Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tootin' Root's Horn

Blog friend Mikey sent me a note asking if I had heard of a new liqueur called Root. I hadn't, so I did a little research and discovered that it is an exciting liquid project from the folks at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I first heard about this company after receiving a cool T-shirt as a gift from Rachel and Jeremy, but did not fully appreciate how eclectic their product range was at the time.

According to the company: Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction firmly believes in empowering artists producing high quality work marked by fine craft and intellectual rigor. We do so by applying the fruits of such labors to the cultural forms of everyday life, granting those who wish to engage the opportunity to do so in his/her own environment. Rather than exist at a distance in the white cube of the gallery space, we weave our offerings into the collective surface of myriad personal contexts. In this troubling epoch of industrial commodification, standardization of reproduction, and fomentation of a society of shallow spectacle, Art In The Age issues a challenge and rally cry. We fight fire with fire, subsuming the onslaught of watered down facsimiles and inaccessible displays with thought-provoking products of real cultural capital.

As far as Root is concerned, the company offers an interesting history of root-based beverages in the US. They don't really go into any detail as to who was the creative force behind the launch of this interesting new product which I, for one, would have found interesting.

The website as well as the bottle tag describe the history as follows:

In the 1700’s, it was called “Root Tea.” An herbal remedy made with sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch bark and other wild roots and herbs. Native Americans taught the recipe to colonial settlers. As it was passed it down from generation to generation, it grew in potency and complexity. Particularly in the Pennsylvania hinterlands, where the ingredients naturally grow in abundance.

At the close of the 19th century, as the Temperance movement conspired to take the fun out of everything, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol from Root Tea and rechristened it (ironically) “Root Beer”. He did this so that hard drinking Pennsylvania coal miners and steelworkers could enjoy it in place of true alcoholic refreshment. He introduced his “Root Beer” in a big way at the still legendary 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The rest, as you know, is flaccid history.

Here at Art in the Age, we thought it would be interesting and fun to turn back the clock and recreate a true pre-temperance alcoholic Root Tea. We’ve even made it certified organic, since back then, everything was organic. This is the opposite of corporate culture. It’s a genuine experience rooted in history and our own landscape. It is a truly interesting and contemplative quaff. Certainly like nothing else we have ever tasted before. It is NOT Root Beer flavored vodka or a sickly sweet liqueur.

Root is packaged in an attractive bottle and includes a nice label on the back with an artist's rendition of the major consituents in the brew. See image, right.

In terms of flavors, it is definitely reminiscent of root beer - think of a craft brew like Virgil's, but not as sweet. It does have some sweetness, but it is not syrupy or cloying at all. Those who enjoy a good birch beer such as Boylan's will recognize the strong birch bark character. There is also wintergreen which forms another of the primary flavors. In the background and not individually distinguishable, are a bevy of spices such as allspice, nutmeg and anise.

I tried Root on its own, sipped from a shot glass for the first few experiences. It's good and this just may be my primary form of consumption in the future. On the other hand, a number of very creative Root-based cocktails are listed on the Art in the Age website. A few which caught my attention, whether sampled or not, are listed below:

Dr. Hadley's Root Restorative
0.5 oz. Demerara simple syrup
6 large mint leaves
1.25 oz. Lairds Bonded (100 proof) Applejack
1.0 oz. Root Liqueur
.5 oz. Benedictine
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish: Mint sprig Muddle mint in simple syrup. Add ice and other ingredients. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a spanked mint sprig.
Created by Katie Loeb of Oyster House.

The Root cocktail competition winner, Dr. Hadley's Root Restorative sounds interesting and includes a lot of ingredients I like (Apple Bond, Benedictine, Demerara simple syrup) but I don't have the chocolate bitters (yet!) so I didn't make it and therefore cannot vouch for it. May be reason to order some bitters in the future though.

The Medicine Lodge Cocktail
1/2 oz. simple syrup (used turbinado)
1 1/2 oz. ROOT
2 oz.. Laird’s 71/2 Aged Apple Brandy (used 1.5 oz. Apple Bond)
1-2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
splash of ginger beer (used Bundaberg)

Stir ingredients and garnish with fresh ginger.
Created Christian Gaal of Noble American Cookery

This is pretty good. The ginger beer and Root is a nice combination. The Apple Bond is a little lost in this, though.

Dr. Root
2 oz ROOT
4 oz. Dr. Pepper (used Dublin Dr. Pepper with Imperial Cane sugar in a bottle)
A Splash of cream
Pour ROOT into a tall glass of chilled Dr. Pepper. Add a splash of cream & enjoy.

OK, I enjoyed... Definitely a dessert type of experience - creamy and rich.

Root 'n Ginger
2 oz ROOT
4 oz. ginger beer (used Bundaberg)
ginger slice (omitted)

Pour ROOT into a tall glass of chilled ginger beer. Garnish with sliced ginger.

This is GOOD. It delivers exactly what it says - it's Root and Ginger beer. No nonsense - nice combination.

Forbidden Root
3/4 oz. ROOT
3/4 oz. TRU vodka (used SKYY)
1 oz. fresh squeezed white grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
dash of Angostura

Shaken and strained into a cocktail glass.
Created by Nic Jarrett

This drink gets props for being a play on the obscure and now defunct liqueur, Forbidden Fruit, which came in a bottle similar to Chambord (from the same company) and was based on grapefruit - see image to the right. I can't say that I'm surprised to find this interesting. I really like the Root flavors next to the grapefruit and Maraschino. I ususally find Maraschino overpowering - but it works here at the level the recipe specifies. This cocktail does justice to its ingredients - each plays a distinct and pivotal role - the hallmark of a successful drink. Definitely worth a try.

To buy Root, which I'd recommend, you either need to live in Philadelphia where it is distributed locally or purchase online through Hi-Time. When Rachel called Hi-Time, they mentioned that there was a lot of interest in Root and was out of stock at that time. But we got on the list for a few bottles which we were fortunate to be able to get a few days later.

Final Notes: I'd definitely recommend Root to anyone looking to expand their liqueur horizons. Excellent on its own, it also makes for an interesting mixed drink - my favorites being the Root n' Ginger and Forbidden Root.

1 comment:

  1. Ace post, Matt. Rachel and Jeremy kindly got me a bottle for my birthday. You are very right: good stuff! I tried the bottle's suggested "Root and Tonic" which is those things plus a dash of maple syrup. Likeable, but I think I'd prefer soda water.