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We get many packages delivered to SE world headquarters. But this was officially the first time that 100 pounds of root beer arrived. Have you ever signed for that much root beer? We hadn't either!* It was fun. After trying all the national brands we could get our paws on, we ordered 22 small-batch brands from across America through Galco, the Los Angeles-based soda warehouse and store.
* Special thanks to our UPS dude!
The 22 Root Beers We Tried
We were looking for a root beer with full-bodied flavor (vanilla, wintergreen, juniper, sarsaparilla), that poured a creamy froth but still had a fizzy bite. We judged them with the following criteria in mind:
- Overall root beer flavor: We rated it on a scale of "mild" to "Holy Sarsaparilla!" If you don't like root beer, maybe you want it mild, but the root beer enthusiasts look for that medicinal, herby bite. Back in the day, sarsaparilla was one of the primary ingredients, but today additions like wintergreen and anise render similar flavors.
- Sweetness: On a scale of "dry" to "sugarush." You don't want cloyingly sweet, but then again, this is soda. It shouldn't be unsweet. What kind of sweet? Vanilla sweet? Fruit snack sweet? Hopefully not so much the latter. And most importantly, there should always be a good sweet-to-bitter balance.
- Carbonation: Tiny bubbles are good. Flat, not so much. Some got flat after just a few minutes of sitting out; others held onto their fizz. Since bottles can lose up to 15 percent of their carbonation while unopened and sitting around, they definitely suffered a bit in this department, but we tried to get cans whenever possible.
We split the tasting into two days and found our top ten favorites.
The Top 10
10. Bulldog (Fresno, CA)
9. Saranac (Utica, NY)
8. Americana (Redmond, WA)
7. Henry Weinhardt's (Portland, OR)
6. Hank's (Fall River, MA)
5. Fitz's (St. Louis, MO)
4. AJ Stephans (Detroit, MI)
3. Capt'n Eli's (Portland, ME)
2. Ithaca (Ithaca, NY)
And the Winner Is... Faygo's
From: Detroit, Michigan
Faygo's history dates back to 1907 when two Russian immigrants opened the Feigenson Brothers Bottle Works. At first their sodas were inspired by frosting recipes, but they eventually developed a total of 50 flavors, including the very popular root beer. Some Detroiters (the ones that were around during the 1950s) still associate the root beer with the fictional cowboy character, The Faygo Kid. "Which way did he go? Which way did he go? He went Faygoooo!" (Watch the commercial if this means nothing to you...we had to too.)
The Faygo Kid Commercial
This one has a lot going on, but in a good way: vanilla, bubblegum, birch, licorice. Plus there's a nice fizz that didn't die after sitting out for a while. The most classic root beer we tried. "Smelled real good too," noted one taster.