This topic is all my niece Caitlin’s fault. She introduced me to alcoholic or hard root beer and I was hooked. I was appalled that I couldn’t find much of it in the St. Louis area when I left her Wisconsin home and have kept looking diligently. Now that I moved to Carbondale, I have no problem finding my new alcoholic indulgence. The problem is that many of these are coming on the market as regional, craft brews made in small batches and are therefore not able to be distributed on a larger scale…yet! So I must get you prepared.
A few notable competitors now hold up the hard root beer market. Like everything else, I have my favorites, but I wanted you all to have a more impartial perspective on each brew, so I convened a group of people (residents and staff at Brookside apartments) to be my blind tasting panel. No one but me knew what was being tasted and very few of the people in the group had ever tasted hard root beer before.
The tasting samples were: Not Your Father’s Root Beer, Coney Island Brewing Co. Hard Root Beer, Forbidden Root, Row Hard Root Beer, and everyone’s favorite A&W Root Beer. Yeah, I thought I was being cute there by throwing the non-alcoholic stuff in too!
Sample 1: Not Your Father’s Root Beer
This tasty brew was actually started at Small Town Brewery in the Wauconda, IL area but was moved to LaCrosse, WI, when Pabst Brewing became involved in its production in order to increase batch size and distribution.
Results: Tasters noted that it had one of the sweetest profiles of all that they tried, with a hint of cloves, the appropriate smell of root beer, and just a hint of an after-taste of alcohol. Of all of the hard root beers, this one was definitely thought to be the closest tasting to non-alcoholic root beer. Availability of this might still be limited in the STL area. Don’t trust Small Town’s website on availability. I think their distribution is growing faster then their web designers are keeping up!
Sample 2: Coney Island Brewing Co. Hard Root Beer
Straight out of New York, this brewing company came out with their own version in August of this year.
Results: Tasters liked its rich, creamy, almost thick texture. The scent of root beer was a little lighter on this one, but the taste of alcohol was maybe slightly higher overall. Tasters voted this brand their favorite to make a root beer float with, even over the non-alcoholic A&W. Personally, I find that Not Your Father’s and Coney Island are very close in profile and I could easily drink either quite happily!
Sample 3: Forbidden Root
“The use of bark, stems, blossoms, sap, herbs, spices, leaves, bark, flowers, honey, and roots reflects humankind’s instinct and perennial quest to forage for new and different flavors.”
Results: This one threw our tasters for a loop. It isn’t trying to taste just like root beer. Forbidden Root is really a beer with a little bit of root beer flavoring thrown in for fun. Definitely not on the sweet side, this is more like drinking a pumpkin ale in the fall. You like a little of the flavor, but don’t want to drink pumpkin pie. It’s definitely a beer, not a root beer.
Sample 4: Row Hard Root Beer
This tasty beverage is brewed in Columbia, MO, by Weston Brewery and is available in the area because all of the Mizzou alumni need it to be!
Results: This is definitely trying to be a root beer and does a great job in flavor. Slightly less sugary and a little more licorice tasting than the first two; this has a clean finish. Tasters did note that this one had the most taste of alcohol, but not in a bad way. Sometimes if you are drinking alcohol, you want to know it, not hide it. Consistent flavor from start to finish.
Sample 5: A&W Root Beer
Results: Like I said, I thought I was getting cute by putting it in there, but the testers weeded it right out as the non-alcoholic alternative in the bunch. Good job guys! Padma would be proud!
As I said, some of these are just showing up in the STL market and some have been around for a while. They also make great mixers with other types of alcohol. Row Hard Root Beer has a great page on their website for recipes and what to pair with it to make some more very tasty concoctions! All of these are best served cold in the traditional frosty mug. Warm or tepid is not a good thing for these beverages. Blech!
My top picks: Not Your Father’s Root Beer or Coney Island Hard Root Beer because they taste the most like root beer and grown up ice cream floats are a must have!
Explore and let your taste buds run crazy and share some of your observations with us! Happy drinking!
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