History: In 2007 a love story began when Fordham Brewing out of Anapolis, Maryland and Old Dominion Brewing from Ashburn, Virgina merged to make beautiful beer together in Dover, Delaware. The brands Fordham and Dominion still maintain separate identities, so you’ll find the more adventurous offerings coming from the Old Dominion side, while the traditional ales and IPAs are made by Fordham. There was no prenup in this marriage, so Old Dominion decided to bring its sodas into the relationship too. Chief among them was the root beer, created during Old Dominion’s first year of existence in 1989. “We love doing it,” Fordham and Dominion CEO, Jim Lutz, says about the brewery’s sodas. There’s an affable charm to Lutz. He tells us he prefers to be called “Head Forklift Driver.” I bet he’s got dad jokes for days. What his brewery also has is soda… and lots of it. In fact, Lutz mentions that about 25% of the brewery’s business comes from its soda. In addition to the root beer, Old Dominion also makes a ginger ale, black cherry, and orange cream soda. But the root beer is the only one that maintains its original recipe, still the same as it was in 1989. Some of the premier ingredients include pure cane sugar, honey, vanilla, and yucca root. The latter is what should stand out to you even though you probably don’t know what it is or how it tastes. Yucca kind of looks like a piece of ginger and a carrot had a baby and it turned out uglier than you expected. The flavor really varies depending on the piece you get, but people often describe it as bitter or tasting like a potato. It’s also occasionally sweet, though. As for the flavor of the root beer, Lutz tells us they wanted it to taste like a sweet treat. “It tastes like the old fashioned root beer when I used to ride my bike up to this old fashioned root beer stand,” he says. Nothing wrong with spoiling yourself with a little nostalgia-inducing root beer.
Where to get: Old Dominion sodas are sold mainly throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Soda drinkers in Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. will have the easiest time finding them. They are also sporadically available in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Surprisingly, Old Dominion also sells lots of its soda in London, England for all you UK folk. The rest of us can purchase it online from Harris Teeter Grocer and Pharmacy or by contacting the brewery directly via email and setting up an order.
Nose: Vanilla; wintergreen. Pretty standard root beer nose with an emphasis on creamy vanilla and mint.
Taste: Honey; herbal; malt; mint; creamy vanilla. This is a sophisticated flavor profile, even for a root beer. A lot going on in the mouth. The flavors are in layers. Up front is a big note of honey on the back of the tongue. This is followed up by equal parts of creamy mint and vanilla. You’re about half way through the sip, and at this point, the root beer is a little sweet. Next come the herbal elements that provide balance. This is also where the carbonation reaches its peak to help provide the root beer’s bite. The wintergreen sticks around longer than the vanilla and is supplemented by yucca. The yucca gives the root beer a botanical element and imparts a little maltiness as well when combined with the mint and honey. It’s a lot for the mouth to process when analyzing, but the flavors work.
Finish: Slightly bitter, herbal mint with undertones of classic root beer.
Rating: Root beers are a dime-a-dozen in the craft soda landscape. The kingpin of the crop; you’ve gotta really make your version stand out to get noticed. Old Dominion Brewing has done a good job putting a different twist on their root beer. It isn’t like anything else. There’s multiple layers of flavor to this beverage, which is what makes it rise above others. Among the highlights include its use of honey, vanilla, mint, and yucca. It’s just a little more herbal than other root beers, while still retaining a crisp sweetness. Usually we take the term “herbal” with root beers to mean mint, but Old Dominion’s Root Beer has a distinct note of sweet malt. It’s likely the way all the ingredients work together, chiefly the yucca and honey. Both the mint and vanilla elements have a creaminess to them and these play well with the root beer’s bite and herbal notes. This root beer is like the opposite of all your break-ups: delicious, fun to process, and you won’t be crying when the pizza guy shows up. I wouldn’t mind seeing the vanilla a little more prominent. I think that would add another enjoyable element to play off the honey and yucca. Old Dominion Brewing has brewed up a really enjoyable root beer that should be savored over time. Sip slowly without ice and up your root beer game.