Monday, June 13, 2011

The Franklin Fountain – In the Heart of Root Beer’s Hometown

In 1876 Charles Hires first began selling his carbonated wonder beverage known as “root beer” in Philadelphia. It just so happens that over 130 years later, not far from the very site where Hires sold his brew, a pair of brothers have carried on that very tradition in a most “traditional” way.
The Franklin Fountain sells both old fashioned ice cream and old fashioned soda. Now it is one thing to sell soda and ice cream but it is a horse of a different color to sell olde fashioned products in the olde fashioned way. Where better to pull off this feat than the Olde City of Philadelphia?
Since the Summer of 2004 Eric & Ryan Berley has been serving up their old fashioned made ice cream and sodas from their drug store like boutique not far from all the historic sites in America’s first capitol city. When Ray and I arrived we were happily greeted by two young men perfectly clad in attire form years gone by. Behind them was a vintage menu offering a variety of ice cream confections and carbonated beverages. Among the list was of course our beloved root beer. Also available was Ice Cream Soda which as I have mentioned in the past is what we now call a Root Beer Float.

Having full intentions of doing an onsite review we asked if they were okay with us bringing in a can of A&W and explained our purpose. They laughed and said that it was okay with them. So with a couple of glasses of brew poured fresh from their barrel.... Yes from their "barrel", we were on our way to olde fashioned root beer bliss, I should mention that it was served with a paper straw, yes and olde fashioned paper straw!!! On a side note we also grabbed a very, very tall root beer float which was worth every penny!!

I found the brew to be shocking!! It has not been often that I have enjoyed the full flavor of a very traditional root beer. In many ways our modern “natural” root beers are similar to those of Charles Hires day. This is like those modern natural root beers with a slight twist. The taste is as earthy as would be expected. Lots of flavor, that is certain, I should say many distinct flavors all at once, some good, some NOT, but somehow they all flow together in a pleasant, yet bitter, root beer that I happily enjoyed. In fact I enjoyed more than just my glass…. You know Ray????? (I just couldn't let good brew go to waste.) The twist comes in how it is served, or should I say where it is served. It would be one thing if this bitter brew was bottled and sent across the country and I was sitting in my office when we conducted this review.

I admit that if that was the case I am not sure I could have gotten Ray to try it. The reality is that the olde fashioned flavor is only conducive to the olde fashioned environment from which it was served. Please do not get me wrong, the brew is good. Very light on carbonation, in fact almost none at all, dark, very dark, flavorful with lots of wintergreen, and most importantly a distinct root beer extract foundation. But all of that is perfectly complimented by the vintage drug store atmosphere and that is what drives this brew home for me. I extend a warning to novice brew lovers, do not approach this brew lightly, it’s not A&W!!! Picture Charles Hires literally brewing a bunch of leaves, roots, and bark in a big cast iron kettle. That my friends is what awaits you at the Franklin Fountain. Now some might think I say this in a negative way…. Please do not misunderstand me, I love this brew!! The fact is however, that I love this brew for what it is, I love it for being an olde fashioned brew. If all of this wasn’t enough those brothers made this statement on their website:

“The Franklin Fountain aims to serve an experience steeped in ideals, drizzled with drollery, and sprinkled with the forgotten flavors of the American past.”

I assure you my friends they do this and so much more!!! For their very unique and truly olde fashioned flavor served from a barrel and in a drug store atmosphere I grant Franklin Fountain Root Beer Sod
4.5 Frosty Mugs
Check out the Franklin Soda Fountain for yourself:

Whoa!! Whoa!! Whooa!!! It’s time for my 2 cents on this outing. You can guess who the slacker is on this co-op review. At the rate of inflation though my 2 cents might now be worth a whole quarter compared to when Adam finished his part of the review. And with the additive effects of the bearish stock market, increased energy prices, and the falling dollar, my input might be worth a whole dollar. All supposition to highlight my tardiness.

Back to the matter at hand, us rootbeer brothers are not only of diverse taste but live in different locations. Hence it is rare when any two of us, much less all, find ourselves together for a root beer evaluation. As a side note, all of us have never been in one location together before, which might be a blessing.

Since Adam wrote a story and a half, I’ll keep “my“ half to a manageable amount. First off i love this place. From it’s old time feel to the delicious ice cream and concoctions. It’s totally engrossing because I love those unique places that can transport you to another time or place. And then Franklin seals the deal with great tasting stuff. Just remember without the goods all the bells and whistle will only bring them in once. I have been to this Philly place twice already in the past year and I’m from Texas!

On to the Franklin Fountain root beer! Yes it came from a barrel, which was my first. I gotta admit, it was kinda cool and kinda freaky, from a sanitary point of view. Between the root beers and the root beer float, it was a most unique drinking experience. I actually enjoyed the first few sips because quite frankly the atmosphere put me in a good mood (and the butter pecan ice cream cone didn’t hurt either).

But after the initial taste it was hard to take anymore. Not as sweet, carbonated, or creamy as A&W. The taste is quite distinctive with lots of “character” compared to most of the other root beers I have drank up to this point. Good thing Adam was there to finish my glass. Based on my select palette I am sure I will not be asking for their root beer again. If I can make it back that is, but it is worth an experience. Franklin Fountain is a winner and a must stop for any foodie.

2 frosty mugs

ps- remember to bring cash. they do not take credit card or out of state checks :]


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