Root Beer Reviews: "A" List

Here's a quick glossary of the terms I use. I don't guarantee that anyone else uses these terms in the same way. I'd learn wine terms and use those, but words used to describe mere wine don't seem appropriate to describe root beer. Next, this is an explanation of my rating system:
5: Top rating. Outstanding taste and quality; distinctive brews. I'd be proud to stock my fridge with any one of these beers and make it a point to keep some on hand for company.
4: Excellent taste and quality, a refreshing drink any time of day.
3: Good, average beers that aren't particularly distinctive; suitable for imbibing with a spicy meal, perhaps, or some other time when you're not being picky about the taste of your beverage.
2: Not recommended. I'd steer away from these beers unless your only other choices are cola. Some of them have some novelty value but not much else.
1-0: Needs no further explanation. Please stay away from these beers. I tasted these beers so you don't have to.

Root Beer Reviews

Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
5+ IBC The best root beer I've ever tasted, in and out of class. Smooth, spicy taste, not too sweet, with a fantastic kick to it. Dark and full-bodied. A couple years ago I encountered one or two skunky batches, but the consistency has evened out since then. We served this one at our wedding. No joke. Great news, IBC is now more widely available! One of my sources says that it is bottled at one of the Dr. Pepper bottling plants in Dallas, which is owned by Cadbury- Scweppes.
5 Hank's of Philadelphia My first thought was, wow, a beer that finally gives IBC a run for its money. Nice initial bite, spicy but not offensively so, full-bodied. A medium to dark beer- I'd say an auburn. Not too sweet, with a satisfying, light aftertaste that knows when it's time to hit the road. Hank's is a little sweeter and creamier than IBC.

However, when I got about halfway through the bottle I got... tired of it. It just seemed banal. I can't explain why, and it probably means I have to taste it again. Oh no, please don't throw me in that root beer keg!

It's pretty elusive out here, I got it at Ronda's on 16th & Valencia.
5 Stewart's A nice solid beer with a dark taste. Some batches can be a little too sweet. (Try their "Country Orange 'n' Cream" soda, too- it tastes like a carbonated Creamsicle! Also there's a "Classic Key Lime" soda. Both are truly lovely as dessert sodas.) Widely available on the West Coast. A source says you can get it on tap in Ohio.
5 Sioux City
Spicy, smooth mellow taste. Light aftertaste. Widely available on the West Coast.
4+ Winchester Home Style Nice big bottles (almost single-serving size), featuring a jolly bulldog wearing a bowler and bow-tie. Full body, cinnamony but not overwhelmingly so. A nice kick that mellows out on the palate, with no cloying aftertaste. In short: positively top-drawer. Distinctive yet refined character, old chap. We picked this up at Beverages 'n' More.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
5- Red Rock Root Beer Spicy, full body with lots of character. Strong cinnamon and anise notes, although they're not overpowerin. Tastes quite a bit like a root beer candy. A dark, hearty beer. Draft only at the restaurant- Red Rock Brew Company, 254 South 200 West, Salt Lake City, UT, 84101. Phone: (801) 521-7446. You can also get big jugs of it to take home.
4+ Goose Island A light to medium beer, full bodied but a little on the sweet side, with a smooth creamy taste. Well-bred with a subtle character. A good chum- not particularly glam, but steady and reliable. Haven't seen this in stores, the company was kind enough to contact me and send me a six-pack.
4 Pearson Bros. Nice sharp tang. Full-bodied with an interesting, spicy/sweet taste. Tastes slightly of cloves and mint- a peculiar yet beguiling combination. Light, sweet aftertaste and a small kick. Based in San Francisco, I've only seen it at Eezy Freezy on West Portal and Rikker's on Market at Church. Worth seeking out.
4 Virginia Brewing Company Nice smooth taste though the tang is a little too spicy. No real kick to it, but a pleasing mellow aftertaste. Actually, I don't know if you can buy it outside of their restaurant in Alexandria. It may be just on tap, not bottled.
4 Saranac Brewery A smooth taste, full-bodied with a mild kick. The aftertaste is sweet and a little syrupy. It's spicy with a light taste of cloves. A beer that's solid enough to please everyone, yet with its own distinctiveness. We drank this on Lawn Gisland, New York. In San Francisco, we got it at Beverages 'n' More, aka BevMo.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
4 Dad's My favorite of the canned root beers, but admittedly not for everyone. Has a nice sharp tang and a flavorful, cloves and cinnamon body (though a little thin). The aftertaste is thin and a little too sweet sometimes. Critics say it tastes too much like cough medicine. Commonly available. One of my sources says in Ontario it comes in bottles.
4 Barq's Nice tang, full-bodied. Taste is spicy but a little too sweet for my taste. No kick, with a slightly cloying aftertaste. A good, solid beer with a "dark" taste. Commonly available.
4 Pirate's Keg A light tang, full-bodied and tasty without being overly sweet. No kick to it, though. It has a nice but not aggressive character- like a friendly, well-bred golden retriever. I found it in San Diego- haven't seen it anywhere else yet.
3 Thomas Kemper's A nice, spicy bite but the body is on the shallow side (although creamy). The aftertaste is too sweet and heavy on the cloves. It's becoming more widely available, at least on the West Coast. Some of the cooler restaurants in San Francisco now have Kemper's on tap. They're based in Washington state.
3 Dog 'n' Suds "Drive-In Style" Mild bite, medium body, light spice and sweet aftertaste. Starts out full but thins out quickly, the taste is kinda minty. A great drinkin' & drivin' root beer, solid middle of the road. Not haute cuisine, but it's satisfying and hits the spot, that's why I'd call it a "chow" beer. I was contacted by a rep from the company, but the promised shipment never materialized. I had a bottle sent to me by a Nevada correspondent, who has cases shipped out to him from the Midwest. Actually a couple of people have told me about getting care packages sent to them in this manner, so I gather they have a devoted following.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
3 Dr. Brown's A nice crisp bite, but a thin body. Shallow taste with no kick. A pleasing, light aftertaste- overall, it's like "root beer lite". An added plus: it's kosher!. Seems reasonably common; you can often find it in cafes.
3 Dominion The initial tang is medium. The body is thin, with a pleasing, spicy/honey taste. It's got a light kick to it, and the aftertaste borders on too sweet. Sent to me by my Virginia correspondent, it's brewed by the Old Dominion Brewing Company. I haven't seen it in any stores in the West.
3 Mt. Vernon Five Farms Bottled for "The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association" by Old Dominion Brewing Company. Unsurprisingly, it tastes almost exactly like Dominion. Sent to me by my Virginia correspondent. I haven't seen it in any stores in the West.
3 Henry Weinhardt's Yes Virginia, Henry also makes a root beer. The root beer is so-so, but if you like cream soda, or even if you're ambivalent about cream sodas in general, you MUST try Henry's Vanilla Cream Soda. There aren't enough O's in smooooth. . . . This is becoming more popular. In San Francisco, you can buy both the beer and the cream soda at Safeway supermarkets now! I've also seen it in Calistoga and Redwood City. The cream soda is worth seeking out.
3 Lost Trail Root Beer

Louisburg Cider Mill PO Box 670 Louisburg, KS 66053

Has a crisp intial bite that fails to live up to its full potential. Instead it delivers a creamy, oversweet aftertaste, leaving you with a mouth full of sugar. Actually, it tastes a lot like a root beer barrel candy, or an A&W root beer/cream soda hybrid. B+ for effort, C- for execution. Urk. I can't remember where I got this one. I think we probably picked it up at BevMo here in San Francisco. A correspondent says that it's also available by mail order.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
3 A&W Medium tang, full-bodied. Spicy, too-sweet taste. A small kick and a light, sugary aftertaste. This is a "bread and butter" root beer- what most people think of as root beer, appeals to most tastes. Widely available.
3 Keiko Draft A crisp, cinnamony bite starts off this beer. It's a light beer with a thin body, tasting of honey and a hint of vanilla. There's practically no aftertaste upon which to linger and meditate. Brewed by the Oregon Brewing Company in Newport, Oregon, this is being sold to benefit Keiko the orca, of Free Willy fame. No kidding. We found it here in San Francisco.
3 Rawhide A smooth taste with no real bite to it. The light body has a creamy taste that's almost like cream soda. It has a thin yet sweet aftertaste. Hm, I'm embarassed to say I don't remember where I got this one. It's brewed by the Rocky Mountain Soda Brew Company. I think this may have been given to me by a New Mexico correspondent.
3 Soho I haven't reviewed this recently, but I remember guzzling it down in my college days. . . Seems to be more of an East Coast brand. Never seen it in the West.
3 Tommyknocker "original 1859 root beer" Its claim to fame is "brewed with Vermont Maple Syrup". A medium bite, full body with a slightly nutty flavor, but not much distinction until the aftertaste. That's where it hits you: carbonated maple syrup. Ater a few swallows, the novelty wears off. Let's see, we picked this up in a deli in the Skyline Plaza in Daly City. I think I've seen it one or two other places since then.
3- Sea Dog Minty. That's the one word I'd use to describe this beer. A crisp bite, full body but heavy on the mint. The aftertaste is slightly cloying, but happily, not minty fresh. A solid, middle of the road beer, but no distinct character, despite its cute label of a jaunty collie wearing a fisherman's hat. Sent to me by my New York correspondent. Their label lists: Sea Dog Brewing Company, Bangor, ME, 04401
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last updated: 2/10/99