Top 5 Root Beers

Major distribution:
1) A&W
2) Stewart’s
3) Hires
4) Mug
5) Barq’s

Minor distribution:
1) Henry Weinhard’s
2) Virgil’s
3) Thomas Kemper
4) IBC
5) Soux City

28 thoughts on “Top 5 Root Beers

  1. No Way! Where’s “Dad’s Rootbeer”? This thing is a shame! A sham, I tell you!

    And IBC is major distribution and Stewart’s is minor distribution, and I’ve never even heard of Hires…

  2. Actually, I had Dad’s on there but removed it to put Barq’s, even though I hate Barq’s, I just put it there because I know many people love it.

    And I thought about that exact IBC/Stewart’s thing. I’m all disoriented about distribution from being on the east coast.

  3. On your major distribution, I’m not sure if I’d switch A&W and Stewart’s or not.

    Virgil’s may be the best soft drink I’ve ever tasted. I was scared when I moved out of NY, but they have it at Whole Foods here in Virginia. I’ll have to try your other minor distribution picks, though (although I think Matt W.’s right that IBC is major distribution; so is Stewart’s, though).

  4. It’s been years since I drank any soda, but I don’t remember there being much of a difference between root bears. Barq’s has caffeine—I mean, bite.

    I had a roommate who made his own root beer in our bathroom once. Sounds scary, I know. He used too much of some ingredient (or not enough?) and the bottles were packed full of pressure. Like if you’d shaken them for 2 hours. It’d take him a half hour just to open one—he had to poke a hole in the cap, slowly, and let it fizz out forever.

    We threw one off the balcony once just to see what it’d do. Major explosion.

  5. Have not heard of Hires???!!!! You must be west of the Mississippi or be a real young’un. Hires is all over the east coast. I grew up on Hires. Back then A & W was a unique west coast thing (sort of like Coors beer was way back when).

    Hires was part of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. A&W was created somewhere out Cali-for-nia way and is now owned by that giant called Pepsico.

    Stewarts and IBC are both limited distribution.

  6. I think root beers have one of the biggest variations. There are the more medicinal, the more herbal, the sweeter, the honeyed.

    I have to say though that barqs in the can is far superior to a 2 liter version.

    I generally prefer the homemade rootbeer to any of the major distribution ones (a&w is close).

    But my favorite is the weinhards, lots of head, lots of herbal, a nice honey finish, without being too sweet or too bitter.

  7. IBC and Stewarts are both distributed by Cadburry Schwepps, the third biggest soft drink distributor after Coke and Pepsi. Both are available nationwide, though considered sort of a premium brand. I’d say they are both “major,” and probably deserve to be at or near the top of that list. I think both are better than A&W.

    Has anyone tried Sprecher’s? It’s mostly available in the upper midwest, but it’s comparable to Henry Weinhardts in quality.

  8. I agree with BTD Greg. I’d put Stewart’s at the top for traditional crisp root beers followed by IBC; Henry Weinhardt’s for creamier, sweeter root beers.

    I have heard of Sprecher’s, but haven’t tried it yet. My in-laws now live in Minneapolis, though and so I look forward to visiting them there and trying it.

    One of the best things ever for a party:

    A case of Henry Weinhard’s various sodas from Costco and a 5-gallon bucket of Costco’s Kirkland brand vanilla bean ice cream.

    (although even better is all that for a party of one or two spread out over a month).

  9. This will obviously have a regional bias since Henry’s and TK are redily available in the NW.

    Easy to get:
    1. Henry Weinhard’s
    2. Thomas Kemper
    3. IBC
    4. Stewarts
    5. A&W

    Harder to get:
    1. Buckin’
    2. Snake River Sarsparilla
    3. Sprecher
    4. Boylan’s
    5. Boyles

    Bad rootbeer: Rat Bastard

  10. Oh, yeah. I forgot about Thomas Kemper — it is pretty good. Definitely better than IBC. I think I’d agree with your top 5 easy to get, but would flip IBC and Stewarts.

  11. Frostop. I have no idea if it’s available outside of Central Ohio, but it’s a fine cheap rootbeer – 99 cents for a 1 liter bottle, which is the only size available.

  12. Barq’s used to be much better than it is now. It is a mere shadow of its former self.

    IBC is easy to get and of those that are easy to find it is the best. I believe that KyleM is referring to Jackson Hole Buckin’ Root Beer in his comment. It is easily the best I’ve had recently. Note that it is made with cane sugar and not corn syrup. Look on the label and see if your root beer is made with corn syrup. If it is, that is an indication that they are putting money before taste.

  13. I know people that drive for a couple of hours to stock up on Henry Weinhard’s.

  14. When I was a kid in Albuquerque, we would go to A&Ws and drink rootbeer out of mugs. Now, that’s memorable.

    Rootbeer out of a can just isn’t the same.

  15. That’s weird, Brian. There was a Frostop in Kanab — it was an A&W drive-in, knock-off. But when I was living there there was no such thing as a 2-liter bottle — the Frostop only had fountain drinks.

  16. Weinhardts and IBC beat out Stewarts and Kemper (in fact, Kemper is not very good quality in my opinion).

    I grew up on A&W and Hires. On roadtrips across the southwest, we would stock up on Hires because it was hard to get in Dallas back then.

  17. I bought Joseph Smith Jr. rootbeer in Nauvoo. There are some rumors that JS Sr. invented some form of root flavored beer, but I’m guessing that whatever he cooked up was stronger than what I got in Nauvoo.

    I just bought a pack of Jones Soda Root Beer made with Real Cane Sugar. My first impression is good. I should be pretty easy to get as I have seen Jones stuff all over the US.

  18. Jones Sodaas aren’t that good, IMO. I love their design and their approach to getting customers to submit photos for their labels, but I don’t think they put a lot of thought into the sodas themselves.

    Sprecher, which I mentioned above, seems to be available in the specialty foods sections of Albertson’s now (at least Dallas-area Albertson’s.)

    I tried a Virgil’s the other day and wasn’t that impressed. Too much of an herbal flavor for my tastes. By far the *worst* Root Beer I have ever had was a Journey all-natural root beer that I bought at a Whole Foods. That stuff was downright nasty. (The site I linked to has some pretty good root beer reviews, BTW.)

  19. Greg,
    You speak blasphemy (re: Virgils; I’m not familiar with Journey). It’s the herbal flavor that makes it so good, plus it doesn’t have the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. You can actually taste real flavors, instead of imitation . . . something.

  20. Sam, Journey is truly awful stuff. Virgil’s was at least a pretty good drink (though very expensive). I just wouldn’t put it in a list of the best root beers I’ve ever tasted. Seemed to me like it was trying too hard.

  21. BTD Greg: Hey thanks for linking to that review site — looks like the reviewer has similar tastes to mine. Good for him for pointing out the mediocrity of IBC.

  22. You know, Target’s premium store brand (I think it’s called Archer’s Farms) sarsaparilla soda is not bad at all. It’s made with real sugar and has a nice smooth, pleasant, but nuanced, taste.

  23. Target also sells a very good Orange Passion Fruit soda that is made in Italy but sold under the Archer Farms brand. It is the most consistently passion fruit tasting drink that I am able to find in Utah.

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