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.

Dec 282011

This is probably the most anticipated root beer I’ve ever drank. Ever since I began reviewing root beers in 1998, people would always ask what I thought of Barq’s. It is the main root beer pushed by Coca-Cola and is sold in McDonald’s restaurants, so everyone knows it. The problem though is that I only review glass bottle root beers and I could never find Barq’s in glass. I searched everywhere, throughout Washington State and all up the West Coast. I even scoured the internet, but alas, it was to no avail. I’d always have to shamefully admit that I’d never tried Barq’s, well at least not since I became The Root Beer Gourmet. I still kept up the search over the years, though I had mostly given it up as a lost cause. Then, a few months ago, I tried again. I searched and stumbled across an old discussion board where someone mentioned a market in New Orleans from which Barq’s in glass bottles could be obtained. I pounced. I quickly called the market where they confirmed that they carried Barq’s in glass bottles. I was overjoyed. At long last, it would be mine. “How much to ship it?” I asked. The reply caught me off guard, they wouldn’t ship it. No matter what I offered, the employee then hung up the phone. What? I wasn’t about to be thwarted so easily. But how. My options were few. Fly to New Orleans (I’ve never gone to such extremes for a root beer but maybe), wait until my travels take me to New Orleans (sooner or later I’ll go everywhere), wait until I have a friend go to New Orleans, or find someone there. Then I remembered, wasn’t my Grandmother born in New Orleans? Don’t I have relatives living there? As an aside, this grandmother was of French descent and I had visited France and the region from whence they came. I saw the house that the family lived in for generations and I even met the decedents of the family that stayed in France so this type of family history is rather important to me, it’s my heritage after all. Well that settled it. I was going to close the missing link in the Constantin (the French relatives) heritage of mine and get my Barq’s in the process. I called my dad who directed me to my aunt who put me in contact with my second cousin whom I’d never met, nor even really heard of growing up, named Cynthia. After several wonderfully informative calls about the family over there, she said she would drop by the store and send me a six pack. After what seemed an eternity, but was more like three weeks it finally arrived. One of the bottles was smashed in shipping but the other five were still in pristine condition. They’re pretty sweet looking bottles at that. They’ve got the same vintage style that they did 50 years ago, maybe even older. I bumped it to nearly the front of the root beer queue and finally, after 13 years of searching, was able to try Barq’s. So thank you Cynthia, you’re the greatest cousin anyone could ask for.

The Body is sweet with a very noticeable cola flavor accented by wintergreen, vanilla, and traces of more traditional root beer flavors. It is very different from most root beers I’ve tried. The Bite, for all of the old advertizing “What do you mean Barq’s has bite,” is actually pretty mild. There is a little spice hint and some carbonation tingle. However, the giant caveat with that comes from the fact that the Head is huge but not very frothy. It fizzes down very quickly but before it does it almost escapes the glass. They pack an awful lot of carbonation in it which would give it quite a harsh Bite if it weren’t poured, or at least poured more carefully than I do to evaluate the Head. The Aftertaste is vanilla with a dash of cola.

It is definitely different from the average root beer. I actually like it. It is very cola-ish which I would normally say would merit it a rather low rating for being too far out in the root beer spectrum. But, Barq’s is almost as old as Hires (still searching for that one in glass by the way), and older than classics like A&W and Dad’s, so I can hardly say that they don’t know what root beer should be like. However, it really doesn’t have anything to make it some great spectacular root beer other than the cola flavor, which I’ve already said isn’t normally a good thing. I think that I would certainly enjoy this with a burger and fries and if McDonald’s started serving it in glass bottles, I would drop by and get some (since I’m only a root beer connoisseur, not a burger one). See how it rates against other root beers.