Lakefront Brewery: Golden Maple Root Beer

History: We all remember the intense rivalries with had with our siblings. I mean, to this day, my little brother has to call me king at all family gatherings because of the backlog of blackmail I have against him. But those are the memories you’d never trade. Well, the Klisch brothers did decide to trade their sibling rivalry… for a partnership in craft beer making. They call it Lakefront Brewery. The brewery’s tour administrator and manager of environmental programs, Chris Ranson, tells us the the story. It’s a simple one. Jim Klisch decided he wanted to see what home brewing was all about. Humored by his brother’s interest, Russ Klisch bought him a book on the subject. Jim did his homework. Turns out, Jim could brew a mighty fine ale. And Russ was like aw, hell nah. So Russ, too, made his own beer. After going back and forth on tasting trials with friends and family, the two became convinced they had a talent for beer brewing. In 1987, they founded Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To give you an idea of its success, consider this: in 1988 the brewery turned out 72 barrels of beer; in 2012, that number had grown to 33,368 barrels. After several years in the business, Ranson says the brothers came to the realization that “people need an alternative to alcohol.” Root beer, as is often the case in breweries, was the logical choice to them. But they wanted to make theirs a little different. Ranson tells us how big maple syrup is in Wisconsin. We weren’t aware, but apparently Wisconsin is the fourth-largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. behind Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. So in 1995 Lakefront Brewery decided to make a maple root beer using locally-sourced maple syrup. The root beer is made with pure cane sugar and does not use artificial coloring. This results in the root beer’s signature “golden” hue. Ranson tells us it’s “very sweet” and “definitely root beer,” but adds the maple flavor gives it a taste “somewhere between a root beer and a cream soda.” We’re not sure what to expect. This is either going to have a flavor identity crisis or it’s going to be something pretty special.

Where to get: In addition to being sold at the brewery, Golden Maple Root Beer is sold sporadically at Wisconsin Whole Foods, and is a big player at Milwaukee state fairs and farmer’s markets. If you aren’t in the area and want to try it, the company does do custom orders. Just know the shipping will be pricey. Contact Lakefront Brewery directly here.

Nose: Sarsaparilla root; mint; vanilla; spice. All in all, it’s a pretty standard root beer smell with maybe a little more emphasis on the spices. You can smell the maple a little bit, but I assume that’ll come through more in the taste.

Taste: Sugar; sweet bite; maple; wintergreen. What you taste immediately is sugar. This is sweet. Despite that, there’s actually a pretty decent bite to this – but again, it’s a sweeter bite than in most root beers. What’s strange about this is the initial flavor you get when sipping. It’s probably just how the maple interacts with the rest of the ingredients, but I swear this tastes kind of like ginger ale when it first hits your lips. The maple flavor comes through more after you drink the root beer. You’ve gotta get through a few sips of sugar-coated spices before you taste what this root beer is all about. Don’t think maple syrup. No, it’s more like a spiced root beer with added maple flavor, yet the spices don’t let the maple completely overtake the flavor profile. What I’m saying is you can taste the maple in this, but it isn’t overpowering. If this didn’t have maple syrup in it, I think this would be a particularly robust-flavored root beer rich in spices, so the maple acts as kind of a mellowing agent. This has decent balance between the maple, spices, and wintergreen mint flavors, but it retains an above average sweetness.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla and maple. The best part of the root beer.

Rating: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer is an oddball. But being weird isn’t always bad. I’m weird. I’m also still single, but there’s not necessarily a correlation there. Right? Right, guys? This isn’t going to overpower you with traditional root beer spices and extracts. You taste some sarsaparilla. You taste some wintergreen. But this root beer isn’t about being traditional; it’s about showcasing its maple flavor. After wading through a sea of liquid sugar on the first few sips, you’ll taste that maple influence. When mixed with the spices that are in here, it’s noticeable, but not particularly bold. If you go into this wanting a strongly maple syrup-flavored root beer, you’re in for disappointment. This is just a fun soda to try because there really aren’t that many maple root beers out there, and there are even fewer with a pale yellow color like this one. The biggest shortcoming of this root beer is its sugariness. Generally in root beer, sugar isn’t something that is so striking because of all the spices that counter the sweetness. But when the two most noticeable ingredients you taste are sugar and maple syrup, I mean, it’s a lot to handle. This needs more of a traditional root beer bite to balance out all that sugar. I’d suggest more of a mint flavor too. Nothing that would drastically change its identity, just little tweaks to help reign in my impending diabetes. That said, if you like sweet root beers, you might just find a favorite here. Bottom line: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer probably isn’t one you’ll drink all the time, but it’s a fun change of pace for the craft soda enthusiast.

Three Stars

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