A Short Treatise on the Medicinal Properties of Root Beer

I have a cold, a rampant one. It is, as Dickens described Scrooge, “A Squeezing, Wrenching, Grasping, Scraping, Clutching, Covetous, Old Sinner”, of a cold. I’m wallowing in misery. All of which makes me wonder (between mugs of fresh hot lemonade) if root beer could be used as a medicine.

This idea isn’t as far fetched as you might suppose. The first commercial root beers were made by pharmacists. The customer would buy a concentrate and mix it up at home as needed. Furthermore, root beer has ROOTS in it, extracts and essences, and who knows what else. I’d bet that any self respecting herbalist or witch could throw together a passable root beer using the supplies on hand. Let us explore…

Sassafras: Our friends over at WebMD report that sassafras has been considered a remedy for urinary tract disorders, swelling in the nose and throat, syphilis, bronchitis, high blood pressure, gout, arthritis, and skin problems. On the flip side, it can kill you. And colds aren’t explicitly listed. So, it’s probably okay that modern root beer makers don’t use real sassafras anymore.

Sarsaparilla: Here’s another major taste maker in root beer. Besides being super fun to say, sarsaparilla is billed as a cold remedy (Hurrah!) as well as a cure for joint pain, headaches, and leprosy. While I don’t currently know anyone who has leprosy, I’ll know what to do if I travel back in time and meet up with Henry IV, a reputed sufferer.

Wintergreen: Wintergreen oil is supposed to be a good pain reducer and to help with arthritis, although perhaps it needs to be applied externally instead of ingested. Chances are low that I’m going to rub my aching joints with root beer. I also have a sneaking suspicion that wintergreen oil works by making your skin hot and irritated. No proof, just a hunch. If you get all crazy and try it out, let me know.

Licorice: Among other health benefits licorice is noted for helping you produce phlegm and maintain a healthy respiratory system. It certainly works for me, because my instinct when eating licorice is to spit it out and then run around yelling “Ick! Ick!” while wiping my tongue with tissues. That last part might be too much information. We’ll blame the current state of my health and just note that I won’t be using licorice as a cold remedy.

Root beers often use other herb-type ingredients. Birch, molasses, honey, and vanilla spring to mind. Somewhere in the mess of ingredients there has to be something helpful. I believe this wholeheartedly. Any drink that smells so much like medicine has to have curative properties. This is one of Newton’s Laws, or if it isn’t, it ought to be.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

A Disclaimer: in the all important Star Trek vs Star Wars battle, I’ve tried to remain impartial. I like them both. I won’t unfriend someone because they don’t live for my chosen fandom. That said, I do favor Star Wars. A New Hope was the first movie I ever saw. That is some powerful juju. On the other hand, Star Wars is low on root beer references while Star Trek has bunches.

In the DS9 episode The Way of the Warrior, Quark and Garak are in the bar, with Quark bemoaning his besetting sin of being “a people person” and how his only hope of salvation is the Federation. The have the following conversation:

Quark: I want you to try something for me. Take a sip of this.
Garak: What is it?
Quark: A human drink; it’s called root beer.
Garak: I don’t know….
Quark: Come on. Aren’t you just a little bit curious?
Garak sighs and drinks.
Quark: What do you think?
Garak: It’s vile!
Quark: I know. It’s so bubbly, cloying…and happy.
Garak: Just like the Federation.
Quark: But, you know what’s really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it.
Garak: It’s insidious.
Quark: Just like the Federation.
Garak: Do you think they’ll be able to save us?
Quark: I hope so.

And there you have Star Trek, in a nutshell. Our heroes struggle onward, tweaking the basic formula but remaining forever noble. They meet strange and wonderful new people in strange and wonderful new places, but remain fundamentally unaltered. They are Earth people. Even the major character aliens harbor secret (or not so secret) desires to be human. Or, at the very least, they become more human. For evidence I offer up Spock, Data, Worf, and even Quark.

This worries me a bit. Surely the point of going where no one has gone before is to grow, to adapt, to learn to love new things. Why don’t all the Star Trek crews get hooked on Romulan Ale or Klingon Bloodwine? Shouldn’t Picard drink Samarian Sunsets instead of Earl Grey?

Or, conversely, maybe root beer is the perfect metaphor for the Federation in a different, and less culturally tone deaf, way. As we’ve noted by now, root beer varies widely measured by almost all benchmarks: ingredients, color, carbonation, sweetness, rootiness. And every one gets equal billing as a root beer. You don’t get that kind of variety with a grape soda. Maybe root beer is the perfect Federation drink because the ties that bind allow for variation instead of fencing it out.

I’ll leave the philosophical musings to Star Trek fans who are better suited to nuance. Meanwhile, I’ll do something more fun, or possibly more personally harmful.

I was wondering what root beer my favorite Star Trek captain, Picard, would choose. If it existed, he’d choose Earl Grey root beer. Lethargic research on my part has failed to find any such thing, although I did see a root beer tea. Reddit provided an option for my experiments, sort of. The word from those fine folks is that if you drink Earl Grey with a wintergreen mint in your mouth, it tastes like root beer. This sounds like total hokum to me. I decided to try. For my experiment I’ve used loose leaf Fortnum and Mason Earl Grey (quality is so important in scientific research) and Altoid wintergreen mints.

Brew. Steep. Steel self to the necessity of suffering for my art. And…..

Well. Huh. This odd combo is not unlike root beer. It’s not like it either, but there’s something reminiscent about it. The tea blunts the outrageous strength of the mint and adds a little earthiness. If you were snowbound and desperate for root beer there’s a slight chance Earl Grey and wintergreen mints could save your sanity.

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Dang!

Today is Father’s Day, and I do send my greetings to fathers, and people who have filled that role for others. The father of my own children is currently napping, because the lovely man is just home from spending a week sleeping in a tent and fending off epic herds of ticks so that our son could have the experience of attending Boy Scout camp. To say that he is a quality individual would be to understate the truth by a long, long way. This post, however, is not about fathers.
Today is also our wedding anniversary. We did the math. Twenty-three years. Wedding anniversaries in our house (these last few years anyway) always involve the opening of a ritual root beer. Why, you ask? Well, sit back and I’ll tell you. Here’s the scene – Mark, the children, and I are in a restaurant. Mark is reading the menu and I’m entertaining the children. Our conversation is as follows (verbatim):

Children: Wow, Mom, you have such lovely skin. It sure is hard to believe that you are old enough to have children our age.

Me: Thank you, charming children. I was, indeed, a young woman when I married your father.

Children: We long to hear the story of your romance.

Me: What silliness! You don’t want to hear ancient history like that!

Children: We are truly interested in your life before we existed. How long have you two been married?

Me: Why, in just a couple of months it will be twenty years.

Mark: Dang!

He tried to backpedal immediately, of course, and added on lots of phrases about how it seemed like only yesterday and how I’m even more beautiful now than I was then. Much. Too. Late.
As everybody knows, the secret to a happy marriage is to dig your talons into these little moments and hang on forever. So, ever since, I’ve presented Mark with a frosty bottle of Dang! root beer on our anniversary. I wish I could tell you that it’s a good root beer, but my sacred duty to this blog demands the truth.
Dang! is a terrible root beer. I can’t think of a single nice thing to say about it. Some root beers are too sweet. Some have too much vanilla, or not enough. Some have too much anise, or not enough. Those things fall within personal preference and varying regional traditions. There is no excuse for the crimes Dang! commits.
These people aren’t fooling around when they call this beverage a butterscotch root beer. Except for the part where they call it a root beer. It smells like a hard, yellow-wrapped, butterscotch candy that has lingered for decades in a candy dish gracing the counter of a cheap hotel. It tastes like one, too. There is no complexity here. No wintergreen. No vanilla. No fizz. It is vile. After a brief consultation we’ve decided that Brownie is probably a worse root beer, except that we’ve also decided to disqualify Dang! as a root beer. Also, the label is hideous. Official Rating: please avoid this one.
I’ll still buy a bottle a year, though. Love means never having to let him say he’s sorry.

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Top City

This week I have a goal. Quite a large goal, actually. This week I’m spending four hours each and every day trying to finish a polished draft of my novel. This is a book I’ve been writing, off and on, for nearly two years. It scares me, and because it scares me I’ve been resistant to finishing it. I love the characters and the story, but I worry. It is a strange book. Spoilers ahead. If you don’t want particulars, you should skip a paragraph.
A battle is won due in part to the correct deployment of custard. To fend off a kraken, the weapon of choice is a Zeppelin piloted by sea otters (wearing little French stripey sailor shirts). And those events aren’t at all unusual in this strange world I’ve created. Did I mention the part where the school is blown up in a sewage spewing incident? The bit where the secret weapon is a box of macaroons? That one scene where a rabbit drives a car through the back wall of the police station?
So I worry. What if it is terrible? What if this book baby of mine is just too weird for other people? What if, when I proudly display it and invite others to coo over it, people are only able to muster polite smiles? I worry. And then I get irate with myself for worrying. This is the story of my heart and, dammit, I like the thing. I need to be brave enough to finish it and to remember that people who have seen parts of it have laughed. I also need to remember that even if other people don’t get it, this is the book I wanted to write. Even if the world at large would rather have another literary tome about the ennui of middle age, I don’t want to write that book. Really, I don’t. What with all this stress and angst, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the creative urge, and dreams, and about how I admire people who invest in their own creativity.
We went to the First Friday shindig in NOTO for the first time this month. Bands played on the street corners. There was a wonderful exhibit of children’s art. I saw the coolest steampunk necklace ever made. The whole place was pulsing with the energy of people doing things that they personally enjoyed and found valuable. Also, I ate a burrito. A large one. Big enough to qualify me for status as a professional eater. It was made by people who have an obvious passion for burrito making. With it, I had a root beer.
The root beer was a Top City, made right here in Topeka. I felt a teensy bit of guilt for drinking it because I’ve had another bottle of Top City sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to get my act together. It was a gift from my local Blog Enforcer, Lisa. I should, therefore, mention that although I did drink a bottle with my burrito, the bottle from the fridge also gave its life for this post.
I first came into contact with the maker of Top City before he made root beer. At that point he had a weekend gig selling unusual and hard to find sodas at the Farmers Market. He seemed to really enjoy it. After a year or so he mentioned that he was experimenting with brewing his own root beer. He thought he was making progress. Finally, there was a product. It was lovely. And then his nascent production facility burned. To the ground. And everything was destroyed. I thought that might be the end of it. I mean, wouldn’t it be easy to view that sort of thing as a message from the universe? Happily, Top City is made of sterner stuff than that, and founded on more tenacious dreams. They started over. They kept at it. And here they are, back in business and sporting a label printed with flames. Take that, fate!
Top City is a root beer that I really enjoy. Most of the brews I’ve sampled lately have opted to give a starring role to vanilla or caramel. Top City is a sharper drink that relies more on the rooty aspects of root beer. I suppose it is within the realm of possibility to suppose that some people might not like it. Of course, some people are sore heads. I like a root beer that isn’t too sweet and that gives you something to think about. I like Top City. It definitely ranks in my top 10 root beers. Plus, you get to share a dream whenever you buy one.
That’s enough to get me off my can and send me off to finish that novel.

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Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer

This is a story about nice people being nice. It is also about the pleasures of being able to use your time in ways that are personally meaningful to you, even if others don’t quite understand it.

We begin with two nice people I know. The two nice people also blog. Lisa is giving me a nuanced understanding of Star Trek over at The Prolific Trek and Diana is helping me develop a Sherlock habit over at There’s No Place Like Holmes. Last weekend they went on an adventure to a con in Kansas City. Not a con like when Robert Redford and Paul Newman fleece pigeons of their dollars – a con like when nerd-culture enthusiasts dress up as movie/tv/comics characters and go have a great time with other friendly people. They navigated through zillions of people without the benefit of earplugs. They met people from various fandoms and had pictures taken with their heroes. They probably suffered permanent nerve damage to their feet. And in the middle of all that, they thought of me. Isn’t that lovely?

They bought (and delivered) a root beer that I would never have heard of otherwise. Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer. Keck’s is a true draft root beer and was being dispensed fresh to con goers. Mine was delivered in a plastic bottle with a cork in the top.

This is where the story becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure.

For more about Keck’s read this:
Keck’s is made by Gary and Connie Keck in Odessa, MO. After reading their website I can say that they seem to have gotten into the brewing business (in 1994) after about 20 seconds of market research and planning. So far their business model seems to be working just fine. The website features a calendar packed with festivals and shows where they set up seriously adorable rustic stands and dispense creamy, delicious root beer. The whole thing smacks of good life choices where all the participants are happy and fulfilled.

For more about why I didn’t drink the root beer at the time of delivery read this:
School is out and when Lisa delivered the Keck’s I was busy celebrating. So my taste buds were, perhaps, slightly less operational than usual. It seemed like a good idea to wait to taste. The root beer went into the fridge. Then I got sidelined by a book, namely The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio, and didn’t drink the root beer first thing the next morning either. Some people (not the nice people mentioned above) have given me a hard time about starting my summer break off by reading a serious non-fiction tome. I enjoyed it thoroughly and found it to be a thrilling page turner. So there. Shakespeare books are my thing.

The taste test:
During the delay an interesting thing happened. The plastic bottle expanded and the bottom rounded. Gases built up but the cork hung in there. When we poured the Keck’s it didn’t really foam so I’m guessing this is more of a “drink me this very instant” kind of root beer than others we’ve tried. Despite the lack of foam this was an excellent root beer. Smooth and creamy. Pleasantly vanilla laced and not overly sweet. Good job Keck’s. I may need to organize a road trip to Odessa.

There you have it. Summer is here and I hope we all get plenty of chances to indulge our passions.

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Fest

So. It’s been a while since I last posted and there are plenty of places to pin the blame. For one, I really needed to find a book that promptly hid. Also, taking pictures of cats is hard. Honestly, I have no idea how there can possibly be so many thousands of adorable cat pictures on the web when I’ve taken dozens trying to get one where the cat isn’t blurred or looking persecuted. The larger truth is that I’ve been dragging my feet. Procrastinating. Being lazy. Now, the book is found and the picture is taken so I’ve run out of excuses. Onward.

The book is The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. In the book, Calpurnia’s grandfather has been trying to distill whiskey from pecans. Here’s the vital bit from the book:

He saluted me with the glass and said, “To your health, Calpurnia, my companion in sailing uncharted waters.” He took a good mouthful.
I still remember the look on his face as if it were yesterday. The spasm of surprise. Followed by a long, contemplative gaze fixed somewhere in the middle distance. Then, a slow smile.
“Well,” he said at last. “I have done an amazing thing.”
“What, Granddaddy, what?” I breathed.
“I doubt that any other man alive can make this claim.”
“Oh, what?” I wailed.
Calmly, Granddaddy said, “I have managed to take perfectly good pecans and ferment them into something approximating cat piss.”

Having read this selection for yourselves, it should come as no surprise to hear that my daughter named her cat Calpurnia. I voted for a nice, normal cat name like Ember or Nutmeg. Calpurnia Topeka Rakestraw won. Amazingly, we’ve since heard of another cat named Calpurnia – after the same book.

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All of the above is to explain why hopes were so high for this week’s root beer. I give you Fest Pecan Root Beer. When I saw the bottle in the store I was dazzled. What crazy person thought up pecan root beer? Why didn’t I think it up first? A couple of obvious things hit me immediately.

This root beer comes in a clear bottle. This is abnormal. I don’t know why the vast majority of root beers come in dark bottles, but they do. There must be some vital scientific reason for it.

Another thing. Fest is very, very pale in color for a root beer. It’s a blonde in a room full of glossy brunettes. I found this worrisome.

Then. The logo. This is one seriously ’70s looking bottle. Quick! Name some things the 1970s brought us. Bell-bottomed pants. The oil embargo. Shag carpet. The AMC Pacer. Do I really need to go on, here? No. I do not.

Sometimes, in the name of scientific exploration, we have to take chances. We have to blast off in that experimental rocket, or trust that our mini-sub won’t buckle under pressure. We have to believe that we aren’t going to blow up the lab and that we are going to win the Nobel Prize.

We chilled. We pried off the bottle cap. We sniffed. We poured. We took a good mouthful. What does Fest Pecan Root Beer taste like? Guess.

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Twilight Shuffler

Every day I’m shuffling. Or, I am today, at least.

I’m propped up on pillows nursing a mangled knee. There is a good chance that this is because I’m old. I don’t usually feel antique, but I had a birthday this week. I like birthdays very much, on the theory that having them beats the alternative, and don’t spend much time dwelling on mortality and the impermanence of all things. Fate must not be as mentally well balanced as I am, because last night I managed to screw up the tendons in back of my left knee while doing a simple front kick at Tae Kwon Do. And – wait for it – I wasn’t kicking at anything but air. That right, I’m such a mighty ninja that oxygen molecules managed to defeat me.

As a result of the continual and extreme pain I’m enduring and my current tendency to moan unintelligibly this post will be:
Short
About a zombie themed root beer

Twilight Shuffler is a limited addition root beer and part of a series of soda pop creations centered on the comic book Deadworld. Not only have I never read Deadworld, I haven’t even heard of it. When it comes to comic books I’m more of a Ms Marvel kind of gal. Deadworld is all about a zombie apocalypse and Twilight Shuffler root beer features a tattooed lady from the comic named, appropriately, Tattoo. While she may not be much for wearing clothes, she can move from one dead body to the next. She gets tattoos as memory aides. I’m not sure how many dozens of issues of Deadworld I’d have to read before any of that made sense.

I think the thing to do is to move right along to the drinking portion of this endeavor.

This root beer was a pleasant surprise. Why is it that companies which have been brewing root beer for decades regularly produce horrors, and this horror-themed pop up pop is pretty darned good? Life is strange. Anyway, Twilight Shuffle has a nice spicy smell and makes an above average foam. The taste is a pleasant mixture of wintergreen and caramel. It was a little, okay a lot, on the sweet side. Sweet enough to coat my teeth. Still, chalk one up to the undead.

Until later – I’m off to read books and nurse my knee until I stop walking with a foot dragging stumble and a glaze-eyed stare.

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Reading Draft

Happy 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month!

Happy WhanthatAprilleDay16, when people all over the world celebrate ancient and dead languages by reading and speaking them!

Happy first day of Camp NaNoWriMo!

Happy 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, give or take a couple of weeks!

Okay. Maybe that last one isn’t exactly a happy occasion. Still, I’m sure Billy Shakes will get over it and wish us all well in our celebrating. It seems that the universe is reaching out to all of us and encouraging us to celebrate words and poetry.

While I’m a long time admirer of poetry, I lack whatever magic quality allows poets to do their thing. As consolation, I remind myself that the world also needs readers. Poets and writers might as well hang up their pencils if the world runs out of readers. We readers are vital. We consume. We appreciate. We give eternal life to the thoughts of others. This is pretty heavy duty stuff. It’s so exhausting that I frequently have to lounge in bed while I do it.

But look what benefits words, books, and poems have give to me: I can carry on a conversation on practically any subject. I once spent two hours chatting about ballroom dancing even though I’m naturally rhythm-free. I’m a better mathematician now than I was at sixteen, because reading has helped me learn how to see relationships between the parts of a whole. Because of poetry I have a party trick – I can recite, from memory, the beginning of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. This is stupendously impressive to non-poetry readers and dead handy on WhanthatAprilleDay. The benefits of a voracious and lifelong reading habit are legion.

To celebrate this confluence of wordy merry-making opportunities I decided to try a Reading Draft Root Beer. I’ll admit, in the name of full disclosure, that the name celebrates the Reading Railroad and not my favorite hobby. To me, this is not a big deal. As Walt Whitman reminds us “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

The Reading Draft website was full of thrillingly scientific sounding verbiage. Check it out – “Reading Draft products are triple filtered to remove sediment, and double carbon filtered to provide the purest taste for our soda. This obviously was not done in 1921 but has become the standard for our product, which our reputation hinges on. We also do not flash carbonate like many of the large soda manufacturers. Our carbonation process occurs in Grundy tanks which contain a stainless carbonation stone through which the CO2 is introduced under low pressure. As the soda cools to 34 degrees, it absorbs the CO2 slowly and very small bubbles are produced which stay in the liquid for a longer period time.” I’m sure I don’t understand half of that. What are Grundy tanks? Is a stainless carbonation stone like when I put aluminum foil and baking soda in my sink to remove tarnish from my silver? Why 34 degrees?

The big question in our house, though, is “Why didn’t all that science produce a better root beer? One that didn’t send us all fleeing in search of toothpaste, breath mints, or scotch?” This root beer falls into the undrinkable category. We tried. I swear.

I’ve been trying to pin down just where this one jumped the tracks (did you catch the railroad reference there? Impressive, no?). It might be the smell, which is sharp. The word “formaldehyde” may have come up. Or it might be the taste. Under the regular root beery flavors is something else, something that lingers. I thought it might be lime. Mark thought raisin. Then again, he’s convinced that Grundy tanks are the reused boilers of steam locomotives.

The bottle of Reading Draft is sitting, abandoned, on the counter and I’ve moved along to more pleasant pursuits. I’m planning to do my best by all of the wordy celebrations this month by reading and writing every minute I can. Please do join me.

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Culver’s Draft Root Beer

*Warning* This blog post may contain whining, self-indulgent moaning, and philosophical musings.

So. This post didn’t get written on Friday night. The root beer was consumed, but so was the rest of me. A quick recap of stuff I did yesterday:
Took 20,000 steps
Went to fight night at Tae Kwon Do and got hit in the head many, many, many times
Spent at least an hour trying to acquire and fit a mouth guard that doesn’t make me quite as nauseated, so that I could feel better while being hit in the head many, many, many times
Ate fast food, not once, but twice
Ate one of those fast food meals with 11 teenagers and played fun games with them like “Let’s Try On Mrs Rakestraw’s Glasses” and “Seriously, This Bus Isn’t Moving Until There Is No Longer A Toothpick In Your Mouth”

And I enjoyed those things. I always try to take at least 10,000 steps. 20,000 was a bonus. Tae Kwon Do is great exercise and can be beautiful to watch. I merely endure my required sparring matches, but the people are always nice. Speaking of nice people, I enjoy every one of the 11 teenagers every day I get to see them. And there was frozen custard. It was a fairly good day.

A systems check this morning, however, has revealed that there was a price to pay for that fairly good day. My mental Internet is running slowly, and some apps have, so far, failed to launch. A quiet day of tea and book reading is recommended while my operating system is reinstalled. Meanwhile, a forlorn little message is blinking, “Why? Why do you do these things?”

Yeah. Why do I do these things? Why not take the easier path? Why do I do things that I know are going to be exhausting? Or highly caloric? Or mentally wearing? Shouldn’t I be, on this final day of lent, seeking balance and encouraging within myself habits of temperance?

Probably. I’ve come to believe that the true secret of happiness is to work toward reaching a condition that allows you to have options. Most of the truly unhappy people I’ve met are in a place where they’ve run out of options, whether because of economics or illness or personal relationships or any other reason. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that people are necessarily to blame for that. Things happen.

But there is also an argument to be made for experiencing the great variety of life. Fear of catastrophe limits and lessens us when we should be glorying in the certainty that we are, without doubt, the most whiz bang things that have ever breathed the air of our big, blue marble in space.

What I’m trying to say here, lamely, is that my lunch at Culver’s was worth it. Culver’s has an unusually good root beer for a chain restaurant. It is, I believe, a custom brew and is only available as a fountain drink. The only other chain restaurant I can think of, with my admittedly fogged brains, that features its own house brand root beer is A&W. This seems like good karma as the first Culver’s was opened in a converted A&W.

So how was it? Pretty awesome, thanks for asking. I had chicken strips (fried things!), cheese curds (fried things with cheese!), and lashings of root beer. Culver’s is a very frothy root beer and I wonder if that is partly due to being a fountain drink. It might be. Who knows? The bubbles are fairly large, which isn’t my preference but which also doesn’t bother me much. In terms of taste, Culver’s is an exceptionally creamy root beer with more vanilla than any other note. It is the right sweetness, a satisfyingly rich color, and there are endless refills. Woo Hoo! Truly forward thinking people can order a kid’s meal, use the custard coupon for a scoop of vanilla, and make a float for the road as they leave. As I had a bus to catch I didn’t exercise that option this time.

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Root Beer Sweets

This week’s post is brought to you by the letters S-U-G-A and R.

Way back when I got talked into this bonkers project I sat down and wrote a list of possible blog topics. Fifty-two is a way large number of weeks in a row to chat about root beer. An obvious avenue to explore was cooking recipes that use root beer. Therefore, this week I decided to eat my sugar instead of drinking it. It seemed like a good Spring Break activity. Now I’m not so sure.

First up: Dad’s Root Beer Barrels

So I didn’t actually cook these. (Spoiler Alert: the next one is another candy I didn’t make) But they are edible and I wanted to try more than one root beery food. This candy has a kind of mythic status in our household because they feature in the sequel to the much loved movie A Christmas Story. The sequel is called It Runs in the Family and I can’t really recommend that anyone watch it. It’s mostly harmless, but does star Kieran Culkin as Ralphie. On the plus side, there are root beer barrels in it. I have no actual memory of ever actually eating one of these before. I’m not much of a hard candy eater, being too impatient for the commitment.

The Verdict: I think these are too big. Awkwardly big. It easily took 10 minutes to eat. Ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back. It wasn’t terrible, but after the first couple of minutes the sweetness wore off and I was left with the cough drop end of the taste spectrum. Did I mention that part of proceedings lasted for ten endless minutes?

Next: Reed’s

I picked up a roll of Reed’s hard candies because I’d never heard of them before. Then (this is the freaky part) my beloved bought a roll of Reed’s butterscotch candies at the WW1 museum in Kansas City. What are the chances? I liked the butterscotch ones quite a bit, and I like the root beer ones much more than the Dad’s. For starters, each candy in the roll is individually wrapped in waxed paper. No sticking candy you have to pry apart. No suddenly released candies flying across the room. This is a major plus. They are also smaller and more reliably sweet than Dad’s. The undertone was more vanilla than cough syrup. Nice.

Finally: Root Beer Popcorn

Ta da! I cooked something! Not to toot my own horn, but I’m generally regarded as a competent cook when it comes to sugar. I’ve made caramel corn by the bushel. I make my own marshmallows. My caramels are, in some circles, a form of currency. I figured root beer popcorn would be a snap. Maybe it would have been with another recipe. The one I chose was a little skimpy on actual directions. It stated that I should cook the sugar mixture until it was (I kid you not) “considerably thickened”. Friends, boiling sugar is a seething, angry mess. There is no way to tell just where “considerably” falls on the thickening spectrum. In the end, I whipped out my trusty digital thermometer and discovered, Horrors!, that my sugar had reached 247 degrees. As everybody knows, because Topeka has an altitude of 950 feet above sea level we shouldn’t heat sugar mixtures to over 248 degrees or they’ll produce rock hard candy. It was a close call, but the caramel on this popcorn is definitely sticky. Mucho sticky. Each bowl of popcorn comes with free dental floss sticky. And it doesn’t even taste like root beer. I think I’ll stick to my regulation method of making caramel corn and just have a root beer on the side.

Overall, this foray into root beer edibles wasn’t a great success. There are more recipes to try in the future. Pancakes! Barbecue! Weird jell-o things! Stay tuned.

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