Berghoff: Root Beer

History: Berghoff Root Beer has been around, in one form or another, since 1933 during the era of prohibition. According to Berghoff Director of Sales, Ben Minkoff, back then the company produced a root beer-esque soft drink called “Bergo” to keep the company afloat along with a tonic. The beer dates back even further. It was created in 1887 by Herman Berghoff and his three brothers in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The brewery moved three years later to Chicago and was introduced to The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It remains a Chicago craft beer staple, though it does not have its own brewery under the Berghoff name. Berghoff beer and soda are made to order. Now the history behind who makes Berghoff is complicated, so keep sharp.

We’ll spare you with some of the initial details and start in 1960 with the Joseph Huber Brewing Company, where Berghoff soda and beer were then produced. In 2006, Berghoff beer and soda switched their production location again, this time to Minhas Brewing. According to Minkoff, to this day, Minhas produces Berghoff barreled root beer, but not regular beer. K? You still following? You might know Minhas Brewing because they too make their own soda called Blumers. In 2013, Berghoff beer, but not soda, changed locations again, this time to Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin. Stevens Point makes their own soda as well. Alright, to the four of you who read this far, you probably no longer want soda. You need alcohol. I get it. Let’s do shots after this. But first, a few facts about Berghoff Root Beer. Minkoff says it’s “all-natural, gluten-free, and made with pure cane sugar.” It was made to be a compliment to the company’s beer right down to the way you drink it. Minkoff adds, “We wanted it to taste as much as draft soda as possible” and describes its flavor as very “vanilla-like.” Berghoff also produces black cherry and orange sodas in addition to root beer. Lately they’ve been trying to appeal to both the craft beer and soda crowds by introducing their alcoholic “Rowdy Root Beer.” Minkoff ended our conversation making a bold claim about the company’s signature soda. “It’s the best one out there,” he says with a chuckle. We’re about to find out, Mr. Minkoff. We’re about to find out.

Where to get: To find the nearest physical location near you where Berghoff Root Beer is sold, use the company’s online locator. You can also buy it online from Beverages Direct  in 6-packs or Soda Emporium in singles.

Nose: Licorice; anise; sassafras root. Honestly, the smells on this are pretty mild. It’s got a pretty traditional root beer nose.

Taste: Wintergreen; licorice; anise; sassafras; birch oil; mild creaminess. All the flavors just mentioned are traditional root beer tastes. If you’re looking for a comparison, this is kind of a hybrid between Barq’s and A&W, leaning more towards the Barq’s flavor spectrum. The most noticeable element in this root beer is the mint, which is the first thing you taste and the strongest. Traditional wintergreen with maybe a little bit of spearmint too. The birch flavoring in this is strong as well. This was described to us as a vanilla-heavy root beer, but what we’re tasting is more of a bolder, dryer brew than a creamy one. There is a little bit of lingering vanilla near the tail end, but this is more brassy than velvety in mouth feel.

Finish: Mild vanilla with birch oil that rises off the tongue like fog.

Rating: Root beers can be very generally divided into either creamy or not creamy. Berghoff has created one that focuses more on bold flavors than lighter, creamier ones. A root beer like Berghoff would pair well with a velvety texture, aka vanilla ice cream. This is a great liquid pairing for your favorite ice cream in a root beer float. On its own, the flavors are pretty standard for a root beer. You’ll certainly notice the mint and birch elements. If you enjoy birch beer or root beers more mild in vanilla, I’d look into this one. If you prefer a root beer rich in vanilla with a thick creaminess to it, you may be let down. Personally, I think the mint would work better here if Berghoff played up one of the ingredients in the root beer that might compliment it more, like vanilla or perhaps nutmeg (not sure if nutmeg is in this). This root beer doesn’t list cinnamon as an ingredient, but I think it could really benefit from the sweetness of that particular spice too. With so many root beers out there, I’d put this near the upper middle tier. It’s solid and reliable. If you ask me, its best use is in a root beer float. Do it. I wouldn’t let you down.


Tommy Knocker: Orange Creme

History: “We’re into anything craft,” from food to beer to soda. Those are the words of Tommy Knocker Brewery Director of Operation, Steve Indrehus. Steve already sounds like one of us. We can’t wait to hang out, Steve. Hailing from Idaho Spring, Colorado, Tommy Knocker is one of a growing number of bottlers that use only organic ingredients in their sodas. Like many breweries, they started with draft root beer as a non-alcoholic option. And that led to more flavors. Currently, the brewery makes four sodas. The root beer still moves the most, selling over 6,000 cases a year. I move about 6,000 a year too… further into debt. What’s really unique about Tommy Knocker sodas is the water they use. It’s a flow of snow melt and rain water that trickles down from the 14,000 foot peak of Mount Bierstadt. It’s described by Indrehus as a very soft water. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds delightful. Their orange cream soda is made with 100% pure Madagascar vanilla in addition to pure cane sugar. It contains no caffeine and is GMO-free. And if you’re a beer snob, take solace. Tommy Knocker brews their sodas just like they brew their brews. Let’s get to it.

Where to get: Tommy Knocker sodas are sold directly via the company’s website. You can also find it in single bottles at this random Boulder, Colorado liquor store website. You can also buy them at most Rocketfizz retailers. It’s available throughout Colorado, and with the exception of Rocketfizz stores, sporadically throughout the U.S. in 18 states.

Nose: Fresh, organic oranges.

Taste: Fresh citrus; tart vanilla; lightly burned sugar. Tommy Knocker’s take on orange cream soda tastes distinctly more orange than cream. Sugar and citrus are up front. This is a brand that uses completely organic ingredients and that’s very evident on the taste buds. This is probably just a little bit less sweet than you’d expect for an orange cream soda. Not much of the traditional orange creamsicle flavor. There’s much more of a botanical citrus taste. This is made with organic orange zest and that’s probably the most identifiable flavor in this bottle. It’s zesty. It’s citrusy. But as far as tasting like sweet orange, it’s not quite as obvious as I’d like to see in an orange cream. There’s noticeable vanilla in this, but it isn’t creamy. The vanilla notes flutter around on the backend of each drink, almost in a tart way. The organic ingredients in this soda work with the cane sugar to form a light, burned sugar or caramel taste. But overall, earthy citrus is the predominant flavor.

Finish: Mild oranges that progressively taste fresher throughout the finish. Citrus and sugar round out each sip.

Rating: This is what I’d consider a nontraditional take on orange cream soda. Perhaps it’s the organic ingredients. Perhaps it’s just the way this was designed. But it’s missing that flagship creaminess we all desire in this particular flavor. When you think orange cream soda, you think dreamsicle or creamsicle. This is more like biting into an orange rind. You taste a very pure, zesty orange oil flavor. It’s not bitter and it’s not bad. It’s just not what we were expecting. The orange flavor in this isn’t exactly crisp like juice or smooth like other cream sodas. The vanilla notes are nice and work, but probably need to be more prominent to see this soda live up to the label on the bottle. If you’re a fan of citrus sodas, I’d suggest a bottle. If you prefer sweeter, creamier orange creams, this may be a let down for you. It does get better as you continue drinking it, but then again, my neighbor says that all the time and I just passed him on the way to his AA meeting. This is a game time decision. Worth a try, but it’s replay value is in question.


Millstream Brewing: Root Beer

History: You wouldn’t expect an artisanal soda to come from a city where the only modern convenience is a gas station. Welcome to Amana, Iowa. Amana is part of the Amana Colonies, one of seven villages in a 26,000 acre farmland area. There’s no McDonald’s, no Wal-Mart. “If you walk down main street, you go back 150 years in time,” says Millstream Brewing co-owner Teresa Albert. It’s a town of rich German heritage. So it’s no surprise that despite the lack of basic human necessities… there’s beer. And where there’s beer, there’s almost always root beer. The brewery opened in 1985 and ten years later Millstream introduced their root beer. They’re especially proud of the prominent vanilla flavor they infuse it with and how creamy they’ve tried to make it. Albert says confidently, “Our sodas are just like our beers. We’re not willing to compromise.” Like many, Millstream Brewing wants to take their customers back to the old days with their root beer. Yet unlike most, Millstream Brewing literally still lives in the old days. A town of 1,200 where you can’t even get a Crunch Wrap Supreme. For the longevity of your insides, I wouldn’t advise that anyway, but still. Get ready for a mug of German root beer nostalgia, a dose of old glory the brewery designed to stay with you. “So many sodas are on your tongue and gone, and this one just lingers. It’s the love we put in every batch.”

Where to get: Millstream Brewing’s Root Beer is distributed throughout Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois. I know this means nothing to you, but I wouldn’t be doing my journalistic duty if I didn’t tell you. Millstream’s root beer can be ordered online through John’s Grocery. Trust us, it’s legit.

Nose: Classic root beer float; soft vanilla; faint anise.

Taste: Vanilla; light but crisp bite; mild; earthy mint; cream. On the initial sip, this is phenomenal. You’re greeted with a classic root beer taste with bold, creamy vanilla. This is an especially smooth root beer. The bubbles in Millstream Brewing’s Root Beer are very light, yet wonderfully accentuate the vanilla notes while also providing a mild, crisp earthy bite. The mint taste in this is very mild, which will likely please a majority of soda drinkers, but could disappoint hardcore root beer purists. Creaminess coats the tongue with each sip, though there’s just a little too much of a syrup taste on some sips. But make no mistake, the vanilla combined with the refreshing bite of sassafras bark flavors make this extremely easy drinking.

Finish: Creamy vanilla that lingers on the back of the tongue, increasing in strength briefly before fading. Mostly vanilla here with a pinch of licorice and anise. Vanilla is what you’ll notice.

Rating: Dangerously drinkable. There’s a 173 calories in each bottle, and one bottle probably won’t be enough. So put some sweat pants on before you lose your dignity in a six-pack of this stuff. One of the smoothest root beers on the market. Pretty impressive coming from a village devoid of most basic human needs besides a gas station. The vanilla in this is very nice and perfectly compliments the mild earthy undertones throughout the body of each sip. Despite our initial expectations, this isn’t what I’d consider an especially creamy root beer. There’s a difference between a rich vanilla flavor profile and creaminess. Millstream does a really nice job of capturing the former and pairing it with complimenting flavors like anise, sassafras and very light wintergreen. Every once in a while, you’re left with a syrupy taste, but it doesn’t linger. Honestly, this is just nitpicking. Here’s what you need to know: this is good and you should drink it. It’s one of those sodas I don’t mind telling you to enjoy quickly because it goes down so smoothly. This will take you back to childhood when mom was making root beer floats, but you’d sneak a few sips before the ice cream made it in the glass. And if that doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll pray for you that adulthood turns out better. Old time root beer. Big time flavor.