Saturday, February 13, 2010

Root Beer Round Up!

(This is unrelated to my CSA recipe journal but I needed somewhere to chronicle the results of our great root beer taste testing we held last night.)

It all started maybe a year ago, when Colin and I started buying different root beers around town and trying them out. We were mainly getting them from the natural foods store and tried Virgil's, Natural Brew, Maine Root and probably some others. I argued that Virgil's was my favorite and Colin thought Natural Brew was the best. So we decided we would have a little blind taste testing and settle it once and for all. So slowly I started buying up a few root beers here and there to store until we had enough to do our taste testing. But then things got a little out of hand . . . and before I knew it, we had 15 different root beers in our possession. I had requested suggestions on Facebook and of course had to try all of those, and then read other peoples root beer reviews online and had to get those and thanks to websites like Soda Samurai we ended up with a lot of root beer. We decided a lot of root beer would go to waste if we just tasted it ourselves and thought we could use a couple other opinions to help make the rank list so we enlisted the help of our friends Casey and Lauren. So here is how it went down:

These are the root beers we tested in alphabetical order:
Berghoff (Chicago, IL)
Boylan (Haledon, New Jersey)
Capt'n Eli's (Portland, Maine)
Dad's (Chicago, IL)
Fitz's (St. Louis, MO)
Gale's (Riverwood, IL)
Jones (Seattle, WA)
Lost Trail (Louisburg, KS)
Maine Root (Scarborough, Maine)
Natural Brew (Orrville, Ohio)
Sea Dog (Portland, Maine)
Sioux City (Whitestone, New York)
Sprecher's (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Thomas Kemper (Seattle, WA)
Virgil's (Los Angeles, California)

There are A LOT more root beers in the world than I thought. I believe one site listed 2530 brands! So we obviously are barely even touching the surface of the root beer world. We had to limit it so these are the 15 we tried. I'm sure we missed lots and lots and lots of other delicious root beers out there.


Lauren and I prepared cups of each root beers in cups labeled with letters and the boys prepared the same for us. We kept track of which letter was which root beer for which person on one of the sheets below:

Then we began the tasting. Everyone kept notes on a sheet labeled with the letters. Then everyone ranked the root beers 1 through 15 best to worst. I got these chalkboard place mats as a wedding shower gift and used them to create a place for people to put their root beers in order:
Then the tasting began!
This is Casey. He should have written up this report instead of me. He wrote the best descriptions for his taste testing that involved adjectives like "honest" and "whiny" and "comical". In between root beers we had water and crackers for cleansing the palate. It took a lot of tasting and retasting but then everyone had their final order locked in.
We then got out the keys and everyone figured out which root beer was which.
We tallied our individual lists and made a final rank list. The final results are:

1. Lost Trail
2. Sioux City
3. Capt'n Eli's
4. Berghoff
5. Fitz's
6. Boylan
7. Thomas Kemper
8. Jones
9. Sea Dog
10. Gale's
11. Sprecher's
12. Virgil's
13. Maine Root
14. Natural Brew
15. Dad's

The Delicious Top Five!

Below is a chart of the results and each individuals rank list:
As you can see while there were some consistencies between the four of us, there were a couple of outliers that deserve honorable mention.

First, Boylan:
Boylan was ranked 1st, 4th, and 5th by Casey, Linsey and Lauren respectively but 15th by Colin. It had a very unique and fruity flavor - almost like it was a whole new breed of root beer. I have to say it is one of my new favorites but Colin just thought it was too unlike root beer for him I guess.

Second honorable mention, Gale's:
This one was ranked very highly by the guys and very low by the girls. The guys would describe it as "cinnamon-y" and I think Lauren described it best as tasting like "your grandma's soap." Even after tasting it again and discussing it after the results were revealed the issue remained contentious and very much split along the gender line. Which is fine with me, I can drink all the Boylan and Colin can have all the Gale's.


Overall, the root beers seemed to fall into categories of very sweet, vanilla-y, or more medicinal. It probably depends a lot on what you are looking for in a root beer which ones you will like. Overall for us, the highest ranking root beers had more vanilla undertones like Lost Trail and Sioux City, the almost overly sweet ones fell in the middle like Jones and Thomas Kemper, and the medicinal ones were our least favorites. I found it funny that Colin and I both ranked our once professed favorites, Natural Brew and Virgil's, very poorly. We were also somewhat interested if we would prefer sodas with cane sugar to those with high fructose corn syrup. However, we only included two with HFCS, Sprecher's and Dad's, so it isn't really fair to compare in this set up, but Sprecher's was verging on the edge of too syrup-y sweet and Dad's was the clear overall loser among all of us, I described it tasting like pepper-y medicine. I was a bit embarrassed at first that I ranked Sioux City as my #1 but they have recently reformulated to get rid of the HFCS and replaced it with cane sugar and it really is quite good. It almost has a hint of cream soda to it. So I will again leave you with the top 5, very delicious - I recommend them all! Go forth and find your favorite root beer!