Saturday, August 19, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Several Goat Cheeses With Weird Things Stuck in Them

     I was wandering around the cheese section of my local Shop-Rite supermarket recently when I saw something strange:  small goat cheese "logs" which had dramatically odd colors, and, when I checked more closely, correspondingly odd flavors.  So I snapped up a selection of the weirdest ones I could find and gave them a try.  I ended up with one from Alouette Cheese, and two from Montchevre (Betin, Inc.).
    Just as a review, goat cheese has a few differences from the typical cheeses made from cow's milk.  For one thing, it doesn't melt in the same manner--instead it basically just softens when exposed to heat.  Also, due to the presence of more particular types of fatty acids, cheese made from goat's milk tends to have a more tart flavor.  Finally, while some goat cheeses are made with the usual rennet, it can also be made by adding lemon or vinegar to raw goat's milk, or by simply letting the milk naturally curdle, and then draining and pressing the resulting curds.  Goat cheese is popular around the world.  Some of the countries which particularly enjoy and produce it are Venezuela, the U.S., the U.K., Turkey, Australia, China, France, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, and of course, Greece.  For more info about goats in general, and their meat, consult my June 23, 2013 post.  And to read about a wonderfully bizarre Scandinavian goat cheese (one especially popular in Norway), gjetost, see the June 4, 2012 post.
    Alouette Cheese is an American brand of the French company Savencia Fromage & Dairy (nee Bongrain).  Jean-Noel Bongrain started Alouette in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania in 1974, and then later expanded into Illinois as well.  The company proudly notes that almost all of their cheeses are kosher and gluten-free, and that they use no animal rennet.  They also are known for their soft spreadable cheeses, dips, brie, and crumbled cheeses.
     Montchevre (Betin) is also an American production started by French expats fairly recently.  Arnaud Solandt and Jean Rossard started it back in 1989. They make cheese only from goats, over 75 different kinds.  Alternate flavors of the 4 ounce (133 gram) "logs" I got are natural, garlic and herb, 4 peppers, honey, jalepeno, lemon zest, fig and olive, peppadew, pumpkin, truffle, and sundried tomato and basil.  The company's products are now non-GMO, too, if you care about this issue.
     Now I'll discuss the cheeses themselves.  All were the 4 ounce/133 gram "logs."

1) Alouette Chavrie mild goat cheese with sundried tomato, garlic, and parsley:  This looked whitish, with many red and green specks embedded in it, especially around the exterior.  I had it plain, sliced into pieces.  It was delicious.  Kind of tangy, and the tomatoes and garlic spice it up really well.  A superior flavor pairing.

2) Montchevre (Betin) goat cheese with blueberry and vanilla.  This one had a whitish center, with purplish/blue blueberries embedded around the edge.  It was sweet, obviously.  I easily detected the blueberries, but not the vanilla, really.  Kind of a strange taste, but still top notch.  In this case a sweet and savory taste is a winning combination.  I think this would make an excellent dessert cheese, if that's a thing.

3) Montchevre goat cheese with cranberry and cinnamon.  Once again, the center was a white color, while the outer edge was reddish from the cranberry chunks.  This time I could pick out both advertised flavors.  And again, the result was very good, and I loved it.  Some folks like to serve plates with cheese and fruit (grapes, etc.) on them, so I guess this and the blueberry kind just make this more efficient.  Another dessert cheese.

     So, yet again, I tried some new varieties of cheese and came away impressed.  Each of these logs were $3.99, meaning they weren't ridiculously expensive, or anything.  I will definitely buy these again, and wholeheartedly recommend them.  And hopefully I'll be able to locate some of the alternate flavors and products from both of these companies.  I'm particularly eager to pick up some "peppadew," because I'm not sure what flavor this is.  Peppers with honeydew melon?--I'll have to find out.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Three Dutch Desserts, and an Aside About Monster Trucks, of All Things

     Today I'll be talking about two kinds of candy from Gustaf's, and a cookie made by Daelmans.  All of these came from Wegman's once more.
     Alas, I can't give even a brief background about Gustaf's, as I couldn't find anything online.  There were several sites which marketed their wares, but I didn't see an actual company website.  Therefore, all I can report is that aside from the Foamy Fruity Gummies and the Soft Licorice & Fruit that I ate, they also manufacture black and salted licorices, and candies in lace, sandwich, button, and filled straw shapes (I think these are probably licorice, too).
     Daelmans, fortunately, has a website and thus more info.  The company was begun in 1909 by Hermanus Daelmans, starting in the town of Vlijmen.  From this small beginning Daelmans has blossomed into a large, successful corporation which exports to at least 30 countries.  Aside from the Amsterdam short cake cookies I tried, their primary pastry categories are speculaas biscuits, coconut pastries, caramel waffles, puff pastries (turnovers and rolls), and filled pastries (with fruit, etc.).  Daelmans is quite the socially conscious company, too, as they are into various causes such as sustainable palm oil, sustainable agriculture (they're UTZ certified), and fair trade.
     On to the food itself. From Gustaf's, I had two Freeway-themed candies--the Monster Truck Foamy Fruity Gummies and the Double Decker Soft Licorice & Fruit.  The former were about 4 cm. by 2 cm. (about 1.5 inches by .75 inch) candies available in three flavors, shaped like monster trucks.  The latter were double decker bus-shaped, and about 2.5 cm. by 1 cm. (or about 1 inch by .5 inch), coming in six varieties.  I'll list each kind below.
      Monster Truck Foamy Fruit Gummies:
            1) Strawberry (pink truck body, with red tires): Okay, distinct strawberry flavor, just average.
            2) Banana and licorice (yellow body, with purple tires): Strange flavor pairing.  Didn't like, but then I'm not generally into banana flavors.
            3) Orange (orange body, with orange tires): Alright, orange-y in flavor, obviously.  Was the best of the bunch, but not great.
      For all of these the truck body parts were a taffy-like texture, and the tires were gummy-ish.

     Double Decker Duos Soft Licorice & Fruit:
           1) Raspberry (red color): Reminded me of Twizzlers in texture.  Strong raspberry flavor, very good.
           2) Orange (orange color): Also decent, but not as flavorful or good as the raspberry.
           3) Apple (green color): Green apple flavor.  Not very good, but I don't particularly enjoy this flavor usually.
           4) Lemon (yellow): Rather "meh."  Just okay, not very memorable.
           5) Pineapple (white): This one was pretty tasty.  Above average.
           6) Black Currant (purple): Tart, and again very nice.  Probably my second favorite.
     All of these had the flavor color at the first third of so of the bus, while the back two thirds were black.  In order I liked the raspberry best, then black currant, then pineapple, orange, lemon, and apple.
     The Daelmans cookies were about 3 inches by 1 inch (about 7.5 cm. by 2.5 cm.), yellowish-brown, and in the shape of little buildings.  They had a sweet odor, and were fairly crunchy.  They weren't overly sweet, but still were tasty.  I would characterize them as a solid cookie.  I learned later that they came in 8 different shapes.  The website didn't mention if these are based on 8 different real buildings (and if so, which ones), or just 8 different building styles.  All the different shapes tasted the same, though.
     I'll end with some brief info about monster trucks.  Monster trucks, for the uninitiated, are pickup trucks with modified, larger suspensions and tires.  I was curious that Gustaf's chose this shape for their candy, as I thought that these trucks were mostly an American phenomenon.  Although they evidently did start in the U.S., other countries, including The Netherlands, apparently, have interest in them as well.  Also, there's controversy over whose truck was the first to drive over and crush other cars.  Jeff Dane's "King Kong" (aka "Bigger Foot") claims to have done it in the late 1970's.  The Dykman Brothers also claim to have been first, using their "Cyclops." as did the owners (unnamed) of "High Roller" (aka "Thunder Beast").  But the earliest verified video shows that Bob Chandler's "Bigfoot" was the first, in April of 1981.  Let the argument begin, I suppose.  Finally, the longest monster truck ever was 32 feet (9.8 meters) long, owned by Brad and Jen Campbell.  And my favorite monster truck name is probably the one which is less obvious and cliche macho, and instead is more honest and mockingly self-aware: "Blown Income," owned by Jeff Champ and Jared Vogle.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--French Soft Drinks

     Normally my local grocery at home (Shop-Rite) isn't a great place to find foreign foods or drinks.  But this time it came through.  I was able to get a couple of beverages from Geyer Freres, from their Lorina line.  Specifically, their sparkling coconut lime and sparkling pomegranate flavors.
     The Lorina website notes that the company was developed by Victor Geyer, starting back in 1895.  They have a short company video, too.  The site also mentions that they're a "well kept secret."  Hopefully for their sake this refers to the products' secret recipes, and not their overall sales.  Not sure if more than two people know the recipes, as is the case with the American Coca-Cola.  Additionally, Lorina makes various modern popular claims, such as their products lack gluten, artificial colors and flavors, and high fructose corn syrup.  (Their sweetener is "pure crystal" sugar derived from sugar beets.)  There's also an unusual item about their containers.  It's "more than a bottle, a decorative item."  It's suggested that consumers use the empties as vases, or as water carafes.  I think this refers to the glass, metal flip top-equipped ones that are evidently sold in France.  The two I bought were plastic, with twist off, plastic caps.  Clearly one could reuse these plastic bottles to hold your flowers or drinking water, but I don't think they'd have the same panache.  Finally, it appears that the local French Lorina flavors are slightly different from their export ones.  They list pink lemonade, blood orange, pomegranate blueberry, Authentic French lemonade, lemon, strawberry, and coconut lime.  Plus citrus lemonade and French berry in their "prestige" sub-line.
     But on to my impressions.  Both bottles were 1.15 liters (38.3 ounces).  The coconut lime one does not contain any actual fruit juice, but does boast its water is from Vosges sandstone.  The drink's color was a cloudy whitish.  It had a weird taste.  I could pick up on the coconut tinge, as well as a citrus-y one.  It was a little off-putting at first, but it kind of grew on me.  So my eventual opinion was that it was alright, but not great.
     The sparkling pomegranate cam in the same size bottle, and had a red color, of course.  This one did have a little juice--a whole 2%.  This drink was pretty good.  Nicely tart.  I liked this one better than the coconut lime.  It was a solid soft drink.
     Therefore, neither beverage was bad or anything.  I might get the pomegranate one again. To be fair, I'm more familiar with, and enjoy the pomegranate flavor more than coconut.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Two Indonesian Treats

    We're back to more foods from a Wegman's grocery.  Specifically a ginger candy and a type of cookie, or wafer, or "biscuit" depending on what your culture calls individual sweet dessert pastries.
     Some might say that the candy I'll be discussing today is a bit of a cheat, as it's another Gin Gin product, from the Ginger People Group once more.  And that's kind of true, but technically these Gin Gins were made in Indonesia.  But, to avoid repeating myself, please check out the April 15, 2017 post on Fijian ginger candy for more info on the company that makes and distributes this product.
     The cookies were made in Indonesia by Ojo, and packed for the President Global Corporation in California.  I wasn't able to find out much about Ojo.  The President Global Corp. does have a website, but it's pretty terse.  Essentially, I learned that the company exists to import/export products from various Southeast Asian countries, such as Taiwan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  These products include types of crackers, noodles, condiments, and beverages.  In addition to the Angle Wafers I tried, Ojo also makes cookies with butter coconut, raisins, and a "lucky lemon puff."
    The Gin Gins this time were individually wrapped, disc shaped, firm, and light brown in color.  About 2 cm. (.75 inch) in diameter, with 12 pieces in the small box.  They were listed as The Traveler's Candy, and Super Strength.  I found them hard to eat--they had a taffy-like consistency.  As I've mentioned several times before, I usually like ginger as a flavor, so these weren't bad or anything.  But I definitely preferred the Fijian Gin Gin crystalized pieces of ginger to this kind.  The anthropomorphized ginger person logo was notably less morbid for the Indonesian Gin Gins, though--it was wearing clothes and carrying a suitcase, unlike its Fijian counterpart (once again, see my April 15, 2017 post for more on that horror show).
     The Angel Wafers were a double lobe shape, whitish with a brown glaze, and about 7 cm (3 inches) by 5 cm. (2 inches).  I guess this shape was to represent a traditional angel wings design.  I did check, though--there are no ground up angel parts in the cookies, just wheat flour, margarine, palm and coconut oil, sugar, and salt.  According to a website these cookies are "made with alternating layers of dough and butter, rolled and folded over to create possibly hundreds of flaky layers."  I thought they had an odd flavor.  They had a typical cookie sweetness, but they also had a somehow savory taste, too.  So a bit strange, but not without their charms.  So, certainly good, and worth recommending, but different from the cookies I'm most familiar with.
     Thought I'd wrap this up by including some random facts about Indonesia.  For starters, it's the world's largest island country, consisting of over 17,500 islands.  It's also the fourth most populous country in the world, trailing only China, India, and the U.S., with over 260 million people.  It boasts the world's second highest level of biodiversity, behind only Brazil.  Over 700 different languages and dialects are spoken there.  As far as athletes go, Indonesia is probably best known for producing  boxers, such as Ellyas Pical, Chris John, Muhammad Rachman, and Nico Thomas, all who were title belt holders.  As for other kinds of entertainment, the co-director of the "Despicable Me" movie series (2010, 2013, 2017), the wonderfully named Pierre Coffin, is half Indonesian.  Alex and Eddie Van Halen, from the hard rock group Van Halen, are one quarter Indonesian.  Lil Dagover, who co-starred in the famous silent film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920), was of German heritage, but born in Indonesia.  Laura Gemser, star of the notorious sexploitation/horror "Emanuelle" series in the 1970's and 80's, was Indonesian.  Other famous, or infamous Indonesian things are the horribly destructive Krakatoa volcano, responsible for one of the world's worst volcanic eruptions in 1883 (and perhaps the world's loudest event), the Homo floriensis fossils (the so-called "hobbit" people), and the world's largest individual flower, Rafflesia arnoldii, which has blossoms that can be 3 feet in diameter (.91 meters) and up to 15 pounds (6.8 kg.) in weight, and reek like a rotting corpse.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Colombian Candies

     This one is left over from my extremely fruitful visit to Washington D.C.'s Union Market back in March of 2016.  So I have to thank my friend Keith one more time.  I misplaced these candies in a bag and kind of forgot about them.  But now they get their day in the sun, so to speak.
     Both my candy bags were Colombina products.  This company is immense, which makes sense considering how the tiny Colombian candy companies presumably don't export to the U.S.  (Or if they do, I haven't seen them.)  Not surprisingly, this juggernaut has an extensive website, so I was able to learn a few things about its history.  Hernando Caicedo founded Colombina in the 1930's.  In 1960 they adapted European manufacturing techniques, and made a move away from using artificial flavoring.  In 1965 they started exporting to the important U.S. market.  In 1970 they introduced their famous Bon Bon Bum, a gum-filled lollipop.  In 1975 they introduced their flagship product, Coffee Delight Candy.  By the 1980's, they acquired or partnered up with other companies, and expanded into the biscuit (cookie) line.  In 2001, through a company alliance, they broke into the instant coffee market.  By 2004 they got into the ice cream racket, and by 2007 they entered the soda cracker game.  Finally, in 2013 they acquired a hot sauce company, and allied with LivSmart to co-produce health drinks.  Currently, they're sold in 70 countries all over the world, including much of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North, Central, and South America, and India, Pakistan, and New Zealand.  So essentially, they have a foothold everywhere but most of Asia, and Australia.  The online company product list has 86 pages, and aside from the foods and beverages I've already mentioned they also manufacture baby food and quinoa (see May 1, 2014 post).
     The first bag of candy I bought was Fussione, billed as "Premium Quality Candy with European Flavor," in this case the Caramel Delight hard candies, with real chocolate filling.  These were small (about 2 cm./.75 inch) diameter disc-shaped, brown colored candies.  They were, as advertised, hard candy which melted into a liquid-y chocolate center.  The caramel flavor was tasty, as was the chocolate filling.  I really liked these.  Even though, as I discovered, they were nearly 2 years past their "best by" date!
     Next up was a literal grab bag, the Colombina "Fun Mix."  The label listed 8 kinds of candy, but I could only locate 6 different types.  (As I said, I tried some of these over a year ago, and then misplaced my notes and the bags themselves, so I think this discrepancy is my fault.)  This bag was still within its "best by" freshness date.

1) Bon Bon Bum, gum-filled lollipop.  This was an oval lollipop, about 3 by 2 cm. (about 1.5 by .75 inches), with a red color.  The lollipop itself was Berry Explosion flavor, and was quite good, with a pleasing berry taste.  However, once it melted down into the gum center I lost interest.  I'm not a gum guy--I find gum kind of gross after it loses its flavor (which for me is like 30 seconds), since to me it's like chewing on plastic.  So I'm clearly not the target audience for this one.

2) Fancy Filled, Strawberry candy.  This was a red oval, about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) long.  In structure it was like the Fussione, a hard candy surrounding a liquid-y center.  It was alright, but not spectacular.  The strawberry outer flavor and the inner center were okay, but not great.

3) Striped Buttons, in cherry and lemon (or pineapple?) flavors.  These were disc-shaped, 2 cm. (.75 inch) diameter hard candies with white stripes (obviously) and were red, and yellow, respectively.  These were just okay.   Decent flavor, but rather pedestrian.

4) Watermelon Tiger Pop.  This was a lollipop that was basically a hard candy on a stick.  It was green colored and oval, about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) long.  I'm not a big fan of watermelon flavor, so I didn't like this one much, and didn't finish it.

5) Cherry/Lime Tiger Pop.  This was a bigger (about 3.5 cm./1.5 inch diameter), round, flat lollipop, with red and green stripes.  Once again, it was adequate, but nothing special.

6) Frutacidas chewy candies.  These were rod-shaped, about 3 cm. (1.25 inches) long.  3 flavors--sour pineapple (yellow colored candy), sour lemon (green), and sour strawberry (orange).  (As an aside, isn't "sour" lemon redundant?)  These all had soft, taffy-like textures. I  liked these,as all had the appropriate fruit flavor.  The sour strawberry was the best.

     Therefore, I came away thinking these Colombina candies were hit and miss.  The "Fun Mix" assortment was particularly a mixed bag, quality-wise, for me.  I would get the Caramel Fussione and the Frutacidas again, but probably not the others.  Although, to be fair, even the "worst" candies weren't terrible or anything, just kind of average or "meh."  I will try other Colombina products when/if I get the chance.  And, quite frankly, those who find themselves in Colombia would probably have quite the challenge in not buying this company's products, given how many foods and beverages they sell.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Writing News--An Anthology Update

     I recently learned that one of my stories was accepted for an upcoming horror anthology.  The (tentative) title for this anthology is "Hidden Animals:  A Collection of Cryptids."  The publisher is Dragon's Roost Press, whose website can be found at: .  This is a charity anthology, with some of the proceeds going to the Last Day Dog Rescue, out of Michigan.  Michael Cieslak is the Dragon's Roost Press's owner and editor.  This book is scheduled to be published in winter of 2017.
     "Cryptids" refers to legendary and folkloric animals, ala Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil.  This anthology is set up so that each story is about one of these animals, with no repeats.  It's also focused on some more obscure, lesser-known beasties.  Here's a list of some of the creatures featured in the book:

1) Abominable Snowman
2) Ozark Howler
3) Man Eating Tree
4) Wendigo
5) Mermaid
6) Mongolian Death Worm
7) Hellhound
8) Jorogumo
9) Kelpie
10) Kraken
11) Lake Monster
12) Mapinguari
13) Mokele-Mbembe/ Ninki-Nanka
14) Old Yellow Top
15) Thunderbird
16) Plesiosaur
17) Triceratops
18) Squonk
      (Okay, a couple of these were real dinosaurs, but those have been extinct for millions of years, so you get the idea.)
      The following is a list of the authors and titles that have been accepted, so far.  I say so far, because this anthology is open to submissions until August 31, 2017, or until it is filled.  So for any writers out there, you might want to check out the guidelines on Dragon's Roost Press's website.  They pay 3 cents per word (possibly more, depending on a crowdfunding campaign), plus copies.  I wouldn't wait, either, since it seems like there are probably only a couple of possible slots left.  Anyway, here's the list of my fellow authors and their stories, in no particular order:

1) "Night Quarry" by Paul Tanner
2) "Picnicing With Old Yellow Top" by Adam Millard
3) "Sky Demon" by Jeff Brigham
4) "A Cruelty That Cuts Both Ways" by Aimee Ogden
5) "Lifeboat" by Danielle Warnick
6) "An Unusual Pet" by Matt Hayward
7) " An Exchange of Fear" by Lynn Rushlau
8) "From a Laptop in the Jungle" by Erik Goldsmith
9) "Hellhound" by Sarah Doebereiner
10) "Iceheart" by Sarah Haus
11) "Moonlight Forest" by Soumya Sundar Mukherjee
12) "O Christmas Tree" by Gregory L. Norris
13) "Please Don't Feed the Howler" by Frances Pauli
14) "Spider" by A. Collingwood
15) "The Anna Doria" by Ellen Denton
16) "The Ghost Tree" by Sharon Diana King
17) "Two Yurts" by Dale L.Sproule
18) "Wake" by Jennie Brass
19) "You Will Be Laid Low Even at the Sight of Him" by Kevin Wetmore

     My story is "The Keystone State" about the squonk.  As usual, I'll provide more information as I receive it, such as the cover image, publication date, etc.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sarsaparilla

     Like a lot of people, my introduction to sarsaparilla was various American Western movies and television programs.  Basically, if a character ordered this (soft) drink instead of whiskey, or at least another kind of alcoholic beverage, then they were probably (soft) cowards.  Or, to use a vulgar term, any guy who drank sarsaparilla was probably a pussy.
     As it turns out, tracing the history and details of this drink is a little confusing.  It was undeniably popular in the 19th century, especially in the U.S., or in places that would eventually become U.S. states.  It was imbibed partly as a soft drink, and partly as a type of patent medicine.  Sarsaparilla was thought to be good for treating blood and skin ailments.  And, also, perhaps ironically given its reputation, it was believed to help combat venereal infections.  (Almost all of these patent medicines were useless, the "snake oil" concoctions of the day.)
     Now we get to the issue of what sarsaparilla really is.  The traditional drink was made from birch oil and the dried bark of the sassafras tree.  (The latter was also a main flavoring agent of root beer.)  However, over the years what constituted the drink changed greatly.  In 1960 the FDA in the U.S. banned the use of sassafras, since evidence suggests that it may be a carcinogen.  (It's also used, illegally, of course, in the production of the drugs MDA and MDMA.)  So modern versions of the drink use something else.  Specifically, a relative of the lily plant, the sarsaparilla vine.  So although the name didn't change, the actual main ingredient did change, and made the drink's name more botanically accurate decades after its invention.  And although it's not as popular as in its 19th century heyday, the new version of the beverage is consumed around the world, most notably in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
    The sarsaparilla I had was made by Orca Beverage Soda Works, out of Mukilteo, Washington.  This is a company which specializes in retro soft drinks.  They've reintroduced old classics such as Goody, Hippo Size, Dragon Trail, Red Arrow, Bedford's, Dad's, et. al.  Even Lemmy, which doesn't actually have anything to do with the late, lamented Motorhead frontman.  Orca was founded in the 1980's by Mike Bourgeois, whose name makes him sound like a member of some 1980's political punk band.  The company also manufactures Krazy Kritters (a vitamin drink for kids which comes in fun animal-shaped containers), and, bizarrely, old timey, soft drink-themed thermometers.  I've already unknowingly raved about one of their products, the awesome diet ginger beer called Cock 'n Bull (see May 20, 2017 post).
     Anyway, the drink I had was called Earp's, to complete the Western theme, I suppose.  A rendition of, presumably, Wyatt Earp was on the label.  I rechecked the ingredient list, and saw no sign that they utilized the taboo sassafras bark flavoring.  So this is the modern, inauthentic-to-some version.  It was a dark brown color, and smelled like birch beer.  The taste was also like a mild birch beer, or a root beer.  These two aren't my favorite soft drink flavor, but the Earp's sarsaparilla was pretty good.  Not great like the Cock 'n Bull ginger beer, but solid.  If you enjoy birch/root beers you'll probably like this one, too.  Although I guess if you do drink it, in certain circles you'll be running the risk of having your friends mock you and call you a "wuss" or the like.  It would be interesting to compare this version of the drink with "real" sassafras bark-flavored sarsaparilla, but I guess I'll have to break the law or travel to another country to attempt this.