Capt'n Eli's Root Beer Review

capt'n Eli's Root Beer
Capt's Eli's is much more than just a root beer. It is an encomium to a loved father, a secret family recipe, and a series of graphic novels full of the sea and suspense. 

Capt's Eli's is named after Dr. Eli Forsley, a man who grew up drinking his father's special homemade root beer. Eli served in the US Navy in WWII (where I am guessing the "Capt'n" comes from) and afterward received his doctorate in education and worked to provide homes for mentally disabled veterans. One of Eli's sons got into the brewing business and decided to begin serving the Forsley family's famous root beer at his restaurant in Maine. In 2002 he decided to begin bottling the root beer where it grew even larger in popularity. 

In addition to the interesting background for this root beer, it also has a unique take on marketing. The marketing for Capt'n Eli's revolves largely around a series of comic books: The Undersea Adventures of Capt'n Eli written and illustrated by Jay Piscopo. The graphic novel is a throwback to a much older style of graphic novels, but it also adds some modern twists, making a combination that has led it to growing success. It now has three volumes out, even spawning a crossover volume with Captain Midnight, and the spin-off series The Sea Ghost. Adding to all of this, there have even been action figures released due to its popularity. For the graphic novel lovers, they can be bought at the Capt'n Eli website.

Now to the root beer itself. Immediately after opening, a dark, wintergreen smell hits you. It contains deep, rich notes, stronger than root beers like IBC or Abita. 

The carbonation wears well, mixing the sugar and vanilla tastes. It also helps the pleasant wintergreen aftertaste linger longer, almost like a very mild root beer mint. 

The root beer is smooth with just the right amount of flavor up front that then transfers nicely to back of the mouth and, as I said, lingers with a sweet and wintergreen flavor for the finish. The finish really is quite long-lasting here, leaving a sweet, carmely, vanilla aftertaste that is quite nice. I don't feel like I have to rush to keep drinking in order to keep the flavor in my mouth. It is nice to sit for a few minutes and let the flavor settle until I take another sip. I think it is the wintergreen oil that helps it linger nicely. 

As I drink more, I realize it isn't at rich as I first thought, but is actually more balanced. It tastes light and refreshing in addition to the rich flavors. I don't find it thin or watery, however, as it has a nice feeling in the mouth. 

This is my favorite root beer so far. Once I identified the wintergreen, that flavor was a little overwhelming, but when I can ignore my knowledge of the flavor, it melds nicely with the rest of the drink. For me the strongest part of Eli's is its flavor consistency throughout a draught. It starts nicely, holds on to that flavor, and then lets is linger for you to enjoy for a while. They say there is anise in this but I can hardly taste it, guessing it is masked by the wintergreen and sugar. This is one time where all the marketing is backed up by a quality product. 

Score 8.5/10

Good: Fun marketing and a great backstory, consistent flavor throughout a draught, unique with the a strong wintergreen flavor that works well.

Bad: Maybe too much wintergreen? 

Price: $1.69

Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, caramel color, natural and artificial flavorings including wintergreen oil, anise, vanilla, spices, herbs, citric acid, sodium benzoate as a preservative. 

Abita Root Beer Review

Abita Root Beer comes from the Abita Brewing Company located 30 miles north of New Orleans. It's a relatively recent company, being founded in 1986. Their main focus is beer, but they have also released this root beer. They brew their root beer with a "hot mix" process using spring water, herbs, vanilla, and yucca. They also emphasize that they use Louisiana cane sugar, giving their drink a taste reminiscent of "soft drinks made int he 1940's and 1950's." They source their water from a artesian well located near their brewery.

Immediately after opening, a strong but common root beer smell  hits you (think IBC). But common doesn't mean bad - it is actually quite an enjoyable smell. So it is off to a strong start with a nice, familiar aroma.

The taste, however, is not as impressive. There is a strong vanilla flavor, but overall it lacks punch. If I had to give a general assessment I would say it tastes like watered down IBC. Also the carbonation is somewhat flat, making it taste thin. The taste hardly registers when you first drink it, noticeable only after it has filtered down around the tongue. Even then it is thin tasting, but quite sweet. Although I usually like sweeter root beers, the sweetness here just isn't appealing to me. At times it almost tastes like plain soda water on the tip of the tongue, then really sweet in the back taste buds. It has a licorice aftertaste, but not the anise flavor of White Rose. It did get better with time, letting my mouth get used to the sweetness so it could distinguish the various flavors.

This is a middle of the road root beer. Better than brands such a MUG or Barqs, but it doesn't compete well when compared with stronger brews.

Score 5/10

Good: A nice smell and it gets better with time.
Bad: Thin tasting and very sweet. The flavor just isn't that strong or interesting.

Listed Ingredients: carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, root beer flavor, phosphoric acid
Price: $2.05

White Rose Root Beer Review

It's hard to know how to write a root beer review. My biggest worry is that an abundance of adjectives will make me sound like a pompous wine-reviewer where I talk about the various fruit flavors and how the tannins from the Bourgogne region in France are better than the low-brow California wines. My other worry is that I will write with such a breezy style that I could fit on a Tumblr hipsterific blog. Hopefully I can find a middle ground. 

I decided to start with Galco's own White Rose Root Beer that was developed by John Nese. Galco's has a line of private sodas that it is beginning to develop, but I haven't tried any of the others. The owner told Laura that he wanted this to taste like old, classic root beer. Based on their blog, the name White Rose comes from an old Highland Park bottling company that used a local spring as its water source. I am not sure where it is bottled, but Galco's is advertising it as a locally developed brand. 

One thing to note is that I drink my root beers straight from the bottle. None of this glass pouring stuff for me. What fun is it buying a drink in a glass bottle if all you do it pour it into a glass? Might as well just buy it in a can if that is the case. Sure, I suppose I am losing some of the experience by not being able to smell, or by not letting the root beer breathe, and I won't be able to talk about the foam head or the color. But I just like drinking from a glass bottle.  

I've always thought that there is basically one important spectrum of how to classify root beers: the Root Spectrum. Some may call this the bite or the sharpness or the sassafras/Smilax regelii taste. I just call it the root taste because it is the distinctive flavor unique to root beer. White Rose falls in the middle of this spectrum. I find it to be rather smooth and easy to drink with no sharp flavors except for a light anise flavor on the back of the throat in the aftertaste. It is sweet, but not too sweet. I can't identify all the flavors here, but there is a higher amount of variety that normal for a root beer, but they are subtle. It is clear that this was crafted to be a sophisticated drink. All in all I say it works, but I think that even though it has a lot of different flavors, overall it comes off a bit thin. The flavors are light and the sweetness doesn't really mix with the other flavors. Laura liked it better than I did but overall it was an enjoyable root beer. 

Rating: 7/10

Good: complex flavors, sophisticated taste, locally developed.
Bad: thin, anise isn't my favorite flavor, sweetness doesn't mix with rest of the flavors.

Price: $2.45
Made from: water, pure cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid, and caramel color

Root Beer Review Series: Introduction

Root Beer Collection

Today Laura gave me a great gift: root beer! I have never really been a beer connoisseur, so I have taken up the hobby of trying different root beers whenever I get the chance. For several years I have been trying various brands whenever I could find something new. After a while I realized I wasn't keeping track of what I liked and only had general recollections of what I thought was good or not. So I have decided to try to keep track of the various root beers I try here, mostly in order to keep them straight myself. Hopefully others will find my quest for the perfect root beer interesting. 

Galco's Soda Pop Stop

Laura picked the bottles up from Galco's Soda Pop Stop nearby in Highland Park. This is an interesting store for the sheer variety of soda and John the owner is great. He has been there every time we have been and he is always friendly and helpful. Apparently he helped her pick these out. I would highly recommend anybody going there to see his huge selection of soda - it is worth the trip just to see it and talk with John. Here is a great video showing his passion for soda: 

Happily the store has enough variety that we have plenty more to check out even after I finish drinking and rating this first batch. I will publish my first review a little later today. 

Review of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Series

I have realized that all but the best authors have verbal “ticks.” The most prominent example that comes to mind appears in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. There, one of the lead female characters, Nynaeve al’Meara, constantly pulls her braid. It is almost as if Jordan, not knowing how to describe her anger (and she is angry most of the time, like everybody else in the series) falls back on this verbal tick. Luckily in the most recent books written by Brandon Sanderson, that constant refrain has slowed. The same sort of tick appears in The First Law series. Here, Logen Ninefingers, one of the main characters, often describes a dire situation with some variant of the phrase, “Say one thing about Logen Ninefingers, say he (insert clever description of the situation he finds himself in here).” If this phrase was used once or even twice, it could be passed off as Abercrombie trying to explore the dialect and sayings of the Northmen. The constant repetition of this phrase (which itself is somewhat grating due to the second “say”), however, gets annoying. The problem with verbal ticks is that although they can be defended as offering structure or familiarity to a work, frankly, they are merely distracting. Every time I came upon this tick it bothered me. It distracted me from the sentence, the paragraph, and the work as a whole. All I could think was “Why did you write that again? Couldn’t you have thought of something else to say?” Having criticized this tick, overall the writing is good -- nothing flashy or astounding, but there are some nice phrases scattered throughout. The books don’t play with language and coax out beauty, but they don’t butcher it either. One other problem did stand out. The books too often tell what is going on in a character’s head rather than showing it. One particularly grievous example of this is after Ninefingers spouts the golden rule to Jezal (another main character), Jezel has a change of heart, as is shown through the blank, verbatim repetition of his thoughts: “You get what you give, in the long run, and manners cost nothing. From now on, he would think of others first. He would treat everyone as if they were his equal.” This is not storytelling at its finest. 

The First Law series falls into the same genre as George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I am not exactly sure what to call it, grim-reality fantasy? The problematic part of that name is “reality,” for just because something is grim doesn’t make it realistic (and aren’t these fantasy books?). And grim these books are. From the repetitive scenes of torture to the countless and pointless deaths, they constantly remind the reader that reality is recounted here – with all its blood and grime and horror and pointlessness. In reality everyone is selfish, all have severe flaws, nobody is who they seem, and life isn’t fair and doesn’t have a happy ending. Just when a character seems to have grown or changed, the story swoops in to disabuse the reader of that notion. Just when there seems to be hope that a character may be happy, “real life” comes by and squelches that hope. Come now, Abercrombie seems to say in another one of his verbal ticks, “you have to be realistic.” 

From here out, there will be spoilers. Skip to the final paragraph for my unspoilerish rating.
This realism stretches to the characters themselves. Let us start with Bayaz. When he first appears Abercrombie signals, somewhat obviously, that this is not your normal wizard, as he is not the old man with a beard and a hat (as the reader is meant to suspect), but the man who has his head shaved and looks like a blacksmith. Fooled you! the narrative seems to say -- things are not always as they appear! But then the wizard acts and speaks like the wizards we are all familiar with: wise, kind, friendly, and knowing.  Little by little, however, the familiarity of this wizard is undermined as hints and allusions are made to an underlying unsavory character, and by the end, this wizard is not at all like Gandalf or Dumbledore. There is real life for you again! This pattern of setting up an expectation and then undermining it becomes banal. The witless swordsman goes through a harsh trial, maturing all the while only to remain a spineless lackey. The bloody warrior tries to change his ways and life peacefully only to be thrust back into war and become bloodier than ever. The wounded woman finds love only to remain wounded and alone. The nitwit apprentice shows signs of progress only to be unmasked as something evil. The only person to buck this trend is, unsurprisingly, the darkest and most tortured character of all. The one who is shown to do the most evil, to cause the most death, to be the most selfish – he is the one who ends up being the hero of the series. But this is just reality!
Even though the character development is predictable, two characters rise above the others. I enjoyed reading about Logen Ninefinger’s endeavor to unite his hostile party on the epic journey to find the seed (which ended up turning out to be not so epic). Ferro is a second interesting character. Her toughness, aloofness, and wounds make her compelling. Her interest in Ninefingers also proves entertaining. But even here, with these two characters, reality come crashing in and stops them from developing beyond the beginnings of greatness. The material for great characters is there, it just never blossoms. 

Aside from these problems, there are also minor issues. The major battle in the second book reminds me too much of Tolkein’s Helms Deep. The early discussion of magic in The Sword Itself seems similar to  Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea magic. The journey in the second book which unites the characters reads like a cheap plot technique, leaving the reader unfulfilled at its end. Ferro’s purpose in the books appears at the end but is weak. Ninefinger’s ability to speak to spirits is underdeveloped. Finally, the reader gets to the end and hopes there will be an exciting climax, drawing the strings together in some unknown way, showing the author knew what he was doing all along, but there is only a puttering out, a slow, soft whimper across the final pages.

I give this series a Read this or not - it doesn't matter. I think that rating encapsulates this series perfectly. If you love dark, grim, reality fantasy, then you will enjoy these books. If you are just a connoisseur of fantasy novels, read other works first and come back to these when you have run out of options.

A Post PC World? I'll Keep My Mouse

I feel like I am no longer on the cool team. It used to be cool to build your own PC, get a nice mouse and keyboard, and round out the system with three beautiful, large monitors. But today, and especially after the Windows 8 promotional video, all the cool kids are reporting the death of the PC (Apple's post-PC world), the mouse, and Windows itself. It's beginning to appear that anybody who knows anything about technology has to love touch, trackpads, and intuitive UIs. If you want to be current, forward looking, and relevant, then it is time to abandon the PC. 

As I sit here using a quad-core processor with copious amounts of memory, typing on a keyboard and using a mouse while looking at my sources stretched across three screens -- I feel like a Luddite. I have no screens to touch, no zooms to pinch, and no apps to swipe away. I am using the web, but apparently I am not doing it correctly because I am still working with a PC paradigm. If only I had an app to tell me how to be technologically cool again. 

I agree we are in a non-PC world for mobile devices, but really, there was never a PC world there to begin with. Touch and intuitive UIs have been great developments in the mobile space (phones and tablets). But for my everyday workhorse computer, I just can't get excited about the touching, swiping, and trackpading. With this in mind, the Windows 8 video did intrigue me in some ways. Obviously Microsoft is trying to combine these two paradigms, and it seems they might be successful in part. I especially liked the move from lifeless icons to smart tiles, making the desktop environment more interactive and useful. Some of the other new features that lean towards a touch interface could be interesting from a mouse/keyboard perspective, but I will have to see how they feel when I can test them. Overall, Microsoft came out with an impressive peek into the future of Windows 8, a future that tries to combine the best of their Metro interface with the familiarity of Windows, the keyboard, and the good old mouse. As one who hasn't yet accepted the rule of touch for my everyday computing, I thank them. And who knows, maybe the touch aspects will grow on me.

Apple Privacy Concerns

Over at BYTE we have been discussing Apples creation of a file on certain iOS devices that stores geolocation data over a long period of time. The business side of this discussion is very interesting, but I am going to focus on the consumer aspects. In order to understand the type of information being stored, here is an application that lets you read the data on your iPhone. Also, here is an article on how you can encrypt that information, at least on your computer.

First, although I know many don't care that this information is known because they freely give it out via social media, that should not be the expectation for everyone. Some choose to broadcast locations, some do not. To let Apple off the hook here by saying that the world is moving in this direction seems to be in error. Not everyone wants the world to move in that direction, and it doing so has not yet been proved to be a good thing. 

Second, why is Apple creating this file? I know all the evidence is that they are not receiving the information, but John C. Dvorak obviously isn't accepting that at face value. Hopefully Dvorak is wrong and this is a programming mistake. Alex Levinson in the above link argues that location-based apps need this type of information. I personally can't think of any apps that need my location over a years length of time. Until somebody points out an actual app that uses this information, I am skeptical about this argument.

Third, even if we trust Apple, the creation of the file alone, especially without the user's knowledge, is not good. As others have said, any computer-savy person with access to the phone or iTunes can now know the general location of a person for the past year. Spouses, employers, and lawyers may find that information extremely interesting. Now that this file is known to exist, people will be looking for it and using it in ways that will only hurt the person being tracked. How can the existence of this information in any way aid the person being tracked?

Fourth, Is Apple the only company doing this? Others have said being tracked is now a way of life, but I can only think of the government and the phone company that has access to this information. Adding Apple to this short list doesn't make me happy.

My hope in this whole thing is that Apple realizes some engineer coded something wrong and this file is a mistake. I also hope that all the reports of Apple not collecting this information are true. My final hope is that this makes us all more aware of how we are being tracked by the technology we use and let companies know that some forms of tracking are not yet acceptable.

UPDATE: The WSJ has a great article on how Google and Apple are storing certain types of information to their databases. Google, however, is opt-in