Thursday, June 23, 2011

Northern Michigan Tasties Part II: Root Beer

Top of the second dune.
Not far from the western shore of Little Glen Lake is what is known as the dune climb. It is precisely how it sounds: you can climb a fairly steep and rather tall sand dune. And when you're done with that one, you can climb another. And another. I was told there are five all together before you reach Lake Michigan, but we stopped after two since it was warm, sunny, and we hadn't brought any water, an essential part of any dune trek. Climbing is thirsty work!

So after skidding back down the dune and grabbing a few sips of water, my mother and I headed over to the little village of Empire where I was told we would find "the best root beer" at a place called Joe's Friendly Tavern. I was skeptical since I had already had the world's best root beer in Kalamazoo, brewed by Olde Peninsula, also home to some of the best stout outside of Ireland, according to a good beer-drinking friend of mine of Irish descent. I have also been burned by fresh brewed root beer before on Mackinac Island. The root beer was brewed in Kentucky, then shipped to the Island and tasted like a root beer barrel candy.

But I went in with an open mind and gave Joe's root beer a fair chance. It was, indeed, very good! But Olde P still wins in my book, mostly because it is sweeter and almost syrupy and comes in a chilled glass with no ice. The root beer from Joe's has a strong sassafras flavor that hugs the tongue rather than bites at it and is far from overpowering. Sort of like a root beer barrel candy, but sweet in a natural kind of way, not in a refined sugar kind of way.

I tend to compare homebrewed root beer to one of three commercial varieties: A&W, Mug, and Barg's (in order of preference). Old P's root beer is closest to A&W, so on the sweetest end of the spectrum. Barq's is on the nasty bitey end and is my least favorite. I would put Joe's root beer in the Mug arena, but with a definitely more satisfying taste.

Thus, I have to say that the root beer from Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire, MI is the Second Best Root Beer that I have ever tried. Though  really, the difference in flavor betwen Joe's and Olde P is enough that they are more or less on par with each other, just different branches on the same root beer family tree.

So if you ever find yourself in the Sleeping Bear Dunes region and find a hankering for some good root beer, stop by Joe's in Empire. (I also recommend the sweet potato fries.) Maybe if you can get it to go, you may then head over to the nearby Village Park where parking is free and you can enjoy beautiful Lake Michigan and a fantastic view of Sleeping Bear Dunes while sipping your tasty and unique brew.


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