Slideshow: Taste Test: Root Beer

99 Bottles of Beer
99 Bottles of Beer
Well, more like ten. Let's find out how they all did!
11. Virgil's
11. Virgil's
The micro-brewed root beer is from the same people who make Reeds ginger beer. Lots of vanilla in aroma and taste. It's actually more like a vanilla creme soda with root beer aftertaste. "Tastes familiar, like honey tea." Others confused it with cola. A bit medicinal, but otherwise doesn't taste all that much like root beer.
10. A&W
10. A&W
We expected a little more from a major national brand whose website is "rootbeer.com." Founded in 1919 by World War I veterans Roy Allen and Frank Wright (the A&W comes from their last names), it inspired a chain of drive-in restaurants with tray-boys and curbside service. Weak smell and flavor. Not much fizz and too cola-esque.
8. Stewart's
8. Stewart's
What started as a root beer stand in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1924 later became a chain of Stewart's drive-ins across the country. Now owned by Snapple, they still claim to use the same "secret blend" of 20 extracts from roots, herbs, and berries. We picked up on malty notes, molasses, and maple syrup. Kind of reminiscent of oatmeal, actually. Not too sweet, which we liked, and it finishes with minty-ness. Good refreshing end note.
7. Boylan
7. Boylan
Still family-owned and operated, the Boylan bottling company, also known for their birch beer and seltzers, has been around since 1891. It's sweetened with cane sugar, but tasted too sugary, in a fruit snacks kinda way. Was that strawberry? Passionfruit? Licorice? We couldn't quite put our finger on the funkiness happening here. Taking a look at the ingredients, "natural yucca extract" is on the list—hm, you don't see that in root beer everyday. "A little spicy, but all I can say is weird," said one taster.
6. Dad's Old Fashioned
6. Dad's Old Fashioned
Dad's has that retro yellow and blue label, and it's full of history—you want to really root (ha) for it. Originally developed in a Chicago basement in the 1930s, it later became the first product to be sold in six-packs. Maybe we're just wimps, but we couldn't really handle all the herbal wintergreen action. "WAY too medicinal. No me gusta," said one taster. It had a slightly off-putting sour edge too.
4. Trader Joe's
4. Trader Joe's
Joe's house brand has consistently done well in previous SE tastings (chocolate chips, hummus, olive oil), and this wasn't bad either. The "vintage" beer comes in a twist-off retro-looking bottle. Sweetened with cane sugar, it has a crisp, non-cloying aftertaste (in a Mexican coke kind of way) with notes of honey. All of the ingredients are pronounceable, which is nice: triple filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, wintergreen birch, anise, sassafras, Tahitian vanilla extract, citric acid and tartaric acid. Of all those listed, vanilla was the strongest. Vanilla enthusiasts, this one's for you!

It doesn't have an especially strong root beer flavor, though. If you're put off by the strong medicinal flavors in more "serious" beers, you'll like this one.

3. Dr. Brown's
3. Dr. Brown's
His doctorate was clearly in awesome soda-making. Commonly found at Jewish delis and nearly every NYC corner bodega, the Dr. Brown's sodas (including his black cherry and Cel-Ray) are what you want to chug with a pastrami sandwich or tuna melt. But we like it straight-up too. Whiffs of orange and sarsaparilla, then a strong wintergreen flavor going down. Tasters also picked up on peppermint, vanilla, anise, and eucalyptus. This one definitely isn't boring.
2. Hansen's
2. Hansen's
The all-natural soda company started selling juices in Southern California in the 1930s, and they still do, in addition to teas, energy drinks, and root beer (among other sodas—shout-out to the gingerale!). First it hits you with birch and caramel, then ends with spice. Lots of vanilla and cream in there too. Tasters liked the tiny-bubble carbonation. It actually stayed carbonated too, even after sitting out for a bit.