Lost Trail Microbrewed Root Beer

Local microbrewed root beers make a tiny but tasty splash

The Kansas City Star

Bottles of Lost Trail root beer made in Louisburg, Kan., travel on a conveyor belt to the washer and then on to be labeled and packaged.No doubt warm weather is on the way. How do we know? Easy. At Tom and Shelly Schierman’s Louisburg Cider Mill on Kansas 68, past the jugs of apple cider and homemade soaps and Kansas postcards, the back room is humming and clanking. Loudly.
Empty brown soda bottles march single file on a metal conveyor toward a spigot that will fill them with 12 ounces of root beer.
As sure as spring, the cidermakers have put away the apples and are batching and bottling their Lost Trail root beer. That’s because root beer season is nigh. Think picnics. And a fat scoop of vanilla ice cream.
But if “root beer” to you means plastic, 2-liter bottles of A&W or Barq’s, clearly you haven’t paid close attention while strolling the soda pop aisle.A frosty mug of Lost Trail Root beer
Niche is in, as it is with so many products. That means more fun for root beer lovers.
The Schiermans describe their root beer as “microbrewed.” Specialty root beer makers also use the term “handcrafted,” even “gourmet.” Flavor differences are real, if subtle. “Ours is a smooth, creamy style,” Schierman said, “whereas Barq’s has a bite to it.” Sure, some of the allure of niche comes from marketing and packaging. But that can be fun, too. Lost Trail is an old family recipe, Schierman said, but its backstory, which trades on western history and is told on the vintage-looking label, is mostly that, a story.
“I been a lookin’ for the Santa Fe Trail three days now. Met up with some good folks. They give me some grub and something to wet my whistle. Say they call it ‘root beer.…’ ”
Empty bottles are filled with Lost Trail root beerThat’s from the invented journal of Joe Marshall, who was Shelly’s real great-great grandfather and who at least rode the trails that linked up to the Santa Fe. No evidence, though, that he stumbled across any root beer brewers.
In the galaxy of soda pop, root beer remains a tiny solar system. The discovery of more moons and planets doesn’t change that. That is, as a share of soda sales, root beer stays down at about 4 percent. It never skyrockets, never wanes.
You either love it or you don’t.A bottle of Lost Trail root beer is tested for carbonation during the bottling process at the Louisburg Cider Mill
“It’s got its devoted fans,” said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest in Bedford Hills, N.Y. “But Americans love colas. Everything else is much smaller. The interesting thing about the root beer part of the business is that there are a lot of very small regional brands.”
Nevertheless, the big brands in soda have a big presence in root beer, too. Coke does Barq’s, Pepsi does Mug, and Dr Pepper/Snapple has A&W, Hires, Stewart’s and IBC.
“The struggle is to compete with the big boys for space on the shelf,” said Schierman, who employs a sales guy to do just that.
He’s doing a good job. Locally, you don’t have to hunt much to find Lost Trail, which has been around since 1987. Besides root beer and diet root beer, Lost Trail offers sarsaparilla, cream soda, sugar cane cola and two flavored sodas, orange and cream, and strawberry and cream.
Bottles of Lost Trail root beer are lightly washedThe exact history of root beer is hard to pin down. Hires calls itself “America’s original root beer” because its originator, pharmacist Charles Hires, concocted a “root tea” and then a root beer he introduced at the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Hires sold kits of dry extract so families could make root beer at home.
While Hires was an amazing marketer for his time, root beer existed well before his product. It was flavored with parts of the sassafras tree and other herbs, spices, roots and barks. (Root beer makers today don’t use sassafras because it contains safrole, considered carcinogenic. Or they use it with the safrole removed.)
All sorts of flavorings and sweeteners in varying portions can be part of a root beer recipe — cinnamon, ginger, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, honey, vanilla, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup (eschewed by microbrewers) — which accounts for its flavor variations. And charm.Lost Trail labels are ready to be applied to warm, dry bottles
And as for that scoop of vanilla ice cream, some say the root beer float, or black cow, was “invented” in Cripple Creek, Colo., back in the 1890s. (Another Joe Marshall story?) More than 100 years later, the A&W brand is offering Float, a bottled drink that is a mix of root beer and “ice cream flavor.”
It’s not a concoction your root beer microbrewers are likely to offer. Schierman says Lost Trail matches up nicely with the real thing.
“Our creamy style works really well with ice cream in root beer floats,” he said. “Root beer and ice cream is a natural match, and you’ve got some pretty long history there.”
Smoky, hints of wild cherry bark, full-bodied
Skip the wine tasting and get the whole family involved in a root beer tasting. And you can act just as snobby.
Chilled bottles of Lost Trail root beer move quickly toward the washerGather up five or six root beer varieties at grocery stores and in take-home containers from some area “brewers.”
Tom Schierman at Louisburg Cider Mill, home of the regional Lost Trail brand, says the root beer should not be ice-cold for a taste test. Take it out of the fridge and let it warm up 10 degrees or so. That will help you discern flavors, he said.
Pay attention to how each variety tastes immediately on your tongue, then the feel in your mouth, then the taste on the way down and just afterward. Take your time.
Now, start asking questions. Here are some suggestions:
•Does the root beer taste malty at the end?
•Do you taste almond?
•How much vanilla is there?
•Is a honey flavor coming through?
•Is it veering toward cherry?
•Are there hints of cinnamon, ginger, anise? What else?
•Is it too sweet?
•Is it biting, and do you like that?
•Does it come off too fizzy or too flat?
•Is it smooth inside your mouth?
•And finally, where’s the ice cream?Bottles of Lost Trail root beer go through the label machine

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