This could get bROOTal

July 27th, 2009  |  Published in liqueur, reviews  |  15 Comments

Maybe it’s because I just spent a week in New Orleans substituting business cards for handshakes and watching industry folks bust capillaries in their eyeballs trying to find new and interesting ways to hock their snake oil without having an honest conversation, but now I’m begging you, faithful reader, please—stop. If you’re a blogger, stop softballing multinational liquor conglomerates with substandard products and matching interpersonal skills because they give you free booze and buy you the occasional sandwich. If you’re a consumer, stop falling for the dodgy advertising machinations of said conglomerates, or, conversely, the purported taste of the legion of tastemakers who just want to steal your money while selling you an idealized (and purely fictional) abstraction of a lifestyle you’ll never have. And, if you’re an advertising hack, please, for the love of all deities great and small, stop the bullshit. Really.

Case in point: two days before my wedding, we received a package in the mail containing three mason jars filled with a brown liquid and emblazoned with the label ‘root’. Being that we had been receiving gifts in the mail for days, we spent a full 90 seconds of our lives that we will never get back trying to figure out a) who would send us such a thing and b) what the fuck is ‘root’? That is, until second 91, when we discovered Ye Olde Handcrafted Dossier Of Marketing Ephemera ™, enrobed in completely recyclable Browne Papere (ending everything in ‘e’ automatically makes it authentic…e) at the bottom of the box. Oh, the waves of endless ecstasy.


Turns out, the mason jars (undoubtedly handcrafted in flickering candlelight by Mennonite craftsmen in log cabins) contain Root ™, The First Truly Authentic American Liqueur Since The Pre-Prohibition Era. This is the slightly retarded brainchild of the folks who brought us Hendrick’s Gin (which I happen to like very much, incidentally), and some unholy clusterfuck of lifestyle entrepreneurs called Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction, an artist collective (read: LLC) whom purports to “fight fire with fire, subsuming the onslaught of watered down facsimiles and inaccessible displays with thought-provoking products of real cultural capital”. In case you don’t speak Postmodern Bullshit, this means they sell t-shirts, mostly, with bumper sticker sloganeering (“Never Forget. Spaceship Earth.”) and furry animals designed to showcase one’s flimsy environmentalist leanings without the pesky problem of having to retreat from the consumption of useless lifestyle goods. In case you’re interested.

Further inspection of the carefully handcrafted marketing materials revealed pictures of underfed urban waifs posing next to maple trees, hooded young collectivists watching the sunrise while artfully perched atop fence posts, and the aforementioned t-shirts hanging from a very rural clothesline, blowing in the hickory wind—you get the idea. Another slick lifestyle consortium selling you overpriced hipster bullshit and calling it art.

Which is fine with me, actually, except for one thing—call it what it is. If you’re just selling your root beer liqueur, and you want folks to buy it, why not just say, “Here’s a bottle of our product. Hope you like it.” Were the mason jars really necessary? Will you be selling it in actual mason jars out of the back of a horse drawn cart? Who, exactly, are ‘The People’ crassly mentioned in the marketing material, and do they get a cut of the profit? Will bearded men in overalls gather round the freshly raised barn sipping this shit in the waning purple light of dusk? Does an Artists Collective™ need a PR Director? I think the answer to most, if not all, of these questions is a resounding ‘no’. And if that’s true, why bother?

So, being that I’m a spirits writer, here’s my review: Root tastes like root beer. Olde Tyme Roote Beere, just like my Great-Grandpappy drank on the way out to Ol’ Californey, fleeing the genuinely rural, lifestyle-hampering blight of Arkansas dust and locusts. Wait, no—that was whiskey, un-ironically housed in mason jars, because that’s what was available. This was during the years when he wandered from town to town, cutting hair (genuine redneck haircraft™) for 5 cents a go, and authentically subsisting on popcorn and coffee so the kids could have one more cup of potato soup. I like to imagine him then: late at night with the razor and strop, sipping whatever rotgut shit he could barter for—hungry, wired, and beaten, maybe, but relatively safe from the unyielding subterfuge of salesmen, selling him someone else’s history in brand new jars.

Root: tastes like root beer. No surprise, and no rating necessary.

Post-Script: We did, however, try a jigger of Root in a Coors Lite (known as Shooting The Root where we are, because this is, after all, what The People really do). I prefer Dekuyper.

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  1. dietsch says:

    July 27th, 2009at 9:51 am(#)

    Ouch. Brootal indeed.

    I haven’t cracked open the mason jars yet, so I don’t know what I think about the product, but yeah, the marketing’s dopey.

  2. Dr. Bamboo says:

    July 27th, 2009at 10:09 am(#)

    I actually liked the stuff, and was prepared to experiment extensively with it (I think it’s really got potential for tiki-style drinks for example), so I emailed the rep asking if they could send me a 750 ml bottle to fiddle with.

    This is an excerpt from the response I got:

    “So glad to hear that you enjoyed ROOT! Unfortunately, because it is a small batch artisan product, we do not have enough sample bottles on hand to send out full size bottles.”

    I kinda wished they’d saved the time, money & energy they put into the slick, overstuffed packet of irrelevant marketing materials and channelled it into making more product and getting it into people’s hands (and mouths).

    I appreciate that they went to the trouble to send *something*, I can’t really explore much with 1.5 or 3 oz.

  3. Daniel says:

    July 27th, 2009at 10:15 am(#)

    Hey Craig,

    You make an excellent point, and maybe they’ll get around to handcrafting more actual product than marketing crap next time. In the mean, we’ll send you ours. Cheers!

  4. DJ HawaiianShirt says:

    July 27th, 2009at 10:26 am(#)

    Wait, so you’re telling me that drinking Coors Lite won’t actually get me to a hot tub at some Rocky Mountain peak filled with buxom blonde septuplets? shit…

  5. Chuck says:

    July 28th, 2009at 12:56 pm(#)

    You, sir, are the Harlan Ellison of the spirits writing world. Bravo!

    I spent a very similar 90 seconds wondering what-the-hell and who-the-hell, and found the promotional materials to be precious at best. After my first whiff I thought, “Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract, only less complex, but with a whole lot of wintergreen.” And yep, it tastes like root beer, though less cloyingly sweet than the schnapps.

    Almost none of the included recipes looked appealing (MAYBE that Manhattan variation, but I dunno). I’d be curious to see what Craig comes up with, but I must confess that I’ve never really craved the flavor of root beer in cocktails.

    Although I must say I’m impressed that it comes paired with its own similarly flavored and scented brand of soap. Who else can say that?

  6. SeanMike says:

    July 28th, 2009at 2:07 pm(#)

    I have to admit that I have liked the stuff, and already wish for more; of the recipes published, the only one I tried was the flip involving egg and stout. It was tasty, but I used too much stout.

    As for the marketing – you paid attention to it? I know that marketers must do their thing, and whatever, good for them – but I mostly just toss out all the marketing crap after scouring it for a) contact info (in this case, it was used by a bar manager friend to snag her own sample) and b) see if any recipes look good.

    It’s too bad what Dr. Bamboo reported about additional samples, as I’m already almost out of the stuff. On the other hand, now I’ve got more jars to do experiments in!

  7. Marleigh says:

    July 29th, 2009at 10:25 am(#)

    Chuck—Amusingly enough, I just ordered a copy of “Deathbird Stories” this week. *cues Twilight Zone music*

    Like you, I’ve never craved the taste of root beer in anything but, well, root beer. And you can buy absinthe soap! I saw it at La Maison d’Absinthe while we were in town.

  8. NW says:

    July 29th, 2009at 2:36 pm(#)

    Now that is how how you write a mutha-grabbin bottle review.

  9. Rick says:

    July 30th, 2009at 10:19 am(#)

    This is why I only give negative reviews. For balance.

  10. Craig Hermann says:

    July 31st, 2009at 2:59 pm(#)

    I wish I had the time to muss about with it; all energies to the ‘Kon! I did, however, whip up this obvious little cheater:

    By The Rood
    2oz Coruba
    .75 oz Root
    .25 oz vanilla syrup
    dash Herbsaint

    Shake with crushed ice and pour into rocks glass.

    I think the “root beer” combination of flavors is one of my weakness in regards to complex flavor. I dote on the peculiarities and differences. Root is the first honest / natural-tasting “root beer” liquor product I’ve yet tasted: Please excuse the giddiness. I rue the commonality and connotation of the contemporary taste towards the fizzy drink.

  11. Jenny says:

    July 31st, 2009at 3:02 pm(#)

    The guy behind ROOT runs a PR/ad firm and I’m guessing that this is just his attempt to get a piece of the “new antiquarian” trend. His company is also planning to produce cheese, preserves, whiskey, and god knows what else. A few years ago, he made a fake indie movie called Bikini Bandits (it starred Corey Feldman, a former Ramone, and some skanks with guns) to promote his firm and its storefront, G-Mart. This is just the most recent episode in a series of general acts of marketing douche-baggery. His company also promotes Sailor Jerry rum, and, shocker, there’s a Sailor Jerry boutique in Philly where you can stock up on tattoo-inspired crap. There’s better booze made in these parts. Drink a Bluecoat rickey instead. It won’t come with soap, but you won’t feel quite so dirty afterwards anyway.

  12. Col. Hector Bravado - Denver Six Shooter says:

    July 31st, 2009at 4:38 pm(#)

    This post fascinates me for a couple of reasons: as a blogger, and as someone whose business practice is sometimes teaching folks about the value of blogger outreach. The best advice I’ve heard is “Ask a blogger if they would like to be pitched, and if so, how?” What’s your take on this? Would you respond to a pre-sample query, or do you just want a bottle in the mail so you can get down to business? I only ask because I had a recent conversation with a distiller rep whose budget prevents her from sending out bottles (I personally think her bosses need to rethink the policy). Do cocktail bloggers in general eschew reviews of something without product in the mail? How often have you or another blogger in your circle just gone out and grabbed a bottle of something you’ve heard about?

    On another note, your sendup of the marketing materials is wicked sharp. Reminds me of the sound of a lot of boutique agency websites, with the Flash intros and the clever concepts and the creatives who, while able in service of their clients, suffer delusions and logorrhea when describing themselves. “Genuine redneck haircraft.” Haaaa.

    Speaking of logorrhea, this in an awfully long comment. Anyway, fantastic post.

  13. Matt Robold (RumDood) says:

    August 12th, 2009at 1:50 pm(#)

    I think every cocktail blogger has their own policy on samples and materials, but the majority of the ones I’ve interacted with (and myself) seem to prefer product and data about the product. Give me the spirit, some information on how it’s made, where it’s made, and how you see the product positioned.

    You might think, “Well that’s the marketing stuff you just said you don’t want!” But you’d be incorrect. I don’t want the press release and the 17 cocktails with catchy names or nifty fold-out cards or cigar lighters or bottle-coozies. I want “We see our product as fitting into this niche and that’s why we made these decisions. This is our process for making the product. Please let us know if you have questions and we’ll be happy to provide you with answers.”

    That’s what I want as a cocktail/spirits blogger, and I think that the majority of the other C&S bloggers I’ve interacted with would agree.

  14. Stephanie says:

    August 30th, 2009at 2:37 pm(#)

    This isn’t a response so much to your post, which I enjoyed, but have no real new thoughts to add to the conversation on the main topic. But I just wanted to let you know your comment about Mennonites made me chuckle. I haven’t heard such uninformed offhanded comments about my kind in a while, it’s almost refreshing that there are people out there than kind of, sort of, but not really know about us. I’m really not trying to be snarky here… ok a little… but seriously? I think the best part is that until recently, most Mennos didn’t drink.

  15. Daniel says:

    August 30th, 2009at 4:46 pm(#)

    Stephanie–My uninformed, offhanded comment was not intended as a factual representation of Mennonites or your lifestyle, but as a representation of the ridiculously patronizing and predatory attitude of the Artistic Mechanical Reproductive Institute In The Time of Cholera, or whatever the hell they call themselves towards rural people, including Mennonites. The fact that not many people are informed about Mennonites (but will line up with credit cards in hand to buy a quilt for 300 bucks, as sold on the website) further proves my point, I think. While not subscribing to specific doctrine, I have nothing but respect for traditional American folkways, and no disrespect was intended. I’m sorry my sarcasm (and attendant admiration) did not translate well. Thanks for reading.


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