Though Mill Street Brewery has expanded to several locations, their original, in the Distillery District, is where I went. The whole district is in a 19th century whiskey distillery, and it all arts and crafty now, the sort of place you’d hope to find a craft brewery with their own root beer.
The Body is nice and sweet and rich and creamy. Definitely my favorite flavor profile. The Bite is rather mild, however, and the Head is pretty dismal, though it is there, it’s short and gone by the time the glass reaches the table. The Aftertaste is a nice vanilla with hints of caramelized sugar.
Yum, it’s tasty for sure, but doe lack some depth in the Bite and Head department. I think it’s the best root beer I’ve gotten in Canada. The best draft root beer I’ve gotten in Canada at least, though, now that I think about it, maybe the only draft root beer I’ve gotten in Canada so far. The food there was amazing. I didn’t get a picture of my burger, but I did for my double smoked poutine, with bacon and a root beer reduction, it was divine. This place is definitely worth a visit.
My heavenly Double Smoked Poutine
Some of the brewery vats. I always try to get a picture of these.
I don’t know where I found these. I think someone gave them to me. Part of the reason I decided to start writing about all of these root beer products after all is because people give them to me regardless (the other part being I have to write about something…) So yeah, xylitol? It’s a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. You find it a lot in gum because it still tastes sweet, it still has calories and is metabolized, but sugar alcohols don’t promote tooth decay. I don’t know why, I’m neither a dentist nor a chemist so I’m just gonna believe my five minutes of googling on the matter and call it good. Yes, I know it’s a root beer float candy and not a root beer candy, but these posts are already setting their own rules so I say it’s well within the realms of “root beer products”. I’m not near as picky about these things as I am about actual root beer.
It has an interesting root beer type taste with some creamy vanilla undertones to make it root beer floaty, it isn’t very strong but it isn’t bad. It has a kind of off texture, the kind you get when you make crystallized candy that isn’t from sugar. It seems best to not chew them for that reason. There is only the slightest hint of off flavor from only xylitol being a sweetener.
All in all they’re surprisingly good, considering what they are and what they’re made of. I honestly expected much worse. Now, if you’re looking for a root beer candy, do I recommend them, err, no. While it isn’t bad for a sugar alcohol sweetened candy, and while those end up much better than diet sodas cause, calories still, it still doesn’t taste like what you’d be looking for in a hard root beer candy or root beer float candy. But it isn’t bad so I eating it isn’t a punishment, just not much of a pleasure.
Gilliam’s Candy was started by a man named Cleve Gilliam. It was originally called “The Candy Kitchen” at his flagship location in Paducah, Kentucky. Cleve made his candy well, and it expanded and expanded until in 1944 he retired and sold the business. It kept going and expanding and was eventually bought by Quality Candy Company in 2003, which made them the largest manufacturer of stick candy west of the Rocky Mountains. Which I’m glad someone still uses such phrases, though I’m curious how they figured that. Also I got this east of the Rockies, so that means there’s a bigger, yet at this moment unknown, maker of stick candies who’s rivalry no doubt is the stuff of legend in the stick candy world. Also they probably make their own root beer flavor, but anyways, back to Gilliam. I personally like stick candy, it reminds of candy canes but isn’t near as annoying because the crook isn’t always breaking off.
A pleasant generic root beer flavor, much like a root beer barrel. There is a distinct wintergreen flavor in this, which, not uncommon in root beer, does distinguish this a bit from other root beer hard candies I’ve had and leaves your breath feeling minty. It also has a strong flavor for a hard candy, so I recommend you should lick it slowly rather than bite off chunks and suck on them. Maybe that’s general knowledge, but I’m kind of new to this hard candy world.
All in all, it does justice to the beverage from which it gets its namesake, and really, that’s all that one can ask for with this sort of thing. So I can honestly say I’d get it again, if I were looking for a root beer candy stick.
Candy post number 2. This time some old fashioned hard candies from Claeys Old Fashioned Hard Candies. They’ve been around since 1919 and have had 3 generations of candy makers perfecting their “smooth textured deliciously flavored old-fashioned hard candies”. They are little sugar drop candies, which I more associate with lemon drops than a root beer candy, but why not. They do actually make lemon drops, as well as a host of other flavors. But I only care about the root beer.
The little sugar covered egg drop dusted in sugar tastes very similar to your standard root beer barrel. It’s got that generic root beer flavor which is perfectly pleasant when you’re looking for a root beer flavored hard candy.
I like this. It’s definitely a higher quality hard candy than most and it’s root beer flavor is spot on. So do I recommend it? If you’re looking for a root beer hard candy, this will do the trick.
So my first root beer product review in my new format. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading these as much as much standard root beer reviews, or at least they’ll be like, three keg blog posts, “drinkable” as it were, enough to get you through to the good times of proper reviews. If you think of any way to improve these, do let me know in the comments. Anyways, what to pick for my very first? I picked this Theo Root Beer Barrel 55% Dark Chocolate bar because one of my coworkers was kind enough to anonymously leave it on my desk. How very kind of them. I did eventually find out who it was after a few wrong guesses, and I am going to publicly say, thank you Brian, you’re the best! So Theo is an organic fair trade chocolate company coming out of my old stomping grounds of Seattle. They have a bunch of different specialty flavors including this root beer barrel one. I’ve had root beer barrels before (I’ll write about them soon enough) but never mixed with chocolate. So how is this?
It’s a nice dark chocolate with crunch coming from crushed root beer barrel candy. The flavor of the root beer barrels doesn’t really come through much at all. It does seems to enhance the chocolate a bit, but it’s still so subtle I doubt I’d be able to tell it was root beer barrels if I weren’t told.
It’s a nice chocolate bar, yet it leaves me disappointed as a root beer lover, since the root beer didn’t shine. Maybe a chocolate connoisseur would appreciate it more than a root beer connoisseur, but I got to call it as I see it. Good dark chocolate, poor root beer chocolate. So do I recommend it? Not if you’re looking for a root beer flavored candy, but it is a good chocolate bar.
Another super premium packaged root beer. There’ve been more of these as late, and I for one am happy to see root beer taken to the next level. This is from Rocket Fizz, maker of many celebrity root beers of varying quality. The bottle size and wax seal immediately made me think of Indian Wells Special Reserve. They actually are both made at the same place, but are unique recipes. Plus this has shiny gold wax. In keeping with the old-timey feel, they have stock certificates in the Rocket Fizz Gold Mining Company. Each stock certificate is worth 1/5th of a root beer, a Death Valley Root Beer, which is also made by Indian Wells, but well, um, isn’t a root beer worth getting at all. So, yeah, stock in a worthless root beer is available as part of the gimmick with this. But what about the brew itself?
It has a rich creamy Body with distinctive, yet not overpowering licorice. Like, just enough that I still like it, which isn’t a lot. There is a minty hint to it as well. The Bite could be spicier, but it is present. It’s mild and on the smooth side. The Head is most excellent. Very tall and foamy and just perfect. The Aftertaste is a sweet, spiced vanilla. Very pleasant.
It’s a complex and yummy brew, though not as good as the Special Reserve, it still squeaks by at a Seal of Approval, just barely. I was quite on the fence with this, but the second bottle won me over. Who cares about those stock certificates, just give me more of this. Though, at the price point ($7/bottle), I doubt I’ll be buying much of this. See how it rates against other root beers.
So, it’s been eight years since I started this blog as part of my site, giving a weekly review every Wednesday. It’s been quite a journey and my devotion to root beer couldn’t be stronger, but, unfortunately, I’m faced with the reality that there just aren’t 52 new types of bottled root beers being made a year, and I’ve found just about all that there are to be had. Those I’m still searching for won’t be able to keep up with the inexorable march of time. And while I had an unprecedented year of travel in 2018, and hope to continue the pace in 2019, I’m not going to find enough new breweries and root beer stands to keep pace. I’m sorry, the weekly root beer review, cannot continue. A weekly post, however, can. I won’t lower my standards and drink from cans and plastic bottles, neither will I review sarsaparillas, birch beers, and the like, but there are a lot of root beer things out there. There’s songs, books, movies, and root beer flavored food, like candies, cookies, and ice cream. And I’m going to start exploring these, for the love of root beer, and share that exploration with you all.
So here’s how it’s going to go down:
The first Wednesday of every month will be a standard root beer review as we’ve come to know and love.
Every other Wednesday will be a post about something root beer related. A kind of review about the product and how I feel about it.
Obviously with such a diverse range of things I won’t be giving keg ratings, but I will give either a recommend or a skip sort of review, to let you know if whatever it is captures the spirit and flavor of root beer properly. I’ll also be augmenting these posts with some more of my homebrew adventures, having received as a Christmas presents the means to properly carbonate my brews (more on that in later posts).
I hope this works out and everyone likes this new direction. Please let me know in the comments if you got any other ideas or general feedback on my idea. Sorry again I can’t just keep doing weekly reviews, but the brews just aren’t there. So here’s to the next stage of The Gourmet Root Beer Blog!
I told you last time that I hoped it was the last time. Alas, it was not to be. Strange to hear me bemoaning a new root beer to review, but I’m just getting tired of Tommyknocker’s antics. They’re like the gambling addict who can’t quit when he’s ahead, or even when he’s losing badly. Just one more try they say, I’ll win it back, I’ll win more… It never works that way. They had a Seal of Approval, with their New Root Beer, they’d finally achieved some redemption, but no, they wanted to give it another shot, another spin on the wheel, and change their recipe. At least they had the decency to change their name again. Now it’s All Natural Root Beer, because evidently that’s just what they needed. They also dispensed with their “1859” and “original” from their labels, knowing that trying to claim the same original recipe since inception was so laughable it had become sad. Despite my annoyance, I dutifully purchased my bottles to see what they’d concocted this time.
The Body is medium strength with maple and aged vanilla flavors that are all out of balance and don’t ensemble well at all. It’s also sort of sour The Bite is spicy yet smooth so that’s at least good. The Head is excellent! The Aftertaste is a clumsy mix of maple, vanilla, and wintergreen wrapped in some sour herbs.
Tommyknocker, what have you done? This is by far your worst brew yet. Though the Head and the Bite are good, the Body and the Aftertaste fail hard. It’s like you stopped trying halfway through. I figured it wouldn’t impress, but to be downright bad? Every try before at least had a rather rich mapley goodness, but now, it’s barely there. You had the Seal, you were ahead, but like the gambler, you put it all on black for double or nothing, and it landed on green. I’m sure in two more years they’ll tweak their recipe and name yet again. I have a feeling it will only get worse. See how it rates against other root beers.
A few weeks ago I was back in Montreal, doing the businessy things I’m wont to do on such trips and thinking about root beer when the daily work is done. In addition to my internet searching, I asked the locals, and by that I mean this guy (BFTAG) in my guild (relic) in the mobile game I play (Summoner’s War). His first reply was along the line of “What’s racinette?”, which, sadly, was a response I got way too much over there. Like, racinette is literally the French Canadian word for root beer and it’s written on every bottle of it. Yet, nearly every place I’d ask, including the A&W, I’d get this blank stare from people. Anyhow, when I told BFTAG about root beer he had no idea, but some intense googling revealed Chez Tousignant, a burger place with a bottled house root beer. I told him and he said he loves that place and if I were to go, to ping him on game chat and he’d meet me there. And a couple days into the trip, I did just that. And found myself in a nice little burger, hot dog, and poutine joint being greeted by the Frenchyiest (Quebeciest?) French Canadian imaginable. So we got some amazing Tousingant burgers and dogs and grabbed some brews. Tousignant has about 6 flavors of house soda, which are custom bottled just for them. My guildie was surprised that I had a cream soda and was saving the root beer till I could get back home. Reviews of bottled root beer much be done right, after all.
The Body has a sweet, yet sour sarsaparilla flavor on the initial contact with vanilla coming through after a bit. The Bite is on the mellow side, with only a little spice accents. The Head is very tall and foamy, yet doesn’t linger as long as the best do. The Aftertaste is wonderful, a more mature sarsaparilla and vanilla flavor without any of the sour.
This is pretty good, but that initial sour kick really ruins it for me. It could have a spicier Bite too, oh well. I imagine it’d pair wonderfully with their Tousignant Burger and Dogs, that signature seasoning was divine. So I give it a solid drinkable. Definitely worth dropping by. See how it rates against other root beers.