O Henry!

imageWhy can’t I have a root beer?  Actually, I do have 6 bottles of my 2nd favorite Root Beer, Buckin’ Root Beer, chilling in a cooler for the young men in the Church.  I drove down to Mass Street Soda in Lawrence, Kansas, a gourmet soda and root beer shop, to get the best root beer in the world and the only place in Kansas to get it.

I asked the owner/operator where it was located in the recently moved store and I was met with these stinging words:

“I’ve been black balled!”

He proceeded to tell me that it was virtually impossible to get Winehard’s Root Beer in Kansas anymore.  A little history is needed here.

Henry Winehard’s emigrated from Germany in 1856 at the age of 26.  He worked his way across the country working for different Brewers.  After 6 years, he opened up his own brewery in his own town; Portland in 1862.  His brewing was phenomenal; his leadership was unique.

  • When bars in town faced hard economic times, he began buying bars.
  • Portland, 1887.  The city built a new fountain downtown.  Henry offered to pump beer through it.  Fear of rowdy horses by the city nixed the idea.
  • In 1891, he figured: “If my workers make the beer, they should share in the beer!”  This is when he made Henry Winehard’s beer free for its employees.
  • $1.175 million was offered to buy the brewery.  That was 1892.  He turned it down.

Henry died in 1904, but the brewing persisted.  Beer was still their passion, but Prohibition halted production 10 years later. His sons-in-law, Paul Wessinger and Henry Wagner, faced the 19 year Prohibition, due to the 18th Ammendment, with vision and clarity.  While they continued to produce beer under the table, they took on a legitimate side with the production of Root Beer, which they called elixir.  Once Prohibition ended, in 1933, they continued the root beer recipe.

This is how the rich taste that bless many outside of Kansas came to be.

Here is the issue.  Weinhards had always been a regional operation, serving the north-west portion of the United States.  It had always been a struggle to subsist in the national beer market with the likes of Budwiser and other market giants. In 1999, Miller Coors bought Weinhards out.  They continued production of the Root Beer but changed distribution policy.  They only distribute to beer distributors.  Two issues.  1). Mass street is not a beer distributor.  The owner once had a deal with the company, but It has since changed. 2). No beer distributors in Kansas or Missouri are willing to bring in Root Beer.

This is why I can’t drink my Root Beer.

image
A decent number 2.  From Jackson Hole Soda Co. “Buckin Root Beer”

 

Life Change in a Bottle

IMG_4813I didn’t wake up this morning expecting the world to be turned upside down but now I’m looking up at the floor and walking on the knock-down-textured-ceiling…and all because of a little brown bottle.

For my birthday, Ethan Schultz bought me a 6 pack of rootbeer from Mass Street Soda in Lawrence.  It contained my two favorite root beers (Henry Wienhards and Buckin’ Rootbeer) out of the now 42 different kinds that I have tried.  I love a good story, a good thought, and a good root beer.

But nestled next to a couple favorites was a new kind, fresh press, a unknown entity…Barrel Brother’s Root Beer.  The good brewers at Apple Beer have made a root beer with strong vanilla taste with a hint of Marshmallow.  Though it did not displace my top two, it slid firmly into third place, displacing Bulldog.

For many of you, this is the most you have read about root beer, but I consider it my mission to help educate you on the finer points of the legal side of the Prohibition.