So I have had the weirdest craving lately for root beer.
By JASPER J. MIRABILE JR.
Root beer floats. Root beer candy barrels. Root beer from a drugstore soda fountain. And root beer cake perhaps?
I really don’t care how it is presented to me as long as it’s root beer.
Recently I was on the root beer trail out in Olathe at the Great Midwest Balloon Fest and I was doing my dog and pony cooking demo when all of a sudden I spotted what looked like an old fashioned saloon.
Could it be a root beer stand? Now I am not talking about any root beer stand, I’m talking about perhaps the finest looking root beer stand this chef has ever seen.
We’re talking beat up wood, crooked letters, an old fashioned counter. Welcome to Kansas, circa 1850.
I immediately finished my cooking demo and walked over to the stand. The sign read Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer. On the counter were several display bottles of fresh brewed root beer.
The gentleman tending the stand offered me a sample. Ha, I threw down that shot and told him I wanted two bottles of every size he had including the gallon jug and flasks. I just sampled Root Beer Heaven my friends.
Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer humble beginnings date back to 1993 when Gary and Connie Keck decided to make root beer in Odessa. Gary was looking for something to do when Safeway left Kansas City.
He was selling horse tack at horse shows when he met a man producing root beer. He came home and told his wife he wanted to start selling root beer and they began researching libraries looking for a recipe and how to produce it.
Connie worked at a drug store when she was in high school and remembered the old fashioned root beer served at the counter. So they worked on a traditional recipe that the family agreed on. What they came up with was carbonated, creamy, soft and foamy. They called it Longhorn Root Beer.
The drink we know today as root beer was actually discovered back in 1265 on the British Isles and produced with dandelion and burdock. The beverage was naturally fizzy and is still served there today.
Many people believe root beer came about by accident when pharmacies were creating a cure all drink. The result was usually bitter.
Many historians credit Charles Hires for blending what we know as sweet root beer. He was on his honeymoon when he was enjoying an elixir tea. He did not like the bitter flavor so he added sugar and some seltzer water and his recipe was born.
Actually there is no clear authentic root beer recipe since there are so many different combinations.
Some root beer contain ingredients like allspice, birch bark, spice wood, wintergreen, ginger root, hops, dandelion root, ash bark and even molasses.
I didn’t try to get the recipe from Gary or Connie, but I will tell you whatever they are using is absolutely delicious and surely as American as baseball and apple pie.
The Keck’s have taken their root beer as far west as Colorado Springs, as far south as Houston and clear to Atlanta for the Olympic Games.
They also travel to chuckwagon races, various festivals, concerts and more all over Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, offering some of the finest root beer made right here in Missouri.
They use 40,000 pounds of dry ice a year to insure their root beer is ice cold.
While sipping a root beer with Connie recently, she told me that they sell an average of 600 to 700 gallons of root beer at a good festival.
With the help of their two sons, the Keck’s have expanded and now have more stands on weekends at different festivals across the Midwest.
In the next few months you can find Heck’s Root Beer hitting the road at Buffalo Bill Days in Leavenworth, the Fall Festival in St. Joseph, Outlaws Days in Richmond, Mo., The Craft Fest in The Ozarks, The Apple Fest in Weston, Apple Butter Days in Mount Vernon, Mo., Sugar Mound Days in Mound City, Kan., The Bella Vista Arts and Crafts Festival in Bella Vista, Ark., The Fall Funfest in Blue Springs and Santa-Cali-Gon Days in Independence. It is also available at Gail’s Harley Davidson.
So hop on the root beer trail and enjoy an ice cold sip of Americana my friends.
As for this chef, I am preparing an Old Fashioned Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer Float.
When talking about eating local, it doesn’t get any more local than this my friends!
Like I said before, root beer is as American as baseball and apple pie.
You can follow Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer online at www.kecksrootbeer.com.
Old Fashioned Root Beer Float Recipe
Makes 4 servings
4 scoops Shatto Vanilla Ice Cream
16 ounces of Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer
Fill a glass about 1/3 full of ice cold Keck’s Longhorn Root Beer. Carefully add one scoop of Shatto Vanilla Ice Cream to each glass. Top with more root beer and enjoy. You can also mix in a blender for a shake.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.