The Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi presents the

Great American Root Beer Showdown

Root Beers Sampled, Ordered by Overall Taste Scores

Boylan's - Made by Boylan Bottleworks in Haledon, New Jersey. I found a dusty four-pack at a grocery store while on a bike ride. The bottle caps were different from other Boylan's bottles I've seen: have these dusty bottles been sitting around a long time? Boylan's pulled out far ahead of the others in Round 4, no doubt helped by drawing the coveted Sample A slot. Reviewers liked the creamy smooth flavor (perhaps thats the yucca extracts), without being too sweet. "Hints of spiciness & anise, very refreshing," wrote one. Other comments: "A little different from regular root beer. Nice balance of wintergreen & anise. Not too sweet." and "Maybe its because I'm really thirsty, but this one really hits the spot!" Even when placed in a later sample slot in Round 5, Boylan's again came out in flying colors: "On the seventh day, God rested and enjoyed this root beer. God bless the USA!" - Score: 4.22
Hires - The granddaddy of root beers, now owned by the Dr. Pepper conglomerate. Hires is the oldest marketed root beer brand, invented in 1876 by Charles Hires. How much of the original recipe remains within the modern bottle is anyone's guess, but how much of any of us remains from what we were when we were born? The time-tested taste was pleasing, if a bit unexciting: "A well-balanced brew. The spiciness lingered in my mouth, but not as a bad aftertaste, rather a pleasant memory," "Buttery aroma; crisp, assertive flavor." though others complained "Basic taste. No punch. Pretty boring. Not offensive but not memorable." - Score: 4.00
Torpedo Juice - A root beer brand sold only at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, WI. Our taste testers really enjoyed the full-bodied flavor of this brew, described as: "Creamy with a punch." Others wrote "Good bite but good taste as well," and "Refreshing - peppy bubbles, but backed by a solid set of flavor and nice aftertaste. Well-rounded brew." In Round 9 our testers discovered the secret identity of this brand. - Score: 4.00
Hosmer Mountain - Bottled in Willimantic, Connecticut, the "Quiet Corner" of New England, as the label says. The label includes a nice summary of the history of this root beer, and the "minor geological formation" which gives it its name. Our reviewers enjoyed this one: "Starts with a punch and ends smooth." "Good balance with not one flavor overpowering any of the others." and "Love the complexities! Big punch at first, then a creamy vanilla aftertaste. Yummy!" Check out the Hosmer Mountain Soda song from the CT soda water history website - Score: 3.93
Shasta - With a surprisingly high ranking for a canned soda, Shasta won favor for its satisfying and refreshing crispness, if lack of distinct flavor. Some judges praised it: "Yummy root beer! Very satisfying, hard to find any fault with it." and "Very refreshing! Crisp and fizzy, but not very complex. Good but not special in any way." though others admitted "after drinking it a while I didn't like it as much." See all 40 Shasta flavors and vintage TV commercials at the Shasta website. - Score: 3.88
Coastal Fog - The house brand for Beverages & More specialty stores in California. Our reviewers found this brand to be a dependable and refreshing brew: "Not overly sweet, this one tastes light & just right." "Creamy and tasty. Nice and smooth, with a honeyed taste." and simply "Great" Beverages & More website. - Score: 3.81
Jones - A conventional taste in an unconventional bottle. The Jones Soda marketing campaign is unusual, ambitiously artsy, and a bit contrived. Does their root beer match up to the self-conscious expectations? Our reviewers found this root beer to be quite ordinary. It has a pleasant vanilla, nutty flavor, but not much punch or many distinctive herbs. Jones is pleasant in a middle-of-the-road way: not too bad, but not great. Still, in the contentious Round Two, that even temper was enough to bring it out on top in the Total Scores. This root beer makes claims to be bottled in Seattle, but Jones is actually a Canadian product with a definite Vancouver so-called-attitude. Jones website. - Score: 3.81
Berghoff - Made by a famous restaurant in Chicago (holder of the first liquor license granted after prohibition!) yet this root beer is bottled in Janesville, Wisconsin. This brew's mellow, well-balanced flavor (sweetened with cane sugar) pleased our reviewers: "Excellent - not much of a punch, but the great taste makes up for it. The sweetness is just perfect." one wrote, and "Not too exciting, but very pleasant. A little on the sweet side, but that's how I like it. I like the creaminess, too." "Very smooth & creamy. I prefer more complexity, but its good for dessert." Berghoff history. - Score: 3.72
Samuel's Deli Root Beer - A small root beer brand a friend discovered at a deli near Broadway & Addison in Chicago. The crude graphics on the label look as if it was made on someone's home computer, though the copyright belongs to an outfit called "Liquid Impressions Inc." Is that like a vanity press for root beer? Or a bottler of generic sodas that will put your label on their bottles? In any case our reviewers were pleasantly surprised by this unassuming but flavorful brew: "Smooth, creamy, refreshing, tasty, hits the spot." "Pretty sugary & not terribly exciting. Some root beer-flavored popsicle element, but still a good thirst quencher & nice aroma." "Fruity flavor, buttery aroma, good for thirsty folks." and "Very creamy. Not enough punch or fizz. Good smooth taste but it needs a little bite." - Score: 3.70
A&W - Another well-established national brand. A&W was first sold at a roadside soda stand in Lodi, California in 1919. Like other mainstream root beers, they have perfected their flavors to please the majority. The reviewers enjoyed the strong carbonation though the time-tested taste rated simply "Pretty good." Others wrote "Fizzy & light but not too rooty. Not too complex but pleasant," "A nice punch, but not particularly creamy. Average overall,"and "Very bubbly, Nice aftertaste. Mildly sweet." Some reviewers found the flavor too similar to cola drinks: "Very carbonated - overwhelms the taste, which reveals itself as an aftertaste. A bit cola-like." A&W restaurants corporate website. - Score: 3.68
Ed McCaffrey's Creamy Root Beer - Sales of this canned soda created by Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey benefit a Colorado children's charity. Strangely enough, you can ponder Ed McCaffrey's height and weight while drinking it, because his stats are printed right on the can. Our reviewers found this one pleasant but bland: "Not very special or spicy but very drinkable nonetheless." "Good but maybe a little too sweet", "Very good smooth taste." "Pretty good! Nice complexities. Still lacks something, though." "Very sweet. Some nice flavors, but too much sugar and not enough bite. Still a pleasant taste, jut not great." Ed McCaffrey website. - Score: 3.67
Genuine Hank's Root Beer - This "Philadelphia Recipe" root beer was well received by the taste testers. Most of them found this brand to possess a fine balance between full-flavored creaminess and strong root spiciness. "Refreshing and yummy with a balanced flavor. Tastes like what root beer is supposed to taste like." ""Pleasant" "Punchy with a soothing vanilla aftertaste. Strong flavor, yet smooth. How do they do it?" "Good vanilla smell. Very smooth & creamy ." - Score: 3.64
Baumeister Root Beer - Made by Kewaunee Bottling Co. in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. Perhaps only available in northern Wisconsin? This brand won approval (#1 in Round Three) from our reviewers for its dependable, moderate and unprentious quenching taste, best summarized by this quote: "Not too much of anything, really. Strange, isn't it, what we search for in our lives. We want so much, but maybe if we don't get much, by the time we die, looking back on our lives, we think: Ahh! That was great!" Others wrote: "Memorable flavor, reminiscient of hot summer days. Would make a good float." and "Yum! I like this one. Interesting and flavorful, yet sweet and creamy. Good root beer!" In Round 9 our testers discovered a secret conspiracy related to this brand.- Score: 3.63
Dave and Buster's Philly - Who ever thought that a video arcade would bottle their own root beer? Made in Philadelphia, where the Dave & Busters flagship restaurant/arcade is located. Our reviewers found this root beer to be tasty, if a bit bland and unsurprising. Some comments: "Pleasant but boring." "An average taste. Not an outstanding root beer but has that traditional root beer flavor." "Good tasting standard basic root beer. No frills, no disappointments." and "Its just a little run of the mill. Nothing too ground-breaking, but a well-balanced beverage." - Score: 3.63
Sprecher's - Bottled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Made with raw Wisconsin honey, vanilla, and "a host of aromatic botanicals." Another moderate drink that pleased our reviewers: "Sweet & creamy, but not too creative. Not much punch at all, and no real aroma good or bad... Still, its a decent root beer," while another described it as "smooth, but a bit transparent." Sprecher's website - Score: 3.62
Frostop - The Frostop drive-in chain started in Columbus, OH and spread all across the lower Midwest. The root beer is now bottled by C-B Beverage Corp in Hopkins, MN. Our reviewers loved the taste, though its scores suffered due to the large bottle not being fully chilled when served. The reviewers: "I like it - very rootbeeresque." "Nice vanilla smell. Best of the bunch." "Complex medley of flavors" and "Good anise & mix of other complex flavors." In Round 12, this large bottle may not have been completely chilled, which skewed some comments: "A bit on the bitter side, not so refreshing on a hot day. More caramel than cool." "Too sweet. Ugh!" In Round 13, the reviewers were far more positive: "I really like this one. It has a nice sweetness without being too sugary. It also has a good spiciness that mellows to a smooth aftertaste." "Complex - can't decide what exactly it tastes like, but it's pretty good! Yummy!" Frostop website. - Score: 3.58
Sioux City Root Beer - Another Sioux City flavor in a cool embossed brown bottle. The label on this one features a cowboy relaxing in a tavern with a frothy mug of root brew. Our taste testers' comments: "A good solid beverage." "A nice flavor, but it didn't really grab me from the first sip. I grew into its flavor." "Sweet and smooth. Could use a little more punch. Has a little aftertaste but initial taste is pleasant." "Too sweet and gooey for me, but it has a distinctive 'root beer' taste." - Score: 3.57
Flathead Lake Monster Root Beer - The mythical monster of northwest Montana's Flathead Lake is there on the label, if you look closely. Our reviewers found this one pleasant:"Sweet creamy vanilla smell. Very pleased with this one." "Very carbonated - I like that. Refreshing, good classic root beer," All our reviewers found it enjoyable, though not outstanding: "A nice aroma but it leaves a syrupy aftertaste that I wanted to wash away." "Refreshing fizz, but not a very deep root beer taste." - Score: 3.54
Sioux City Sarsaparilla - Sioux City sodas once came in beautiful simple brown bottles with embossed designs of cowboys. Each flavor featured a different design, with cowboys riding galloping horses, or a bucking horse, or just a cactus in the desert. The sarsaparilla bottles, in particular, had a cowboy bursting through a swinging door. Nowadays the bottles have added brightly-colored sticker labels on one side (perhaps to differentiate themselves from IBC bottles?), and the embossed design on the other is the same for all four Sioux City beverages. But the sarsaparilla still tastes great. Our reviewers found it pleasant: "Crisp flavor, smooth vanilla aftertaste. A generally pleasing and cheerful beverage." - Score: 3.54
Iron Horse - A train-themed root beer bottled in Edina, Minnesota. "Thick creamy head. Very creamy flavor - not much intense flavor - this is a subtle brew," one reviewer wrote. The testers enjoyed the creamy vanilla taste, but some found it a little overly sweet. - Score: 3.52
IBC - IBC is another brand with a lot of loyal fans. Despite the homey brown bottles and old-fashioned style, IBC is pretty much a mass-market national brand, like Mug or A&W. This seems to determine the flavor strategy for all these brands, which is middle-of-the-road sweet flavor. One rewiewer wrote "Boring but good. Tastes the most like Coca-cola. Kind of flat. Not special, but pleasant." IBC website. - Score: 3.46
Sonora - Brewed & bottled by Sonora Brewing Co. in Phoenix, AZ. Sweetened with Arizona honey from the Sonora desert (though I wish they had figured out a way to put cactus in it - now that would be a unique root beer!) Our reviewers enjoyed the dependable taste, and found it refreshing on the hot afternoon of our taste test. They wrote "Tastes like a major commercial brand - IBC? Not bad, nothing unconventional." "Thick, sugary, good stuff." "Good, solid taste." Sonora website. - Score: 3.46
Abita - Bottled in Abita Springs, Louisiana. The beautiful label features a stylized homage to Louisiana cane sugar, which is this brew's prime ingredient (also listed in the formulation is the secretive "root beer flavor"). Our reviewers wrote: "Pretty good punch to it, but I wish it was creamier." " Sharp on the tongue. I like this, a root beer that wakes me up with fizz & flavor. A bit bitter in the aftertaste, but just for a moment. A full, bold flavor." "Not very creamy. Contains a wider taste spectrum than it does root beer flavor." "Nice little punch, agreeable taste." Abita Brewing website. - Score: 3.43
Faygo - Faygo root beer has a long history dating back to before 1935 when the company moved to Detroit, Michigan (see Faygo history). That should at least give the brand the same "classic" reputation afforded to other such old brands as A&W, Dad's and Hires. Yet Faygo seems to have chosen its niche in the cheap soft drink aisle among the generic sodas in 2-liter bottles. Despite the lack of style, the flavor came out on top in Round One once all the scores were tabulated. One reviewer wrote: "Flavorful but not too sweet, spicy but not overpowering." Faygo website. - Score: 3.43
Blumer's - Made by Joseph Huber Brewing in Monroe, Wisconsin, the same bottlers of Berghoff root beer. Is there some kind of conspiracy here? In fact, on occasion I have seen Blumer's for sale in bottles featuring the cursive 'B' cap used on Berghoff beer bottles instead of the plain black cap shown here. Some kind of mix-up at the factory? Our reviewers found it a creamy, flavorful brew: "Vanilla and creaminess thats good. Pretty smooth" wrote one of our reviewers, and "A little too butterscotchy for me, but not an unpleasant flavor," "Must have been good -- I drank it too quickly. Mild creamy, smooth," and "An interesting blend of flavors, some of which are almost fruity." Joseph Huber Brewing website. - Score: 3.41
Henry Weinhard's - Bottled by Blitz-Weinhard Brewery in Portland, Oregon. The reviewers found this brew flavorful and complex: "Nice appearance, interesting taste, complex, vanilla-y. Not what I would expect root beer to taste like, but still good." "Great full flavor. No initial sizzling burst of carbonation, but this one rolls over my tongue so easily I'm sad to finish the sample." Though some did not care for the flavor: "Creamy head. Subtle yet nasty aroma. Complex, subtle, conspiratorial." - Score: 3.40
Cheers - This is a "novelty" root beer named after the TV show. I picked it up at Faneuil Hall on a visit to Boston, but its made by Private Label Specialties of Goffstown, NH. Check out the website, its not too expensive to get them to put a custom label on many flavors of soda pop. Voila! You've got your own brand of root beer! As for the nameless concoction inside the bottle, our reviewers found it a decent, above average flavor: "This one's a bit sweeter than I like, but still refreshing." ""Not bad. A little bland, but not bad, really." "A good refreshing root beer. A nice tingling taste, strong flavor, and good sweetness." - Score: 3.36
Health Valley Old Fashioned Root Beer - Another "co-op" brand found at Whole Foods. The "all natural herb & root recipe" includes molasses, herbal extracts, and natural essences of anise and nutmeg. Some of the reviewers enjoyed the rich natural flavor: "Woo-hoo! What a kick! Sets my mouth abuzz with lots of subtle herbal flavor underlying the initial bite." - Score: 3.33
Mug - A mainstream canned root beer made by Pepsi, this brand scored slightly above average due to its mainstream, highly test-marketed and controlled taste. Some comments: "Not bad. A more balanced flavor than some of the others." "OK - tastes like root beer! Nothing obnoxious, very classic." "Decent -- straight-forward. Gets the job done." - Score: 3.33
Tubz Root Beer - Ordinarily we wouldn't feel the need to sample the many grocery store house brands of soda, but this can from Sav-A-Lot Market had a funny name, with an address listed as "Earth City", so we threw it in the test. Our reviewers enjoyed the solid taste of this soda, with just a hint of bitterness to counteract the strong sweetness. "Good bite of anise and lots of flavor without any bad aftertastes -- yummy!" wrote one enthusiastic reviewer. "Distinctive taste! I like it, but overall a bit thin. I would prefer a richer drink." Corn syrup sweetener provides much of the flavor our reviewers noted: "Fizzy & upbeat. Has a faint taste of Valentine's Day heart candy or powdered sugar. Not very earthy or root beery, but a pleasant sugary beverage." - Score: 3.30
Stewart's Root Beer - Bottled by Cable Car Beverage company in Denver, Colorado. Flavored with acacia, quillaia, and yucca extracts. A popular, dependable taste, scored well with our taste-testers. - Score: 3.29
Dad's - Mass-market root beer available nationwide. Originally a Chicago brand, it is now owned by Monarch Beverages of Atlanta, Georgia. Like many other mass-market brands, the dependable, middle-of-the-road taste has its merits: "Tastes great to me. Good root beer. Maybe I'm just real thirsty." "Spicy and bubbly with some bite. The flavor wasn't very strong, but the good fizz made up for it. Refreshing." However, some reviewers found this mainstream taste too boring: "Lackluster, and I had such expectations for this first one." "Tastes like root beer, but like someone added root beer flavoring to carbonated water." - Score: 3.18
Gray's - From Janesville, Wisconsin. Gray's has such a thick creamy head when poured, its beautiful. Sweetened with cane sugar. It has a noticable aftertaste, which may not please everyone. One reviewer wrote: "A little too sweet for me, but I like the licorice/anise aftertaste," while another wrote: "Too sweet. Its like they melted root beer popsicles and added carbonation. Bad aftertaste." Gray's website. - Score: 3.16
Sparky's - Made by Knox Brewing Co. of Pacific Grove, CA. This brand is not available in the Midwest, but Kevin Knox kindly sent a bottle for us to try. This brand is sweetened with cane sugar and honey, but the "botanical extracts" and spices give the first sip a bitterness which initially put some of the reviewers off. "It has a lot of flavor, its just not a good flavor." "Has a goofy aftertaste, but the taste of vanilla, honey and molasses is pleasant." After the first sip, most of the reviewers warmed to the taste: "A very interesting combo of flavors with a minty aftertaste." "It smells great and its growing on me after the initial shock." Sparky's website. - Score: 3.14
Winchester Homestyle Root Beer - Made in Freemont, California, in large 22 oz. bottles. Ingredients include natural quillaia extract and gum acacia. Our reviewers were divided on the merits of this root beer, ranging from "Great rich color - Great aroma - How did they get it so creamy? The flavors and spices are quite strong, but I really like it. BOLD, a serious drink." to "It has the aroma of some sort of air freshener you would buy for your bathroom." and "Bitter without any flavor. This brew is depressing. No complexity and no fun." - Score: 3.13
Dog 'n' Suds - Bottled in Lafayette, Indiana for the Dog 'n' Suds drive-in chain. May be difficult to find outside the lower midwest states. Label calls it "Drive-In Style," which I suppose means very sweet and not much punch. In Round Two of testing, Dog 'n' Suds pulled ahead to come in first place for overall taste. The sweetness and typical taste won over the reviewers: "Very smooth, little bite. I prefer more, but I think this is actually a nice, subtle root beer." "Mellow, smooth, ... A little sweeter than I like but still good." Dog 'n' Suds website. - Score: 3.11
Goose Island - A Chicago favorite with a lot of fans. However, many of the reviewers were disappointed to discover that this root beer scored poorly in Round Two. The bottle claims that this root beer has a "creamy thick head," but our samples definitely did not have any foamy head on them. The reviewers wrote "Good smell. Oh, but it tastes weird. Flat. Vanilla, but not very exciting." "Unusual aroma, a little too flat. Too sweet, with no punch or bite to balance the sweetness." "No aroma, not much fizz. Good kiddie root beer for pizza parties." and "Whoa - sugary. Sweet & creamy, but nothing else." Goose Island website. - Score: 3.05
Spring Grove - Made in the small town of Spring Grove, Minnesota (since 1895!), a regional favorite in southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa. Our reviewers found the taste of this brew interesting and pleasurable. "Spicy rather than sweet – that's the aroma too, but the aroma's pretty light overall. Liked it more as I went along." Another wrote: "Felt like I was in a wintergreen forest, surrounded by all my root beer friends." The strong wintergreen taste won fans again in Round 6: "Minty, different, but pretty good. Not your standard root beer, but I like it." "Lots of flavor in here, almost floral & spicy." as well as a few detractors who thought it had a diet-soda like aftertaste. - Score: 3.04
Blue Sky Soda - "All Natural Root Beer" found in cans at many health food stores. One reviewer wrote "Good spiciness. I like the anise/licoricey flavor to this. Nice creamy aftertaste with hints of molasses. Good fizz with pleasant tongue-numbing effect." but in general our tasters were not excited about this one: "Medicine again? I do not like this at all. It's bland and mediciney." and simply "Drinkable, just not too enjoyable." Blue Sky Soda website - Score: 3.00
Dr. Brown's - A 'Draft Style Root Beer' made by Canada Dry Bottling Co. I put off testing this brand in hopes of finding some in a glass bottle, but in the end we sampled it from a can. Perhaps that is why the reviewers didn't go for this one "Plenty of bubbles, more bubbles than taste," "Pretty bland all around. Aroma most distinctive quality, which was not outstanding." and "Mediciney and bitter." - Score: 3.00
Frostie - Frostie is an old brand, started in 1939 in Baltimore, but is now owned by a company in Texas. Fortunately, the still feature the same little gnome on the bottle. Our taste testers found this brand to be smooth and even-tempered: "Delicious vanilla aroma. A bit too sweet for me, but I really like the rich creamy vanilla flavor." "Good balance of sweetness and creaminess with an alluring aroma." One wrote "Straight ahead root beer." although a detractor compared the taste to "old wet newspapers. No thanks." - Score: 3.00
Ol' Bob Miller's Red Sas'parilla - A canned soda from Arizona. The Ol' Bob Miller website claims that sarsaparilla is a lighter drink than root beer, but our reviewers found this brand to have a strong flavor, though not as creamy as most root beers. "Quite a punch." said one, "Crisp and refreshing," said another. "Punchy cinnamon taste, spicy. Very tasty & peppy." although one reviewer found it to have a "watery taste. Its not bad, but not as robust as I think it should be." Ol' Bob Millers website - Score: 2.94
Cool Mountain Root Beer Soda - A well-intentioned root beer made in Chicago. A percentage of the profits of this brand go to charity and the bottle demands: 'Love Mother Earth - Recycle or Else!' Comes in a clear bottle, which the root beer seems to attempt to compensate for by being very dark with extra caramel color. The taste is not typical: "Buttery, vanilla aroma! Unusual taste -- initially I didn't like it, but after a few sips I really enjoy it." Other reviewers took to it less kindly: "Lots of carbonation, not a whole lot of taste. The more I drink, the less I enjoy it." "This tastes like cola with some root beer mixed in it." And some reviewers were unsure: "There is something different in this that I can't figure out, so I kept sipping. I wouldn't say that I liked it, but I was intrigued." Cool Mountain Soda website. - Score: 2.93
Dorothy's Isle of Pines Root Beer - A root beer made in honor of Dorothy Molter, the "Root Beer Lady" of Northern Minnesota, who served homemade root beer to thirsty canoeists on an island in the Boundary Waters wilderness area. The reviewers were getting a bit distracted and tired by the time this sample came up near the end of Round 5, but most found this root beer to be generally good, though not outstanding: "The taste disappoints, but grows on you. Overall unremarkable, yet aggressive & enjoyable." James Page Brewing Co. website. - Score: 2.88
Milligan's Island Awesome Root Beer - Made in Madison Connecticut. I'm not sure why the label brags about "Fooling the Public Since 1492". Our reviewers were not fooled by the taste: "Doesn't really taste like anything." "Super carbonation, but not so strong flavor after that." "Very bubbly, but not a lot of flavor." Milligan's Island website. - Score: 2.86
Pirate's Keg Root Beer - Bottled in Rochester, New York. A popular favorite in our taste test, though it scored below average. The reviewers liked the strong vanilla flavor: "Yummy! Just right!" said one. Pirate's Keg website. - Score: 2.86
365 All Natural Root Beer Soda - The generic house brand at Whole Foods. One would expect a flavorless generic soda, but this root beer was actually quite unusual. Made without artificial colors or flavors, but the can only identifies the ingredients as "natural root beer flavors," so its difficult to pick out what creates the strong bitter aroma and taste. Our reviewers disagreed about these mysterious flavors; one wrote: "Yuck! Doesn't even smell like anything. Unpleasant aftertaste. I like the bitterness, though. Again, reminds me of diet pop." While another wrote "A spicy, complex kick. The higher level of carbonation also really augmented the punch factor." - Score: 2.83
Hansen's Creamy Root Beer - Another co-op brand found at Whole Foods. Flavored with wintergreen, birch, anise, sassafras, tahitian vanilla extract and Oregon honey. The loser in Round Two. Despite the promise of a natural, complex flavor, some of our reviewers said "Watery, sugary, bland. If this went flat it would have zero punch & would hardly be recognizable as root beer." Hansen's website. - Score: 2.83
Thomas Kemper Root Beer - Thomas Kemper redesigned their labels, and I miss the little bees they used to have on the bottlecaps. Our reviewers found this one generally likable: "A punchy, rooty flavor. Not too sweet but it dances on your tongue." "Drinkable with no stand-out characteristics." Although some found it to be too much fizz without enough flavor, which lowered its score: "Very fizzy! I like that. However, it tastes like little or nothing." "Smells like gingerbread cookies. Why does this taste like its been bottled in mold? Musty and weak" Thomas Kemper Soda website. - Score: 2.83
Bulldog Root Beer - Made by Bulldog Brewing in honor of the Fresno State University mascot. Brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf sent us a sample. She explained that the root beer is sweetened with cane sugar, not corn syrup, as a typo on the label indicates, but our reviewers thought the most apparent sweetener to be honey. The strong taste of honey put off a few of the reviewers: "A bit too sweet for me, but very rich and molasses-y. Creamy vanilla overall with good fizz." "A bit mediciney, but not in a bad way. Too sweet." Others disagreed about the sweetness: "I'm glad its not too sweet, but the sour taste is keeping me from really enjoying this one." and some found the flavor to be a bit weak: "Smooth but a little watery or a little flat. Needs a little kick. Something to make it more interesting." Bulldog Brewing website. - Score: 2.80
Dr. Tima Honey Root Beer - A health food brand sweetened with honey. Other ingredients include oil of wintergreen, vanilla, oil of sweet birch, anise, cloves, yucca extract and fruit juices, creating a complex flavor which again divided our judges. Some praised its "robust aroma" yet other reviewers disliked the bitter anise aftertaste. "Tastes like pepto-bismol." wrote one, "No thank you." - Score: 2.75
Big Shooter Root Beer - A micro-brewed root beer from the Vine Park Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota. This rootbeer is carbonated using yeast instead of carbonated water, giving it a distinctive taste compared to other root beers sampled. Big Shooter didn't do so well in the taste test, perhaps due the slight yeasty after-taste, but on its own is quite drinkable. One of the reviewers scored it a 5 for creaminess, calling it "sweet but very smooth and creamy with some rooty subtleties." Vine Park website. - Score: 2.71
Virgil's - Another old-fashioned style root beer with all-natural ingredients: anise, licorice, bourbon vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, wintergreen, sweet birch, molasses, nutmeg, pimento berry oil, balsam oil and oil of cassia. Our reviewers enjoyed the complex flavors, but overall found it a bit weak in taste: "Vanilla aroma, refreshing fizz, but I'm not crazy about the fruity taste which gets stronger with each sip." "Molasses-y but not a lasting flavor. Aftertaste is medicinal." "Cola flavor. Not much root beer here." "In the end, it tastes more like RC than root beer." Virgil's website. - Score: 2.69
Grandpa Graf's - A canned root beer picked up in Northern Wisconsin. Seems like another off-brand soda (found on the shelf next to 'Jolly Good' root beer). Received low scores and average reviews in our test: "Again, an average root beer (no subtle flavors), but more spark than foam" and "Not too fond of it... it does have a nice ZIP! to it though. This brand could definitely be worse, ya know?" No outstanding reviews, but what a great label on the can, don't you think? - Score: 2.66
Pearson Bros. - Bottled in San Francisco, CA. Another root beer that perhaps would be better with food. On its own, it comes off as dull. ""Good, average root beer" "Pretty bland...Watery, no kick." was how one reviewer described it. Others wrote: "Good taste, but the carbonation is dissipating and taking the taste with it." and "The only good thing about this one is the creaminess! Otherwise it's flat, overly sweet, and has a weird aftertaste." "Creamy, but too sweet. Not a strong enough flavor." - Score: 2.65
Dominion - A brand easily found around Alexandria Virginia. One of the four sweeteners in this brew is Virginia honey, which has a strong impact on the flavor. Our reviewers enjoyed the taste, but many found the overpowering honey too sweet. "A bit too sweet for me but has a rich dark sugary flavor." Others wrote: "A good average root beer with no particular feature that stands out. It does have a good punch right at the beginning." While another reviewer griped: "More punch than flavor. It has a boring beginning to a bitter end." - Score: 2.64
Barq's - I was delighted to find Barq's in neat old fashioned glass bottles at a gas station. Coke seems to have a nice plan to release its other brands in retro bottles. The bottles are small (only 8 oz.) and clear with a checkerboard pattern on top and the slogan "Drink Barq's It's Good". Our reviewers found this root beer a little lacking in flavor when compared to other bottled brews, however, with too much of a cola-like rather than root-beer taste. "Lighter than the others overall, but at the risk of losing much personality. I like the balance, but loses a kick" Another reviewer wrote, "Bland – what more can I say? This hardly seems like root beer to me." There is a Barq's website, but the overkill Javascripting didn't work with my browser, it was kind of a dud. - Score: 2.63
Filbert's - A local Chicago brand in existance since 1926. Despite its heritage, our reviewers were not especially excited about the flavor: "Pretty OK, not terribly exciting, but inoffensive. Disappointing lack of creaminess after the last sample." ""Watery, not much punch, flavor, carbonation. Like hummingbird water." "Light & refreshing but a bit watery and lacking in taste." or simply: "Smells funny." - Score: 2.63
Blue Sky Ginseng Root Beer - Another canned root beer from Blue Sky, this one featuring ginseng. Our reviewers didn't take to the taste: "Strong carbonation but not much flavor. Not terrible but not too interesting." others wrote: "What is this stuff? Very fruity berry taste. Not very sweet, but doesn't taste like root beer." "Acceptable but not great. A little on the bitter side, not creamy at all, but not bad." - Score: 2.63
Millstream - A small-scale bottler in the old utopian community of Amana, Iowa. A complex flavor, but did not please all of our reviewers, which subtracted from its score. Some reviewers wrote: "Interesting taste. Not much fizz but good taste." and "This has a good combination of fizz and complexity. The taste lasts and the fizz keeps tingling the tongue." "Interesting and complex. It left my mouth tingly with wintergreen. The aftertaste is too diety." Other reviewers did not take to the flavor: "Too minty." "Unusual taste. Kind of cola-like with a fruity bitter aftertaste." - Score: 2.60
Root 66 - The Virginia contender for the Route 66 name. Ingredients include pure cane sugar, sarsaparilla root, sweet birch, chicory, anise, and yucca. The unusual combination of flavors pleased some of the reviewers "Is this raspberry root beer? The complexity and aroma are great and the punch is terrific because of the unique flavor that is used as sweetener." But that unique flavor did not please everyone: "Cough syrup smell, unpleasant sweetness. This reminds me of diet pop." "On the second sip the aftertaste took over and left a bitter root beer barrel taste." "Smells delicious, but this is too weird, gross, too much molasses. Too sweet!" Root 66 website. - Score: 2.59
Jolly Good - A canned root beer made by Krier Foods of Random Lake, Wisconsin. The reviewers were not too excited by the generic flavor: "Average root beer. Nothing special. No -- less than average." "Not too sweet but not too spectacular." "Smells good but does not taste like anything!" - Score: 2.50
Rat Bastard Root Beer - One of the few root beers with caffeine. This brew also contains an herbal blend of unusual ingredients: jasmine, angelica, mad dog weed, African capsicum, kava kava, ginko biloba, gotu kola, goldenseal, echinacea, reishi, shiitake and cordyceps, whatever those last few things are. Despite all the wild ingredients in the bottle, its difficult to pick out the different flavors. The taste comes off as a light root beer, and our reviewers didn't think it tasted very complex at all: "Weak and not enough complexity -- too light." wrote one. "This root beer is trying hard -- its got a typical root beer flavor, but doesn't seem very complex or creative." Another described it as "Smells like Strawberry Shortcake dolls." Skeleteens website. - Score: 2.50
AJ Stephans Sarsaparilla - In Round 16, most reviewers did not take much to this flavor. One wrote: "Tasteless and boring. Fizz & food coloring." and "Bad diety aftertaste. Has an anise taste that disagrees with me." Several reviewers took note of the licorice/anise flavoring, but others found this brew lacking in strong flavor: "No real taste here. Not entirely unpleasant, but nothing to get excited about." AJ Stephans website - Score: 2.44
Briar's Six Gun Sarsaparilla -Another flavor from Briars of New Jersey, this time in 12 oz. bottles. Some of our reviewers found this brand to be very drinkable: "Very smooth & pleasant. Not a lot of punch, but if you're looking for mellow pleasure, this is the brew for you." and "This has a slightly smoky flavor... but I like it. It's got a distinctive flavor." Yet other reviewers objected to the wintergreen flavor present: "Minty! I like the evergreen. Pretty good, but a touch mediciney." and "'Cleaner' aroma -- seems like a smell to clean the kitchen or bathroom... I'm afraid this one may have been poisoned I won't finish it just in case." another said simply: "Smells like Pepto" These divergent opinions brough its score down. Briar's website - Score: 2.44
Black Bear - A generic looking brand in a plastic bottle, though the label says its been around since 1920. The taste testers found it: "Bland, but inoffensive. Slight unpleasant aftertaste." "Watery taste, not outstanding." "Okay. Kind of boring & a little too flat, but not bad." - Score: 2.43
Point Premium Root Beer - I love the funny conehead guy on this brew from Stevens Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. However, inside the bottle, this one comes off as overly sweetened: "Too sticky gooey with a weak taste." "Very, very sweet, not much carbonation. Don't think I could finish a whole bottle of this." "Not much pep. Not much of anything. Watery." Only a few reviewers enjoyed the flavor "Its earthy layers unfold into an awkward aftertaste, but somehow awkward is good in this case." - Score: 2.43
Tommyknockers - Bottled in Denver, Colorado. This rootbeer contains a long list of unusual ingredients in an "Herbal Brew": mountain cherry, mountain maple, valerian root, fenugreek, St. John's wort, melissa, birch, licorice root, hops extract, malt extract, maple syrup and other natural flavors, according to the bottle. Tommyknockers has an strong and pleasurable scent, but too much gooey maple syrup flavor for most of our reviewers, giving it a low score in the results of Round One. Tommyknockers website. - Score: 2.43
Clover Classic - Another Chicago brand, although not very well distributed in the city. Purchased at a local barbecue place, and that may be the only store around to get it. Our reviewers found this one to be a little weak in flavor: "Thin taste, not much here, not even an aftertaste." "Very sweet, very flat, no punch." "After the first sips it seems too watered down." "A little too sweet, not a very balanced flavor. Too bland, no fizz, no punch. Was this bottle left out overnight?" - Score: 2.31
Route 66 Beer - Bottled in Indian Head Park, Illinois, just outside Chicago, on Route 66. Includes yucca as one of the ingredients. Most of our reviewers didn't find the taste strong enough or interesting enough. "Bland," said one. "No flavor other than fruity sweet." "A thin taste, slightly bitter." "Smooth and crisp, but somewhat watery and doesn't have much flavor." wrote others. More about Route 66 - Score: 2.24
Mystic Seaport Root Beer - A root beer made by Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. It is not known if this drink is actually made by costumed actors stirring the mixture with wooden paddles over coal fires for the enjoyment of tourists. What is known is that our reviewers did not appreciate the "authentic" taste: "Oh, my lord, this is bad. This should not be sold in bottled form." "Strange unpleasant aroma, bitter, coffee-like taste. A complex flavor but not fun to drink." "Tastes like white pepper and celery, or maybe saccharine? Odd." "Its got a smoky aftertaste. I can't say whether I like it, its intriguing though." - Score: 2.17
Roundhouse Root Beer - Made in Aurora, Illinois, 30 miles west of Chicago. A neat old railroad roundhouse features a brewpub and Walter Payton's superbowl memorabilia museum. It looked like it would be fun to hang out in the beer garden in the center of the roundhouse, but we just picked up some root beer and left.The six-pack and the label feature a strange illustration which explains how the root beer is made. Despite the interesting packaging, our reviewers found this brand unimpressive, with a bitter artificial aftertaste: "Bland, not much flavor." "Watery diet cola. Not worth the energy to digest it." ."Nothing, then a very unpleasant aftertaste like diet pop." "Yucky. Strange saccharine aftertaste. Bleah." America's Brewing Company website.- Score: 2.14
Health Valley Sarsaparilla Root Beer - Another "all-natural" food co-op drink flavored with molasses, "our own natural sarsaparilla flavoring of licorice root extract," natural oils of anise, cherry bark extract and herbal extracts. What exactly is a sarsaparilla supposed to taste like? This one really did not taste like "root beer", confusing our reviewers. "What were they shooting for? Wishy washy. Not like root beer. There are weird flavors going on, but not combinations I like," wrote one taster. "Is this root beer? It tastes like a a half-n-half mixture of ginger ale & cream soda or a bitter champagne cola. This isn't root beer." "Sour and bitter. Kind of sad tasting." "This sort of tastes like Jägermeister or cough syrup." - Score: 2.13
Americana - A "microcrafted" root beer, produced in small batches 600 gallons at a time by Orca Beverages of Seattle, WA. This root beer is made with real sassafras root bark, licorice and vanilla. Despite the exciting ingredients, our reviewers found the taste somewhat lacking in flavor: "Bland, watery, with a strange grape soda aftertaste. Not very good." " Very salty & savory - not like most root beers. Unusual flavorings. Not too excited, but maybe good for basting a ham." "Vanilla-flavored smell. Flat & fruity taste. I probably wouldn't want to finish a whole glass of this!" and finally, "Too gooey for me." - Score: 2.00
Gale's - The house brand of the Brasserie T restaurant in Northfield, Illinois, created by and named for chef Gale Gand. This root beer uses unusual ingredients such as cinnamon, as well as ginger and vanilla. The unusual taste and strong aroma, along with the floating particles in the bottom of the cup, seemed to make a bad impression on the judges, who wrote: "Strong, sweet aroma. Tastes too sweet for me, not very creamy. Interesting punch -- I can't tell if I like it or not. And what's with the little brown flecks in my cup?!?" and "Crazy, foamy, overflowing head. Awful aroma. I don't like overly sweet tastes. This is not at all sweet, but I don't like it at all." Another reviewer went straight to the point: "Yuck!" Article in R&I Magazine. - Score: 2.00
Hansen's Signature Sarsaprilla - This root beer appears to be different from the other Hansen's Root Beer available in a can. This recipe includes a "blend of Madagascan, Indonesian, and Tahitian vanilla extracts." Some reviewers enjoyed the exotic ingredients, and found the flavor quite complex and intriguing, but agreed that the overall flavor was lacking. "Although this one has an interesting punchiness, the flavor just tasted too medicinal, almost like fruity cough syrup." "The individual characteristics aren't bad, but the total does not equal the sum of its parts in this case." Hansen's website. - Score: 1.93
Sioux City Birch Beer - Another neat Sioux City bottle that was once much neater before they added a printed label (*sigh*). In contrast to the Sioux City Sarsaparilla, this brew did not receive many favorable reviews. Perhaps the reviewers just were not prepared for the difference in flavor between a "birch beer" and "root beer", or they were surprised by the strong red color of the liquid. In any case, few found the flavor to be pleasant: "Much like the movie Independence Day, this root beer was all packaging (the red color) but no substance." Another wrote: "Extra points for color!! Gorgeous! Pepperminty taste and overly sugary sweet taste ruin it, though. Gets worse with each taste. Yick!" Another reviewer summed it up as: "Just weird and bad. Unpleasant." White Rock Beverages website. - Score: 1.88
Briar's Premium Root Beer - Made in North Brunswick, New Jersey since 1937. I found this in an enormous 1 liter bottle. The label touts this brew as "a low sodium product" and indeed it has a tenth of the amount of sodium in most of the other brands. Maybe this is why the reviewers weren't excited about the taste."Kind of bland with out much taste and even less aftertaste." "Doesn't really taste like much. Bland." "A hint of mediocre. Tongue-numbing (in a good way, I think)." Some reviewers found it to have a strong aftertaste: "Starts off very pleasant. I like the molasses taste initially, but then it turns unpleasant with a bad aftertaste." "Bit of a medicinal aftertaste, left my tongue tingly, numbed. Odd." Briar's fared worse in its second placement in Round 13: "Very flat and watery flavor - this is a poor excuse for root beer." "Yuck! No bubbles. Bland. No kick. Kinda sour. Strange taste. Worst ever!" Briar's website. - Score: 1.82
X Root Beer Riot - One of the few caffeinated root beers, this brand seems to be appealing to those who like to live life on the edge of danger. The label includes warnings to pregnant women about adverse health effects and brags suggestively about such ingredients as guarana, kava kava and yohimbine for those who are not yet pregnant. The brew doesn't appear to actually contain those ingredients, however. Instead there are more typical ingredients such as: vanilla beans, molasses, nutmeg, anise, cloves, sassafras, peppermint, ginger, cinnamon and green tea. Despite the promises of an X-treme X-perience, our reviewers found the taste weak and unlike root beer: "Sugar water." said one." Tastes more like Sprite than root beer." Other reviewers linked this to a "lemony" flavor. "Very unusual -- fruity and somewhat artificial, with a weird aftertaste, like plastic. Doesn't taste like root beer. Sour tasting, like pixie stix and a powdery odor." XTZ website - Score: 1.80
Levi's Root Beer - From Chico, California. A "Micro-Brewed" root beer made from natural ingredients, including: sweet birch, licorice root, sarsaparilla, cinnamon, clove, anise, wintergreen, bourbon vanilla extract. Sweetened with sugar cane juice. This one was not a hit with our taste-testers. One wrote: "Cough medicine. No thanks." Many reviewers did not feel the flavor was strong enough to be a winning root beer: "Another cola! Where are the root beers? This one shouldn't be in the test." "Very fruity aroma but sour & acidic flavor like some kind of salad dressing." "Is this still a root beer taste test? Am I in the right place? Rancid." - Score: 1.71
Natural Brew - From Chico, California. A "Micro-Brewed" root beer made from natural ingredients, including: sweet birch, licorice root, sarsaparilla, cinnamon, clove, anise, wintergreen, bourbon vanilla extract. Sweetened with sugar cane juice. This one was not a hit with our taste-testers. One wrote: "Cough medicine. No thanks." - Score: 1.71
Myers Avenue Red - Even though most of our reviewers weren't crazy about the flavor, this root beer really does have a beautiful label! Recently we received a letter from the creator of this root beer who explained the strange story on the label. Apologies to Mike Lynn, but our reviewers didn't warm up to the flavor as much as they enjoyed the package: "I hope this is a folk-remedy for something because as a soda its a bit mediciney," the testers balked, "Its quite intriguing, but I think more bizarre than refreshing." And again in Round 5, this root beer took last place: "Smells like mouthwash, watered down mouthwash taste. At least it's not too sweet. Bad aftertaste like a diet soda." Cripple Creek Brewing website. - Score: 1.68
Mad River - An "all-organic" root beer from Vermont which did not please the reviewers: "Disturbing smell. Disturbing taste. Where's the carbonation? Something went wrong here," though everyone agreed that the flavor was unique and intriguing: "Many complex flavors - fruit? coffee? pepper? bitter? licorice? but leading to one conclusion - bad." Mad River website. - Score: 1.60
Journey Shenandoah Sassafras Root Beer - Made in Putney, Vermont. A natural-food store staple, this root beer is flavored with a "root and spice brew" containing (safrole-free) sassafras root bark, star anise, and a "mixed herb blend." The label describes the process thusly: "a steeping of whole, botanical herbs, roots and spices by a unique time and temperature method. This uniquely steeped 'botanical tea' is then folded into a fine balance of natural sweeteners and cold, purified sparkling water." Anyway, this botanical tea was not a big hit with our reviewers. "Buttery vanilla aroma is strong, but I don't like the initial butterscotch taste - too gooey!" "Interesting aroma. By 'interesting' I mean in that suspicious old-lady meaning of the word. It could be complex or bad, I can't decide." "Very strong taste but kind of harsh. A little bitter." while others were more blunt: "Yuck! Rancid, sour. Eww! Awful! Tastes like feet!" Journey website. - Score: 1.57
Santa Cruz Organic Root Beer - Definitely the most ironic of all flavors we've sampled. On the side of the can a notice proclaims: New Improved Flavor. One wonders how awful it must have been previously if this is the improvement. The ingredients include organic cloves, organic ginger and peppermint, organic cane sugar, organic vanilla, and "a proprietary blend of natural ingredients obtained from plants and/or essential oils." That blend must include a bit of pear juice, because thats what this one looked and tasted like, not root beer. I won't mention what everyone said out loud during the test when the samples were brought forth and we first saw the yellowish-clear liquid in tiny cups. Some of the written comments include: "Tastes diety, bad aftertaste and doesn't feel very good in my mouth, like its pickling my tongue." "Tastes like sweetened water. There aren't any lasting flavors. Hummingbirds would like it." "Where did the color go? Where did the carbonation go? Where did the flavor go?" - Score: 1.43
Sprecher's Lo-Cal Root Beer - Alright, maybe its not fair to compare diet sodas with their full-figured compatriots, but we threw this one in just to see what would happen. It didn't do too well. Despite the addition of "raw Wisconsin honey," there's just no way to disguise the artificial, bitter taste of aspartame. "Awful! Really awful! Bitter and awful. The aftertaste is worse." and "Diet? Medicine? Poison? The worst ever, it reminds me of taking a sip of my mom's diet Mr. Pibb as a child." Sprecher's website - Score: 1.29
Wildwood - A cheap canned soft drink found in a convenience store around the corner. Wildwood is made in Chicago, so I'm not sure of how wide a distribution it has, not that anyone should go out of their way to get some of this stuff. Many of the canned generic sodas seem to be merely mediocre, but this one definitely went out of its way to be awful, "like vinegar and weak cola strained through a paper towel," is how one reviewer described it. "Its the standard root beer smell, but they forgot to add the root beer taste," wrote another. "Pretty crappy." - Score: 1.20
Bundaberg - A root beer imported from Australia. The unusual bottle cap was intriguing, and several of the reviewers had previously tasted Bundaberg Ginger Ale, so I had assumed this one would be a winner. However, our reviewers found otherwise. Maybe they have a different taste for root beer in Australia, but this one did not pass muster here in the USA: "Sour! Rancid!" "Tastes like weak cola with a bit of lemon, not root beer." " Nasty. Sure, there is carbonation, but its not enough to convince me of any redeeming value." - Score: 1.14

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Copyright 2003 Matt Bergstrom. Text Copyright Matt Bergstrom