Root of the Matter

Thank you, Charles Elmer Hires. Even though root beer never really became an alternative to alcohol, as you intended (that temperance movement didn’t really stick either, did it?), you invented a delicious soda that has become quintessentially American. And since America’s all about choice (right? Well, sort of), there are a lot of brands out there to choose from—Soda Pop Stop and BevMo! each sells around 45 varieties. Our staff—riddled with root-beer-lovers—decided to sample a bunch of bottles: Here’s a roundup of our favorites. And remember, don’t pour your brew over ice—a frozen glass (or even better, a frozen glass mug) is the only way to enjoy root beer.

1. Virgil’s is one of the only commercially available root beers that is actually brewed with roots (just like CHOW’s) rather than mixed with extracts. Extremely complex and slightly medicinal, this one elicits a strong reaction from most people. We absolutely love it!

2. We consider Thomas Kemper to be the Cadillac of root beers. Creamy, with a smooth, honey flavor, it’s just what high-quality root beer should be.

3. Sprecher Root Beer Soda is blended with raw Wisconsin honey, which lends a complex sweetness and a nicely rounded taste. A rich, frothy head and subtle spiciness complete the package.

4. Henry Weinhard’s brewery makes a top-notch root beer. Smooth and full of vanilla, it pours from the bottle with a thick head. This one is out of this world in a Root Beer Float.

5. Berghoff Famous Root Beer is another Midwestern bottling. One taster called it “a good baseline beer, for those who want to take a step up from Dad’s.” By that we mean that while not extremely complex, it’s a good brew with balanced flavor.

6. The Original Bulldog handcrafted root beer has notes of licorice and vanilla with a smooth mouthfeel. It’s delicious! (And has a pretty cute label, too.)

7. AJ Stephans of Boston makes “the finest elixirs and mixers in New England.” It sells a draft-style root beer redolent of anise, spearmint, and spices.

8. Fitz’s was born at Fitz’s Drive-In in St. Louis, Missouri. Now available in bottles, this brew has strong notes of spearmint and wintergreen, with a creamy head.

9. Louisiana’s Abita brews up a mighty fine root beer with pure cane sugar. It’s a bit less intense than others, with a minty nose and a sweet, cola-esque flavor.

10. A true classic, IBC is well balanced, with prominent notes of sassafras and vanilla. While we expected this more common brew to be underwhelming, it definitely held its own among the small-batch breweries’ offerings.