Jun 192013

Hires Big H Root BeerI was visiting Salt Lake City to give a presentation on electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid and I had to drop by and check out the local root beer stand. Started in 1959 it was originally a Hires Drive-in, but after the owner died, they were forced to change the name so they added Big H to it since he only had a verbal agreement with Hires to use the name which wasn’t enforceable after none of the people involved in said verbal agreement were alive. Everything else is identical to how it was, including the root beer, so this is really one of the few Hires root beer stands left in the US. They have three in the area. Interestingly, they also make their own root beer concentrate, Hires Big H, which is a different recipe. Why they don’t sell both side by side is beyond me but whatever. It is the classic 1950’s diner with car service still available. They ask you to have your lights on if you’d like car service in the dedicated parking area. They serve the standard diner foods with signature burgers and a secret fry sauce. It’s pretty cool.

The Body is spicy and caramely with mild licorice hints. It isn’t very creamy, more of a dark flavor, but it isn’t overly strong so it’s quite refreshing. There’s an ok Bite from spices and carbonation. The Head is very tall when you ask for it that way but it fizzes down a little quicker than I prefer. The Aftertaste is a light spicy caramel with the fainest licorice tint to it. I really wish the whole thing were stronger.

This is a solid and refreshing brew but it doesn’t really have anything extra special to move me, and it’s a little weak for my tastes. But it’s good to get some Hires since my petition to get them to bottle it seems in vain. It does go well with their food. The fry sauce is yummy and their pastrami burger was amazing. The extra tall Head pushes it barely in to 3.5 territory, so it’ll probably be the low cutoff for that. The service was extra nice too, so I do recommend dropping by if you’re in the region.

Three and a half kegs

The Hires Big H Root Beer Stand in Salt Lake City

The Hires Big H Root Beer Stand in Salt Lake City

The inside of the Hires Big H diner

The inside of the diner

"Pastrami H" burger with fries and their secret fry sauce

“Pastrami H” burger with fries and their secret fry sauce

Jun 252012

So just after I decided to start reviewing root beer stand root beers (since I the Standards Committee of the International Association of Gourmet Root Beer (IAGRB) declared them gourmet) I found myself in Dearborn Michigan for another electric vehicle conference. The only root beer that I could locate in walking distance was the A&W stand. I was planning on doing my review of A&W either with the one near my parents house or the original stand in Lodi (near my grandma’s house if I ever got down there), but on day three of the conference, I felt I needed a root beer. I trekked to stand in a suit in 95 degree Michigan heat and ordered a nice frosty mug of root beer, just to drink, not review. As I was enjoying the infinite refills for only $1.90 the manager told me a bit more about their root beer and their stand. That they hand make their root beer in batches every morning for the freshest flavor. That they still use the original secret recipe, and that, unlike the bottled A&W, there are no preservatives. That means it is a different recipe and thus technically classifies it as a different root beer in my book according to the IAGRB Standards. They tap the syrup straight out of the vat and mix it with soda water in the fountain, definitely higher quality than your bag-in-the-box swill. Also the Dearborn A&W is very close to corporate (since all of the stands are currently owned by franchises and corporate only does the bottled sodas) and is used for training. It includes a conference room and an oversized kitchen. Wow, I didn’t even know any of that at the time. I vowed to return the next day with my camera in tow to give them a proper review. The next day also happened to be June 20, the Birthday of A&W so it seemed appropriate to have my review then.

The Body is sweet and full with creamy vanilla and a spicy caramel flavor accenting the core. It is almost candy-ish. The Bite is pretty mild but there’s a small kick from the carbonation and spices. I do like it smooth though so no harm there. The Head is medium height and frothy so it lasts a good while. The Aftertaste is creamy vanilla with caramel and spice hints.

So yum. I find nothing at all bad in this root beer and they’ve got a lot right. There is a reason that A&W stands still dot the land after all. The crisp fresh taste with the lack of preservatives really pushes it over the top whereas the bottled root beer fell a bit shorter. I’ve had better brews of course, much better, but this is delicious and well balanced. I give it the Seal of Approval (and a trip to the Wayback machine will reveal that I originally stated it was a 4 from the draft at the restaurants), though just barely. I’d say it’s the cutoff point. The food is pretty good too but nothing compared to the XXX Root Beer Drive-in.

A bacon cheese burger and fries with root beer. Pretty good.

Jun 172012

Not to be confused with the bottled Triple XXX Root Beer, though this stand in Issaquah, WA originally started as such, it currently has no affiliation. The owner himself said that what they serve is completely different. The actual official name of the place is still giving me much grief, the website calls it a Triple XXX Root Beer Drive-in, but the sign itself refers to only XXX Root Beer as does their flyer and menu, and then some places they call it Triple X. I wish people would make things easier for me to categorize by being consistent with their names. And then there’s the question of how do I classify the root beer itself. It isn’t bottled, nor from a growler, nor keg, but is it draft even though it uses a soda fountain system of mixing the soda water with the syrup as it’s poured? I wish there was a gourmet root beer standards committee or something. Oh well. In lieu of such a committee I’m calling it a “Root Beer Stand Root Beer” and now consider all root beer stand brews, as long as they come in frosty mugs, gourmet! (This means of course that I’ll now have to drop by an A&W restaurant one of these days and review it too). I’d known about this place for several years and would always drive past it on the highway in between Seattle and my parents house in Eastern Washington, yet I never seemed to find the time to drop by to test out their brew. Finally, this last week on Saturday, we went for a Father’s Day present for me. First of all, it is a really cool root beer drive-in/stand, as the pictures below will attest to. In addition to sporting the last traditional XXX Barrel sign, which happens to be the largest Plexiglas lighted sign in the West, it is stuffed full of nostalgic artifacts from the golden age of root beer stands. When I walked in sporting my A&W shirt, the owner said that it should be hanging on the wall with the other artifacts. Pretty cool, though my shirt isn’t anywhere near that old. He said that they still use the original 1930 recipe with pure cane sugar. It comes in two sizes, a frosted mug (I’d say about 20 oz) and a super size frosted mug (30+ oz I think). They also make you pay more for it if you don’t want to commit sacrilege and water down your root beer with ice. I of course, needed a super size mug.

The Body is very sweet and full and creamy. It has a caramel flavor to it that almost tastes like honey complementing the sassafras, hints of vanilla, and spices. The spices give it a solid Bite when mixed with the carbonation fizz but it is still smooth. The Head is pretty lacking, however. The mugs they brought out for me and my wife had no Head at all. When asked they said that they pour it that way to maximize the root beer in the glass. Fair enough, but I want a Head. They then proceeded to pour another mug and show me that yes indeed it has a Head, though it is only about an inch and a half and fizzes away quickly. It could be much better, but it isn’t fatal. The Aftertaste is a light vanilla and caramel flavor with hints of the sassafras and spices.

Yum, this is good root beer. It is unique for sure, and I can’t think of another root beer I’ve had that tastes quite like it. It is great to sip by itself or great with their food. Did I mention their food yet? Wow, they have some incredible greasy, messy, amazing food there. For instance, the burger that I ordered ended up being larger than my son’s head and was absolutely fabulous as was the chicken thing my wife got. Their floats look pretty epic too, with Darigold soft serve and whipped cream. They even have the most glorious warning sign about nothing they serve being good for you and since your eating so many calories anyways, skip the diet coke and get a root beer. I couldn’t agree more. So this root beer and this stand, get my Seal of Approval (though barely on account of that Head). I look forward to dropping by again.

The Plexiglas Barrel Sign

How's that for lunch?

As I said, the burger is bigger than my son's head

Just a sample of some of the artifacts

Some root beer floats at the bar.

You know you wanted a closer look at them.

The Best Warning Sign Ever!