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Not too sweet: House-made root beer at Powerhouse Brewery is sarsaparilla powered

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 7, 2010 at 8:24 pm | 3 Comments »
December 7, 2010 10:40 pm
House-made root beer at the Powerhouse Brewery is fueled by sarsaparilla and pure cane sugar.

My plea to restaurants is this: please offer us something delicious to drink that is free of caffeine, alcohol and way too much sugar. Your diners will thank you.

I know plenty of diners with my predicament: I don’t care for sugary sweet sodas, I don’t drink caffeine after a certain hour, and I avoid alcohol when driving after a review.

So when I find restaurants offering beverage options beyond ordinary tap water, or fancy bottled varieties a la Pellegrino, Perrier or Voss, I’m thankful and impressed.

Lately, I’ve noticed the appearance of DRY Soda, low sugar/caffeine free sodas in fanciful flavors like rhubarb and lemongrass, on menus all around town. I recently interviewed the owner of the Seattle-based company and I’ll post a feature next week about the company that got its start in Tacoma.

In the meantime, let me tell you about a root beer with a grownup taste that might intrigue those in search of less sugary soda options: house-made root beer at the Powerhouse Brewery in Puyallup. I was dining anonymously at Powerhouse for a burger excursion when I spotted it on the menu. I asked the server about the ingredients and she said the magic word: “sarsaparilla.”

Call me a fan upon first sip. The root beer had a certain watery quality that might bother some, but I liked the assertive sarsaparilla and muted carbonation with soft bubbles. The soda carried a wintergreen edge and a smooth finish of vanilla, and an undertone of clean, pure sweetness from cane sugar. And at $2.50 for a glass, the price is right (it comes with refills, our server told us). And, even better, it can be turned into a root beer float.

The Powerhouse root beer was the creation of Doug Tiede, the former brewer at the Powerhouse Brewery and Engine House No. 9 (he’s since moved on from brewing and now works in brewing supply). Now the root beer is under the direction of Powerhouse Chief Brewer Tim Patty, who has been with Powerhouse since 2002, and also formerly brewed for Tacoma’s Engine House No. 9 (at the time, both breweries shared ownership; but now are separately owned).

Patty mixes a batch of the root beer about every six to eight weeks. He starts with sarsaparilla syrup manufactured by the Weber soda company. “Then we add Panama bark, a little vanilla, citric acid and pure cane sugar,” said Patty.

Panama bark? Patty said only a tiny amount was used, but he’d never tasted it to see what flavor it imparted. I looked it up. I found the bark referenced as a foaming agent for soda. Who knew?

After the root beer syrup is mixed and boiled, the mixture is force carbonated in tanks, which can take up to a week to 10 days. Patty continually tastes the root beer as it carbonates. A batch of root beer will last between six to eight weeks. Occasionally, they’ll run out of their house root beer while another batch is carbonating. That’s when Powerhouse adds what they call “guest root beer” to the menu. Sometimes that’s Thomas Kemper root beer, but during the next period of down time while the root beer is carbonating in just a few weeks, Patty said Powerhouse will serve root beer from Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company, “I’m looking forward to serving it,” said Patty. “ They use a significant amount of honey in their root beer.”

Patty said the Powerhouse root beer is “much sharper” than that of Kemper or Snoqualmie Falls. Interpretation for diners: It’s much less sweet. “Soda, in our culture, has such an enormous amount of sugar amount of it,” said Patty. “We use plenty of sugar, but it’s pure cane sugar, so it’s a really clean, pure taste.” Will diners balk at that? Perhaps, Patty said. But the comment he hears more often is praise for the low sugar soda with grownup appeal. He said kids like it, too.

I’ve asked around and I’ve heard that Silver City Brewery in Silverdale makes hand-crafted root beer, as well as ginger ale. I’m curious if any other breweries here make their own root beer? Comment if you know so, please.

Powerhouse Brewery
Where: 454 E. Main, Puyallup
Info: 253-845-1370 or http://powerhousebrewpub.com/

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