Root Beer Reviews: "B" List

Here's a quick glossary of the terms I use. 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.
Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
2 Virgil's

This beer came to me with a lot of hype. People have written in from all around the world, swearing that it's the best beer available. So here's my verdict:

A medium bite that tastes primarily of licorice. Full-bodied but with a very sweet taste. The dominant flavors are cinnamon, molasses, and nutmeg, which add up to an almost mediciney taste. The aftertaste is cloying. Overall, it doesn't taste much like root beer to me, but I found it intriguing. By far the best of the "all natural" root beers, but that ain't saying much.

Their motto is "Virgil's is so pure you swear it was made in heaven." What I say is, if this is the best heaven can do in terms of root beer, maybe I should look into alternate accomodations for my afterlife.

We got a 6-pack at BevMo in San Francisco. This seems to be available at select stores around the country. Also I'm told that it's imported by Crowley Beverage Corporation, 30 Boston Post Road, Wayland, MA 01778
2 Hansen's Signature All-Natural Sarsaparilla Comes in a really peculiarly-shaped bottle. A medium spicy bite, thin body and thankfully no aftertaste. Main flavors are honey and vanilla, with the strong clove notes common to most natural beers. Quite similar to Virgil's- also has the wintergreen overlay. A clear, sweet beverage, but lacking the essence of what I'd call root beer. Pretty common since Hansen's is a national brand.
2 Trader Joe's "Premium Draught Style" Sharp citrus bite, full body but a minty, sweetly cloying aftertaste. The more you keep drinking, the more it tastes like root beer flavored mouthwash, or perhaps mouthwash that's been stored in a root beer bottle. Intriguing but doesn't bear up under scrutiny. Well duh, at Trader Joe's.
2 Bosque This beer has a nice initial bite, with a full body that unfortunately dissipates too quickly. It's got a very distinctive taste- very spicy and very heavy on the cloves. No kick and a light, sweet aftertaste. Bosque Brewing Company's brewmaster was kind enough to send me a six-pack to sample. Bosque is based in Waco, Texas. Late-breaking news: Bosque has discontinued brewing their root beer. Not much of a loss in my opinion.
2 Boothill Sassparilla Starts out lovely but peters out disappointingly: it's got a nice bite to it and the aftertaste is smooth, but too cloying. Overall too strong on the cloves. May be a new brand (the parent company is Baron's); I saw it at Morning Due at 17th and Church and Rikker's on Market at Church.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
2 Jones Doesn't have any bite to speak of, but it is nicely full-bodied. It's cloyingly sweet, with a refreshingly spicy, fizzy aftertaste. I'd characterize this as a run-of-the-mill root beer. This seems to be a relatively new entry into the soda market. I've seen it in several delis and stores in San Francisco. Jones Soda Company also makes several other flavors of soda in intriguing colors.
2 Thorpe's A nice, sharp tang with medium bite- very spicy at first taste. It's full-bodied and the spiciness continues with an earthy, peppery taste. The aftertaste is slightly cloying and continues the pepper theme. In the end, not a very distinctive or satisfying beer. Thorpe's also makes a cream soda, full-bodied with a penumbra of lychees and berries. We found this in Canada on a recent foray to Vancouver. It's bottled by Silvan Beverages in Langley, BC. The label reads "Since 1889. . World's Fair medal, 1893."
2 Mendocino Taubold's Private Reserve Nice smooth feel to it, but a weird black cherry aftertaste. Almost mediciny-taste. No kick to it. My roommate brought this back from Mendocino. . . never seen it anywhere else.
2 Arizona Root Beer Float "Cowboy Pop" Don't blame me, I didn't name it. The initial bite is mediocre. It has a nice body that's creamy and heavy on the vanilla (I guess the "float" part of the title- it's supposed to taste like a root beer float). No kick, and there's a weird chemical aftertaste. Pretty elusive, but it's worth looking for just to try it out. I haven't seen it in about a year, so maybe it was discontinued?
2 Way2Cool "All Natural Root Beer" It has the light tang typical of natural beers, full-bodied but with a weird aftertaste. The aftertaste is hollow and a little sour. Local to Santa Fe, this was brought to my attention by my New Mexico correspondent.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
2 Special Recipe Natural Brew As you can tell, I don't expect a lot out of "natural" root beers. This one was pretty interesting, though. A nice initial bite with a creamy but thin body. Tastes of molasses, wintergreen, and cinnamon. A cloying aftertaste. I found it to be a nice drink as long as you don't think of it as root beer. If you expect root beer (after all, that's what it says on the label) you'll be disappointed. My San Rafael correspondent picked it up at a local store.
1 Mug A light, tangy bite. No real body. No kick and the aftertaste practically yells "High fructose corn syrup!" Widely available.
1 Fanta Widely available, but who wants it?
1 Snapple "Tru Root Beer" Has a light bite but no body or taste after that. The aftertaste is like cough syrup. Fairly elusive. Not worth seeking out; it's not in the same universe as their Mango Iced Tea.
1 Blue Sky Natural Root Beer A little tang, but no body or kick. The taste is mostly just sweet and the aftertaste is vaguely cloying and slightly creamy. An undistinguished beer. Look in your local health food store.
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Rating Picture Brand Name Comments Availability
1 Health Valley "Old Fashioned Root Beer" Very little bite, no body and heavy on the molasses. Blech. Look in your local health food store.
0 RJ Corr Natural Soda Not much taste at all- you'd have to really be thinking about it to notice that it's root beer. There's no body or tang, a very little kick at the end but no real definable taste except "sweet". Look in your local health food store, if you really want it. . .
0 Shenandoah Sassafras Eek! Three mouthfuls was all I could stand. No bite, the body is hollow and tastes of medicine and wood- kind of like the tongue depressors the doctor sticks down your throat. The aftertaste is mercifully brief, as it's full of anise and tastes like black licorice. Brewed by Journey Foods. Look in your local health food store, if you really want it. . .
0 Rat Bastard The label has enough attitude for a whole case. A sharp tang with a strong, skunky taste. A thin body and overpowering taste of molasses and cloves. Also has a weird chemical aftertaste that almost burns your mouth. The label says "tastes like a son of a bitch"; I'd have to agree with that one. The company is based in LA. I've only seen it once (at Rhonda's SuperMarket on 16th St.) but blech, don't bother!
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last updated: 2/10/99