root beer

Appalachian Brewing Co.: Root Beer

History: You know you’re doing something right when everyone knows you as a beer place, but you secretly make more money off of your craft soda sales. That’s what happened with Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Appalachian Brewing Company’s Brewmaster Artie Tafoya says “It was due to the demand. People wanted to buy it. It just ended up turning into a bigger deal.” On paper that’s a pretty impressive feat considering the brewery produces around 15 beers at a time depending on the season and just four bottled craft sodas. Like most in the craft soda business, their signature soda is their homemade root beer, something Tafoya experimented with initially as a family-friendly alternative to the hard stuff. When asked what sets Appalachian Brewing’s root beer apart from a plethora of others, Tafoya said he believes several ingredients stick out including: pure Appalachian spring water, cane sugar, mexican vanilla bean extract, and clover honey. The clover honey is a signature ingredient in several of the company’s craft sodas. It’s a recipe designed to taste like “old fashioned root beer,” Tafoya says. The brewery has been around nearly two decades and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017. And while it’s not much of a secret anymore that Appalachian Brewing Company is as much of a player in craft soda as it is in beer, the company’s dedication is what will keep it at the forefront of both industries in the years to come. “I’ll spend any amount of money to make it,” Tafoya says of his products. That’s a formula for good liquid.

Buy: Due to freezing temperatures in the northeast over the winter, your best bet for placing an order is by contacting the company directly.

Nose: Classic root beer with a vanilla-forward scent and a touch of spearmint. When you’ve tried as many sodas as we have, you can tell that this also smells like it’s going to taste creamy.

Taste: Mint; birch bark; sarsaparilla root; vanilla; mild creaminess. When you think of old time root beers that relied heavily on botanical flavors and mint vs. modern root beers that are all vanilla and very creamy, this definitely leans towards those of yesteryear. Right away you taste a big minty influence, more wintergreen than spearmint. Not spicy, but really permeates the nose. Next there’s a 1-2 combo of sarsaparilla root and birch bark that give the root beer a signature throwback flavor, the kind you used to taste at medieval fairs as a kid. What? You didn’t go to any medieval fairs as a kid? That was just me? Man, you missed out. But there’s also a subtle creaminess to this. It’s not as hard-hitting on the vanilla as most modern root beer recipes, but there’s enough of it for you to taste. As far as the honey, that really comes in on the finish. This is a nuanced, full-bodied root beer with a nice old school flavor.

Finish: Tangy sarsaparilla and mild vanilla flavors that fade into noticeable honey. The more you drink this, the more pronounced the honey becomes.

Rating: It’s refreshing to see a modern company creating a root beer that tastes like it was imported from the past. Appalachian Brewing Company’s Root Beer is bold and layered with big notes of wintergreen mint, sarsaparilla root, and birch. It feels like something you should should drink out of a silver chalice in the woods while wearing flannel and blue jeans. Maybe something to quench your thirst with after chopping down a tree. I also appreciate the mild use of vanilla and honey that make this root beer a lot more approachable for soda hounds who aren’t fans of the more earthy flavors. This drinks easily and is very crisp on the tongue, giving it a pleasant mouth feel. I personally like a little bit more vanilla in my root beers, but I think Appalachian Brewing is really catering to a part of the root beer crowd that feels like their favorite recipes have fallen by the wayside. This is a callback to simpler times and bolder soda. I wouldn’t hesitate to try this if you get the chance.

Four Stars

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Capt’n Eli’s: Root Beer [collab with TermiNatetor Kitchen]

History: In the words of company president Ed Crockett, root beer has been “the bedrock” of Capt’n Eli’s since its creation. Hell, if it wasn’t for the Eli Forsley’s thievery of root beer in the 1920’s from his father’s basement, this company might not exist. The butterfly effect, right? P.S. Before we get any further into this review, we’re honored to be doing it in collaboration with Nathan Crawford of TermiNatetor Kitchen, who cooked up a mean pulled pork dish using Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer. Nathan’s food recipes will titillate the same taste buds you use for soda. Check out that meat treat here. Back to root beer now. Anyway, we’ll spare you the company’s long backstory (which you can find in our Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop review), but basically Eli Forsley had a son, Fred, who loved the same root beer recipe his father did. Fred tweaked the formula and began selling it on draft in 1996 at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, Maine, which he founded four years earlier. This continued until 2002 when demand became so high that Fred decided to start bottling it. “The local folks raved about it,” Crockett tells us. In fact, here’s where Ed makes his debut. The root beer gained such a following in the northeast that Crockett was brought on by Fred Forsley to help turn Capt’n Eli’s into a full craft soda line. Today Capt’n Eli’s has nine different flavors, none more popular than the root beer. There’s even a comic book designed to help promote the brand: The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli. When you’ve got a publication in the same line of work that created Batman and Superman, that’s when you know you’re baller.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the root beer’s success,” Crockett says gleefully over the phone. He’s eager to speak about what he thinks makes the soda special. “They tried to make it unique and that’s why we go with 100% natural cane sugar, but also brown sugar.” The latter is an ingredient that makes sense when you think about root beers, but it’s surprisingly uncommon for the category. “Everything’s right there on the bottle,” he proudly exclaims before also noting the root beer’s prominent use of vanilla. Crockett also makes mention of the root beer’s accolades, specifically its two-time placement in the top three of the root beer category of the U.S. Open Beer Championships. Its most recent placing was 2013. But for all the hoopla surrounding the product, it’s still just a little company out of Portland, Maine making the stuff. “We still handcraft every product,” Crockett says. And that is what keeps craft soda fans coming back. Capt’n Eli’s knows it, too. “We certainly play off the nostalgia of soda.” And in 2016, it’s still a formula that continues to be the lifeblood of the craft soda movement.

Where to get: Capt’n Eli’s is sold nationally across the U.S., but it’s still most popular in the New England region. You can purchase it online directly from the company, as well as from Amazon. You can even find it for purchase in single bottles online from Straub’s Grocers. For large orders, especially if you’re a retailer hoping to sell soda in your store, contact Homer Soda Company.

Nose: Quite aromatic for a root beer. Big wafts of wintergreen and spices like anise and maybe nutmeg. Lots of vanilla as well. Lovely.

Taste: Wintergreen; cane sugar; creamy; vanilla; anise. There’s a great balance of sweet, savory, and creamy in Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer. The carbonation is flush on the tongue from the opening sip, paving the way for waves of wintergreen that provide a bite. Wintergreen and vanilla are the standout flavors. As you taste the mint, that vanilla comes through next in a very creamy fashion. You also get a little bit of spice. Definitely anise and maybe allspice or perhaps mild clove. The latter two have question marks by them, but there’s no doubt about the anise. It imparts a bit of a licorice taste, but not in an overwhelming fashion. This is sweet and creamy and full of vanilla, but with a wintergreen bite that pulls back on the sugar. Balanced. Flavorful. Excellent.

Finish: Creamy mint and vanilla swirl in your mouth and slowly fade in tandem as notes of anise seep through the cracks.

Rating: Capt’n Eli’s has no doubt created one of the best root beers on the open market. It caters to both root beer aficionados and novices. Purists will be thrilled with its old school emphasis on wintergreen and spices while more casual root beer drinkers will embrace its vanilla notes and sweet creaminess. The balance of give and take is near perfect. You get a mouthful of wintergreen that harkens back to vintage root beer recipes. There’s definitely a bite that comes with it. Yet there’s also a robust creaminess anchored by vanilla and cane sugar, a flavor combination more commonly seen in newer root beers. All of this is tied together by a handful of spices, most notably anise. It starts aggressive with mint and ends smoothy with vanilla and mild spices. It’s essentially the blueprint for how I wish all my Tinder dates went. This is highly drinkable, packed with flavor, and most importantly, enjoyable. Capt’n Eli’s has done a splendid job here. I could see how it might be just a pinch sweet for some, but I don’t mind a little sugar in my women or my root beers. Put this one on your short-list to try. It’s a root beer with a flavor stuck somewhere between the 1940’s and 2010’s, and based on our analysis, that might just be the sweet spot.

Five Stars

Red Hare Brewing: Root Beer

History: You don’t see a ton of craft soda coming out of Georgia, aside from the Red Rock brand, so we dug deeper and discovered Red Hare Brewing. Fun fact: it’s Georgia’s first craft brewery to make its beers available in cans. According to Elyse Moore, Red Hare’s Graphic Designer and Marketing Coordinator, the brewery was the idea of buddies Roger Davis and Bobby Thomas. Every Saturday these two “would home brew in Roger’s basement,” according to Moore. Eventually the two got enough positive feedback from friends and family that they decided to open Red Hare Brewing in Marietta, Georgia in 2011. If you like beer and are in the area, they recommend you stop in for a Gangway IPA or Long-Day Lager. But most of you aren’t reading this review for beer… in the traditional sense. You’re here the crown prince of craft soda, the spiciest of soda ales: root beer. What an opulent introduction. Moore tells us that Red Hare Brewing first introduced its root beer on draft in the brewery in 2013. It wasn’t until two years later that they started canning it. And that’s something that admittedly might turn craft soda purists off; you won’t find Red Hare Root Beer in bottles. Just cans. Evercans, actually. Oh yeah… according to Moore, Red Hare was “the world’s first beer in an Evercan.” An Evercan is a can made of 90% recycled aluminum. It just so happened that Novelis, a rolled aluminum company that sells its products for beverage receptacles and automotive usage, was located nearby in Atlanta. So the two teamed up and created the Evercan for Red Hare’s beer and root beer to be sold in. But you want to know how it tastes. Moore admits “it’s a pretty standard root beer recipe.” I applaud your honesty. Bold move. That’s like telling a potential lover, “yeah, I have a pretty basic situation going on. Still interested?” It’s supposed to taste nostalgic, the root beer… that is. She goes a little more in depth, adding that “a bit spicy and herbal is what they were going for” in terms of a flavor profile. Currently root beer is the only soda Red Hare Brewing produces, but the brewery does have plans to unveil a grapefruit soda that will also be available in cans by this summer.

Where to get: Red Hare Brewing’s Root Beer is available throughout Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and in the panhandle of Florida. The company is currently looking into selling it online. If you’re outside of those states, you’ll have to make a trip to the ol’ brewery and have a glass on draft. Or you could just contact the company directly by going here.

Nose: Big vanilla and sarsaparilla scents. Very reminiscent of the smell of A&W Root Beer, though not as sweet.

Taste: Creamy; birch; sarsaparilla; vanilla; crisp carbonation. Much more of a creamy vanilla-based root beer than one with deep spice notes. It makes Red Hare’s Root Beer very drinkable. There’s also definitely a crispness to the flavor, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying this root beer has a bite. That sharpness comes from the birch and sarsaparilla flavor. So it has a little bit of the modern creamy vanilla thing going on with the classic sarsaparilla and birch oil flavors to supplement. The carbonation is big and really pops in the mouth, enhancing the the more herbal flavors in the soda. It has a very creamy mouth feel. Goes down smooth with big notes of velvety vanilla. Really nice.

Finish: Mild mint and birch with lingering vanilla and crisp carbonation.

Rating: Red Hare Brewing makes a damn good root beer. It’s not too complicated, has enough flavor to be still be nuanced, and drinks incredibly smooth. It has a great balance of creamy and crispness on the palate. Probably safe to say it tastes a little more creamy than crisp because vanilla is the primary flavor in the root beer. Tastes like it’d go great with some french vanilla ice cream in a root beer float. I’d say our standards for root beer at five star are a little higher than other categories because it’s the most pervasive flavor in craft soda, and this is still absolutely tops. This root beer is the cute, hip girl who graduated with a 4.0: down-to-earth and attainable. There’s honestly nothing wrong with this root beer. It’s creamy. It has a good blend of vanilla and traditional root beer flavors. And it drinks light and easy with just the most subtle of bites. The only change I wish the company would make is to bottle this in addition to putting it in cans. There’s no metallic taste from the can; that’s just the craft soda purist in me – I like a cold bottle. If you enjoy particularly spicy or minty root beers, Red Hare’s may not be for you. It’s definitely on the sweeter, more vanilla-forward side. It plays to its niche impeccably well. Just put this in glass and I’d order a case.

Five Stars

Cicero Beverage: Salted Caramel Root Beer

History: As children, walking into a candy store was like finally finding the right key to a door that unlocked our wildest imaginations. It was a wave of sensory overload. The vibrant colors, the endless options; it was a fantasy. Desiree Alonzo is drawing inspiration from those dreams. At the Chicago-based craft soda business, Cicero Beverage Co., Alonzo and her team try to create sodas based on the same types of things we found in candy stores as kids and today oogle at on food blogs as adults. Alonzo tells us that Cicero is trying to put dessert in a bottle while keeping it refreshing and flavorful. “I try not to get ideas from beverages because they’re probably already out there,” she explains. Cicero makes a full range of flavors, but they’re known for their nontraditional ones, most notably their salted caramel root beer.

Alonzo started her soda business in 2008, but it wasn’t until the introduction of the salted caramel root beer in late 2013 that it took off. It’s still the company’s most popular flavor today, earning a variety of accolades from competitions and bloggers. In an increasingly competitive craft soda market, Alonzo acknowledges that the company’s flavors “100% needed to make us unique.” And while the salted caramel root beer has seemingly done the job well, she confesses more importantly it gave the company confidence. Alonzo describes her prized specialty root beer as smooth with a unique caramel flavor. The secret ingredient? Salt. And while this won’t surprise most of you based on the name, it is very, very rare for a company to actually add salt to its soda. Sweet and salty still continues to be a hot trend on the gourmet dessert scene. It’s still in its infancy in craft soda. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.

Where to get: You can find Cicero Beverage’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda at Cost Plus World Market locations around the U.S. If you’re not near a physical retailer, you can also find it online at Summit City Soda or Amazon.

Nose: Vanilla; subtle caramel; sassafras; brown sugar. Smells very creamy, more like a root beer float than root beer itself.

Taste: Vanilla; mild caramel; creaminess; mild maple. You’ll taste the creamy vanilla first and foremost. 7/10 on the creamy scale. The caramel follows next, quickly after the vanilla. The faster you drink this, the more the caramel replaces vanilla as the root beer’s dominant flavor. It also absorbs the vanilla’s creaminess. If you take your time in between sips, you’ll probably notice the vanilla slightly more. Interesting. What you won’t taste are two traditional root beer flavors: birch and wintergreen mint. This does not have a bite and the carbonation is mild. However, it’s also not overly sweet. Vanilla and caramel dominate the body of the soda, while a mild maple flavor permeates in the background.

Finish: Sugar and salt that transitions into bold maple.

Rating: For a sweet root beer, Cicero Beverage Co.’s Salted Caramel Root Beer is a very smooth soda. It pours beautifully with a nice head and has an optimum amount of creaminess. Creamy vanilla and caramel highlight this root beer’s flavor profile. What’s interesting is depending on how long it takes you to drink it, one flavor will stand out more than the other. The longer you wait in between sips, the more you’ll taste creamy vanilla. If you’re excitable and buzz saw through it like my uncle on a pint of Jack Daniels, the more the caramel stands out. It’s subtleties like that a craft soda drinker can appreciate. A couple other flavors also stand out, though much lower in the flavor profile: salt and maple. You taste both on the finish. The salt is barely there. If you really search for it, you can find it. The maple is more noticeable, again, notably on the finish. It’s probably a little too strong in my opinion. It has great flavor, but after a rush of vanilla, sugar, and caramel, another sweet flavor will be pushing it for some drinkers. This is where I think the root beer would really benefit from a flavor that pushes back, like mint or birch or sassafras. Cicero’s Salted Caramel Root Beer will always have its detractors for this reason, a lack of traditional root beer flavors… even though it’s not a traditional root beer. But I gotta hand it to Cicero; despite the trendy flavor choice, this is not a novelty root beer. When looking at the label and thinking, “salted caramel root beer?” many will be hesitant to try this because it is such an odd flavor choice in a root beer. But this is an enjoyable root beer I’d happily drink again and I’d encourage others to twist the cap off one. Cicero takes vanilla and caramel, two flavors more common in cream soda, and successfully incorporates them into root beer in an elegant fashion. This won’t be a root beer you drink every day, but as a drinkable dessert, it does its job well.

Four Stars

Thunder Beast: Black Label Root Beer

History: We may have just stumbled upon the most sophisticated-looking root beer available for human consumption. Look at this thing. A butler should serve this to you. There are over 600 brands of root beer according to research done by Thunder Beast Founder and Chief Tasting Officer, Stephen Norberg. He says he wanted to “try to give root beer a unique flavor and different packaging.” We can already confirm he’s succeeded with the latter goal. Norberg actually collects wine bottles from local restaurants in Washington, D.C., sterilizes them, and recycles them for use with his black label root beer. “I remember as a kid, I had a pocket knife with the corkscrew on it,” he says, adding that he wanted to give children a reason to whip out this otherwise useless tool. This dude is passionate about root beer. “As a small child, root beer was my favorite drink in the world… and I never grew out of that.” It only escalated from there. Norberg knew eventually he had to try his own hand at America’s most popular craft soda category. And he did try – for three years. In 2013, once he reached a point that he felt confident in, Norberg purchased some soda-making equipment. There was no turning back after that. Certainly childhood nostalgia is a good portion of the fuel that keeps Thunder Beast churning out root beer. But he wanted to offer up something more, something that targeted the craft soda crowd that could still be enjoyed by kids. And so began the creation of Thunder Beast Black Label. I feel like I gotta put on my Gucci’s just to be in the presence of this soda.

Here’s the really cool thing about Thunder Beast Black Label Root Beer: the flavor is constantly evolving. That’s right, black label’s flavor will change every several months. It’s actually never been the same twice. Norbeg says it’s “a way to try crazy, unique flavors.” He notes the current incantation is highlighted by maple and butterscotch. He adds he also uses a little bit of honey to cut down on the amount of sugar used. Thunder Beast Root Beer is made with 9-10 less grams of sugar per bottle, Norberg tells us. Additionally, all Thunder Beast Root Beers contain no caffeine or gluten. Black label is created in small batches with a flavor profile that Norberg describes as “really complex” with “bold highlights” and “botanicals.” The next batch of black label, he tells us, will focus on cinnamon and caramel. With a bottle that fancy, you’d expect some pretty big flavors. I think you’d also expect some pretty good ones. Norberg does too. He put his entire life savings into starting the business.

Where to get: Thunder Beast Black Label is sold online via the company’s online store. It’s also found in about 30 stores and restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area.

Nose: Maple syrup; wintergreen; butterscotch. Very rich in maple.

Taste: Maple syrup; butterscotch; caramel; sugar; subtle mint. Maple and butterscotch define Thunder Beast Black Label Root Beer. The maple is upfront and bold. It’s a taste very similar to maple syrup. The initial taste on the root beer is unique, almost like a quick hit of coffee flavor before the maple comes in. The maple lasts for the first half of each sip until it gives way to a smooth butterscotch taste. You’ll also get a little bit of mint on the second half as well. The carbonation on this is vey light, almost non-existent. This is a sweet root beer. Not much of a bite at all. Big maple on the front end and smooth butterscotch on the back.

Finish: Mild butterscotch with subtle notes of caramel.

Rating: Thunder Beast is a soda company with a hell of a name that makes some seriously unique root beer. In fact, if you find a fancier root beer than the company’s black label, then I know you’re a liar because that’s impossible. From the wine-inspired label and bottle to the ultra premium ingredients and name, Thunder Beast Label exudes sophistication and maybe a little bit of cockiness. It has essentially mastered the traits all men aspire to perfect in their quest for mates. It’s got big flavors, namely maple and butterscotch. To dumb it down, you’ll taste sweet maple syrup up front with smooth butterscotch on the back half of every sip. You’ll also taste subtle notes of caramel and mint. It’s sweet. Probably sweeter than most root beers. Another unique point is that Thunder Beast Black Label doesn’t really have a traditional root beer mouth feel. The carbonation is extremely light. There’s very little bite. And there are hardly any striking spice notes. It’s right on the fringes of what we all know as root beer. But, of course, with something called “Black Label,” I think we all expect something different. The maple flavor works well with the butterscotch. The transition between the two flavors is excellent. The butterscotch taste is nearly perfect. Not too strong and very smooth. One improvement I think that could be made is to the initial taste once the root beer hits your tongue. The flavors combine to create a tart coffee taste. It’s brief, yes, but it’s disjointing and it’s present at the beginning of every sip. I’d prefer to get right into the maple. I also think because this is so sweet, it would benefit from either more spices or more of a bite. But its two main flavors are executed wonderfully. This is something every craft soda fan should try for its uniqueness in flavor and presentation. Buy a bottle of this and impress your friends.

Four Stars

Lakefront Brewery: Golden Maple Root Beer

History: We all remember the intense rivalries with had with our siblings. I mean, to this day, my little brother has to call me king at all family gatherings because of the backlog of blackmail I have against him. But those are the memories you’d never trade. Well, the Klisch brothers did decide to trade their sibling rivalry… for a partnership in craft beer making. They call it Lakefront Brewery. The brewery’s tour administrator and manager of environmental programs, Chris Ranson, tells us the the story. It’s a simple one. Jim Klisch decided he wanted to see what home brewing was all about. Humored by his brother’s interest, Russ Klisch bought him a book on the subject. Jim did his homework. Turns out, Jim could brew a mighty fine ale. And Russ was like aw, hell nah. So Russ, too, made his own beer. After going back and forth on tasting trials with friends and family, the two became convinced they had a talent for beer brewing. In 1987, they founded Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To give you an idea of its success, consider this: in 1988 the brewery turned out 72 barrels of beer; in 2012, that number had grown to 33,368 barrels. After several years in the business, Ranson says the brothers came to the realization that “people need an alternative to alcohol.” Root beer, as is often the case in breweries, was the logical choice to them. But they wanted to make theirs a little different. Ranson tells us how big maple syrup is in Wisconsin. We weren’t aware, but apparently Wisconsin is the fourth-largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. behind Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. So in 1995 Lakefront Brewery decided to make a maple root beer using locally-sourced maple syrup. The root beer is made with pure cane sugar and does not use artificial coloring. This results in the root beer’s signature “golden” hue. Ranson tells us it’s “very sweet” and “definitely root beer,” but adds the maple flavor gives it a taste “somewhere between a root beer and a cream soda.” We’re not sure what to expect. This is either going to have a flavor identity crisis or it’s going to be something pretty special.

Where to get: In addition to being sold at the brewery, Golden Maple Root Beer is sold sporadically at Wisconsin Whole Foods, and is a big player at Milwaukee state fairs and farmer’s markets. If you aren’t in the area and want to try it, the company does do custom orders. Just know the shipping will be pricey. Contact Lakefront Brewery directly here.

Nose: Sarsaparilla root; mint; vanilla; spice. All in all, it’s a pretty standard root beer smell with maybe a little more emphasis on the spices. You can smell the maple a little bit, but I assume that’ll come through more in the taste.

Taste: Sugar; sweet bite; maple; wintergreen. What you taste immediately is sugar. This is sweet. Despite that, there’s actually a pretty decent bite to this – but again, it’s a sweeter bite than in most root beers. What’s strange about this is the initial flavor you get when sipping. It’s probably just how the maple interacts with the rest of the ingredients, but I swear this tastes kind of like ginger ale when it first hits your lips. The maple flavor comes through more after you drink the root beer. You’ve gotta get through a few sips of sugar-coated spices before you taste what this root beer is all about. Don’t think maple syrup. No, it’s more like a spiced root beer with added maple flavor, yet the spices don’t let the maple completely overtake the flavor profile. What I’m saying is you can taste the maple in this, but it isn’t overpowering. If this didn’t have maple syrup in it, I think this would be a particularly robust-flavored root beer rich in spices, so the maple acts as kind of a mellowing agent. This has decent balance between the maple, spices, and wintergreen mint flavors, but it retains an above average sweetness.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla and maple. The best part of the root beer.

Rating: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer is an oddball. But being weird isn’t always bad. I’m weird. I’m also still single, but there’s not necessarily a correlation there. Right? Right, guys? This isn’t going to overpower you with traditional root beer spices and extracts. You taste some sarsaparilla. You taste some wintergreen. But this root beer isn’t about being traditional; it’s about showcasing its maple flavor. After wading through a sea of liquid sugar on the first few sips, you’ll taste that maple influence. When mixed with the spices that are in here, it’s noticeable, but not particularly bold. If you go into this wanting a strongly maple syrup-flavored root beer, you’re in for disappointment. This is just a fun soda to try because there really aren’t that many maple root beers out there, and there are even fewer with a pale yellow color like this one. The biggest shortcoming of this root beer is its sugariness. Generally in root beer, sugar isn’t something that is so striking because of all the spices that counter the sweetness. But when the two most noticeable ingredients you taste are sugar and maple syrup, I mean, it’s a lot to handle. This needs more of a traditional root beer bite to balance out all that sugar. I’d suggest more of a mint flavor too. Nothing that would drastically change its identity, just little tweaks to help reign in my impending diabetes. That said, if you like sweet root beers, you might just find a favorite here. Bottom line: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer probably isn’t one you’ll drink all the time, but it’s a fun change of pace for the craft soda enthusiast.

Three Stars

Old Dominion Brewing: Root Beer

History: In 2007 a love story began when Fordham Brewing out of Anapolis, Maryland and Old Dominion Brewing from Ashburn, Virgina merged to make beautiful beer together in Dover, Delaware. The brands Fordham and Dominion still maintain separate identities, so you’ll find the more adventurous offerings coming from the Old Dominion side, while the traditional ales and IPAs are made by Fordham. There was no prenup in this marriage, so Old Dominion decided to bring its sodas into the relationship too. Chief among them was the root beer, created during Old Dominion’s first year of existence in 1989. “We love doing it,” Fordham and Dominion CEO, Jim Lutz, says about the brewery’s sodas. There’s an affable charm to Lutz. He tells us he prefers to be called “Head Forklift Driver.” I bet he’s got dad jokes for days. What his brewery also has is soda… and lots of it. In fact, Lutz mentions that about 25% of the brewery’s business comes from its soda. In addition to the root beer, Old Dominion also makes a ginger ale, black cherry, and orange cream soda. But the root beer is the only one that maintains its original recipe, still the same as it was in 1989. Some of the premier ingredients include pure cane sugar, honey, vanilla, and yucca root. The latter is what should stand out to you even though you probably don’t know what it is or how it tastes. Yucca kind of looks like a piece of ginger and a carrot had a baby and it turned out uglier than you expected. The flavor really varies depending on the piece you get, but people often describe it as bitter or tasting like a potato. It’s also occasionally sweet, though. As for the flavor of the root beer, Lutz tells us they wanted it to taste like a sweet treat. “It tastes like the old fashioned root beer when I used to ride my bike up to this old fashioned root beer stand,” he says. Nothing wrong with spoiling yourself with a little nostalgia-inducing root beer.

Where to get: Old Dominion sodas are sold mainly throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Soda drinkers in Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. will have the easiest time finding them. They are also sporadically available in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Surprisingly, Old Dominion also sells lots of its soda in London, England for all you UK folk. The rest of us can purchase it online from Harris Teeter Grocer and Pharmacy or by contacting the brewery directly via email and setting up an order.

Nose: Vanilla; wintergreen. Pretty standard root beer nose with an emphasis on creamy vanilla and mint.

Taste: Honey; herbal; malt; mint; creamy vanilla. This is a sophisticated flavor profile, even for a root beer. A lot going on in the mouth. The flavors are in layers. Up front is a big note of honey on the back of the tongue. This is followed up by equal parts of creamy mint and vanilla. You’re about half way through the sip, and at this point, the root beer is a little sweet. Next come the herbal elements that provide balance. This is also where the carbonation reaches its peak to help provide the root beer’s bite. The wintergreen sticks around longer than the vanilla and is supplemented by yucca. The yucca gives the root beer a botanical element and imparts a little maltiness as well when combined with the mint and honey. It’s a lot for the mouth to process when analyzing, but the flavors work.

Finish: Slightly bitter, herbal mint with undertones of classic root beer.

Rating: Root beers are a dime-a-dozen in the craft soda landscape. The kingpin of the crop; you’ve gotta really make your version stand out to get noticed. Old Dominion Brewing has done a good job putting a different twist on their root beer. It isn’t like anything else. There’s multiple layers of flavor to this beverage, which is what makes it rise above others. Among the highlights include its use of honey, vanilla, mint, and yucca. It’s just a little more herbal than other root beers, while still retaining a crisp sweetness. Usually we take the term “herbal” with root beers to mean mint, but Old Dominion’s Root Beer has a distinct note of sweet malt. It’s likely the way all the ingredients work together, chiefly the yucca and honey. Both the mint and vanilla elements have a creaminess to them and these play well with the root beer’s bite and herbal notes. This root beer is like the opposite of all your break-ups: delicious, fun to process, and you won’t be crying when the pizza guy shows up. I wouldn’t mind seeing the vanilla a little more prominent. I think that would add another enjoyable element to play off the honey and yucca. Old Dominion Brewing has brewed up a really enjoyable root beer that should be savored over time. Sip slowly without ice and up your root beer game.

Four Stars

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.