Root Beer is a sweet soft drink from North America. Traditionally it was flavored with sassafras root. However, in 1960 the FDA banned safrole, the oil found in sassafras root, from being used commercially in food and drink in the United States. Based on studies at the time, it was concluded to be carcinogenic.
Nowadays, root beer comes flavored with artificial safrole. It still retains that distinct flavor and is a favorite. As we know it, the drink is non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated. There are some instances where it contains a small amount of either, but those are uncommon.
Today, we’ve rounded up some of the best root beer brands known today. There are a few classics on this list and a few unique newcomers. Give some a try in some tasty root beer floats.
“Barq’s has bite! It’s good. Since 1898!” That’s the root beer brand’s well-known tagline. Setting this brand apart from the others is a crisp, bold taste. It’s not hurting that this is one of the few root beer brands that contain caffeine.
In production for over a century, this is the most scanned root beer in the country, according to Nutritionix.
A&W is so synonymous with root beer that they’ve registered the domain rootbeer.com for their company! Established in 1919, A&W has been the soft drink associated with countless root beer floats.
They have a zero-sugar version of their famous root beer and their cream soda.
Mug root beer is recognizable by the adorable bulldog on the label (named Dog), smiling and offering a frosty glass of refreshment. The company was established in 1940 and became a Pepsico partner in 1986. Mug replaced Pepsi’s on-tap root beer and became the brand’s signature root beer.
Virgil’s root beer is as all-natural as a root beer can come. Their products are handcrafted and flavored without artificial preservatives, colors, or GMO-sourced ingredients. Virgil’s website states that the soda is brewed in small batches and includes fifteen different roots and spices.
Summit’s root beer brand originated in 1937 when Deno Spaccarelli opened a pharmacy and apothecary in Cincinnati. The apothecary is long closed, but his family is still bottling root beer today. The body is sweet and a little fruity with herbal and vanilla flavors.
WBC Chicago-style root beer (or Goose Island as it’s sometimes known), contains 100% cane sugar, is caffeine-free, gluten-free, and naturally flavored. Traditional root beer flavor with strong vanilla notes and a wintergreen finish.
Teddy’s is a traditional root beer. It’s the kind you want to use in your floats, with a thick frothy head and a rich, creamy taste. The flavor profile is described as being similar to A&W.
Killebrew is a Minnesota-based company and what makes its brand unique, is that all its production happens right in the heart of the midwest. Their base comes from pure spring water, and instead of the cane sugar that so many other root beer brands are known for, they use Minnesota honey.
Established in 1996, Killebrew may not be as old as other root beer brands, but they’re making a name for themselves as an American company.
Zevia is a company with a line of zero-sugar sodas. First is a ginger flavor, which they describe as a little creamy, spicy, and refreshing. The other is a creamy soda that enhances that traditional root beer taste by giving it a smooth finish. Regardless of which you choose, they’re both perfect for a soda float.
Sioux City root beer wants you to feel like you’re in the old west. And they’re close to succeeding with the black and white etching of a cowboy drinking a cold one on their label. They’re a classic root beer with pure cane sugar and traditional ingredients.
Established in 1919, IBC has provided root beer, diet root beer, and cream soda. Their products are simple, made with pure cane sugar, and are known for premium quality and satisfying richness. According to them, they’ve never been surpassed.
Dad’s root beer is a long-standing brand in the United States. Established in 1937; in a suburb of Chicago, it was widespread by the 1940s throughout the midwest. The name “Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer” was selected to honor fathers; who used to make root beer at home for their families.
Olipop‘s “classic root beer” is anything but traditional! With just two grams of sugar, carbonated water, and all-natural ingredients, it’s more like a sparkling tonic. The botanically driven root beer doesn’t try to lie; it labels itself a sparkling tonic! It also states outright that it has 3% juice! Apple juice! You might be skeptical, but the reviews don’t lie. They say it has a classic root beer taste.
H-E-B Old Fashioned
Nice and simple! H-E-B old-fashioned root beer is what contemporary Americans have come to expect. Sweet, free of caffeine, and foamy. This one doesn’t try to do anything extraordinary; it just delivers a simple and well-known taste profile. Produced in Texas, this one is homegrown.
Handcrafted in Maine, Capt’n Eli’s root beer is made with an essence of wintergreen oil, anise, and vanilla. The ingredients include pure sugar cane. The company has been around since the 1920s when Eli Forsley began brewing his root beer and selling it around the neighborhood. Over a hundred years later and the root beer brand is still going strong.
Frank Stewart established Stewart’s in 1924; to supplement his income as a school teacher. What began as a side hustle for extra cash grew into a dining empire. Shortly after he started, Frank was able to open the first Stewart’s dining establishment. The brand remains strong today, currently owned by Cadbury Schweppes PLC and distributed by Dr. Pepper Snapple Bottling Group.
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George Filbert began his business by delivering milk bottles by horse and carriage with his son, Charlie. They also delivered ice and coal and provided general moving and transportation services. Prohibition struck the country in 1926, which is when the family began brewing draught root beer. Located in Chicago, the company remains a local favorite to this day.
Hires root beer is where it all started. Charles Elmer Hires first debuted his root beer in 1875, making his brand the longest-running in the United States. Originally he wanted to call the beverage root tea, but because he was attempting to appeal to Pennsylvanian coal miners, he decided to call it root beer instead. Today the brand is owned by Dr. Pepper, where it competes for bottlers with A&W.
In 1907 Ben and Perry Feigenson established the Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works. Thankfully they shortened it to Faygo later on in 1921. They worked quietly for a few decades until refining their root beer formula in the 1940s. They’ve been a staple of the midwest soda pop scene for over 100 years. In 2009, they won an award for having the best root beer in the country.
All of our other root beers on this list come from North America! But there is a unique contender here from Australia. Bundaberg is made into a genuine family recipe using sarsaparilla root, ground ginger, licorice root, vanilla bean, and molasses to give it that rich unique color and flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about root beer.
Does root beer have caffeine?
Most brands of root beer don’t have caffeine. And if they do, they usually let you know. Barq’s is proud of the additional caffeine they’ve added, using the tagline “Barq’s has bite.”
Does root beer cause cancer?
No, the carcinogenic safrole oil was banned in the 1960s. It’s currently not found in any commercial brands.
What is the main flavor of root beer?
That flavor that’s distinct in root beer is sassafras! Originally, root beer was flavored with safrole oil, which is derived from sassafras. Because of the ban on safrole, all commercially brewed root beer is flavored with artificial sassafras.
Does root beer have alcohol?
Root beer made by the traditional process can have up to 2% alcohol. However, virtually every brand you buy from the store today will have a zero percent alcohol content.
What is the oldest root beer?
Hires is the oldest root beer brand, patented in 1875 and still in production today!
Wrapping It Up
The history of root beer is a pretty intrinsic part of American culture, starting with Hires root beer in 1875. For roughly a quarter of a century, this uniquely flavored drink was often brewed at home as a pastime. It was a pastime that ended up springing into nearly a dozen small soda companies around the country.
Those companies then grew or folded, but in the end, the iconic drink remained. Whether you love or hate the taste of root beer, it can’t be denied that this drink is a major taste of Americana and is here to stay or the long run.