Bundaberg Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 14

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Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Root Beer Brew (Water, Sugar, Molasses, Ginger Root, Sarsaparilla Root, Licorice Root, Vanilla Bean, Yeast), Caramel Color, Citric Acid, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate), Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid), Root Beer Flavor.

“Traditionally brewed to a geniuine old recipe from real sarsaparilla root, licorice root, vanilla beans and molasses, Bundaberg Root Beer is an authentic taste of yesteryear.”

I was curious about this, as it is about the only Root Beer I know of which does not come from North America. Surprised to find that they may enjoy it in Australia. I also do like Bundaberg’s Ginger Beer.

The licorice root is much more dominant here than in other Root Beers, reminding me of some of the flavors in licorice candies, though without anise to really punch it through. Like me, you’ll probably wonder what that flavor is for a second, and realize that it is licorice without anise.

The flavors, however, are not well integrated and the overall character medicinal.

I guess that is appropriate for a beverage that was initially intended so, but it’s not really all that enjoyable recreationally.

I do kind of wonder what the “Root Beer Brew” tastes like on its own, without the “Root Beer Flavor”.

2 Out of 5 Barrels.

Birch Beer/Birch Bark

Regarding Birch Beer, I’ve been just a tad confused.

Apparently, Birch sap is similar to Maple sap and a syrup can be made from it which can be fermented and turned into beer, wine, or spirits. However, the sugar levels in Birch Sap are much lower than that of Maple, so the yield is less per gallon.

So, I was initially confused as regards whether Birch Sap or Birch Bark/Extract was used in Birch or Root Beer.

I think the most important quote below is, “Birch Tar oil is almost identical with Wintergreen oil.” As Wintergreen is often considered a substitute for Sassafras in Root Beer, thus Birch Bark or Birch Bark Extract could also be.

In conclusion, while it is possible that Birch Sap has been used to make beer in the US, it is much more likely that Root Beer calls for Birch Bark or Birch Bark Extract.

EDIT: Final Twist!

It appears Birch Beer/Birch Beer Extract is made from the bark/branches of the American Birch species, Black Birch (Cherry Birch,Sweet Birch), Betula lenta, not the European species White Birch, Betula alba, or Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera. The small twigs of Black Birch are known for their Wintergreen flavor, while Betula alba is more camphorous. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Black Birch Bark is available from any online suppliers I can find.

As noted below, Wintergreen Oil and Sweet Birch Oil are essentially identical chemically, so if you’re using one, you probably don’t need to use the other in your Root Beer, especially since it seems to be pretty impossible to find sweet birch bark available commercially. If you’ve got a Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) in your backyard, give making it from scratch a try and let me know how it works out.

Sweet Birch

From a Modern Herbal, Circa 1931, Mrs. M. Grieve,

White Birch

Birch Beer:

“When the stem of the tree is wounded, a saccharine juice flows out which is susceptible, with yeast, of vinous fermentation. A beer, wine, spirit and vinegar are prepared from it in some parts of Europe. Birch Wine, concocted from this thin, sugary sap of the tree, collected from incisions made in the trees in March, honey, cloves and lemon peel being added and then the whole fermented with yeast, makes a very pleasant cordial, formerly much appreciated. From 16 to 18 gallons of sap may be drawn from one large tree, and a moderate tapping does no harm.”

Birch Bark, Contituents:

“Birch bark only contains about 3 per cent. of tannic acid, but is extensively used for tanning, wherever there are large birch forests, throughout Northern Europe. As it gives a pale colour to the skin, it is used for the preliminary and the final stages of tanning. It contains betulin and betuls camphor.

“The leaves contain betulorentic acid.

“By destructive distillation, the white epidermis of the bark yields an empyreumatic oil, known variously in commerce as oil of Birch Tar, Oleum Rusci, Oleum Betulinum or Dagget. This is a thick, bituminous, brownish-black liquid, with a pungent, balsamic odour. It contains a high percentage of methylsalicylate, and also creosol and guaiacol. The Rectified Oil (Oleum Rusci Rectificatum) is sometimes substituted for oil of Cade.

“Birch Tar oil is almost identical with Wintergreen oil. It is not completely soluble in 95 per cent. acetic acid, nor in aniline, but Turpentine oil dissolves it completely.

Western Medicinal Use:

“Various parts of the tree have been applied to medicinal uses. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance having acid properties, which, combined with alkalies, is said to be a tonic laxative. The leaves have a peculiar, aromatic, agreeable odour and a bitter taste, and have been employed in the form of infusion (Birch Tea) in gout, rheumatism and dropsy, and recommended as a reliable solvent of stone in the kidneys. With the bark they resolve and resist putrefaction. A decoction of them is good for bathing skin eruptions, and is serviceable in dropsy.

“The oil is astringent, and is mainly employed for its curative effects in skin affections, especially eczema, but is also used for some Internal maladies.

“The inner bark is bitter and astringent, and has been used in intermittent fevers.

“The vernal sap is diuretic.

“Moxa is made from the yellow, fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out from the fissures.”


Birch History in North America
:

“White birch bark was a traditional treatment used by Native Americans in tea and other beverages to treat stomach and intestinal problems that included diarrhea and dysentery.”

“White birch bark contains aspirin-like compounds and should not be used by anyone sensitive to aspirin.”

Virgil’s Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 13

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Contains: Purified, Carbonated Water, unbleached cane sugar, herbs, spices, and citric acid.

“Virgil’s is a superb blend of Spices & Herbs gathered from the world over; Anise, Licorice, Vanilla (Bourbon), Cinnamon, Clove, Wintergreen, Sweet Birch, Molasses, Nutmeg, Pimento Berry Oil and Oil of Cassia.”

A great ingredient list makes me really want to like Virgil’s Root Beer, but for some reason I don’t.

There’s nothing wrong with it, and it is plenty tasty, but there’s just something about it I can’t quite put my finger on that keeps it from being a great Root Beer.

3 1/2 out of 5 Barrels, for me. It might be a 5 Barrel Root Beer for you.

Wade’s Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 12

Wade's Root Beer

Wade’s Root Beer.

INGRDIENTS: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Natural Flavors, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate, Phosphoric Acid.

The interesting thing about this Root Beer is a strong Caramel-like flavor in the finish. I am not sure if this means Wade’s are using natural caramel color from burned sugar (tastes like it), or if it is one or more of the Herbs/Roots.

“In our Root Beer we use only pure cane sugar and no artificial sweeteners or corn syrup. You’ll taste sassafras (the root in root beer), vanilla, anise, and wintergreen. Customers enjoy our recipe because it is distinctive yet has the familiar taste of root beer they know and love from childhood.”

In any case, this is my favorite “modern” Root Beer so far, and also seems to be the least sweet (no coincidence there!)

Interesting herbs and spices up front and then that crazy Caramel/butterscotch finish.

Just what I want out of a “craft” Root Beer. 5 out of 5 Barrels.

Salt Fish and Ackee

Salt Fish and Ackee with Bakes.

Miss Ollie’s is just about my favorite restaurant right now, and this version of Salt Fish & Ackee with “Bakes” is my favorite dish I’ve had there to date. We were mopping the plate with our Bakes (basically fried biscuits) and defending it furiously from the servers’ attempts to take it away. Mmmm…

Natural Brew Draft Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 11

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Ingredients: Sparkling Filtered Water, Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Flavors, Bourbon Vanilla Extract, Anise, Sarsaparilla, Licorice Root, Birch Oil, Wintergreen Oil, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid.

Really reminds me of the Root Beer I grew up drinking, mostly A&W.

Smooth, but I’d like more complexity and body.

3 1/2 Barrels out of 5.

Caamano Bros High Noon Sarsaparilla

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 10

Caamano Brothers Sarsaparilla

Caamano Brothers Sarsaparilla

Ingredients: Purified Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Organic and Natural Flavorings, Caramel Color, Organic Acacia Gum, Citric Acid.

From their website: Caamaño Bros. Soda Pop Co.

“Our sarsaparilla is made the old-fashioned way, with 100% natural traditional ingredients. Many of these ingredients are now hard to find, and almost everyone else uses artificial replacements. We worked long and hard to find sources for de-safrolized sassafrass, imported Jamaican sarsaparilla root, and our other quality ingredients, so that we could deliver you an old-fashioned honest taste that’s been hard to find anywhere for over 50 years.”

Initial flavors remind me more of a Cola than a Root Beer, with a semi-sour flavor. Maybe too much citric acid?

Late flavors include vanilla and wintergreen, but are fairly subtle.

“Bottled under the authority of: Caamano Bros. Soda Pop Co. by: Seven-Up Bottling Company, Modesto, CA”

Who are these Brothers?

“In a few short months, a sidewalk homemade soda pop stand has grown to include farmer’s market booths, distribution in local restaurants, sales throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and now distribution in many other Western States

“The Caamaño brothers, Sebastián and Alejandro, began this business early in 2010 at the ages of 13 and 12 when they witnessed their parents creating their own mineral water and asked them if they could do the same with soda pop. Their father Christopher, a gourmet chef, enthusiastically embraced the idea and thus Caamaño Bros. Soda Pop Co. was born.”

At 15, I was mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, and selling soft-drinks at Badger Football games to make my comic book money. Wow, and these kids have already launched a small business.

Just awesome, that is one very expensive lemonade stand, Mom and Dad.

I like the attitude, but the unusual Cola-like flavor puts this down to 3 out of 5 Barrels for me.

Cotogna’s Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 8

I posted a query to one of the social networking sites, asking if any of my friends or acquaintances knew of any local restaurants which were making their own Root Beer.

Jacqueline Lounsbury suggested I stop by and try the Root Beer Kenny Dill has been making at Cotogna Restaurant.

Cotogna's Root Beer.

Cotogna’s Root Beer.

This is my second “from scratch” Root Beer, so it wasn’t quite the shock that Ice Cream Bar provided.

Kenny has been making this for a few months, he started primarily to expand the non-alcoholic choices at the bar.

He buys ingredients, Sassafras and a few spices, at a local herb store. He boils the herbs and spices into a tea, filters, and then adds enough sugar for a 1-1 syrup. Serving is as simple as pouring the syrup over ice, adding chilled soda, and stirring.

I have to admit, I am still kind of wrapping my head around the flavors of fresh Root Beer made with real Sassafras, it’s pretty different from even the most unusual of the commercial versions.

With Kenny’s, however, I think I am starting to get the appeal.

A solid 4 out of 5 Freshly Brewed Barrels.

What is Root Beer?

First let’s tackle the roots of modern, commercial root beer.

I’m still investigating its historic ancestors.

Modern, commericial root beer began with Charles E. Hires.

He was a pharmacist who lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.

He started selling a flavored mix around 1870. He initially called it Hires Herb Tea, but soon changed the name to Hires Root Beer. It was a dry powder which came with instructions to mix it with water, and sugar, to produce a carbonated beverage. Soon after, he switched the product to a liquid concentrate instead of a powder.

He made a big splash with his beverage at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, as a temperance alternative to more alcoholic beers.

Around 1890, he started selling a bottled, carbonated, pre-made version, and the rest, as they say, is history. Even with some Root Beer competition from A&W in California and Barq’s in Louisiana, Hires Root Beer became one of the biggest selling soft drinks in the United States for most of the 20th Century. It remained the king of soft drinks, until Coca-Cola unseated it with its marketing push in the 60s and 70s.

Here’s a lovely pamphlet from around 1892 made available in its entirety thanks to the University of Iowa: Hires Root Beer

Hires Root Beer

Hires Root Beer

And here’s a list of some of the ingredients Charles Hires claims were in his root beer circa 1920:

Birch Bark – United States, New England
Chirreta – India
Dog Grass – Germany
Ginger – Africa
Ginger – China
Ginger – Jamaica
Hires special plant
Hops – United States, Northwest
Juniper Berries – Italy
Licorice – Spain
Licorice – Russia
Sarsaparilla – Honduras
Sugar – Cuba
Vanilla – Mexico
Wintergreen – United States, North Carolina
Yerba Mate, Brazil

Funny, Yerba Mate! And Hops!

Most people assume that the “Hires Special Plant” in this list was Sassafras.

Dog-Grass may be Couch-Grass, (Agropyrum repens), whose, “roots have a sweet taste, somewhat resembling liquorice,” and were used medicinally.

Chiretta (Swertia chirata) appears to be a Gentian-like plant which is, “used a great deal in India as it has two valuable bitter tonic principles.”

The next big change in Root Beer came in the 1960 when it was determined that the safrole in Sassafras could be linked to cancer in rats. Sassafras was banned from food products and all commercial root beers had to be reformulated with a different balance of flavors. Primarily, Wintergreen came much more to the fore in modern Root Beer.

As an afterward, Hires Root Beer ended up in the hands of the people at the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Unfortunately, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group already had a Root Beer, A&W, and have gradually phased Hires out in most markets. It seems, they mostly bought it for the name. It is now very difficult to find Hires Root Beer, except by special order from some Internet marketers and (apparently) those olde tyme, fun loving people at Walmart.

Maine Root Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 7

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Handcrafted Ingredients: Carbonated Pure Water, Fair Trade Certified organic cane syrup, and spices.

From the Maine Root Website:

“Handcrafted soda made with Fair Trade Certified organic evaporated cane juice. Open a bottle and taste the flavor of extracts of wintergreen, clove and anise. Our recipe combines these ingredients with FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED ORGANIC SUGAR to allow the flavor of each of these extracts to come through. This is the one that started it all. Pop a top off and see why. CAFFEINE FREE”

Another very good, but not very complex Root Beer. Flavors are well integrated and it is quite drinkable. Again, doesn’t quite have the complexity to qualify as a 5 Barrel Root Beer.

4 out of 5 Barrels.

Abita Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 6

Abita Root Beer

Abita Root Beer

INGREDIENTS: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Caramel Coloring, Root Beer Flavoring, Phosphoric Acid.

Located Abita Root Beer at Hard Water, here in San Francisco.

However, “Root Beer Flavoring”?

The Abita website is a bit more forthcoming:

“Abita Root Beer is made with a hot mix process using spring water, herbs, vanilla and yucca (which creates foam). Unlike most soft drink manufacturers, Abita sweetens its root beer with pure Louisiana cane sugar.”

It’s a solid effort, with the flavors well integrated, but lacks the complexity of a true 5 barrel Root Beer.

4 out of 5 Barrels.

PS. I’ve heard a rumor that Abita might be making batch of Bourbon Barrel aged Root Beer special for Hard Water. Uh, yum! Now that is something to look forward to!