Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tastings: Rooting for Root Beer

My son loves root beer. That's only remarkable because I've never been able to stand it. My mother loved it, my brothers loved it. The family would pile in the wagon when we were kids and go to the A&W Drive-In in Redmond and everyone except me would order a big, frosty mug.

So when I went to Pop Culture in Vancouver the other day to see just what sodas a store devoted to the carbonated beverage would carry, I came home with eight different root beers for my in-house devotée to sample and evaluate. Because of his love for the beverage, he rejected the side-by-side comparison which would have required opening them all and wasting a good deal of decent root beer. Instead he decided to have one each day and give each due consideration, with me keeping notes.

Going in, his acknowledged favorite was IBC, which had always taken first place in his pantheon of great root beers, though it had recently become hard to find locally. The others were a variety of traditional and newer brews, with different kinds of sugars and blends. A surprise dark horse that entered the competition was Crater Lake Soda's root beer, a new local root beer that we found on tap on a recent dinner outing to Ned Ludd.

The results of our very unscientific survey were as follows:
  • Faygo, Detroit, Michigan: Not super-sweet. A normal root beer with a little herbiness. Like many of these root beers, it was better once the carbonation had subsided, allowing its herbiness to come through.
  • Sprecher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Very mild and creamy, not overly sweet.
  • Boylan, Moonachie, New Jersey: Almost cola-ish without that cola harshness. Fruity.
  • Dad’s Root Beer, Chicago, Illinois: Tastes like it was made from syrup. "Not necessarily sweeter than the others, but not much else there.” Almost no head on it.
  • Americana, Mukilteo, Washington: Mellow, not very fruity. “It’s only hitting one bandwidth of flavor.” In other words, "a one-note root beer."
  • Thomas Kemper, Portland, Oregon: Very sweet. Honey and vanilla dominate.
  • Stewart’s Diet, Rye, New York: (I bought diet by mistake) Fairly decent with a nice herbiness. Fairly sweet, also, but not too much.
  • Crater Lake, Portland, Oregon: (on tap) Very herby, almost borders on harsh but not quite. Quite dense. "If I drank a bottle every day, I don’t know if I’d choose that one," but "probably the most interesting of the bunch."
  • IBC, Plano, Texas: “A good root beer” and milder than Crater Lake with a nice fruit and herbiness. At first “it was not rocking my socks off" but, again, as carbonation decreased it improved. "My favorite for an everyday root beer."
Are you a root beer fan or do you have a favorite root beer-related story? Click on the comments link below and let me know.


Tom Holloway said...

What is it about root beer? We seem to love it or hate it. If I could choose only soda pop, it would be most anything over root beer. My dear wife, on the other hand, would often pick it first, especially if the non-bottled A&W variety.

Kathleen Bauer said...

I've always been a "clear soda" gal, myself, from 7up and Fresca when I was a kid to lemon-lime today, though I'll always take water over any sugary soda. Glad you and Glassylady were able to overcome your differences!

Steveben said...

I recommend trying the root beer made by Hopworks Urban Brewery. Their restaurant is on SE Powell (

koprime said...

I drink almost no soda, aside from plain soda water, but I adore root beer from time to time. I used to really like Henry's, I think. It was brewed at the local brewery in the town where I grew up, and it was my choice when we took people on factory tours.

Ivy said...

My vote is for the Sprecher, but then again, I'm from Wisconsin. My brother hangs out with the brewer, they went to college together. You think the rb is good, you should taste the beer! But you can't, cuz they don't export.

bb said...

Tell B that I applaud his methodical research protocol, and his thorough technique. I had a Barq's root beer recently, and like all root beers I've had lately (and so many things from childhood) they just don't hit that "spot" like they used to. Darn!

mtnwa said...

What fun comparisons you've made! I may need to try some of those in the future. My favorite root beer has always been Henry Weinhard's which I was a little disappointed to see didn't make your comparison list. Perhaps it isn't readily available where you are. I find it smooth and flavorful with the perfect amount of head.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Great comments and suggestions. We may need to go to Round 2!

Anonymous said...

IBC Root Beer always at Safewy usually on sale for 2.99 Some local brew pubs make their own which is often good. Can't think of which ones right now

Unknown said...

I have tried tons of root beers, my favorite is Maine Root. Very natural tasting and definitely not too sweet. It's available at Food Fight and I think Peoples Coop here in Portland.

Zupan's Markets said...

We love root beer! All those childhood memories come flooding back with the first sip of an old fashioned root beer. It’s interesting how the different formulas can yield such a wide variety of flavors.