Mar 142012

So more into my questing of small microbrewery root beers. I had heard about this one from another blog and wrote an email to them since they didn’t seem to have a way to buy it online. A fine chap by the name of Dennis wrote me back and said that they didn’t sell it online but if I called they’d be glad to send me some and “it is the very best.” I called and made the purchase. About a week later I get a rather large padded envelope on my door step containing the two bottles of Surf City Root Beer, a gift certificate for $5 of merchandise at Brewbakers Restaurant and Brewery (if I’m ever in Huntington Beach, CA I guess), a restaurant menu, a brewery menu (all the different beers you can custom make), and a box hop jump tea bags. Huh? What are hop jumps? It seems from the description that they are dried hops that you put into a draft beer to make it taste fuller. I don’t know, I’ve never drank beer. I gave them to the British guy I work with and he thought they were hilarious, though he hasn’t tried them yet. I honestly think they put them in there for padding between the two bottles. And who sends root beer in only a padded envelope? These guys are different for sure, but I suppose that’s how surfer dudes are. So how is it?

Wonderful Body! Raw honey and spices complimenting solid sassafras flavor. It is also creamy from the delicious vanilla. While it isn’t overly complex, it is perfectly proportioned. The spices give a solid Bite. The Head is very nice. It’s tall and frothy as a root beer Head should be. The Aftertaste is a delightful blend of spiced vanilla and honey with the vanilla the last flavor to fade. This is beauty in the form of root beer!

Good gravy! What a shock to my root beer world. After the first bottle I realized they weren’t kidding about it being the best. I needed to make sure. I brought out the bottle of So Duh!, Hank’s, and Iron Horse for the Ultimate Root Beer Showdown just to make sure I knew where the top brews stood. Then I had my second bottle of this stuff. Then another bottle of So Duh!. Well, it isn’t quite the very best, but there was no doubt in my mind that it is an Elixir of the Gods. See how it rates against other root beers.

Feb 102012

So as of the time of this writing, the top three rated root beers in my 13+ years of reviewing and running the site are: Iron Horse Root Beer, Hank’s Root Beer, So Duh! Rockin’ Root Beer. Hank’s was the first of those three that I tried. It was actually the 9th gourmet root beer I ever tried back in early 1998. The company was newly formed and when they heard I wanted to mail order some for my new website, they sent me a free case. Honestly, at the time I didn’t even have the website, but I was in the process of building it, and Hank’s was the impetus for getting it done and up. I loved it immensely. It was much better than Henry Wienhard’s in everything but the Head. I wanted to give it a 5, but I thought it was premature to give out a 5, plus it almost seemed like I was doing that because of the free sample, so I gave it a 4.5.

About a year and a half later I tried Iron Horse. I literally got weak in the knees on the first sip (I actually taste tested it standing). The Head was the first to overflow the glass. I loved it and determined it would be the first 5. I got a case for every birthday and Christmas after that, often coupled with a case of Hank’s. Drinking them side by side. I never had my doubts. Then I went on a mission and suffered a great root beer drought. They don’t sell root beer in Madagascar. After two years and a month, I finally returned. My parents had a case of Henry’s, Iron Horse, and Hank’s waiting for me, plus a case of a new variety to review. I didn’t touch the new variety for a month so I could become accustomed again to delicious root beer. I noticed something after about half a case of each, the Iron Horse didn’t seem to be as good. The other root beers seemed about the same, but the Iron Horse didn’t do it for me anymore. I got one more case for Christmas with a case of Hank’s and noticed the same thing. I didn’t go back and compare ingredients with my original bottle though and I didn’t think to review it again, and so I just stopped getting it. And I hadn’t had one since 2004. I kept having Hank’s every birthday and Christmas, but eventually my parents stopped that tradition as well and I hadn’t had one since about 2007.

Then a few months ago I tried So Duh! Rockin’ Root Beer. Wow, was I amazed. I wanted to give it a 5 but I didn’t know if it was better than my beloved Hank’s, but I couldn’t find any local, so I gave into my doubts and left it 4.5. A few months later and I found a store that sells both Hank’s and Iron Horse, so I figured it was time to have a show down. To settle the score, to set things straight, to determine what root beer really is the best I’ve had so far.

The showdown consisted of binary comparisons. Two frosty mugs, two bottles of different root beers, water and saltines to clean the pallet when switching between the two. I started at the bottom. So Duh! vs. Hank’s. After pouring I noticed that Hank’s has a good Head, So Duh! has an excellent Head. I sipped the Hank’s first. Sweet mother of root beer! I had forgotten how good that was. I mean it’s got it all. How root beer should taste. Sweet, rooty, creamy, spicy. Ah! Then So Duh! Mmm. Love that honey and those spices. Creamy elixir of deliciousness. But, as I kept drinking back and forth. So Duh! just couldn’t hold up. I mean. It is amazing, but, Hank’s is better on everything but the Head, but the Hank’s Head is plenty sufficient for the most adamant connoisseur. I guess my original review placement of So Duh! was correct.

Next round, Iron Horse vs. Hank’s. I poured the Iron Horse. What happened to that amazing Head from days of yore? It wasn’t bad, medium height, decent froth, but not even as good as Hank’s. The taste, sweet caramelized corn syrup with vanilla, herbs, and spices. Good amount of spices, but, nowhere near the same quality of the Hank’s, or even the So Duh! Still good. Still pleasurable. Still a Seal of Approval, but I’d say more of a low 4 and not the 5 I had originally given it. So then, the king has been DETHRONED! In a coup of coups, Hank’s is now the best and So Duh! is up to number two. So then that begs the question. Shouldn’t Hank’s be a 5, the heavenly Elixir of the Gods? I think so. I’ve tried a lot of root beers, and nothing’s topped it except that original Iron Horse. I think the novelty of a free sample has worn off as well. So Hank’s, you have been exalted! Now, So Duh!, (I really hate the exclamation point for making odd punctuation as I write by the way), my original gut feeling was to give you a 5, but I didn’t do it partially on grounds of fearing you not being better than Hank’s. Well, now Hank’s is a 5. I almost think So Duh! should barely squeak in as well, but the core flavor is still just a little too off. It’s a toss up. I really feel it could go either way, and every day and bottle of So Duh! I drink I seem to change my mind, it’s so down to the wire, and maybe that should tell me, that you really shouldn’t be a 5. So Duh! you remain the same! Iron Horse, what happened? I need to go back to my parents house, dig out the sealed wooden crate, find the original bottle I saved, and see if you changed recipes like Tommyknocker. You’re more like a low 4 now, so you have been abased! But let’s be honest, having a Seal of Approval is still top notch, just not the top of the top.

And before anyone calls blaspheme, or says I’m being inconsistent, my policy has always been that root beers can fall if they change their recipe, or I would reevaluate with the chance to rise at a bottlers request. Check the Wayback Machine if you don’t believe me. I don’t take lightly my top ten root beers, so rest assured that much soul searching and root beer drinking is behind this major decision. So there you have it. I think now that all is right in the root beer world.

First round: So Duh! vs. Hank's

Oct 142011

The first question that I had was why did they call it Old Fashioned root beer and not Olde Fashioned? I mean it is Olde Philadelphia. Perhaps old fashioned root beer isn’t old enough for the extra ‘e’. The second question I had was “why is the label almost pealing off?” and crooked for that matter. A crappy crooked label doesn’t help convince people you have a “gourmet soda.” But then again, this is from Philly, the home of Hank’s. Ever since Hank’s, I’ve had a soft spot for Philly. So perhaps this root beer from the same city got some of that awesomeness that Hank’s exudes.

It does have a nice full Body that is rich and creamy. It is also pretty sweet from all of the invert sugar. The Bite is a sharp on the tongue, mostly from carbonation but there are some spices in there too. It still goes down smooth. The Head is medium height and froth. It lasts long enough. The Aftertaste is sweet hints of vanilla that lasts just about the perfect amount of time. This is a solid brew that is very enjoyable.

It seems that this is at least the second and most recent iteration of root beer from the Olde Philadelphia Soda Co. Also a perusal of the web reveals that the previous iteration was not near as good as this one (though it had a much cleaner label). So pat yourselves on the back Olde Philly Soda Co. You did it right this time. See how it rates against other root beers.