Marketers who traffic in nostalgia are playing a dirty game that prays on our collective inability to admit that most modern consumer goods are better than the items they replaced. With a few notable exceptions, such as pork and superheroes, the evolved versions of the things we eat, drink, wear, drive, watch, and otherwise verb upon are superior to their forebears.
But the peddlers know we tend to exaggerate the pleasures of bygone days when we were thinner and more hopeful and not quite so far behind on our student-loan payments, and they are adept at turning our highly personal memories into mass consumer demand for faux-retro bullshit like clunky bicycles and unflattering blue jeans.
Beer-pushers are among the most egregious offenders, with the still-dominant macro sector relying on two primary tactics to drive sales in the face of the real (if overstated) craft uprising: adding strange flavors to their crappy beers, or swaddling their crappy beers in throwback packaging.
Small Town Brewery of Wauconda, Ill., is doing a bit of both with Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a new booze-pop that features an old mustache guy on the label and a misdirected ripoff of a 1988 Oldsmobile slogan in the very name. The “not your father’s” shtick has been exhausted for a dozen years or more, and that’s not even the most glaring problem with this cynical, cornball hucksterism. Once you get done rolling your eyes at the desperate deployment of a played-out proto-meme—and after you’ve told yourself a few quick “Where’s the beef?” jokes—it’s time to ponder the larger question: When was the last time you saw your old man suck down a six-pack of goddamned root brew? This is not my father’s root beer for the simple reason that my father did not have a root beer! And furthermore, even if he did, I wouldn’t appreciate the way the cheesily named Small Town tries to have it both ways by fondly invoking our elders while simultaneously talking shit about our elders’ choice of soda.
But for all my petty qualms with the marketing and justifiable suspicion that it would be just another corn-syrupy mess of a prom-wrecker masquerading as a reasonable adult beverage, I was compelled to give Not Your Father’s Root Beer a try. I figured it would suck, and it’s always fun to rip on a silly new fake beer, as the craft choir is very receptive to that sort of sanctimonious preaching.
Then a preposterous thing happened on the way from the beer fridge to the ranting chair: I took a sip and discovered that Not Your Father’s Root Beer is, in fact, very fucking good. It tastes almost exactly like A&W root beer, which, sure, is no Ramblin’ or even Polar, but it’s a very credible brand of soda.
It tastes so comprehensively root beer-y that it’s hard to review. I mean, just imagine a sip of root beer. That’s what you’re getting, but with 5.9 percent alcohol by volume (there are also 10.7 percent and 19.5 percent versions, but I could only find the beer-strength edition). It opens with a strong vanilla aroma, along with some ginger and cinnamon and no hint of alcohol. The taste follows almost exactly, with the exception of a very faint grain-alcohol note on the finish. I probably wouldn’t have guessed this had any booze at all, and if you convinced me that it did, I would assume it was regular root beer fortified with a shot of vodka, as it seems more distilled than fermented. What I’m saying is, while this is very tasty (if you like root beer) and an undeniable engineering feat, the “It’s not beer!” crowd has a point.
That said, Not Your Father’s is getting high marks from most beer-raters. It currently enjoys a preposterous 91/97 score on Rate Beer, and the Wisconsin State Journal’s Beer Baron has published the only negative review I’ve seen. It might be hard to drink enough of these to work up a solid buzz, but I can imagine uses beyond simple swigging: Not Your Father’s would make an excellent base for a root beer float or barbecue sauce. If you’re turned off by the very idea of alco-pop, this isn’t going to change your mind, but if you’re open to the concept, you’ll likely find this one to be the best of the bunch.
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Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.