Experience: Sean Bodie and his sons love the smell of root beer in the morning.
“I [usually] don’t drink pop. I don’t drink carbonated drinks at all. [Root beer] is probably the only one I would drink,” says Bodie, the owner of Bodie Brothers Root Beer, which sells its refreshing elixir from oak barrels on the back of vintage trucks on Saturday mornings at both the City Market on 104th Street and the St. Albert Farmers’ Market, plus other markets and events around the Capital Region. “If I was going somewhere and was going to buy a drink, I’d probably buy juice or water or a smoothie. But root beer – I don’t know what it is, but it’s awesome.”
Of course, being so heavily invested in a product can definitely change one’s tastes. And Bodie has been putting his stock in root beer since the age of 13.
“I was working at Klondike Days, selling root beer in a booth. There was an old guy who made it from scratch in big oak barrels, and I was selling it for him. I learned to make it then,” he says. “Many years later [in my 40s] , a friend of mine decided he wanted to do that, so he got the recipe and started making it. We started working together. But then he kind of bowed out and I became the owner.”
While root beer isn’t a full-time gig for Bodie – he also works as the general manager of a marketing company in Edmonton and has a psychology degree – it is the job he most relishes because it lets him spend time with his sons Matthew, 23, Noah, 18, and Christian, 16.
“It’s about two and a half hours [to make a batch of root beer] . We have to be there early in the morning to start brewing it – that’s one of the cool things about us, is that it’s fresh. And whatever we don’t sell, we have to get rid of. It’s not going to be good the next day or at the next market. It’s a fresh product, and that’s part of why it tastes so good. It takes on a bit of the flavour of the oak from the barrels. And it loses its carbonation really quickly; it’s only lightly carbonated anyway, which is one thing people like a lot, and that carbonation is gone really fast.
” [The vintage trucks are] a way to make our look stand out. The first time [we sold root beer] , my friend had a food-grade white plastic jug in the trunk of his car at a farmers’ market. It didn’t have the same appeal.
“People would come along and see our truck and go, ‘Hmmm, interesting,’ and then walk by. We’d try to give them samples, but they’d shy away from us. One day, I just said, ‘We’ve got to do something different.’ I had seen people look at us while we were making the root beer; people were curious. They’d stare, but they weren’t buying. … I just got up on the back of the truck, grabbed the paddle that we use to stir the root beer and started clunking and banging. I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something.’
“I kept experimenting with yelling different things, and eventually I hit the magic phrase: ‘Ice cold root beer! Get your free sample!’ When you say ‘your,’ people are like, ‘It’s mine? I gotta get it!’ And ‘free’ and ‘ice cold’ – when I combined those three elements together, people started coming over.
“I’m always surprised at how much people like [root beer] . It’s not a drink; it’s like cultural touchstone somehow. People will go buy a Coke and they’ll just drink it and that’s it. There’s no emotional connection to it. But people come to our stand, they see our truck, they see the way we treat them … and it’s like, ‘This is different. This is special.’ It’s a blast from the past.
“We’ll keep the old trucks because those are kind of like our flagships … but we have to get some other vehicles that will allow us to do [some] extra things.”
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