My son loves root beer. That's only remarkable because I've never been able to stand it. My mother loved it, my brothers loved it. The family would pile in the wagon when we were kids and go to the A&W Drive-In in Redmond and everyone except me would order a big, frosty mug.
So when I went to Pop Culture in Vancouver the other day to see just what sodas a store devoted to the carbonated beverage would carry, I came home with eight different root beers for my in-house devotée to sample and evaluate. Because of his love for the beverage, he rejected the side-by-side comparison which would have required opening them all and wasting a good deal of decent root beer. Instead he decided to have one each day and give each due consideration, with me keeping notes.
Going in, his acknowledged favorite was IBC, which had always taken first place in his pantheon of great root beers, though it had recently become hard to find locally. The others were a variety of traditional and newer brews, with different kinds of sugars and blends. A surprise dark horse that entered the competition was Crater Lake Soda's root beer, a new local root beer that we found on tap on a recent dinner outing to Ned Ludd.
The results of our very unscientific survey were as follows:
- Faygo, Detroit, Michigan: Not super-sweet. A normal root beer with a little herbiness. Like many of these root beers, it was better once the carbonation had subsided, allowing its herbiness to come through.
- Sprecher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Very mild and creamy, not overly sweet.
- Boylan, Moonachie, New Jersey: Almost cola-ish without that cola harshness. Fruity.
- Dad’s Root Beer, Chicago, Illinois: Tastes like it was made from syrup. "Not necessarily sweeter than the others, but not much else there.” Almost no head on it.
- Americana, Mukilteo, Washington: Mellow, not very fruity. “It’s only hitting one bandwidth of flavor.” In other words, "a one-note root beer."
- Thomas Kemper, Portland, Oregon: Very sweet. Honey and vanilla dominate.
- Stewart’s Diet, Rye, New York: (I bought diet by mistake) Fairly decent with a nice herbiness. Fairly sweet, also, but not too much.
- Crater Lake, Portland, Oregon: (on tap) Very herby, almost borders on harsh but not quite. Quite dense. "If I drank a bottle every day, I don’t know if I’d choose that one," but "probably the most interesting of the bunch."
- IBC, Plano, Texas: “A good root beer” and milder than Crater Lake with a nice fruit and herbiness. At first “it was not rocking my socks off" but, again, as carbonation decreased it improved. "My favorite for an everyday root beer."