The Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi presents the

Great American Root Beer Showdown

Round Sixteen

After some time away from the laboratory, the researchers were ready for another round of testing on Sunday afternoon, February 2, 2003.

Part of the reason for calling the taste testers to assemble on this date was that we expected to receive a sample package of Bulldog Root Beer sent by Teri Fahrendorf, the brewmaster at Bulldog. The days passed until the test and the package still hadn't arrived. So instead we prepared a different group of beverages to answer the question: What is the difference between sarsaparilla and root beer?

I'd been collecting examples of sarsaparilla in hopes of having an exclusive sarsaparilla test, and a recent mail order from Beverages & More in San Francisco brought the collection up to five examples. A last minute trip to the grocery store in search of another bottle of Hansen's Sarsaparilla failed to turn up anything, so we weren't able to test only the sarsaparilla flavors. Instead, having a few root beers thrown in should help to point out differences between the two. Completeing the group we had Ol' Bob Miller's in cans picked up in Flagstaff on a trip to the Grand Canyon a few months ago, and AJ Stephans, Briars, and Coastal Fog all from the big box mail ordered from Beverages & More.

The Root Beers Tasted:

  1. AJ Stephans Sarsaparilla - (Sample E)
  2. Briars Six-Gun Sarsaparilla - (C)
  3. Coastal Fog Root Beer - (A)
  4. Hank's - (F)
  5. Health Valley Sarsaparilla - (D)
  6. Ol' Bob Miller's Sarsaparilla - (B)
  7. Sioux City Sarsaparilla - (E)

The Test

With eight taste testers, the sample sizes were fairly small. We proceeded through the samples one by one, while watching the youngest and newest member of our research team play with the leftover cups and the poor selection of toys scattered around the laboratory.

Total Scores

Average scores across all categories:

  1. Coastal Fog - 3.41
  2. Sioux City Sarsaparilla - 3.38
  3. Hank's - 3.36
  4. Ol' Bob Miller's Sarsaparilla - 3.03
  5. AJ Stephans Sarsaparilla - 2.70
  6. Health Valley Sarsaparilla - 2.65
  7. Briars Six-Gun Sarsaparilla - 2.61

Overall Taste

Average scores in the category of "Overall Taste":

  1. Coastal Fog - 3.81
  2. Sioux City Sarsaparilla - 3.69
  3. Hank's - 3.63
  4. Ol' Bob Miller's Sarsaparilla - 2.94
  5. Health Valley Sarsaparilla - 2.56
  6. AJ Stephans Sarsaparilla - 2.44
  7. Briars Six-Gun Sarsaparilla - 2.44


During the taste test, our reviewers had difficulty guessing which of the samples were root beers and which were sarsaparillas. The Overall Taste scores, however, show lower scores for the sarsaparilla samples. In general, sarsaparilla seems to be less full-bodied, less creamy and less rich than root beer. The small sample cups used in our experiment seem to favor the brands with the most intense, full-bodied flavor, which can be ascertained in just a few sips. In this situation, sarsaparilla will be at a disadvantage. And in one notable instance, the red food coloring used in some sarsaparillas brought an uneasy reminder of sweetened cough syrup, creating a lower score for the sample.

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Copyright 2003 Matt Bergstrom. Text Copyright Matt Bergstrom