From Hard Root Beer to Hard Ginger Ale, “alco-pop” is all the rage these days. I can’t help but blame the American taste buds for this phenomenon.
Sugary, soda-flavored “beers” are flooding the market and I don’t see the trend slowing down. We have Small Town Brewery to thank for this, primarily due to the cult-status behind Not Your Father’s Root beer. It’s crazy that a small brewery with only one brand could go from creation to nationwide distribution in less than five years. We’re not the only ones to have dubious thoughts about their meteoric rise.
If you glean one thing from this article about these products, please remember they are not craft beers. They utilize slick marketing and huge macro-beer advertising budgets to put these “beers” in front of every consumer on every shelf across the country.
The three root beers I decide to try include Small Town Brewery’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer, F.X. Matt Brewing’s Jed’s Hard Root Beer, and Best Damn Brewery’s eponymous Best Damn Root Beer. These all sit side by side at a local store, hidden in the midst of the craft beer. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, one might observe.
So, how are they?
Best Damn Root Beer (AB-InBev’s Best Damn Brewery)
If you didn’t already know it, Best Damn Root Beer is Budweiser’s entry into the soda-beer market. In usual AB-Inbev fashion, their packaging makes no mention as to the ownership.
Aroma: Predominantly wintergreen, anise and vanilla.
Taste: This beer is definitely heavily spiced, with flavors of vanilla, what we’re thinking is birch root and black licorice. It tastes exactly as you would expect those root beer-barrel candies to taste if they were liquefied. A cloying sweetness pervades the tastebuds leaving a slick sweetness in the aftertaste.
Mouthfeel: Of the three “beers,” this was the lowest carbonation, which made the cloying sweetness almost too much to handle. If this were accidentally given to kids at an Applebee’s, they’d even think it was bad.
Not Your Father’s Root Beer (Small Town Brewery)
Despite the “Small Town” moniker, Not Your Father’s Root Beer is mass produced at City Brewing in La Crosse, WI. Don’t let the slick marketing on STB’s website trick you into thinking this is some small artisanal batch. All of the “beers” use natural flavoring and caramel color. NYFRB’s labels should be reported for being misleading…if you’re “brewing” a dark ale, why do you have to use caramel color…it just doesn’t make any sense.
Aroma: Not Your Father’s Root Beer smells the closest to actual root beer of the bunch. Still, aromas of vanilla, clove and anise are overwhelmed by a fusel alcohol smell.
Taste: If you didn’t already have Type-II diabetes before drinking this, you might want to schedule a check-up with your general practitioner. Not Your Father’s Root Beer is sickeningly sweet, with more of that alcohol flavor and vanilla competing with the sweetness.
Mouthfeel: Of the three, this had the best mouthfeel. It felt more like a cream ale than a soda, with ample carbonation and a fuller body. This beer was actually given to some kids at Applebee’s, and only their father noticed…in that case, it wasn’t your kid’s root beer either.
Jed’s Hard Root Beer (F.X. Matt’s Brewing Company)
Of all the “beers” we tried, this is the one that tries the least to be an actual beer. They come right out and say they use Saranac Root Beer to make it. Only the small “Flavored ale” at the bottom of the label hints that it’s a malt beverage. We wanted to like it, but it’s flavor was too mild to compete with the other two.
Aroma: Jed’s smells like anise, spices and vanilla. Pretty much the same aromas all around, with only subtle differences. Jed’s had the least offensive smell.
Taste: My two blind taste testers both wrinkled their noses when trying this. It’s easily the driest of the bunch, with less sweetness to mask the spice and alcohol. There’s just something off about it. On the other side of the coin, this one might pair up with ice cream the best because of its diminished sweetness, but it doesn’t really stand up very well on its own.
Mouthfeel: Expectedly, this was the closest to actual soda, with a thin, carbonated mouthfeel. It feels like they just added alcohol to their root beer and slapped a fancy label on it.
So which is the winner? Okay, they all taste like root beer, but I feel like you could just add vodka to A&W and get the same outcome. They’re all about the same alcohol content, with the Budweiser version coming in the weakest. They’re all as sweet as soda, with Jed’s being on the lesser side. Oh, and another thing: My stomach is in knots after drinking all of these. I can’t see how anyone could finish an entire bottle. The spices, sweetness and alcohol aren’t a great mixture. I can’t in my right mind crown any of these as better than the others.