Making some changes today. Meeting up with Dick has been more difficult than anticipated. Apparently he has had projects of his own he has been currently working on and the root beer sampling is “not of high priority.” Back to the drawing board for me I guess.
As you may have noticed, my Root Beer Throwdown series has slowed to nearly a halt. I can’t say anyone is to blame for this but myself, however, I had been attempting to a hold of Dick to get over here and do a sampling/review. Low and behold, I get an email this morning and a voicemail not too long ago: “Uh, hey, sorry I see you were trying to get a hold of me… I’ve been on sabbatical… Call me back…” So, go ahead and blame Dick. He said he’d be able to meet up “maybe tonight” or “tomorrow night for sure.” I’ll hold him to his word.
So, as I was getting all into root beer and whatnot, fellow SydLexia / Retrodrome / YouTuber UsaSatsui started talking about a beverage not available out here in MN (Moxie is strictly a New England thing, and apparently is the state soft drink of Maine.) “Satan’s Diarrhea” he called it, and even offered to send me some to sample. Being unsure of actually wanting to try “Satan’s Diarrhea,” I’ve decided to take a deeper look into the soft drink known as Moxie.
Moxie’s origins are in its use way back in the day as a patent medicine. It was purported to relieve “paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia. (Wikipedia)” Later on, its creator added soda water to create a fizzy, unique, possibly medicinal, beverage. Apparently, it must have tasted good as it earned the endorsements of President Calvin Coolidge and Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Even more surprising, according to the website, Moxie outsold Coca-Cola during the Roaring Twenties. Did I mention it is also the state soft drink of Maine? Surprising, especially for a beverage equated to Satan’s Diarrhea.
Okay, so now I have an idea of what it might taste like. Apparently, Moxie contains “Gentian Root Extractives,” which lend to its unique flavor. Hmmm, so an herbal/bitters flavor maybe? Satan’s Diarrhea? But former President Coolidge and Ted Williams drank it… So either they enjoyed eating shit, or had severely damaged taste buds, or maybe both. Either way, it can’t be that bad, can it?
Enough of this, its time to read some reviews. The Soda Jerks’ review of Moxie made it sound like a kick-ass root beer, until the aftertaste hit: “What was once good, would now be replaced with evil. The taste of pennies, dirt, and un-sweetened envelope glue now dance upon your tongue.” Quaffmaster over at Weird Soda Reviews notes flavors of “mint,” “tooth-polishing compound,” “bitter herbs,” and also points out a “strong chalky component.” Reviews over at Amazon (wtf they sell this on Amazon?) note its bitterness and strictly suggest that it is an “acquired taste.” One review said of Moxie “I imagine it’s what tar tastes like.”
All this information is boggling my mind! From all I’ve collected, Moxie generally can be said to taste like shit. Now, only one question remains: Do I have the balls to sample this ‘unique’ beverage nicknamed “Satan’s Diarrhea?” I’m not giving a solid answer on that one. Maybe, but I’ll have to build up a tolerance for shitty-tasting beverages first.
Since I’m on this whole root beer kick lately, here’s a very thorough tutorial on how to make your own not-from-extract from scratch root beer from YouTuber DybrnSoda.
Root beer has come a long way from its origins as a beverage. During Colonial times in America, Root beer was a light alcoholic beverage (about 2% abv) flavored with herbs, berries, bark, and yes, roots. Flavorings included sarsaparilla, vanilla, mint, licorice, sassafras, and hops. Farmers would brew the beverage for get-togethers and other social events, making it a traditional style beverage.
Later on in the 19th Century, root beer became better known for its medicinal properties and its claimed heath benefits. A pharmacist of unknown origin is said to have brewed up a batch and claimed it as a cure all. It was never very well received in this manner, and was eventually revived in a more traditional manner by another pharmacist.
Charles Hires was also a pharmacist, but unlike our unknown pharmacist, Hires sought to preserve the flavor of a tea whose flavor Hires enjoyed greatly. He whipped up his own concoction of several of the herbs in the original tea and created a concentrate. Just before the 20th Century, Hires became a popular root beer and quite possibly the first commercially available root beer.
As mentioned earlier, sassafras root has been used as a major flavoring in the root beer brew. In 1960 the FDA chose to ban the ingredient due to it containing safrole, a carcinogen. Safrole is also a major precursor to the drug MDMA, making more reason for the ban. Root beer wouldn’t taste the same for a while, or at least until safrole-free sassafras extract became available.
Today root beer is a sugary concoction far removed from its roots. Commercial root beers use artificial flavorings to mimic the rooty taste of the real thing. Some craft brews are available and use real herbs and roots, but nothing can compare to home-brewed (something I have not tried but should get into).
Well that’s it. A brief history of root beer. Thanks to essortment for being a great source of information for this article.
Root Beer Throwdown 2013
It has been a while since you’ve all heard anything from my lab, but recently ideas have been brewing and new articles should become more regular. I’m thinking about changing up a few things as well, prettying things up and making it all look nice. Hopefully it all goes well.
Anyways, on to the Main Event – the ever-so coveted Root Beer Throwdown 2013. For this event I have brought food and beverage expert and critic Dick Wrightley (don’t ever call him Richard) to taste test my selected root beers. Today’s match up will be a well-known favorite against a local favorite: A&W and Killebrew.
I chose to have Dick try out A&W first. This root beer claims to be made with “Aged Vanilla” and is known for its “rich, smooth taste.” According to the website, it is the #1 root beer “in all measurable channels.” Wrightley said of the claim “Statistics such as these, are made by the companies themselves for marketing purposes and are mostly horseshit.”
I cracked open the A&W and poured it into my finest pint mason jar. Dick was nearby to analyze every aspect of the root beer from its color to the scent. He meticulously took notes as I stood back to observe. After several moments of not even touching the beverage, he sniffed it and gave a sip. Dick held a straight face, not even allowing me to know his judgment before I read it.
“A&W had the standard dark root beer color. The head was fine and frothy, and dissipated quickly after pouring. A&W uses Quillaia extract as a foaming agent to achieve this. Whether or not this is cheating, I cannot say. It does, however, leave me burping up foam, which is unpleasant.
The scent was light on the vanilla and had the typical root scents of sassafras and sarsaparilla. The flavor was rich and creamy but light on the root flavors, which disappointed me greatly. Any flavor of vanilla was quickly overtaken by the sugary sweetness of the beverage. A slightly syrupy, frothy mouthfeel distinguishes this one. Overall, a mediocre drink, perhaps best suited to the construction of root beer floats. Dick’s Rating 6/10 – Just slightly better than average, but not good enough to earn the extra half-point.”
I reached for the glass to have myself a sip, but Dick quickly slapped away my hand and scolded me “I’m not finished with my review!” Spoken by a man who takes this activity as a true art. Less than a quarter of the bottle remained for me to sample. I couldn’t even give a review after reading Dick’s commentary. I do remember it being quite sugary sweet, and I didn’t remember anything notable other than that.
Being from Minnesota, I had to choose a local favorite: Killebrew root beer, the root beer with the “Hall of Fame” taste, named after Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. It is characterized by its “pure spring water” and by being flavored with “real Minnesota honey.” It is only available in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Whether or not this brew has a “Killer” taste will be up to Dick.
I poured the Killebrew into the glass, same as before. Dick took his time with this one, and for some reason I thought maybe he might look upon this brew more favorably. I would see soon enough when he handed me his official review.
“Killebrew was dark in color, standard for root beer. Aromas of sarsaparilla or sassafras arise from this one; the aroma is notably stronger than A&W. The ‘Real MN honey’ offers pleasant floral aromas. The head on this one was non-apparent, almost non-existent, and it had very little carbonation. The flavor was that of root beer, very herbal, with the honey being a major component of the sweetness. The herbal flavor hit calmly and did not overpower. I even noticed a possible hint of cinnamon in the mix. Mouthfeel was crisp and clean, but almost slightly too sweet, which left a slightly sticky after-feel. The lack of carbonation is disappointing, but overall, a good brew.
Dick’s Rating 7.5/10 – Good overall flavor, but the lack of carbonation brings it down a half point from my original 8.”
After he was good and finished, I took my turn. The Killebrew tasted more like an authentic root beer to me, with rooty and herbal flavors. The lack of carbonation was odd, and I believe corn syrup is used in addition to the honey as a sweetener, which adds to the sweetness quite a bit. I thought it was better than A&W due to its more authentic flavor.
There you have it, Killebrew beats out A&W by a point and a half. Next time, Dick and I will compare two more root beers in hopes of finding one that will satisfy his palette. The search is on until next time.