I am convinced that to be a beer lover is to like quality products in general, whether that be appreciating good wine, excellent food, fine spirits or in my case all of the above. Thus when I received an email from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction about a spirit reviving an old American recipe called Root Tea, my interest was certainly piqued. A few days later a sample bottle and impressive PR pack was delivered, but I was on a booze fast so didn't get round to trying it until last night.
According to the blurb, Root is based on a Native American recipe which the early European settlers took a fancy to and made stronger, especially in Pennsylvania. It was from this potent brew that modern root beer was developed during the Temperance Movement's heyday in the late 19th century. This re-created Root Tea is made from 13 ingredients, including sugar cane, smoked black tea, star anise and birch bark.
As you can see from the picture, Root is a deep amber colour. The nose is distinctly medicinal, which reminded me of Fernet, a Czech spirit with more than a touch of cough syrup. In terms of taste there was a plehtora of flavours bouncing around; a light smokiness (think Schlenkerla Weizen); licorice; sweet toffee like a sticky toffee pudding. Lots of good things! As with all my favourite spirits, there is a lovely warming glow as it goes down and when you drop a single cube of ice into it the water unlocks more of the flavour, especially the birch and smoke - taken neat this is definitely for sipping by a roaring fire.
In the PR blurb several cocktails are mentioned, such as Root Cider, as well as saying that it goes well with dark beers. Normally I wouldn't dream of mixing spirits with anything, but in the interests of science I decided to try a couple of things - Root with Coke Zero Cherry, and mixing it with Ybor Gold Gaspar's Porter.
Mixing it with the Coke Zero Cherry was surprisingly quite interesting as the coke really lessened the medicinal flavours of the straight Root, and the thoroughly artificial cherry flavours worked well - I can imagine a natural cherry cordial would really mix beautifully.
The combination of the Root with this porter from Florida was a major disappointment, however I think that was mainly because of the beer. I bought the complete Ybor Gold range when I was in Daytona Beach last month and of the five beers only 2 were mediocre - the brown ale and amber lager, but these mediocre beers were the best of the bunch. It really was dire stuff, but I think that was due to the beer rather than the Root, so next time I will trying with something better - probably Starr Hill's lovely Dark Starr Stout.
From what I understand, Root is only available in the US (and not in every state) for the time being, but it is a worthwhile addition for a drinks cabinet, especially as the winter nights start to draw in.