Apr 082013

BoiseBrew 010
I was in deep, too deep. All of the clues led to only one conclusion. A conspiracy almost as big as the gourmet root beer industry itself, and one shadow organization silently pulling the strings. One wrong move and I was finished. How did it come to this?

It all started two weeks ago. My sister came to town from Idaho for the weekend to attend SakuraCon. As she unpacked her things she proudly turned to me holding a large plastic bag and pulled out three stubby brown bottles with blue labels. “Boise Brew Game Day Root Beer” Score! I am always looking for a new root beer to review, and three bottles means I could even trade one with another reviewer should I need. But that would have to wait, SakuraCon was calling after all. I threw up a photo on Facebook and left it at that. Then last Monday, I finally got around to inspecting those brews, no ingredients nor nutritional information, curious. I wondered what Google had to say … nothing. Now that’s beyond just strange, that’s a mystery, a mystery root beer. Luckily I knew a fella in Jersey who could usually help out in a pinch like this, over the years he’d made his the biggest name in the root beer [under]world, Lil’ anthony. He was always willing to trade information for a new root beer, and if you were fortunate he’d send a brew back your way. I knew that extra bottle would come in handy. Lil’ anthony said he had never heard of it, said it might be a “private label,” and wanted to know more. There wasn’t any more to go on, but I told ‘im, I’ll solve this Case of the Mystery Root Beer or my name isn’t Dr. Percival C. McGillicuddy!

The first thing was to interview the witnesses. I got my sister on the phone, I needed some answers. She had bought the brew from Kneaders in Meridian about a month ago, but then the dame there said they didn’t have any and didn’t ever remember seeing it. A quick call to the Kneaders corporate was brushed off faster than I could blink. Clearly somebody there wanted to make sure that root beer was “forgotten” and wasn’t too happy about a flat foot poking around. The only other clue was a small note on the labels themselves, “Dowdle and Daughters.com” a domain name that had expired on the day before I went looking. Whoever was behind this was always one step ahead of me.

Some more digging led to a couple of blogs by Dowdle & Daughters and Bluebird Custom Sodas, each with different phone numbers but they shared a picture for “Game Day Root Beer” which had an identical label to the Boise Brew except the two root beers shown were Cosmo Brew and Ute Brew, appealing to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Finally, a solid lead. The phone numbers lead to answering machines, expected. After leaving the right type of message I finally got a contact, one of the Daughters. She said that their soda business had been sold off recently and gave me a number. “Ask for Mark or Josh” she said and left it at that. This brew was clearly too hot for anyone to handle long and she wanted none of it. The number went straight to the voice mail, but with the right message I was sure I’d get a reply. When you’ve been around the root beer world as long as I have, you pick up a few tricks.

Parley Street Root Beer BottleAbout that time I was wondering just how deep this was going to get, but I never expected what happened next. I took a closer look at my empty of Parley Street Root Beer, a recent acquisition, and saw the small print on the side of the label “Distributed by Dowdle and Daughters” and a different phone number. I gave it a call, expecting the voice mail, instead I got the none too happy Daughter again. She wanted to get rid of me fast, but I got it out of her that they had supplied that label but it was now handled by Mark and Josh. So now there were two brews involved…

Josh finally called me back the next day. He said they ran Custom Soda Sales and let it slip that Boise Brew and Parley Street were one in the same, but they didn’t make it. The supplier was in Minnesota by the name of Excel. Except the problem was there is no Excel Bottling in Minnesota. There was one in Illinois, but they happened to be closed that day. Excel only seemed to bottle Frostie Root Beer, but Parley Street definitely wasn’t Frostie. A dead end. Somebody really didn’t want the truth to get out. I left another message for Josh and upped the ante. I laid it all out and said I needed answers. The next day his partner Mark finally cracked under the pressure and the two decided to come clean, they were supplied by Ginseng Up in Massachusetts. They gave me a contact number in exchange for protection.

The first thing was to check this organizations public operations. With an appropriate tag line of “The Root of All Power” I knew I’d need to be careful. Nothing on the surface seemed to indicate there was anything to do with root beer. Their whole guise was a ginseng infused soda line with 8 different flavors. Root Beer was noticeably absent and there was nothing about private labeling. The contact numbers listed were not the one I received. If Ginseng Up was behind all of this, they didn’t want it known. I went undercover and used the number. A broad answered. I put on the charm thick and soon got that bird to sing. Yeah, Ginseng Up supplies the private labelers. They have their own recipe but they’ll also do “special requests” for the “distributors”. They have many clients. I got the info without raising suspicions. Now I needed a few more questions answered from Josh, and I’d have this case closed. Then Carl’s BBQ Root Beer showed up.

Carl's BBQ Old Fashioned Root Beer BottleIt was in a stubby and tasted different than the Parley Street and had different ingredients listed. It said it was distributed by Teeroo’s and gave had a number listed. I knew what was coming. Next thing I know I’m learning about a private labeler in Texas, with their own unique recipe that started from a different private labeler in Florida until he “gave it up”. Ginseng, however was more than happy to continue supplying the recipe to the “independent” distributors. That’s when Josh got back to me and confessed that they just used Ginseng’s stock recipe. I wondered how many others did.

I decided to check with Private Label Specialties, who do Cheers Root Beer and some others, probably one of the biggest private label rackets in the country. When emails went unanswered I decided to drop them a ring. The bird on the other end didn’t want to talk about their supplier and seemed nervous. So I just straight up told her that I knew about Ginseng and I wanted to know if they were using Ginseng’s recipe. Too surprised at that to think she stammered that they don’t use Ginseng’s recipe but have their own. It made me wonder if any private labelers aren’t supplied by Ginseng. I also wondered if they’d snuck anything else past me over the years. Looking over the collection thankfully revealed that I’d stayed clear of their influence until the last few weeks. Finally, all the pieces had fallen into place. Boise Brew is the exact same as Parley Street. They used to be labeled by Dowdle and Daughters but now by Custom Soda Sales. Ginseng Up supplies them with the Ginseng Up generic recipe. Teeroo’s and Private Label Specialties also are supplied by Ginseng, but each have their own unique recipes that Ginseng bottles for them. Case closed! But I was sure I’d cross paths again with Ginseng Up. They’re still out there after all, in the shadows, silently controlling the private label world of root beer. Though it’s dangerous, I have to keep the root beer world informed and bring this to light. Stay vigilant my friends, that root beer may not be what you think.

Dec 262012

I keep wanting to call this Johnnie Walker instead of Johnnie Ryan. Not that I drink whiskey, but I do see it all the time in Duty Free Shops. There’s also several points of branding similarity. Johnny Walker has for a logo a distinguished looking fellow with a top hat and a cane, Johnnie Ryan has got a logo that is just a top hat and a cane, minus the gentleman. Then there’s Johnnie Walker Red Label, and Johnnie Ryan has a red label. So you can see why it would be easy to get confused. As far as I can tell from reading the various websites, there is no affiliation between the two (unlike Dr. McGillicudy’s which makes schnapps and root beer) and so I’m going to just chalk it up to an uncanny coincidence. The bottle is pretty unique and it was the first time I’d seen this type before when I reviewed it. The only downside is that it isn’t quite 12 oz, so you feel a bit ripped off by the whole thing.

This has a full Body that is sweet and slightly creamy. It basically has the standard root beer flavor. The Bite is strong from carbonation but light on spices; I prefer it a little more the other way. The Head is a decent height but low on froth and fizzes away in seconds. The root beer is not left flat by any means however. The Aftertaste is a mild sweet vanilla.

So, it’s a good brew, but not quite exceptional. Maybe if they used some more spices in there and a tad more vanilla. Or, perhaps if they used more “flavor” than preservatives … but what do I know? I’d drink it again, but not by itself, and they don’t need to worry about that extra fraction of an ounce. See how it rates against other root beers.

Feb 012012

So one day, a few years back, when I was visiting my parents, it was discovered that one of my younger brothers’ friends had lost his cell phone at our house. It had been over a week and the battery was dead. The last person to have seen it was my dad who had found it on the back seat of a car but he couldn’t remember what he did with it afterwards. It was getting very worrisome for the family. I suddenly leaped to my feet and exclaimed, “I’ll find the cell phone, or my name isn’t Mr. McGillicuddy!” (Which it really isn’t) I then quickly ran upstairs, took a Sharpie and drew a mustache on myself, grabbed a magnifying glass and returned to the “scene” and said that Percival C. McGillicuddy, world famous detective, would solve The Case of the Missing Cell Phone (soon to be a major motion picture based off of the children’s book based on a true story). I then melodramatically scoured the house looking for clues, making a mess, and generally entertaining the family. After about 15 minutes I actually FOUND the missing cell phone proving that indeed I was Mr. McGillicuddy. Fast forward to November. I had recently received my doctorate and was scouring the web for new root beers when what did I discover, Dr. McGillicuddy’s root beer. The six packs even had a picture of a mustached gentleman who looked for all intents and purposes like some old fashioned detective. This WAS the root beer that was made for me. It is MY root beer, since I am now Dr. McGillicuddy (ah what a few extra years of grad school do for you.) I ecstatically called my sister to tell her about it since she was one of the most entertained by Mr. McGillicuddy’s original performance. Since it was Christmas time, I figured I’d wait to acquire it until after the holidays. To my pleasant surprise, under the Christmas tree was a 12 pack of Dr. McGillicuddy’s Old-fashioned Root Beer for me Christmas morning. Yay! Even better. Free root beer. I love my family! The bottle says that it’s made with natural herbs, real birch, and imported vanilla. Sounds like a winning combination. It also says “The Original” and if you’ve followed this blog at all you know how I feel about that.

It is a medium Bodied brew that is sweet and creamy. It has a nice vanilla flavor to it that is very delicious. The Bite is very mild. While I like it smooth, there really isn’t any Bite at all and some more spices would be nice. I mean, where are all of those natural herbs? The Head is a proper one, tall and frothy. The Aftertaste is creamy vanilla and birch.

So this is a really good root beer but there really isn’t anything overly exceptional about it. It’s creamy but not super creamy, has a great flavor but nothing extra to put it over the edge. It’s better than average but not quite sipping variety, sadly. See how it rates against other root beers.