I love root beer! I know not everyone likes it but something about its sweet, bubblegum flavour takes me back to childhood and when I drink it, I feel safe and comfortable. I could probably do a whole blog post on the psychological interpretations of that statement, but I’ll spare you the details and write about the drink itself.
I spent nearly 2 weeks in Illinois but one of the highlights for me was visiting the world famous ‘Fitz’s Root Beer Factory’ in nearby St Louis, Missouri. The factory has a restaurant attached so you could enjoy your meal while you watched them making and bottling what has been called “one of the best root beer in the United States.” They use a unique formula which features ingredients such as natural roots, spices and barks. It is also only sweetened with pure, natural cane sugar so you don’t have to worry about nasty artificial sweeteners.
Incredibly, the equipment they use is over 50 years old. When the restaurant and factory opened in 1993, they searched, and ultimately found, a 1940′s vintage bottling line. It was refurbished and installed in the restaurant and can be viewed from every table. When I asked about the maintenance, Assistant General Manager, Erin Laabs, explained, “The machines and operating area go through a general cleaning every day they are used, and a detailed cleaning weekly. Once a year, production shuts down for about a week so the machines can be dismantled, thoroughly cleaned and repaired piece-by-piece, and repainted.” They don’t want anything interfering with that world-famous taste.
The bottling process starts with the first machine which puts the syrup and carbonated water into the bottles and puts a cap on top. This machine is also used for quality checking and throws bottles out of line if they are either too full or too empty.
These bottles then whizz along the track to the second machine. This machine mixes the mixture by flipping the bottle around and around SIX TIMES (anything less and the mixture will separate).
Now the mixture is finished and all that is left to do is stick the label on the front. I asked Erin how many bottles they produce each day.
“Production varies based on demand, and also increases on days the restaurant will be busy (so that as many guests as possible can enjoy the spectacle.) However, on a peak production day, approximately 24,000 bottles come off the line.”
That is quite something!
The end result is a delicious root beer… or diet root beer, cream soda, diet cream soda, strawberry pop, black cherry, hip hop pop, ginger ale, orange pop, orange cream or grape pop. Recently two new flavours have been added, Coffee Cola and Ginger Beer (which is similar to Ginger Ale but spicier and non alcoholic.) I love Ginger Beer – perhaps I need to head back to St Louis?
The most popular flavour? You guessed it – Root Beer. It’s the flagship soda of the Fitz’s brand and the one with the most history. They still use the original recipe from 1947. The Cream Soda is also very popular. Try their root beer float – it’s easily the best I’ve had (and I’ve had MANY root beer floats!!)
And if the drinks weren’t enough, the restaurant offers top quality American fare. I tried deep-fried ravioli, courtesy of Fitz’s, for the very first time. It was a great appetizer – not greasy and lightly crunchy with a savoury filling.
I also tried deep fried pickles for the first time. Think sliced gherkins/pickled cucumbers deep-fried in batter. A sweet vinegary flavour with the crispy batter – a great combination which I really enjoyed.
For my main course, I indulged in a deliciously tender steak salad.
They have a great menu which can be viewed and downloaded from their website (see address below).
Today, Fitz’s American Grill & Bottling Works sits in the heart of the Delmar Loop, an area with quirky stores, shops and an old renovated movie theater dating back to the 1930’s. One of the highlights of this area is the St. Louis Walk of Fame which honors more than 100 men and women with plaques in the sidewalk. These were many names that I recognised but didn’t know were from St Louis, e.g. Kevin Kline, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, Tennessee Williams, Charles Lindbergh and Stan Musial.
So if you’re near St Louis, do check Fitz’s out – you won’t be disappointed, the food is fantastic and the root beer classic.
Here’s a quick ‘Root Beer Float’ recipe from their website.
1. A cold bottle of Fitz’s root beer
2. A pint of good vanilla ice cream
3. A frosty mug.
To make a mug frosty, dip it in water, then put it in the freezer for one hour.
Carefully lower 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream into the mug and add Fitz’s root beer. Put in a straw and a long-handled spoon.
You’re ready to enjoy your very own homemade Fitz’s Float.
Any of the thirteen flavors can be shipped – simply email the info address provided online and then indulge in the taste of Fitz’s world-famous sodas.
Open 7 days a week. (Check website for bottling schedule times).
Restaurant Hours: Open daily at 11am