New root beer liqueur grew from colonial recipe
The alcoholic beverages market has admittedly already suffered through several brands of cloyingly sweet artificially-flavored root beer liqueurs and schnapps variations. The last thing we need is another spirit that resembles a dum-dum pop. Luckily, the latest contender in the root beer spirits ring brings a sense of history and authenticity to the table.
Root Liqueur from Pennsylvania’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is a light-bodied aromatic brown spirit made with organic ingredients instead of artificial flavors. It is not syrupy or sweet, but rather dry, smoky, and mysterious.
Stephen Grasse, CEO of Quaker City Mercantile in Philadelphia, and creator of Root, came up with the idea when investigating the history of early American drinks.
He discovered that the foundation for modern root beer was “Root Tea,” a lightly alcoholic elixir used primarily for medicinal purposes in the 18th and 19th centuries. The recipe was passed down through generations of colonists until Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires discovered it in 1875. He developed a recipe for a version of the beverage in powder form (to be added to soda water), and thus the basis for non-alcoholic root beer as we know it today was formed.
Captivated by the soda pop’s rich past, Grasse set out to make a modern spirit that captured the essence of root beer’s predecessor, Root Tea. Root liqueur debuted in Philadelphia in 2009, and is now available in Central Texas.
On the nose, the resemblance to root beer is unquestionable. Taste-wise, it is wildly more complex than your sense of smell would have you believe.
The smoky cardamom and spice dominate, with only a hint of sweetness to round out the flavor. Whispers of vanilla, clove and mint weave in and out, but the birch, smoked tea and cardamom flavors are without a doubt at the forefront of this spirit, lingering well after each sip.
The bitter flavors are bold and unapologetic. Some have compared it to a rum or even whiskey, but due to the layers of varying herbal flavors, Root more closely resembles Italian Amaros or European herbal liqueurs.
Which brings us to how to enjoy it. To experience the full bouquet of spice, Root should be consumed straight before chilling or otherwise altering.
Appropriately, it blends perfectly with root beer if you want to have a grown-up version of your favorite soda, and Grasse recommended trying it with vanilla vodka, which supposedly tastes like a root beer float.
Since Root is new to Austin, but has already had some time to seep into the California market, some of the bartenders from high-profile cocktail bar Rickhouse in San Francisco were kind enough to share some of their craft recipes.
The Root is on Fire
By Russell Davis, Bartender - Rickhouse, San Francisco
2 oz. Elmer T. Lee Bourbon
.5 oz. Root
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Orange bitters
Rinse of Green Chartreuse
Garnish: Flamed orange
Combine bourbon, root, and both bitters into a mixing glass and stir with ice until proper dilution (15-20 seconds). Take a chilled rocks/old fashioned glass, rinse with Green Chartreuse, and then add a large ice sphere or cube. Strain contents of mixing glass into rocks glass over the large ice sphere/cube. Flame orange zest over the cocktail and then rub around the rim and place in drink.
Ricky Paiva, Bartender - Rickhouse, San Francisco
1 oz. Bols Genever
.5 oz. Root
One bar spoon Nocino walnut liqueur
.5 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
.25 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice
.5 oz. maple syrup
.5 oz. egg whites
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass and shake 5 seconds without ice to emulsify egg whites. Add ice and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Hawthorne and fine strain into a chilled sours glass.
NOTE: Bols Genever is not currently available in Texas. In the meantime, the use of another Holland style gin will suffice.
John Ottman, General Manager - Mr. Lew’s Win-Win Bar & Grand Sazerac Emporium/441, Bartender - Rickhouse, San Francisco
2 oz. High West Rendezvous
1 oz. Root
.75 oz. Lemon
.75 oz. Turbinado sugar
.5 oz. Punt e’ Mes
One Whole Egg
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add the spring from a Hawthorne Strainer, and shake 5 seconds without ice to emulsify egg whites. Add ice and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Hawthorne and fine strain into a chilled sours glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
NOTE: High West Rendezvous is also not currently available in Texas. In the meantime, the use of another American Rye whiskey will work.
Various Spec’s and Twin Liquors locations will carry Root within the next few weeks, so call ahead to double-check availability. *Photo used with permission from Dominic Savini for Root *