So, today (August 6) was National Root Beer Float Day, as sponsored by A&W Restaurants because, well, just because. If you were near an A&W—and good luck with that in the Loop, where there's a frickin' McDonald's on every block—you could have been treated to a free small float. If you missed it, I'm tagging this article up the wazoo so it turns up in time for next year's NRBFD.
But I had another option today, courtesy of my own beer events calendar! I was reminded that the Franklin Tap, 325 S. Franklin, was offering a special root beer float with locally made Bobtail vanilla ice cream, and the infamous "Not Your Father's Root Beer" from Small Town Brewery of Wauconda, IL.
I may have used the word "infamous" for dramatic effect, but then again, an alcoholic root beer is the kind of thing that gives beer geeks fits, because of the possibility it might have been fermented from plain old sugar, or just flavored like a root beer schnapps. But Small Town's website says they get the fermentables from grains, but they also manage to get an occasional batch at up to 19.5% alcohol by volume, near the limit of what yeast alone can accomplish. But the version being tapped at Franklin was their more standard 10% abv. There's also supposed to be a 5% version out there, and one for the kids which has had the alcohol boiled away.
Anywho, I ordered up a float at the bar and got a 12-ounce mug with a small scoop of the ice cream. There was already a straw there, so I got to sip the root beer before the melted ice cream got into it. Oh, yes, it looks like a root beer in the way t foams up around the ice cream, but with a darker head and tighter bubbles than the carbonated version. Many raters have remarked on how sweet this brew is, and I have to agree. I really need to see the specific gravity stats on this recipe. But I also got a slight acrid note that suggested sassafrass; the original "root" in root beer, or maybe sarsaparilla. The whole brew takes on the ice cream very well, which was itself quite creamy and carried a nice vanilla flavor.
The root beer showed very little alcohol kick at all, so it is very deceptive. Only the sweetness has a chance of keeping one from overdoing it. I was given a small sample of the beer without ice cream, and it showed the same qualities I mentioned above, except for a final note of alcohol at the end, and a flourish of wintergreen.
This happened to be my first visit to Franklin Tap, which sits half a block south of Willis Tower, in the shadow of the 311 S. Wacker building (or as I call it, "The World's Tallest White Castle"). At some point in its recent past, it went from tourists and stock traders to the craft beer segment in a big way. The walls are mainly decorated, not with sports memorabilia, but with about a hundred craft tap handles, presumably ready to put into service when the beer advertised goes on tap again. Small place but with a nice view from outdoor seating, and knowledgeable beer servers. Sorry to say the root beer floats are done, but they also are currently doing $5 specials on mixed drinks with New Holland's beer-centric liquors. That's worth a return trip.
And I get to check off another brewer in my increasingly futile quest to keep up with all the new brewing places opening in Chicago this year.