I buy soda sometimes for parties, but I rarely buy it to have at the house any other time. Once in a while, I’ll buy an all-natural root beer for my boys as a treat. I wanted to see how the all-natural brand I’ve been buying stacks up to some of the more expensive all-natural root beers I see at the store and how all of them compare to the conventional A&W Root Beer*.
Here are the three all-natural root beers my family and I put up against the A&W in a blind taste test (well, I knew which was which, but my husband and boys did not).
Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Unbleached Cane Sugar, Anise from Spain, Licorice from France, Vanilla (Bourbon) from Madagascar, Cinnamon from Ceylon, Clove from Indonesia, Wintergreen from China, Sweet Birch from the Southern U.S., Molasses from the U.S., Nutmeg from Indonesia, Pimento Berry Oil from Jamaica, Balsam Oil from Peru, Cassia Oil from China
Ingredients: Pure Triple Filtered Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Caramel Color, Natural Spices of Wintergreen, Birch, Anise, Sassafras, Tahitian Vanilla Extract, Citric Acid
Natural Brew Hand Crafted Draft Root Beer ($4.59 for four 12 oz bottles) – I couldn’t find a link to a website for the makers of this root beer. I had never seen this brand before, but I wanted to add another to the taste test so this is the one I chose.
Ingredients: Sparkling Filtered Water, Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Flavors, Caramel Color, Vanilla Extract, Phosphoric Acid, Licorice Root and Sarsaparilla Root Extract.
I must say that after doing a little research, my sampling is pretty small. There are a lot of different natural/organic root beers out there. There are also a lot of strong opinions about root beer out there. I’m no aficionado; I grew up on A&W and Mug like probably many of you did. The tastes in the more craft type of root beers were different for me and for my family.
Here’s what we thought:
Virgil’s – Wow. Lots of different flavors going on in this one with licorice dominating the rest. I’m not a licorice fan so I didn’t like it and neither did my 10-year-old son who said it tasted like bad salt water taffy. My 7 year old said he loved it though.
My husband and I both noted that it had very little foam. Whether or not a lot of foam actually makes for a good root beer or not, I don’t know. It seems like a good root beer should have a lot of foam, though, doesn’t it?
Hansen’s – For foam alone, Hansen’s gets a thumbs up. It kept its foam for a very long time. Everyone liked the Hansen’s, but nobody guessed it was the one that we usually buy.
Hansen's tasted the most like root beer to everyone. I realize that means it tastes the most like what we were used to — the A&W’s and Mug’s. However, when it went up against the A&W, everyone liked it much better.
Natural Brew – I thought this tasted very different — not like root beer. My 7 year old said it tasted like alcohol (I asked, “How do you know that?) and my 10 year old said “blech, way too sweet.” My husband found it similar to Virgil’s but said it was smoother and not as harsh tasting.
The Natural Brew won the foam prize. It kept its foam the longest of all four sodas.
A&W – My 10 year old picked this out as the A&W right away and my husband gave it an “eh” and a shoulder shrug. To me it just tasted like root beer. Similar to the Hansen’s but not as good.
The bottom line?
I hesitate to say that the Virgil’s and the Natural Brew are not good. I think they are meant to be different than the type of root beer that most people are accustomed to. Just like micro brewed beers are different than mainstream beer, I think that these are in a class of craft root beers and not easily comparable to mainstream root beers.
My family is going to continue to buy the Hansen’s when we do buy root beer. We like the taste, even if our tastes are unsophisticated when it comes to root beer. I like the natural ingredients and the price. My kids like the root beer.
Remember, soda should be a once-in-a-while treat not a daily drink and certainly not a substitute for milk, fruit juice or water with meals. Even though these root beers contain real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, it’s still sugar. Children and adults alike should consume sugar in moderation.
* Ingredients: Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Natural and Artificial Flavors