This week, readers wondered about Western beverages and fuel prices.

 

Q: I saw sarsaparilla sold in the Boot Hill Distillery, but I thought it was like root beer (nonalcoholic). What’s the story behind it? Is it alcoholic or not?

Short answer, it’s not. But some distilleries are using sarsaparilla flavors in new alcohol products.

I talked to Lee Griffith, director of sales at Boot Hill Distillery.

The sarsaparilla root was used as medicine 100 years ago, to settle the stomach and other uses like that. It tastes a little like root beer.

At Boot Hill Distillery, the bottles of sarsaparilla you saw were likely the nonalcoholic beverage purchased, bottled and labeled for the Boot Hill Museum, across the yard from the distillery.

“They buy it and we buy an amount from them and serve it here. We also make a cocktail with it. We’re the only ones they allow to sell off site,” Griffith said.

The distillery also uses the flavor as part of its process for making other liquors.

“We purchase actual sarsaparilla root, and it’s distilled as part of the flavorings in our gin. We just released in a limited quantity a sarsaparilla vodka,” Griffith said.

“A lot of flavored vodkas have a lower proof but this is 101-proof vodka, so it’s hot,” he laughed.

The cocktail they made is a winter-themed eggnog drink – called “noggin’ on heaven’s door” – and features cinnamon, heavy cream and that signature eggnog flavor, alongside that sarsaparilla pairing.

“Sarsaparilla is not a common botanical used in alcohol production, gin and vodka is probably the only place it would work best, and that’s what we’ve done,” Griffith said.

 

Q: I noticed the price of gas went up this week. This country is supposed to have enough gas and oil on hand to protect us, the consumers. It seems like every time there is something happening in the Middle East, we see a price increase at the pump. Why then the increase?

There’s a couple of factors at play here — international markets, and supply and demand.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, retail fuel prices are mainly affected by crude oil prices and the level of gasoline supply relative to demand. Increasing demand for petroleum products in the world can place intense pressure on available supplies and make them more expensive.

With oil production strong in the U.S. and elsewhere, the effect on fuel is likely to be muted in the near term. AAA and GasBuddy both anticipate no more than a nickel increase at the pump for consumers.

According to USA Today, the American airstrike that killed the Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, while he was visiting Iraq could trigger a chain of events that would have a greater effect on the price of gas. Traders are bracing for the possibility that Iran will retaliate by restricting the flow of oil in the Middle East or potentially attacking production sites.

U.S. oil futures prices rose 3.7% to $63.44 at 9:51 a.m. ET on Friday.

The national average price of gasoline reached $2.59 on Friday, up 3 cents from a week earlier, according to AAA.

However, surging U.S. production has flooded the markets with oil, which has helped keep prices relatively low.

U.S. oil output spiked 38.6% from 8.84 million barrels a day in 2016 to 12.25 million in 2019 and is likely to rise to 13.18 million in 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Before the attack, petroleum analysts expected gas prices to remain relatively steady in 2020.

 

Keep those questions coming by sending them to askhutch@hutchnews.com.