And Now, Small Batch Root Beer

This is the way root beer tasted 50 years ago
Theo Foscolo brews his Miss Lady root beer at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton, where he is a manager. Christopher Walsh

   An interesting offshoot of the well-established craft-beer movement is growing at Rowdy Hall.
   Theo Foscolo, a manager of the East Hampton restaurant, made a batch of root beer for Rowdy Hall’s annual beer dinner in March. The reaction was positive, and Miss Lady Small Batch Root Beer was born.
    This summer, the Miss Lady brand — the namesake, Mr. Foscolo’s dog, also modeled for the label — was sold at the farmers market at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, and can also be found locally at Round Swamp Farm and Old Stone Market (formerly Marty’s), and at Brewtopia in Port Jefferson. It is used to make root beer floats at Rowdy Hall — Mr. Foscolo did the same at the farmers market, using Joe & Liza’s Ice Cream of Sag Harbor in both instances — and, he added, goes well with rum.
    With the summer behind him, Mr. Foscolo can point to modest but encouraging results. He sold more than 600 of the 22-ounce bottles, each sealed with a bottling wax reminiscent of that found on Maker’s Mark bourbon, and is receiving inquiries from, and shipping orders to, points across the country.
    Sarsaparilla, licorice root, and anise are the primary ingredients, said Mr. Foscolo, “and I use honey, brown sugar and raw sugar, and a little bit of molasses. I keep it as healthy as I can. People don’t realize that aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup — people are poisoning themselves every day they open up a soft drink. When people look at the ingredients, they say, ‘Wow, this is simple, you don’t have to sound out the words.’ That’s what people enjoy, especially in an area like this where people are a little more health-conscious. It is soda, but not like Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper. It’s a nice alternative, a good, sweet treat that’s not going to poison you.”
    For those accustomed to mass-produced root beer, Miss Lady is certainly different, characterized by a smoothness lacking in its larger competitors. While certainly sweet, it provides a sharp and welcome contrast to the hyper-sugary soft drinks of larger producers. Children and, especially, parents have taken to it, Mr. Foscolo said.
    “People don’t want to drink bad beer anymore. People are opening their minds more to the craft-brewing process, whether it be soda, which is a completely untapped market. It’s really fun to see people’s reaction to it. It doesn’t taste the way root beer, in their minds, should taste, but this is the way root beer tasted 50 years ago. A lot of older people that come to the markets love it. You can see it in their eyes; it’s taking them back to the days of soda shops in Brooklyn. And the kids love it, it’s something different.”
    Miss Lady root beer is made in five-gallon soda kegs. The process, said Mr. Foscolo, who home-brews beer, is mostly about cleaning. “With any brewing, the majority of it is janitorial work. You don’t want to have any contamination with the product, the bottles, the packaging,” he said. “To brew it takes a half-hour to an hour. You put it in the keg, hook it up to a CO2 tank, and let it force-carbonate for about a week. The bottling and labeling is the hardest part. Many a night I was up until 3 or 4 in the morning the day before the market, getting everything ready for the next day.” Over the summer, Mr. Foscolo brewed about 30 gallons per week.
    He is contemplating more products based on the fruits of his labor. Speaking of fruit, a batch of raspberry soda he made last summer, using raspberries from Wesnofske Farms in Peconic, was a hit. “I’m going to continue to do that, especially with the seasonal fruits,” he said. While the sarsaparilla he uses comes from India, by way of an organic spice company based in Oregon, he is considering use of locally sourced honey for the root beer.
    He hopes to add 12-ounce bottles next summer and sell four-packs of Miss Lady in that more manageable size. But in the meantime, he said, “I’m looking forward to the winter so I can focus on expanding the company. I have a lot of ideas, a lot of things I want to be able to bring to the table next summer. This is really just the tip of the iceberg.”
    A taste of Miss Lady Small Batch Root Beer can be had at Rowdy Hall or by e-mailing Mr. Foscolo at missladyrootbeer@gmail.com.