Friday, May 29, 2009

Steaz Organic Sparkling Green Tea Root Beer

Well, this will round out the natural/organic root beer run i made at Whole Foods, and this has to be by far the weirdest one i've encountered. Steaz is a brand or organic beverages from the Healthy Beverage Company of Newton, PA. They make a variety of different drinks in several flavors, all of which contain green tea. I don't know how long they've been around, but thanks to a little research on this site, i do know that the company was started by a couple guys named Eric Schnell and Steve Kessler. These two guys decided to name their drink "Steaz" because they combine "sodas" with "teas". They use a z because they think it looks stylish. I'll give you credit for being somewhat clever, though i don't think you exerted yourselves all that much. However, the name Steaz makes me think of "skeez", as in, "that guy is a total skeez", and that makes me think these guys are kinda shady. Another reason i think that is because they rave excessively about how much good in the world they are doing. I mean, these guys love to blow their own horn about how they donate to causes that benefit Sri Lanka, the Sudan, cancer survivors, paying fair wages to farmers, and reducing the carbon foot print. Sure, you can say they are all noble causes, and i am not disputing that. I am just saying that those who yell the loudest usually have something to hide. Could it be that what they really do all day is sit around in a shack smoking opium and listening to trance music? That seems more likely. You may be asking yourself, "what would ever give you that idea Cosmo?" Just take a look at their website. Seriously, i feel like i'm trapped in a bad Enigma video, or like i'm the first one to arrive at a cult recruitment meeting wondering where everyone else is and why my head suddenly is starting to feel funny.

The 12 oz. clear glass bottles of their "root beer" have a fairly basic, yet high end look to them. There is the brand logo itself printed above a row of overflowing root beer mugs. Although there is a lot of text involved just in writing the name, it doesn't look too busy and isn't off putting. So like i said, it's pretty basic, but it also looks quite professional. Apparently this stuff is pretty popular because they make enough money to sponser a fairly high end website, some decent marketing and packaging, and lots of cash to throw at charities.

As mentioned before, all the drinks made by Steaz contain green tea. That being the case, i don't think they should really call this stuff soda, or even root beer. It's tea. It looks like tea, it tastes like tea, and it even calls itself tea. Does it taste like root beer? Vaguely. And maybe the joke is on me and i just misunderstood, but this stuff isn't root beer. It's tea. Like Santa Cruz Organic, this stuff is also sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice. It also claims to be far better for you than soda. That's because it's parading as something it is not. Tea combined with soda? It's not soda. Not at all. Or maybe i was just confused when i bought it. I was expecting a tea infused soda. But what i got was a "root beer" flavored tea. And on that matter, let me just say that people have combined tea with other flavors to create raspberry tea, cinnimon tea, and even peppermint tea, which are all acceptable. But i have a suggestion for the tea industry in general; don't combine your tea with root beer. Just don't do it.

My official review is that Steaz Green Tea Root Beer gets 2 (two) IBCs. It's not that this stuff is terrible tasting. It's that it's not a root beer. And i don't particualy like tea, so that already counts me out. There is also a note on the bottle about natual settling that may occur for this drink. I found as i drank down to the bottom of the bottle, it becomes more and more tea flavored. Also, the colder it is, the better tasting it is (if any of you are still interested). They claim it's good for you, but i won't be buying it again, and i suggest you get yourself a real root beer also.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Santa Cruz Organic Root Beer

You must be getting tired of these natural root beers, but i only have a couple more to review. This one is called Santa Cruz Organic Root Beer. Santa Cruz Natural is a company dedicated to making several products, from fruit juices to peanut butter, using organic sources. The company is based in Chico, CA and has been around since the early 1970s. In addition to making products from all natural sources, Santa Cruz Organic is a big proponent of the green movement. I think up until now i have made myself fairly clear about my stance on hippies, but i rarely (if ever) mention anything about the green movement, which was started primarily by hippies (or more-so, the children of hippies). This might offend people, but i think we can all agree my influence in the root beer circles excuses my opinions that some may find offensive. Anyway, let's start this with a question. "Hey Cosmo, how do you feel about the green movement?" Well, i'll tell you. The green movement is a marketing scheme. The word "green" to me is synonymous with "expensive". Have you noticed that "green" products are usually more expensive than their "non-green" competitive counterparts? I thought going green was supposed to save money. Why does saving the Earth have to be so expensive? Seriously? And why has EVERYTHING turned green in the past three to five years? Because it's a marketing scheme, that's why. They guilt you into saving the planet by buying more expensive "green" products. I'm sick of green products. Now before you work yourself into a tizzy, let me make myself clear; I'm not saying you should go out and club a baby seal and pour oil all over it's dead body. I'm just saying get off my back if once in a while i like to unwind by dumping toxic waste on a pile of kittens. Hey, it's my prerogative. I'm an American!

Anyway, sorry about that. Let's talk about root beer some more. The can it came in has a very basic design. The color scheme is composed of green and white for all the soda flavors, and there is a picture of the plant of flavor of the soda somewhere on the can. The root beer has a picture of a couple old barrels of root beer made from real organic wood sources, or at least they should be or Santa Cruz is a dirty liar. The rest of the can is covered in text, mostly about being organic and natural and all of that. It's basic and simple, and i am impartial to it. It doesn't jump out at me and i am not repulsed by it. Not much else to say about it really.

My only other experience with a self proclaimed "organic" root beer ended very badly, so i was expecting the worst when i popped the top on this sucker. I was relieved to find that it's not as terrible as i was led to believe all organic root beers are, but it's still very typical tasting of a natural root beer. It has light carbonation and is sweetened with something called "organic evaporated cane juice", which actually has it's own website. The root beer taste is really quite subtle, and the after taste is basically non-existent. It almost reminds me of Olde Rhode Island Root Beer, in that the taste disappears after drinking it so quickly. Plus, it has a taste that reminds me of herbal tea. Basically all i end up really tasting in the end is the sugar and herbal tea taste. And the big kicker is that the root beer itself is actually clear. Yup, it's like the Crystal Pepsi of root beer.

My official review is that Santa Cruz Organic Root Beer gets 3 (three) IBCs. Like i said, i am leaning more toward putting it in the same category as Olde Rhode Island, but being a natural/organic soda, i'm coming down on it a little harder than i did with ORI. It doesn't taste bad, but it's completely unimpressive. Plus, it's affiliation with the green movement isn't helping it's reputation any...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dr. Tima Honey Root Beer

I don't know how many people will be familiar with this stuff, but here is another root beer i picked up at Whole Foods. Dr. Tima Honey Soda comes in four flavors, including root beer. The company operates out of Beverly Hills, CA and has been around since 1973. Apparently this soda doesn't have a full operational website yet, but this "starter site" has been provided to get the very basics out of the way. I keep wanting to call it Dr. Tima's, but all the research i do on the label and the internet suggests the 's is not proper, at least in formal settings. Really, there's quite little about Dr. Tima himself. The source of all knowledge has no personal information about the man (or woman, let's not be biased here) and really the only solid info i can get from the label leaves me with countless more questions. Who is Dr. Tima? What is his field of medicine? How long has he been practicing? Should i just take it at face value and not assume Dr. Tima is an actual person/medical doctor, not unlike Dr. Pepper? Here is the info that forms my very compelling thesis:
1) Dr. Tima speaks to those who drink his soda in first person, suggesting that he is indeed a real person. And i think he might be Jewish since this stuff is Kosher.
2) Dr. Tima explicitly states that he has been "prescribing" all natural honey soda since 1973. The use of the word prescribing leads me to believe that he is a practicing medical doctor, but i can't for the life of me think of a doctor that would prescribe an all natural honey soda for any affliction, let alone a blanket sweep of every affliction as the statement suggests.
3) Really the only field of medicine i can settle a reasonable guess on would be nutrition. However, if Dr. Tima is a Nutritionist, he's not a very good one because he states clear as day on his label that you should drink all natural honey soda everyday. Now... i'm all for having a cold bottle of great root beer everyday, but i never claim that it's good for you (unless it's IBC). This all natural soda sweetened with honey instead of processed sugar may be better for you than normal soda, but i wouldn't go as far as to say it's fortified with essential vitamins and minerals or anything.
So my profile so far depicts Dr. Tima as a Jewish Nutritional Doctor living in Beverly Hills, CA and absolutely crazy about honey. I mean, this guy is in love with it. Anyway, i know this is getting long, but i feel it's important to know what we're dealing with here.

The soda comes in a typical 12 oz. clear glass bottle. The background of the label is a honeycomb pattern and there are several references to bees; a small picture of a bee, the tagline "A Bee in Every Bottle" below the brand name, and my personal favorite, the extremely cheesy promo statement with the line, "it's healthy and bee-licious!" It's kind of a busy label. There is a lot going on, but i'll give the good doctor some credit in that it's pretty fresh and professional looking. Looks like Dr. Tima's Jewish clientele can help him afford some decent advertising digs.

Since it's an all natural soda, it has no artificial flavors or colors. It uses all natural ingredients. Most of the time, that tells me that the soda is gonna be gross. But this stuff isn't too bad. Instead of cane sugar or processed sugar, the soda is sweetened with honey. I knew a lady who used to make cookies and ice cream and everything sweet using honey instead of sugar. It gave it a different taste, but it wasn't necessarily bad. But, as expected, everything had the hint of honey in it, which is the case with this root beer. However, the root beer itself has a somewhat complex taste to it. There is a nice creamy, smooth vanilla taste to start with, followed by some basic root beer flavoring, and followed up with honey. And even though i don't love honey, it's not terrible.

My official review is that Dr. Tima Honey Root Beer gets 6 (six) IBCs. I don't love it, but i think it deserves a little more than a middle of the road score. I will say this though, this is a sipping root beer. It's not a chugging root beer, because with volume, the honey taste comes out exponentially until it just tastes like drinking straight honey. So just slow it down and enjoy it, that is, if you choose to shell out the $5+ for a four-pack. It ain't cheap, which i supposed is understandable. I mean, come on. ... the guy's a doctor.

**side note** i actually went and visited the Pop Shop today to look for new root beers and i saw they had a shipment of Dr. Tima in. So if you'd like to try it, i think this is your best option since you can buy individual bottles. You're welcome.

Death Valley Root Beer

The name of this root beer is initially pretty awesome, but further investigation shows that it's more based on geography that being hardcore. Anyway, Death Valley Root Beer is brewed by Indian Wells Brewing Co., which is primarily focused on brewing beers. There are however 4 flavors of soda under the Death Valley brand, root beer being one of them. Death Valley is of course part of the high desert of California near the Nevada border. The brewery however is not located in the township of Death Valley, but closer to the Bakersfield area in Inyokern, CA. Not sure how much of a draw the Death Valley region of California is, but for a name like that i expect the roads to be lined with skulls. Otherwise, you're just wasting my time.

It's clear from the label that they are going for the old west theme. I assume the old west era is intrinsically tied to Death Valley, seeing as if someone were to name that part of California these days, it would be something like Make Sure You're Hydrated Valley, which is kind of disappointing. I mean, i don't want to die if i were to go to Death Valley, but i at least want to be in danger of dying. Anyway, back to the root beer. It comes in a clear 12 oz. glass bottle and the label is made to look like a wanted sign from the old west, like this root beer is an outlaw and you're just the vigilante to track it down, rip it's top off, and drink it's insides (a traditional old western execution, i assure you). There is a picture of a stage coach being pulled by horses, not unlike the Wells Fargo logo. The rest of the label is just filled with the typical information root beers list on their labels, including a notice that there is a cash refund in California for recycling the bottle (for you thrifty hippies out there).

But getting down to brass tacks, it's really just a kinda regular old root beer. It has a fairly prominent black licorice flavor, very little carbonation (boo), and it's made with cane sugar. Other than that, it's kind of a regular old run of the mill root beer. Tastes like root beer extract with a little extra on the anise. It's by no means terrible, but has a long way to go if it wants to compete in the big leagues.

My official review is that Death Valley gets 4 (four) IBCs. I was turned off by the black licorice flavor and lack of carbonation. Otherwise i might have given it a 5. Again, if black licorice is your thing, then i say go for it. It's not overpowering or anything, but it's enough to notice and that's what counts. And for those of you who listen to my every word and whim, don't bother with this stuff. It's faily expensive to boot at about $5 for a four-pack, and you're just going to be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blue Sky Root Beer Encore

So i just reviewed a Blue Sky root beer, and i am sure some of you are confused. Let me just do a blanket sweep of the formalities and say that Blue Sky Sodas is a Santa Fe, NM based company that started in 1980 and recently moved operations to Southern California. They specialize in making "all natural" sodas. Nothing you didn't already know, right? Well this might be a little different than what you're used to (it certainly was for me). In addition to making "all natural" sodas, Blue Sky makes a line of "organic" sodas. Hence, Blue Sky Root Beer Encore. The difference? On appearances alone most would say nothing, and indeed it seems like this is kinda redundant. But according to the Blue Sky website, the "natural sodas" don't have any artificial ingredients in them, and the "organic sodas" contain organic ingredients? I can't quite make the distinction myself, and if there is a difference in the ingredients, it is quite subtle. I debated a long time in the store as to categorizing this as a diet soda or not. All the evidence points to the fact that this is the diet version of the Blue Sky Creamy Root Beer. But after categorizing what makes a soda "diet" (i.e. an artificial sweetener in place of sugar or high fructose corn syrup) and seeing clearly on the label below the brand name "sweetened with organic cane sugar", i made the professional judgement that this is simply another stab at soda from a company that likes to use organic ingredients. It's not uncommon for root beer companies to make more than one recipe of root beer. So i gave Blue Sky the benefit of the doubt.

The label is basically the same as the cans of the "natural sodas" with two major distinctive differences; 1) the color scheme is a white background, and 2) in big text above the brand name is the Certified Organic Soda seal, proving that this concoction did indeed come directly from Mother Nature. No one is allow to dispute this fact. It's a scientific fact, like gravity and white trash.

But here is where i get down on Blue Sky. Since you're all diligent blog followers, i'm sure you've all read the semi-glowing endorsement i gave Blue Sky for making a decent tasting "natural" root beer. But if their natural root beer is considered an acceptable and generally likable member of the root beer family, then their organic root beer is like the creepy uncle you don't trust around your kids. In other words, Root Beer Encore is bad. The name itself is unfortunate, as it indicates an applause filled clamor for more. But this stuff is just plain gross. Strike one, no (zero) carbonation. What's the point in calling it a soda if it doesn't have carbonation? Just cut to the chase and call it a juice. Strike two, it tastes terrible. The only semblance of root beer i can taste in it is the anise (black licorice) flavoring, which i am already not a huge fan of. I can't taste anything remotely close to organic cane sugar in it. It has the same rotten fruit taste Route 66 root beer has. Strike three, the aftertaste in my mouth could make the Holocaust look like summer camp. It's seriously a huge disservice to the human race. Have some mouthwash handy cuz you're breath is gonna be heinous for the next six to eight hours. In fact, you'd probably be better off just drinking the mouthwash instead of this garbage.

My official review is that Blue Sky Root Beer Encore get 1 (one) IBC. This root beer (if you dare call it that) lies somewhere on the scale between "i hate it" and "i'd rather kill and eat my entire family". To boot, this stuff is expensive. The only good thing i can say to Blue Sky for this is thanks for reminding me why i hate hippies so much (as if i would have forgotten any time soon).

Blue Sky Creamy Root Beer

I swear i can remember drinking this as a kid, but i can't put an exact instance of drinking one of these sodas with a frame of reference. However, it's not unlikely since Blue Sky Sodas have been around since 1980 (a year before my own birth). Hence, i have had opportunities my entire life to try Blue Sky Creamy Root Beer, or any of the other flavors they make. Blue Sky reminds me of Hansen's Sodas in the sense that they are "all natural". Of course, many sodas claim to be all natural, but what does that really mean? I don't have the time or desire to delve into that topic, but for all intents and purposes let's just say it means they are the star bellied sneetches of the soda world. Anyway, Blue Sky was initially a Santa Fe, NM based company but has recently moved operations to Southern California. This apparently pissed at least one guy off, as he tried to sue Blue Sky for false advertising, claiming to be a New Mexico based company but not manufactured or bottled anywhere in New Mexico. I guess it's a touchy subject.

I picked up a six-pack of cans. The cans have a particularly southwestern theme to them, further asserting its connection to New Mexico and infuriating NM natives in the process. Each of the flavors has the same basic color scheme with a different color tribal Indian border on top and bottom for different flavors. Other than that, they all have blue background with a scene of rolling mountains and Santa Fe style Adobe Housing which can be found in several parts of Phoenix. I never cared much for southwestern architecture, but it's quite popular among the affluent folks. You'd think that since they spend so much money on southwestern houses that they'd want to drive southwestern cars too.

Truth be told, this isn't a bad soda. It's not like most natural sodas in that it's not terrible. It is decently carbonated and doesn't taste like yard work. The cane sugar give it a nice sweet taste (imagine that, right?) and true to it's name, it is quite creamy with a hint of vanilla. Of course, it still tastes a bit like a natural soda should, but at least it's tolerable, if not flat out enjoyable.

My official review is that Blue Sky Creamy Root Beer gets 6 (six) IBCs. It's a decent natural soda, and definitely better than Hansen's. I am not sure where else you can pick it up besides Whole Foods, but it's probably going to be just as expensive anywhere else (maybe not, since the Whole Foods hippies figure they can charge whatever they want in the name of going green). But anyway, if natural sodas are your thing, i would recommend you add this one to the list.


Addendum: I ran across the third installment in Blue Sky's root beer trilogy and grabbed a six pack, but after drinking it i decided it's so similar to the regular Creamy Root Beer that it didn't deserve it's own review. Just a brief mention. They tried to sneak one past me, but this stuff is basically just the same as the regular stuff, just with ginseng. There really is no discernible difference in taste. So if you see either of these root beers in your local grocery store, there is no need to sit and deliberate over which you should get. They have the same rating. Either will do.

Unless there is an IBC close by. Then the choice is clear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

365 Root Beer

I got a hot tip from the internet on a good place to scope out some new root beers, and i was in need of it because i am running out of readily available new brands around here. But it just so happens that Whole Food carries several brands of sodas that fit the Whole Foods hippie agenda. My wife and i made a trip down there and hit the jackpot, picking up seven different new kinds of root beer, including this one. 365 Root Beer is part of the 365 Everyday Value brand that is exclusive to Whole Foods. Like Kroger, they make everything in the food arena. However, unlike Kroger, this stuff is not cheap. In fact, none of the root beers in Whole Foods are cheap. If it weren't for my unrelenting integrity and devotion to reviewing any and all root beers for you the consumer, i probably would have saved the money. So in advance, you're welcome.

I picked up a six-pack of cans of this soda for close to $4.00. All 365 soda labels have the same basic design, but different color schemes and pictures depicted for different flavors. The root beer label is a carmel, tan color with the brand logo and a depiction of a mug of root beer. It's just a regular can in all other regards. My opinion? Not that impressed. Your opinion? The same as mine. Trust me, we've seen better.

One of the conditions for being sold at Whole Foods is that the soda is all natural. It's made with cane sugar and no preservatives, along with a bunch of other hippie regulations. I swear that store is like the breeding ground for dreadlocks and snaggletooths, and i'm not convinced the smell in there is from the open containers of natural spices. Anyway, the root beer follows the taste guideline of the natural root beers. It's not terrible and it reminds me a lot of Hansen's, but it's not my favorite. It has a faint black licorice flavor and a fairly mellow/heavy root beer extract taste. I don't usually make mention of this, but it has fairly good head too, which i know some people make a big deal out of. I don't care one way or another, as long as the carbonation is good (it's decent for 365). But all in all, i'm not sure it's the right root beer for me. Or you, for that matter.

My official review is that 365 gets 4 (four) IBCs. It's not great, which pains me because i have a six-pack of it and am cursed with not being able to throw anything out for fear of wasting. So i suppose i'll have to take it into work and see if anyone there wants to sample this crappy hippie elixir. It's expensive, unappealing, and worst of all, natural. Don't bother with this ones kids.

Fiesta Root Beer

In 1932, Eddie Basha had one goal in mind: create a grocery store with the cheapest food products available. Now, 77 years later, Basha's is proud to bring you Fiesta Root Beer. Fiesta makes several flavors that are sold at Basha's grocery stores across the Valley of the Sun (i couldn't find any links with any sort of mention of this soda line). It's distributed by a company here in Chandler, AZ. Other than that, i really don't have much to go on with this soda. The only other thing i can really say is that this stuff is really cheap. I picked this 2-liter bottle for 69 cents. Fiesta, of course, is Spanish for "party". I get the feeling this thing is supposed to be packed with fun; really really inexpensive fun.

The label on this 2-liter bottle is brown with white text and there are little party streamers and bits of confetti flying all over the place on the label. Super simple, fairly boring, extremely generic looking. From the looks of the label, you'd think i picked it up at Food City and not Basha's. "Root Beer" is also written in Spanish on the bottle. It reminds me of when i lived in Canada. Everything in the supermarket is written in English and French. And i have the same feelings about this packaging decision as i did about the Canadians way of doing it: annoying. But, whatever... you can't please everyone.

All i can really say about this root beer is that it lives up to it's name, or at least the Mexican part of it. It's rather "spicy". The only thing that would make the experience really hit home is if you got to drink it out of a pinata (my choice? a donkey). A colleague of mine says that the wintergreen really sticks out to him. I can't seem to taste wintergreen at all though. It kinda has the nutmeggy taste of Dad's, but it's not nearly as sweet and it's a lot more sharp. I can still taste the decent root beer undertone, but that's not the prevalent flavor. It's not unpleasant, but definitely hard to pinpoint exactly what it tastes like. I can't really say it's something i'd make a trip back to Basha's for though.

My official review is that Fiesta gets 5 (five) IBCs. It's not bad and it's a touch different from the ordinary, but there's a reason this stuff is so cheap. It's cuz it's just really thrown together without much thought or care. I have often wondered if there was a Mexican root beer. Maybe this is about as close as it gets. And with a name like that, they should promote it with the slogan "a party in every bottle!" Yeah, that's good. Maybe i should pitch that to them.
I wonder how you say that in Spanish...