Rusty’s Chips, Rachel’s Ginger Beer Named Top Picks In Tasting

Rusty’s Black Pepper chips from So Cal is the big winner at the latest Allrecipes Smackdown, the thick, hand-cut chips essential for holiday parties and lunches and every day snacking. A Seattle-based extra gingery ginger beer also came out on top, according to the results from the latest Allrecipes.com’s Editorial Team’s All Star Tasting Panel.

The champ of the Potato Chip Smackdown comes from a tiny family operation in Southern California. Photo by Leslie Kelly

The champ of the Potato Chip Smackdown comes from a tiny family operation in Southern California. Photo by Leslie Kelly

At AR’s HQ in Seattle, we chomped through 15 different kinds of potato chips from across the nation West Virginia to Cap Cod and down New Orleans way before heading back to the Northwest and also sipped seven ginger beer, with tasters rating chips on potato taste, texture, dip worthyness — there was some Old School French onion and sour cream dip served on the side — and seasoning, each category worth between 0 and 5 points, 5 being the highest. Ginger beer was evaluated for taste, mouth feel, finish and ability to work as a mixer. Guests on the tasting panel included All Star mixologists from some of Seattle’s top restaurants and the editor of the nation’s premier magazine about cocktails and spirits. (Find their bios below.)

Talking holiday cocktails during our ginger beer and potato chip tasting panel. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Talking holiday cocktails during our ginger beer and potato chip tasting panel. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Like the winning ginger beer, opinions were strong among this well-seasoned panel, and a few patterns emerged:

Thick-cut, kettle fried chips grabbed our attention, mirroring the trend toward that style in the market place.

Seasonings had to be spot on, or they were deemed a fail. One panelist found a jalapeno flavored chip tasted “fishy” and another described barbecue chips as “cardboard.” Tasters turned thumbs down on a salt and vinegar chip that had a touch of sweetness.

Chips were rated on potato flavor, texture and seasoning in a recent tasting panel. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Chips were rated on potato flavor, texture and seasoning in a recent tasting panel. Photo by Vanessa Greaves

And on the ginger beer selection, there was some serious division. One person’s brilliant was another’s bland. One brand was called cloying by one panelist, but another called that same ginger beer dry, balanced and clean. Which proves every palate is unique and that’s what make tasting parties so much fun. In between bites and sips, the group talked about holiday cocktails, trends in salty snacks and snapped photos for social media.

When the scores were totaled, there was a clear potato chips champ, but the ginger beer race was a little tighter. And now, the winners:

Rusty’s Black Pepper Chips just hit the market this fall, an addition to the growing portfolio from the artisan snack maker in Huntington Beach, Calif., where the small batch approach means every spud is sliced by hand. Panelist appreciated its thick crunch and earthy potato taste, one calling them rad. Rusty’s backstory will make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Russell Vasterling took over the family business when his father got sick two years ago. (He’s feeling better now.) The son stuck with the handmade mission: “We even cook our chips differently. We wash potatoes by hand, slice them really thick, one potato at a time, cook them, salt them with really expensive sea salt in a hand-held salt shaker, bag them with a French fry scoop and that’s it. I’m proud of our chips because they taste like what potato chips should taste like… potatoes.”

Dakota Style Salt and Pepper chips were the runner up, with a “great flavor that tastes even better with dip.”

The winner of the ginger beer Smackdown is made by Seattle-based Rachel's Ginger Beer.

The winner of the ginger beer Smackdown is made by Seattle-based Rachel’s Ginger Beer.

Rachel’s Ginger Beer came out on top on the liquid portion of the tasting, squeaking by the beverage from Ginger People, a California-based company that boasts an extensive lineup of ginger products. Seattle-based Rachel’s is beloved for its assertive ginger and citrus character, as well as a long list of seasonal flavors such as Cucumber-Tarragon, with owner Rachel Marshall originally launching her product at neighborhood farmers markets several years ago. She’s now got two outlets that serve Rachel’s Ginger Beer and cocktails featuring the tart beverage, one in Pike Place Market and another on Capitol Hill, in the middle of the city’s fastest growing dining destination.

High fives to the winners, which should definitely be part of your holiday celebrations.

Special thanks to our panel of tasters: Paul Clarke, executive editor of Imbibe Magazine and author of The Cocktail Chronicles: Navigating the Cocktail Renaissance With Jigger, Shaker & Glass; Erik Carlson, beverage director at Stoneburner in the Ballard neighborhood, Nik Virrey, master mixologist at Naka, Jim Romdall, bar manager at Rumba, founding member of the Washington Bartender’s Guild and a judge a the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Jenn Chung from Kathy Casey’s Liquid Kitchen and Tara McLaughlin, bar manager at Goldfinch Tavern, chef Ethan Stowell’s restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. Allrecipes’ resident cocktail expert, Sonja Groset, and food blogger-slash-social media force Danielle Kartes also joined the fun evaluation, which was live streamed on Periscope.

Stay tuned for the next panel, which will feature sparkling wine and super easy apps for more holiday entertaining. Here are the results of our Condiments Smackdown.

Allrecipes.com's first-ever Condiment Smackdown. Photo by Kelly Cline

Allrecipes.com’s first-ever Condiment Smackdown. Photo by Kelly Cline