Please forgive me, for a moment, a Tim Ferriss–style name drop.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Jason Kottke, founder of Kottke.org, one of the longest running sites on the internet (14.3238 years, to be exact)—he's sort of like the Cal Ripken Jr. of the Internet and a proud producer of "artisanal web links." We were talking about my column and our shared penchant for sugary, carbonated beverages. He mentioned Sprecher Root Beer, from Wisconsin, as one of his favorites.
Under normal circumstances, when someone says to me, "Well, you have to try..." the words start sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher: "Wah WAH wah wah WAH wah WAAH." You just get too many. But he vouched with conviction.
That certainly made me curious. Sprecher's didn't place too highly in a Serious Eats taste test of regional root beers. Did his Wisconsin upbringing bias his taste for a hometown favorite? Maybe Sprecher is the Dan O'Brien of root beer, anxiously awaiting the next taste test to win gold. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Sprecher is a fascinating soda; just from its appearance, I could tell it was different. Their label makes it look somewhat like a medieval grog, the kind of beverage they might sell you at Medieval Times. The bottle is thick and stout, with an entire pint of root beer inside. Many glass-bottled sodas only have 12 oz of liquid inside, so Sprecher's are 33% larger than, say, Boylan's.
It's creamy and sweet, with a foamy head as opposed to a bubbly one. There are hints of vanilla and honey, and it has a surprisingly smooth aftertaste, not a harsh acidic one like Barq's can have, or the tin-foil-esque bite that some do. (Sprecher is, as a note, made with sugar). If poured over ice or into a glass, it can lose a little of its carbonation, and taste a bit flat. But other than that, it's got my seal of approval.
I remember Sprecher's from participating in the Serious Eats taste test—one in which we judged by certain criteria: sarsparilla flavor, sweetness, and carbonation. By those criteria, Sprecher doesn't quite cut it. It's mild in its sasparilla flavor and leans towards the honey and vanilla—making for an extremely smooth and interesting soda, but not necessarily one that you might categorize as herbal or spicy. In the bottle, its foamy and light carbonation in the bottle held through to the end; over ice, however, that dissipates quickly.
So its honey-vanilla flavors may not have made it the root beer we were looking for in that taste test—but that's only to say it doesn't fall within those paramaters. And maybe it doesn't fit the qualities that many people think of in a good root beer. But for now, I'll just state that Sprecher Root Beer is a damned good beverage.
About the author: John M. Edwards, resident parasite at Serious Eats World Headquarters, can eat tall Double Downs in a single bite. Follow him on Twitter.