root beer

Northwoods Soda: Espresso Root Beer

History: Nestled away along the Lake Michigan coastline is the small town of Traverse City, Michigan. It’s the home of a small mom and pop soda syrup and bottling company called Northwoods Soda. Opened in 1988 by founder and owner, Bill Fosdick, Northwoods Soda generates most of its business crafting fountain and coffee syrups. “I wanted to be able to do a small family business that I could operate locally,” says Fosdick. This statement is the perfect summation of the business. Indeed, it has stayed in the family. Bill’s wife, daughter, son and stepson all do their part. And if you’ve never heard of Northwoods Soda, that’s because it’s a local brand to northern Michigan. Despite soda syrups accounting for most of the company’s sales, Fosdick knew he needed a bottled line to market to the public. He even named the Wild Bill’s Root Beer after himself. “We wanted to do some things that were more unique,” he adds. Espresso Root Beer, today’s review, certainly fits that category. But the idea wasn’t actually theirs. Northwoods Soda makes all the coffee syrups for a swanky coffee company called Roast and Toast in Petoskey, Michigan. The coffee house sells quite a bit of Wild Bill’s Root Beer there. Well, one day they decided to start putting shots of espresso in it and the beverage quickly became an in-house hit. After trying it, Fosdick said he thought, “Oh my God, this needs to be bottled.” There’s almost a complete shot of espresso in every 11.5 ounce bottle, so buckle up. Northwoods Soda always tries to place an emphasis on sourcing ingredients as locally as possible. They also use pure cane sugar as a sweetener and make their soda in “extremely small batches.” One element that stands out in their root beer? Vanilla. Fosdick wouldn’t go into details, other than to say “it’s special.” So am I, if you ask my wife. But what makes this small bottler truly special is the freshness they ensure to their customers. Fosdick concludes our conversation, saying “We have a very small bottling line that’s operating almost nonstop,” and what is made that morning goes out to be shipped that afternoon.

Where to get: Unless you’re from Michgain, online is your best bet for finding this soda. At the time of this review, you’ll notice the espresso root beer isn’t listed in the online shop. Fear not, it is available. Just call the number listed on the site and Northwoods Soda will hook you up with an order.

Nose: Espresso; chocolate; mild anise and mint. Smells like a coffee shop, a good one.

Taste: Espresso; chocolate; vanilla; mild wintergreen. There’s no disguising this; it’s espresso. The root beer elements are very mild and act in the background, so let’s just discuss the parts you’ll be tasting – the espresso. The carbonation is light and fluffy as to not get in the way of the coffee flavors. And Northwoods Soda managed to really pack some flavor in here. There’s a milky, smooth dark chocolate body that forms the base of the flavor profile. Next comes a cool wave of silky vanilla with a little bit of nuttiness to it. The one-two punch of smooth chocolate and vanilla is incredible. You also get some mild acidity and cinnamon as well. And there’s also juuuuuust a little bit of wintergreen near the end. Very well rounded and drinkable for flavors so deep.

Finish: Velvety chocolate. Richer than the initial sip. Nutty vanilla, mellow mint.

Rating: If you like soda, this is excellent. If you guzzle coffee, this is a bottled miracle. And if you like espresso, you should probably take the day off work for this one. Northwoods Soda and Roast and Toast have combined to create the most exquisite, flavorful and sophisticated coffee soda in the midwest. Milky, dark chocolate notes followed by creamy vanilla, light acidity, mild cinnamon, and mellow wintergreen. It’s dynamite on the palate. A mouth orgasm. It packs a zip, too. 60mg of caffeine per bottle. As someone who doesn’t drink a lot of high-caffeine beverages, I’m amped out of my mind. I just signed up for three marathons and the running of the bulls. If I drank one of these every day, I’m pretty sure I could qualify for the Olympics. Don’t worry, if you drink coffee at all or are not me, you’ll be good with the caffeine. There’s only one dock on this: you wouldn’t know it was an espresso root beer if you didn’t read the label. This would more accurately be called an espresso soda, along the lines of Manhattan Special. But this is better than that. You do get a little bit of anise on the nose and some mild wintergreen notes on the tongue, but there’s not enough root beer flavor in this for me to feel comfortable calling it that. That is the only reason this doesn’t get five stars. The espresso just overpowers the root beer elements, but its flavor is so good, you won’t really care. On flavor alone, this is a home run. I just keep drinking it. Man, does anyone wanna go work out right now??!?? This is a soda that earns the highest of our recommendations. It’s not every day you come across an espresso soda, and it’s even less often that two things that sound like they shouldn’t work, do. You may or may not have heard of Northwoods Soda before today, but if they keep making bottled deliciousness like this, they won’t fly under the radar for long. Be on the look out for new flavors that are always in development with “Saturday Morning Cola” set to roll out in the fall.

 

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Virgil’s: Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer

History: The Berlin Wall had to come down to make this root beer happen. Well, sort of. Virgil’s is one of the most popular soda brands in the world and Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer has quickly become revered in the craft soda community, both for its unique look and flavor. But this new cult classic has origins all the way back in East Germany, home of some of the world’s greatest beer. According to Reeds, Inc. (the company that owns Virgil’s) CEO Chris Reed, after the Berlin Wall came down, the former owner of Virgil’s, Ed Crowley, was able to work with a man in Germany who had very special water. According to Reed, this water “had some kind of strange properties and secret health abilities; it was extraordinary if not weird, like some kind of reverse magnetism.” Sounds familiar. Crowley decided to use this water to create a micro-brewed Bavarian style root beer complete with a swing-top cap. What really differentiates this root beer from others is the all-natural ingredients sourced from around the world, most notably nutmeg from Indonesia. “It’s subtle but, makes a big difference in flavor,” says Reed. Other ingredients include bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, licorice from France, anise from Spain and cinnamon from Ceylon. Like its parent company Reed’s Inc., famous for their ginger brews, Virgil’s sodas are known for their all-natural ingredients and also for not using preservatives, caffeine, gluten, or GMO’s. The company strives to create sodas the way they used to be made 200 years ago with the freshest herbs, spices, fruits, and sometimes even mystical German water. Reed muses, “this root beer came out almost magical.” Let’s taste the magic.

Where to get: Virgil’s is commonly found in health or natural food stores. You can use the company’s store locator to find the closest retailer near you. That said, this particular special edition root beer is a little bit harder to find. Rocketfizz often carries it. Online is another good resource – check out the company’s website, as well as Soda Emporium.

Nose: Strong nutmeg; cinnamon; vanilla.

Taste: Spices; cloves; nutmeg; vanilla; cinnamon. This is extremely smooth and filled with flavors. Spices permeate the mouth every sip. Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer contains a pantheon of various spices. I first get mild cloves and nutmeg, spun in a cocoon of cane sugar. Definitely herbal, but still sweet enough to enjoy even for those who aren’t fans of earthier sodas. It takes a couple sips, but there are rich notes of vanilla throughout the drink, as well as cinnamon, anise and mint. It’s creamy, but not too much to prevent it from being smooth. All the cogs work together to make this machine work. Immaculate.

Finish: Sweet birch that gives this its root beer flavor, followed by light molasses and vanilla. Smooth and doesn’t linger long.

Rating: Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer is quickly building a reputation as one of the most coveted root beers on the market. And for good reason. This is flavor town, USA. The flavors are unique, blend well together and would get a smirk even from the most culinary-inclined audiences. I had some hesitation because of the long list of spices in this, but they really work well together and offer a change of pace in root beer with a full-bodied flavor and just the right amount of smoothness. The vanilla is sweet and creamy. The nutmeg provides a mild earthiness. The cinnamon and cloves pack additional dosages of deliciousness. Everything works here. Kind of like the opposite of the married couple in the apartment next door. Sometimes I tell myself they’re screaming they love each other. But I doubt it. I’ll tell you what I love though; I love this soda. This is root beer of the highest quality and an achievement in craft soda brewing. This is root beer with the flavor profile of a fine-dining experience and the drinkability of a soft cola. Do yourself a favor and shell out the money to try this. Root beer is the king pin of craft soda and Virgil’s Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer wears a crown.

Gale’s Root Beer

History: Gale Gand is an acclaimed pastry chef. From writing books, teaching classes, developing products, filming television and running restaurants, Gale Gand has done it all in the world of food and beverage. But Gand has a liquid passion. “I can’t live without root beer,” she says cheerfully over the phone. Her love for the king of craft soda was tested years ago cooking in England where root beer was scarce. In her three years across the pond, the only place to find her favorite soda was in McDonald’s. But she and her chefs weren’t allowed to be seen in a McDonald’s, so they’d have to sneak people a pound to go buy them root beer as if it was some sort of black market treasure. A couple neighborhoods over from me, I often see people doing the same thing. They don’t sneak out with root beer though. As if to supplement her craving, while in England, Gand bought a Terrier and named it Rootie. After returning to America, Gand set out to make her own root beer, containing cold-pressed Nielsen-Massey Vanilla. The vanilla may be the most premium ingredient in the root beer, but its most defining element is likely the cinnamon. Gand makes a cinnamon-ginger infusion and then her bottler finishes it off with vanilla and cane sugar. About 50,000 bottles of Gale’s Root Beer are produced every year. Rootie appears on the bottle’s label.

Where to get: Gale’s Root Beer is available from a number of online retailers and the chef’s website has aggregated them all into a nice, single page. It’s also sold at Gand’s Chicago restaurant Spritzburger, home to fine burgers and homemade sodas.

Nose: Mild root beer; mint; light vanilla.

Taste: Vanilla; mild mint; cinnamon. This is a little harder to place than most root beers. Everything in this is relatively mild. There’s some mild spice to this that I’m identifying as ginger, but it doesn’t have a spicy bite. This isn’t creamy like a root beer rich in vanilla, but it also doesn’t have a crisp bite, like earthier root beers. Vanilla and cinnamon are probably the strongest flavors you’ll taste, but the two tastes really meld together to not overpower the other. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing either the vanilla or cinnamon be more pronounced in the flavor profile. It’s very easy drinking, but the individual flavors are not bold on their own.

Finish: Light carbonation with some ginger earthiness. The ginger is most evident on the finish, probably the most prominent of any flavor at any point of the sip.

History: This is a root beer that should appeal to a wide audience for its drinkability and lack of bite. This does very well with a few ice cubes and you’d have no problem drinking it quickly. But for so many craft soda enthusiasts, strong flavors are desired in every bottle. This is a root beer marketed as “cinnamon, ginger, vanilla flavored,” yet none of these flavors really jump out at you individually. Yet, you can certainly taste all three flavors. The ginger provides a mild earthiness and is strongest at the end of each sip. The cinnamon and vanilla work together in supporting roles, but both could stand to have the volume turned up. I can certainly see how fans of root beer would like this for variety’s sake. Gale’s Root Beer is something kids would also likely enjoy for how mild it is compared to some spicier root beers. I personally need a little more complexity when it comes to the granddaddy of craft sodas, but this is a root beer with a wide reach and for Chef Gand, that’s an accomplishment.

 

Chuck Wagon Soda: Sarsaparilla

History: It all started with chicken wings. Years and years ago, Chuck Wagon Soda owner Terry Schaeffer sold chicken wings off a concession trailer. It was 21 feet long. The problem? You had to buy 30 feet of space. I wasn’t a math major, but that leaves nine feet of nothing. So Schaeffer thought about it. He figured he’s from Pennsylvania, where a lot of vintage sodas are already produced… why not try his hand at at too? It’d give consumers something cold to wash down those spicy wings. But he wanted to keep it old school. “They used to feed cowboys off a chuck wagon,” he says matter-of-factly. Schaeffer himself looks a bit cowboy-ish with mustache so thick you could comfortably sleep on it. And thus, Chuck Wagon Soda was born. It’s literally a wagon stand of barrels with soda on tap in each, commonly sold at festivals or events. Shaeffer actually sells these custom-built wagons to interested vendors. The production started in 2000 and in the first seven years they sold eight wagons. Since then, Schaeffer says, they’ve sold 93. The wagon sales are actually the main portion of the company’s business. Bottled soda sales account for a fraction of Chuck Wagon Soda’s income, but Schaeffer wanted customers without access to the wagons to have a chance to try the soda. Chuck Wagon Soda sells seven of its flavors in bottles and 11 on the wagons. Among some of the wagon exclusives include exotic flavors like lemon cream and raspberry cream. Today’s review, sarsaparilla, is made with old sassafras that is native to Pennsylvania. The company worked with a chemist to ensure all their flavors were up to their tasting standards. And like many craft sodas, these are made with pure cane sugar, top-quality ingredients, and use limited preservatives.

Where to get: Because soda is such a small part of the business, outside of finding a Chuck Wagon Soda vender randomly, your best bet is to go online to Chuck Wagon’s website to order these puppies.

Nose: Birch bark; sassafras; caramel; old-fashioned root beer. This smells like the root beer you get at the fair. It’s a very olde tyme scent.

Taste: Sassafras root; molasses; vanilla; light mint; throwback root beer. This is branded as “Old Fashioned Soda” and it tastes like it. It’s got a very classic fairgrounds, crisp root beer flavor with strong notes of sassafras, sarsaparilla root, and what I believe to be molasses. There could also be a little bit of caramel flavoring in here. I’m reminded of when I used to get root beer at the fair served in a silver mug, a notion I find humorous because that’s exactly what Chuck Wagon Soda does when they sell their soda on site. They literally make their own tin mugs. This sarsaparilla is not creamy. In fact, it has a little bit of a minty bite to it, but one that isn’t harsh on the palate and doesn’t distract from the overall flavor profile. There’s definitely some vanilla in this, but it gets overpowered by the sassafras and sarsaparilla root flavors. Those are your main two flavor profiles in this drink and they tend to blanket the complimenting flavors. You can taste them, I’d just like to see the vanilla and molasses shine a bit more.

Finish: Vanilla and caramel with a minty, classic sassafras root taste. This is the creamiest part of the soda, but one that quickly fades.

Rating: This is most definitely old-fashioned flavor personified in the modern beverage industry. Bold sassafras and sarsaparilla root stand out in this take on sarsaparilla that places you back in the early 1900’s at Grandpappy’s Saloon. Notes of vanilla and molasses linger about but never seem to find their place. Kind of like me in high school. But you can really taste that rich Pennsylvania sassafras. Chuck Wagon Soda executes the main flavors in this sarsaparilla in a palate-pleasing manner, but falls just short on incorporating a supporting cast to form a well-rounded flavor profile. I’d recommend this soda on a hot day out by the pool. Definitely worth a shot, but probably not something that will blow away the avid soda connoisseur.

Silver Creek Brewing: Blonde Root Beer

History: Bar manager Eric Halleman muses over the phone that parents often express concern about it. “Are you sure that’s not beer?” they ask. In the state of Wisconsin, craft beer ascends to its highest cultural peak in America. It’s part of life. It’s valued. People drink it for breakfast. Literally. Silver Creek Brewing wanted a non-alcoholic option that still had that beer feel, so in 2002, the same year they opened, they created their famous blonde root beer. The Cedarburg, Wisconsin brewery was actually born out of a home brewing club. I’m tellin’ you, Wisconsin = beer. He notes the brewmasters “wanted to offer a product you could drink here and it still look like a beer so you wouldn’t get made fun of by your friends.” If you look at it in a glass, you’d never know. The brewery’s blonde root beer is actually their oldest in-house beverage. They started selling it even before their beers. As for the taste, they sought something that didn’t have a traditional root beer bite, but still had “a slightly more adult taste” than a typical root beer. It’s described by Halleman as a cross between a root beer and a cream soda. And, of course, it’s made with cane sugar. We couldn’t pass that up.

Where to get: In addition to the bar itself, Silver Creek Brewing’s Blonde Root Beer is sold throughout the Milwaukee area. For those interested in placing an order for this unique root beer, contact the company directly via their Web site.

Nose: Classic root beer, but lighter; white chocolate; wintergreen.

Taste: Mild root beer; crisp carbonation; light sugar. This has the bite of a cola as opposed to a root beer and leaves a little bit of a creamy cola taste, though there’s no mistaking this is root beer. It’s a little bit of a hybrid. The carbonation is tart and full of little bubbles, like a cola. Super drinkable, but its flavors aren’t exactly pronounced. It’s probably the most mild root beer I’ve ever tasted. The cane sugar is probably the boldest flavor here. A little bit of mild vanilla and wintergreen as well. I can see why some say this tastes more like cream soda, though it’s not creamy enough to earn that distinction.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla; cane sugar; mild wintergreen. These flavors are all accompanied by a sharp carbonation that slowly fades.

Rating: This is certainly one of the coolest-looking root beers on the market today. It’s easy drinking for a good time with your buddies. You’d have no problem downing two or three of these in a session. But its flavors could be more pronounced. Silver Creek Brewing designed their blonde root beer to have less of a bite, and in doing so, seems to have turned down the volume on root beer’s traditional flavor profiles. It takes three or four sips to really start tasting the vanilla in this bottle. When you get there, it’s good, but I want more of it. Wintergreen is a bit more prominent and the brewery does a nice job not going too far with this flavor. The slightly creamy finish is pleasing. I wish I’d get a little bit more of the that in the soda’s body. All in all, this is unique to look at, but not necessarily to taste. If you’re a root beer connoisseur, your palate may be too refined for this. Its mild flavors make it a good soda to have with a meal or with which to mix alcohol. Halleman recommends Malibu to those who choose this route. That drink gives “Blonde Root Beer” a whole new meaning. White girl status. I’ve also heard you can use this in pancakes. Not a joke. This beverage seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, but the one area it could use a boost in, unfortunately, is flavor. I’d still give it a shot for its drinkability and beautiful pilsner color. Throw a few back. Then a few more with booze. Then make drunken pancakes. You know this was already going to be your Saturday night anyway.

Dang! That’s Good: Butterscotch Root Beer

History: “It was always his dream to do a bottled root beer,” Glen Schott says of his father. And it was Schott’s father, Jack Pettigrew, who started Imperial Flavors back in 1964. To this day, the Wisconsin-based company is still a family business. Imperial Flavors has two functions: making juice concentrates to be sold to bars and restaurants throughout Wisconsin, and of course, making soda. The story goes something like this… Pettigrew had an old A&W-like root beer formula from many, many years ago. After making his own tweaks, upon having others try it, their response was “Dang! That’s good.” And the rest is history. History in your mouth. The company produces four different flavors (six if you count diet versions), but they’re most famous for their butterscotch root beer. Schott, who is the general manager of Imperial Flavors, estimates the butterscotch root beer outsells all of their other sodas by a margin of three-to-one. It was partly inspired by Werther’s Original butterscotch candies. Imperial Flavors comes up with their own soda formulas and they source as many local ingredients as possible. Cane sugar is perhaps the most important. Schott adds, “You have to use cane sugar to get that old fashioned flavor.” Even their methods are old fashioned. Members of the company will often take home products and give them to relatives, friends and neighbors to taste test. And if that doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies, then I don’t know if we can be friends.

Where to get: Dang! That’s Good sodas are nationally distributed. Online, Amazon and Soda Emporium are your sources. You can also find them at most Rocketfizz craft soda and candy retailers. Cost Plus World Market is another familiar retailer where their products are sold.

Nose: Werther’s Original candies; creamy vanilla; sugary, earthy tones.

Taste: Creamy butterscotch; vanilla; mild carbonation; cane sugar. This is definitely more butterscotch than root beer. It’s sweet, but the butterscotch flavor is incredibly smooth. It glides across the palate like a creamy tidal wave of melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Dang! That’s Good Butterscotch Root Beer is almost like a candy root beer, really emphasizing the sweet butterscotch flavors as opposed to earthier sassafras and licorice found in more traditional root beers. This will be too sweet for some. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some added earthy notes in addition to the sweetness. But this really nails the butterscotch flavor, while weaving in a nice creamy vanilla body to compliment it. There’s also some caramel undertones. The carbonation is crisp, but light and helps cut a little bit of that sweetness. Extremely drinkable and pleasant.

Finish: Deep, rich notes of toffee that fade into smooth vanilla across the tongue and into the back of the throat. The sensation is pleasant and lingers for a few seconds.

Rating: Butterscotch is a hard flavor to accurately portray as a liquid, but Dang! That’s Good Butterscotch Root Beer not only pleases the taste buds with its signature flavor; it simultaneously mixes in creamy vanilla, and sweet cream caramel flavors. It’s a wonderfully done alternative root beer. And we’re pro alternative root beer rights. Just because you’re different, doesn’t mean you’re weird. I could keep this joke going, but it’d eventually end up with people picketing outside my house. Back to the bottle. This is a sweet root beer. It’ll be too much for some people. If you enjoy sweeter sodas or root beers, this is a must-try. Imperial Beverages should be commended for nailing a tough flavor from which many shy away. Butterscotch as a flavor is ripe for a renaissance, much like maple has enjoyed the past couple years. Dang! That’s Good may be the reason other bottlers don’t even make an attempt. If you can’t beat the best… uh, do something else I guess? This is an original that’s quickly becoming a craft soda classic. Try it before others start flooding the market. This should go in your regular rotation. Excellent.

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.

Caruso’s Legacy: Robusto Root Beer

History: The Caruso’s are fourth-generation brewers of root beer. That should tell you a lot. Today, it’s Pete Caruso who runs the family business. But it was his grandfather who started it all when he purchased the Black Bear bottling plant in Milwaukee, Wiconsin in 1961. Root beer was the drink that started it all for them. Back then it didn’t have a fancy name; it was just grandpa’s root beer. Well, grandpa’s root beer hasn’t changed recipes since 1978. All of its ingredients are sourced from Wisconsin. If that doesn’t tickle your little craft soda purest heart, then I dunno about you. Robusto Root Beer was designed to be bold up front and mellow on the finish. It continues to be the company’s flagship beverage. Out of Old Creek, Wisconsin, Caruso’s Legacy is a brand underneath the WIT Beverage umbrella, a company that also houses familiar craft soda names like Jelly Belly and Green River. Root beer is one of five soda flavors the Caruso’s produce.

Where to get: Caruso’s Legacy is primarily sold regionally throughout the northern Midwest. If it isn’t available in your area, the company encourages you to contact them directly to figure out the best way to fill an order.

Nose: Earthy; classic root beer; root bark; light vanilla.

Taste: Earthy bite up front followed by a more mellow, traditional root beer flavor. Upon each sip, the tongue is greeted with a bold root beer bite that makes itself known before anything else. There’s a little bit of a minty note there as well, more akin to birch beers than root beers, but it’s definitely there. In fact, I’d say just a smidge too much mint on the initial mouth feel. The flavor up front is potent, but certainly drinkable and pleasant. Next, the earthy root bark profile very slowly begins to fade into a more subtle version of itself. If you want to get the full range of flavors, take your time in between sips. This root beer needs some spacing to let the subtleties come though. The backend of Robusto Root Beer glides down the tongue smoothly with light creaminess and very faint vanilla. This tastes a little bit like A&W, but infused with bolder flavors and not as foamy. The soft creamy mouth feel here really lets the flavors come through more than other root beers that drown them in vanilla. The use of sugar in this is impeccable. It’s there, but you don’t really notice it; it’s more of a companion to the flavor profiles the company is trying to get across.

Finish: Root bark, sassafras, light creamy vanilla. The finish is consistent every sip.

Rating: This is a traditional root beer done well. There’s a reason this recipe has stayed the exact same since 1961. It works. This is a good root beer to introduce your buddies to who think your craft soda habit is weird. It’s a classic, but with kicked up, better flavors. The wintergreen up front does distract a little bit on the initial taste, but doesn’t linger long enough to discourage you from drinking. This is a soda for any occasion, any season and any partaker of beverages. If what you seek in a root beer is extreme creamy taste and lots of vanilla, you won’t find that here. This roots itself (get it?) in more natural-tasting, earthy flavors. I taste root bark, sassafras, wintergreen, birch oil and cane sugar the most. No one flavor overpowers the other, but they do take time to make themselves aware to your taste buds. So, like my ex-wife used to say, be patient. This has staying power. Throw a mug in the freezer and pour one out. Get robust.