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Posted:  |  Updated: 02/15/13 EST

The Best Root Beer: Our Taste Test Results

Root beer is a mysterious thing. Even most who adore it can't identify which "roots" go into the concoction, or how exactly it gets its sweet, spicy and creamy flavor. Every store-bought brand has its own distinctive qualities, making it perfect for a HuffPost Taste taste test.

We blind-tasted 16 different brands of root beer, noting the ingredients and flavor profiles of each to help you find one that'll hit the spot. You may not necessarily agree with our winner (though we do think you'll agree with our No. 16 choice -- yuck), but you can use our handy tasting guide to fall in love with a new root beer you may not have tried. We noted some subtle (and not-so-subtle) flavor notes that reminded us of everything from raisins and cough syrup to Good & Plenties, Guinness, and bubblegum. The winner even reminded us of Tom Petty.

Before you read the taste test results, let's find out what exactly makes root beer taste like root beer. Here's a list of the key flavors:

Anise: Imparts a licorice flavor.
Sarsaparilla: When soda production began in the last 1800s, sarsaparilla claimed to have health-giving properties. The root lends a very bitter flavor.
Birch oil: Made from the sap of birch trees, it gives a flavor similar to teaberry.
Wintergreen: Just what you're probably thinking of -- the minty flavor often found in chewing gum.
Sassafras: Coming from the sassafras tree, this imparts a deep, bitter flavor.
Vanilla extract (Bourbon or Tahitian): This gives root beer its distinctive creaminess.

Click through the slideshow below to see the results of our taste test.

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  • #1: A&W

    <b>Comments:</b> "Solid. The Tom Petty of root beers." "Classic, creamy and smooth. I'd drink a lot of this." "Nice and light, with a slight hint of root beer." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup (<em>yikes!</em>), caramel color, sodium benzoate (preservative), natural and artificial flavors, quillaia extract.

  • #2: Boylan's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Rich! What a nice experience." "I'm tasting a lot of cherry." "Reminds me strangely of a sticky bun -- cinnamon and raisins." "This is light and refreshing. Tastes like bubblegum but in a good way." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, natural yucca extract, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness).

  • #3: Stewart's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Light, boring and inoffensive. I could probably drink a lot of it without noticing." "Classic root beer flavor. Would be good for a float." "Leathery." "A little on the sweet side." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural and artificial flavor, sodium benzoate (a preservative), citric acid, quillaia extract, gum acacia, yucca extract.

  • #4: Trader Joe's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Solid." "Very classic root beer taste." "Boring, cream soda-like flavor." "Not much to say about this one." <B>Ingredients:</b> Triple filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, wintergreen, birch, anise, sassafras, Tahitian vanilla extract and citric acid.

  • #5: 365 Everyday Value Root Beer

    <b>Comments:</b> "Tastes like a decent cheap root beer." "Classic flavor, but not enough carbonation." "Comforting and sweet, but I wish it had a little more carbonation." "This is what I remember drinking as a kid." <b>Ingredients:</b> Filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, natural root beer flavor, citric acid, caramel color (from cane sugar).

  • #6: Johnnie Ryan

    <b>Comments:</b> "Smooth. Too smooth?" "Nice, clean and different." "Bland but nice." "A little boring but a good, solid root beer." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, sodium benzoate (used as a preservative), natural and artificial flavor, caramel colour.

  • #7: Jones

    <B>Comments:</b> "Are there cloves in this? (Yes.)" "Is this cola?" "Too sweet." "Good carbonation and spice." "Just the right balance of flavor with not too much sweetness." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, inverted cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbet (as preservatives), calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor).

  • #8: Barq's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Fruity! Exotic! Too frightening to give it a high score though." "Too sharp for me." "Traditional." "Weird citrus undertones." "Makes my mouth tingle." "Very flavorful, but in an artificial way." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate (to protect taste), citric acid, caffeine, artificial and natural flavors, acacia.

  • #9: Hansen's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Robust. I'd like more." "Strong wintergreen notes in this -- tastes like chewing gum." "Piney." "A distinctive vegetal, bark-like element." "That is disgusting." "Warm, French-toasty flavor." <b>Ingredients:</b> Pure triple filtered carbonated water, sugar, caramel color, natural spices of wintergreen, birch, anise, sassafras, Tahitian vanilla extract, citric acid.

  • #10: Mug

    <b>Comments:</b> "Did someone put bubblegum in this?" "Too cola-y." "Just sweet." "Tastes like cold medicine." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness), citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, modified food starch, calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor, quillaia extract.

  • #11: Dad's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Too ambitious. Calm down and bring me some root beer." "Medicinal." "Weird anise taste." "Frothy, tasty." "Beautiful dark color and tiny bubbles like Guinness. A nice vanilla hint but a tad too sweet." <B>Ingredients: </b>Water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural and artificial flavor, sodium benzoate (as a preservative).

  • #12: Virgil's

    <b>Comments:</b> "This tastes like a Good & Plenty. That's the worst thing I can say about food." "Anise!!!" "Awful. Tastes like cough syrup." "Distinctively licorice-y. Unusual, but okay." "Very nice hint of licorice." <B>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, unbleached cane syrup, anise, licorice, vanilla (bourbon), cinnamon, clove, wintergreen, sweet birch, molasses nutmeg, pimento berry oil, balsam oil and oil of cassia.

  • #13: Best Health's

    <b>Comments:</b> "I'm having mixed emotions." "Tastes like medicine, but also like root beer." "Oddly acidic." "Flat and tasteless." <b>Ingredients:</b> Triple filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, natural flavors, vanilla extract, caramel color, citric acid and sodium benzoate (to preserve freshness)

  • #14: Dr. Brown's

    <b>Comments:</b> "Too much licorice." "Not a strong enough root flavor." "Not right." "Strong peppermint flavor." "Bad. Lemony." <b>Ingredients:</b> Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate (preservative), gum acacia, citric acid.

  • #15: Natural Brew

    <b>Comments:</b> "Tastes like raisins and cough syrup." "Tastes clean and sweet, but not like root beer." "Tastes like diet." "Strong aftertaste." "Minty and medicinal." "Light flavor, with a hint of honey." "Like a yucky cherry-flavored ginger ale." <b>Ingredients:</b> Sparkling filtered water, evaporated cane juice, natural flavors, bourbon vanilla extract, anise, sarsaparilla, licorice root, birch oil, wintergreen oil, caramel color, phosphoric acid

  • #16: Gus

    <b>Comments:</b> "Mad frothy ... but terrible!" "This is not root beer." "Weird ginger flavor." "Foul." "What a disappointment." <b>Ingredients:</b> Purified sparkling water, cane sugar, birch oil and other natural flavors, caramel color (from sugar), citric acid.

  • WATCH: How To Make Root Beer

    Root beer is a delicious and refreshing treat. Make this tasty beverage at home with a few ingredients and a little patience.

Which brand is your favorite? Leave us a comment below.


Filed by Kristen Aiken  |