Here is a root beer that's hard to track down on the web (as far as an official site), but luckily a lot of the info we want is printed on the bottle itself. Empire Bottling Works is based in Bristol, RI and has been in operation since 1930. There is a phone number on the bottle if anyone is interested in calling them. Just click on the picture to enlarge it if you can't quite make it out. We are back to a lot of the sodas that use real cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and Empire is one of them. I don't know much else about the company, but let's face it, you (my loyal readers) could probably care less about the company. So let's just get down to brass tacks.
I got off on the wrong foot with this one and was already expecting it to be garbage. For starters, i hate the bottle. It's a 12 oz. bottle that has an irregular shape. It kinda reminds me of the old milk bottles from back in the day when they left them on your door step (remember that kids? *sigh* boy, memories...). The label is very retro with a 40s or 50s look to it. You'll have to click on the picture to enlarge it to get a better look at what i am talking about, but this bottle is filthy too. It's covered in some goopy guk stuff on the left side of the picture like it had scotch tape on it that melted in the sun and then was peeled off and left the residue. Also, the label is scuffed and ripped up, which i don't like. But guess what. This is the best/cleanest bottle i could find. For realsies. They all seemed like they were covered in this crap, and most of the labels on the bottles i saw got the worse end of the deal that this one got. Now i suppose we could crack it up to having one of the bottles break and spill over all the others or something, but i went to a different section and found a different bottle of Empire, and the bottle was a different shape (still 12 oz.) and it was still covered in goop with a jacked up label. Come on Empire, get with it. It makes me think they just salvage any bottles they can, regardless of uniformity, and fill them with root beer without washing them.
When i opened it up, it had a nice smell of wintergreen, so i was hoping it might redeem itself for what it lacked in looks with taste. It has a decent wintergreen flavor to start with (which i like), some regular old root beer flavor, and it almost tastes like bubble gum in the after taste. But the taste doesn't last long and it leaves kind of a taste of aspartame i your mouth that's rather unpleasant. My wife said it reminded her of a diet soda, which i have read on other reviews for this root beer. There is also little carbonation in it. It's not flat, but i would have liked it to be more carbonated. Unfortunately, it didn't win me over.
My official review is that Empire gets 3 (three) IBCs. Not the best showing in a root beer. The taste itself isn't half bad, but it's not very memorable or outstanding. They lost me big time on the bottle though. I seriously think they fished it out of the trash and just filled it with root beer. But hey, i bet it cuts down on cost. Sorry Empire, but i am recommending my readers to go ahead and skip you.
Addendum: 7/23/2010 - So, nothing to do with root beer really, but one of the things my trip to California recently rewarded me with was a chance to visit a Rocket Fizz store and meet the owner, a swell guy. I bought a few root beers and my wife got some old timey candy, and he actually gave me a bottle of Empire Bottling Works Spruce Beer free of charge. It is a clear soda (think Sprite or 7-Up), but he said he hadn't tried it and wanted to know what i thought of it. So i cracked the thing open and... WOW! That stuff is powerful strong, not in a good way. Seriously, it tastes like Vick's Vaporub. I would say if you can find it just get one for the experience. You only need to do it once though. I doubt you'll go back for seconds.