For the first three Fallout games, the beverage of choice in the post-apocalyptic wasteland is Nuka-Cola. But in Fallout: New Vegas, it turns out that this portion of the country had an alternative: Sunset Sarsaparilla.
Sunset vending machines are everywhere, empty bottles litter the landscape, and you visit the Sunset Sarsaparilla headquarters during the game. There’s even a mysterious side quest — some Sunset caps have a blue star on them. Is it true that if you collect enough of them a reward awaits you somewhere out in the desert? (I don’t know yet, I’m still playing the game.)
This led me to wonder: what the hell is Sarsaparilla? I’d never had it before, and wasn’t even sure I’d ever had the opportunity to have it before. I asked Ken Lowery about it since he’s in Texas and that was as close to a Western guy as I had at hand at the time. He told me it was kind of like root beer, except sweeter, which is sort of what I’d imagined.
I decided I wanted to try some of this stuff. Now, obviously there’s no real Sunset Sarsaparilla (and I don’t know why nobody in the back of Previews is offering to sell me “energy drinks” made up to look like both it and Nuka-Cola) but any old sarsaparilla would do. Still, where to get such a thing in Yankee country?
Enter Dave’s Soda and Pet City. With several locations in the Western Massachusetts area, Dave’s is your one-stop full-service resource for soda and/or pets! I called up Dave’s and asked if they had sarsaparilla and the guy said the words I was waiting to hear: “Which brand? We have a few…” Which brand? Which brand?
ALL OF THE BRANDS!
I got one of each! (They didn’t have Sioux City Sarsaparilla, which I guess is featured in the movie The Big Lebowski.) I wasn’t expecting to like it that much (I’m not crazy about root beer) but I was going to give it a fair shake. Becky decided that the AJ Stephans bottle would be my first, so I pulled up to an appropriate location and began sampling.
The verdict? I kind of liked it! Very much like root beer, except a lot less harsh and with a cleaner finish. Root beer I always felt was sort of defying me to drink it, and I sensed that folks who liked root beer wanted more of whatever it is that made it that way. But this was much more agreeable.
Before long I had also tried the Maine Root and Yacht Club versions (not one after the other, though, I gave them each time to take the stage solo.) Out of the three I would say my favorite was…well, honestly, they pretty much all tasted the same to me. If you gave them to me blind, not only am I not sure I could pick out a favorite, I’d be skeptical that there were three different ones in the first place.
This is pretty good news. Since it seems like sarsaparilla is sarsaparilla, I can pretty much assume I’ve tasted “real” Sunset Sarsaparilla!
Would I drink sarsaparilla again? Sure. I’m not much of a soda guy anymore, but I could go for more of this. I mean, I’m not going to go pick up a 12-pack at Dave’s or anything, but if I happened to be in a place that had it, I might partake. Not sure where that would be, though.
I kept the bottlecaps too, because I can buy stimpacks with them eventually, but none of them had a star on them or were even terribly photogenic.