Feb 192014
 

Tommyknocker Root Beer Bottle My first car was a little Ford Ranger without AC. This matters because when I moved from Eastern WA to Provo, UT for school in late August some years ago, driving in that heat for 12 hours presented a bit of a problem. My solution was to drive at night. So I left at 8 pm and arrived at 8 am. Along the way, I stopped for gas in Baker City Oregon and, as I am wont to do, I checked for any new root beers. I found Tommyknocker and bought some bottles to review at my destination. I absolutely loved it. I went back to visit my parents for Christmas and made sure to stop at the same gas station and got more. They thought it was amazing too. This was once the 3rd highest rated root beer for me. Then one day, I found it in a store in Provo. I bought a six pack and happily told a friend and we each had a bottle. She didn’t think it was that good, and I thought it was off a bit as well. I checked the label. They’d changed it! They took away all of the premium ingredients and replaced them with artificial and generic ones. I was crushed, but dutifully got to reviewing it again.

The Body is mapley, but kind of empty and not overly sweet. I do love that maple flavor though. There is not really much Bite at all, and, though I do like it smooth I like a little more. The Head is frothy but nothing too spectacular. I would class it as Ok. The Aftertaste is of maple but it doesn’t linger.

This brew gives a good first impression but falls short afterwards. Compared to it’s original hearty, sticky, super mapely former self, this was simply an empty shell. What a disappointment. I angrily emailed the company to castigate them for their foolishness. They replied that their recipe hadn’t changed at all. I retorted that I’d saved bottles from both reviews and the original, good one, not only had different ingredients listed but different nutritional values. They ceased their correspondence. Losers. Ruin a near perfect brew and try to lie about it. Oh well. When taken on it’s own the new one isn’t actually bad, just nowhere near it’s former glory. See how it rates against other root beers.

Three and a half kegs




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 122011
 

So Duh! Rockin' Root Beer BottleA lovely pun though I didn’t get it myself until I was telling my sister about it over the phone. What struck me about this was just how unimpressive the bottle and label look. I mean, a Valley Girl on a root beer bottle? I suppose it is more original than a dog. Even before I looked up the company, I just knew it was from California. So with low expectations and quotes from the movie “Clueless” going through my head, I cracked this one open to give it a try.

When I poured it into the mug and the Head built I said to myself, “Ah, now that’s a proper root beer head.” It is tall and frothy. It lazily built to the top of my 20 ounce mug and just sat there enjoying its freedom from the bottle. On the first drink I was delighted with the Body, the fairy tale marriage of cane sugar and honey, and it didn’t stop there. The sassafras and other root beer flavors were creamily mixed with natural vanilla. It could use a little more sassafras though. The Bite is fantastic too with spices aplenty in the right proportions and a little prickly from the carbonation while still keeping it smooth going down. The Aftertaste is sweet honey with vanilla and spices coming out as it drifts away leaving the tongue begging for more.

The final keg assignment was a tough call. I really like this. I think it is one of the best sodas I have ever drank. I drank a bottle of Henry’s and a bottle of Bulldog in between bottles 1 and 2 to make sure I really liked this one as much as I did. Giving it a 5 was something I wanted to do even though it has a light bodied sassafras flavor instead of a full. I see this as a delicious honey root beer (my favorite type), much like the original Tommyknocker was an amazing maple root beer.  But ultimately, I felt I just couldn’t do it. See how it rates against other root beers.