Root Beer Tasting, History & Cocktails

HISTORY

Root beer is a US sensation, but availability outside of the States is rather limited. In the UK we have a, similar, although not identical, product, Dandelion & Burdock.Historically, root beer is part of a category of “small beers”: low-alcohol beers, which were popular in the Colonial North America.

They were based on a variety of herbs, barks and roots, including ginger, sarsaparilla, birch and sassafras (root beer).With an increase in the temperance movement, as well as an improvement in the quality drinking water, the demand for soft drinks increased and, as a result, the number of non-alcoholic versions of small beers such as ginger and root beer increased.

Our Selection of Root Beer: L:R A&W, Stewart's, Barq's. Hartridges, IBC, MUG, Bundaberg, Carter's

An early version of the sort of root beer that we enjoy today came from Charles Hives in 1876, when the Philadelphian pharmacist wanted to make a pre-mixed liquid version of a health tea that he sold. This early root beer was showcased at the Philadelphian Centenary Exhibition.

There is no official recipe or version of root beer; rather, as with ginger ale, there is merely a public expectation of what the flavour should be. Although the base of the flavour is usually sassafras root, root beer can also be flavoured with various other ingredients, including: wintergreen, vanilla, cherry bark, sarsaparilla, nutmeg and aniseed.

Luckily, we didn’t have to travel across the Atlantic to get a taste of true American Root Beer, as American Soda were kind enough to send us samples from their range of Root Beer which they import to the UK.

TASTING

The root beers were tasted chilled and on their own by a panel of four, including one seasoned root beer fan, two occasional drinkers and one person who had never tried it before.

A&W
Possibly the most famous root beer available today. Started in 1919 by Roy Allen; the name comes from Allen’s and his business partner’s (Frank Wright) initials. A&W branded drive-in restaurants operate throughout North America. Today, A&W is additionally flavoured with aged vanilla.

A bold, but simple nose of aniseed and vanilla. A&W is not too fizzy and has a slight coke-iness, which is followed by some liquorice and some vanilla ice-cream flavours. A very typical root beer, with a vanilla twist.

A&W Root Beer is available for £1.27 for 355ml from American Soda.

MUG
Instantly recognisable by its distinctive bulldog mascot, who is simply known as “Dog”. Mug was created in the 1950s in San Francisco and is now available across the US and, thanks to American Soda, to us folks in the UK, too.

This has very little nose, with only a little clove and cinnamon on the nose. The taste is rather pleasant and a bit like British Dandelion & Burdock. There’s a good, balanced sweetness and it’s exceptionally smooth and silky. No overpowering flavours.

Mug Root Beer is available for £1.27 for 355ml from American Soda.

BARQ’s
A grandad of the root beer market, Barq’s has been made since 1898, although, originally, it was just marketed as “Barq’s”, rather than as a root beer. It was founded by brothers Edward and Gaston Barq from new Orleans, whose initial success came in selling a product called Orangine (Orange-soda). Of all of the root beers that we tasted, Barq’s was the only one containing caffeine, although its caffeine levels are lower than Ice Tea or Classic Coca Cola.

The nose is a little bit like cola, with vanilla and liquorice. It tastes great: it’s full of flavour and not too sweet, with sweet spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and aniseed; rich and creamy. Exactly what you would expect from a root beer.

Barq’s Root Beer is available for £1.27 for 355ml from American Soda.

STEWARTS
Created in 1924 by Frank Stewart, Stewart’s Root Beer has only been available in bottles since 1990. Before that, they were sold exclusively at Stewart’s Root Beer stand in Ohio. Today, Stewart makes over ten different products including Birch Beer, Key Lime and Cream Soda.

This has a lingering nose of aniseed, sarsaparilla and vanilla. Taste-wise, it has a rich, silky texture; it’s very creamy, with some vanilla and some liquorice and aniseed, as well as a touch of mint. Very easy to drink, very refreshing and rather moreish.

Stewart’s Root Beer is available for £2.50 for 355ml from American Soda.

IBC
Packaged in an attractive and traditional bottle, the Independent Brewing Company (IBC) Root Beer was created in 1919 in St Louis, Missouri. IBC also make Cherry Coke and Cream Soda.

A nose of aniseed, vanilla, and wintergreen; it’s very herbal and reminds us of menthol. When poured in the glass, the IBC has quite a large head, but isn’t too fizzy and is quite sweet. The taste is reminiscent of Vanilla Coke, with additional aniseed and herbal notes. IBC’s creamy texture was quite popular and the root beer was seen as accessible for folks who hadn’t tried root beer before. Smooth & refreshing.

So we’ve looked at imported Root Beers from the USA purchased for specialist retailers What about UK domestic Root Beer available in corner shops and supermarkets?

IBC Root Beer is available for £2.50 for 354ml from American Soda.

So we’ve looked at imported Root Beers from the USA purchased for specialist retailers What about UK domestic Root Beer available in corner shops and supermarkets?


Bundaberg
From Australia, Bundaberg also make Ginger Beer and Lemon & Lime Bitter Soda
nose: quite a yeasty nose with vanilla and anise.
taste:a little malty on the taste, along with notes of vanilla and sweet liquroice. This was very refreshing but rather than having a lingering taste you get a short, sharp burst of flavour. Slightly smokey. This was very popular with the panel.

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Carters
Made by Cott Beverages in Derby although this is labelled on the front as “Root Beer” it descries itself as “Carbonated Fruit Flavour Soft Drink with Sugar and Sweetener”.
nose: egg whites, herbs, clove and cinnamon.
taste: rather fizzy, creamy and strangely oily. It leaves a greasy feeling on your lips. Quite smooth but also disjointed with a cloying aftertaste.

Hartridges
Made by a family-owned company that has been making soft drinks since 1882, this variety is part of the Francis Hartridge Celebrated Range, named after the founder of the company.
nose: vanilla, leafy mint and tea
taste: fruity, herby and slightly savoury. The flavours of tea come through again and although not a typical Root Beer style, as a soft drink it is very good.

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Making A Great Root Beer Float

One of the big questions regarding making a root beer float is what order do you put the ingredients in? Ice-cream then root beer, so that you get the root beer ice crystals or vice-versa? In the interests of science, we tested it both ways.

The root beer was kept in a cold fridge, the glassware and the ice-cream (Cornish vanilla) was keep in a very cold freezer.

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Version #1 – Ice-cream then Root Beer
Initially, you get a lot of big, but thin foam, which quickly disappears. The ice-cream floats to the top and  is covered in root beer ice, so there is a lot of texture variety when you eat it. This then gives way to some creamy root beer, followed by the remaining plain root beer. This drink has a lot of variety within it, but a lot of the flavours are kept separate and we felt that you can taste the root beer more as a result.
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Version #2 – Root Beer then Ice-cream
Although you don’t get a lot of foam to start with, this quickly changes as the ice-cream begins to melt. After a few moments, there’s lots of foam and slushy ice-cream to spoon up and, when you move to use the straw, you are left with a delicious, creamy blend of ice-cream and root beer. Superb.

We liked both versions and were surprised how different they were. That said, we both preferred version two, as the root beer and the ice-cream seemed to blend better, resulting in a deliciously creamy, cool drink.

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Cocktails

Root Beer Cocktails, L:R: Sasha, Root Beer Fizz & Root of All Evil

#1) Root of All Evil [25ml Pastis, 50ml Root Beer]
This works very well but, woah!, it sure is heavy on the anise. The vanilla from the root beer is a good match for the pastis. I think this is quite a pleasant drink and not too sweet.
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#2) Root beer Fizz [25ml Gin, 25ml Lemon Juice, 50ml Root Beer]
A very unusual drink but rather excellent. The complexity of the gin fits in nicely with the root beer and the lemon juice stop the drink from being to sickly sweet by providing a refreshing tart edge. Very good indeed.

#3) Sasha [25ml Bailey’s Irish Cream, 50ml Root Beer]
An odd heavy foam at the top, maybe you’ll need a spoon, the whole drink is actually very similar to drinking a glass of foam. The mix of the Bailey’s and Root Beer brings forward a bubble gum sort of taste.
Drinking it with a straw is a great improvement, once you get past the scummy foam it’s quite nice.

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About DTS

partial to a martini? to a smoke-hazed gin joint & a perfect tipple poured with the style, swank & skill of a true aficionado? …then pull up your stool to the bar, prepare to stock up your cocktail cabinet & get ready to drink it all in as we introduce you to a stitch in times’ resident barman… David T. Smith is a drinks enthusiast currently residing in the U.K. a long-time fan of tasting & exploring various types of alcohol, he has a fascination for vintage spirits and cocktails, in particular their heritage & origins; this was strengthened last year when he presented a talk and accompanying monograph on the Martini. it was as a result of his research of this topic that he was introduced to drinks paraphernalia, & he is now the happy owner of a colourful collection of bottles, books, and gadgets from a wide range of eras… an avid believer in the validity and variety of personal opinion, particularly in the subjective area of tasting, he enjoys hosting tasting sessions for friends, constantly challenging them to find their own favourite tipple. in addition to all of this, he is also interested in economics, three-piece suits, board games & keeping alive the art of engaging in enjoyable conversation with a good glass of port whilst surrounded by pipe smoke… www.summerfruitcup.com Thanks to Analiebe for writing this rather flattering blurb for me.

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