Plainly put, root beer is one of those beverages that you either love or abhor. For those individuals who love it, root beer tastes like nothing less than distilled happiness and stirs sweet memories of carefree moments from childhood. While some people think it tastes weird, it seems that most people enjoy root beer, especially in the United States.
This also means that, these days, there are countless root beer brands and the ingredients used in these soft drinks aren’t uniform. Common ingredients include vanilla, licorice, nutmeg, wintergreen, and anise, but they aren’t always shared. As a result, many root beer varieties can taste markedly different from one another.
Considering that root beer can taste so distinct from brand to brand, it’s important to know which ones you can trust. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time sipping subpar beverages when you could be enjoying root beer glory. In this ranking, we’ve listed some brands of root beer in order from the worst of the bunch to the cream of the crop. While not every root beer brand made the cut to be on this list, we’ve made sure to include all of the most popular brands that you can find in restaurants and on grocery store shelves.
13. Mug Root Beer
The long and storied history of Mug Root Beer dates all the way back to the 1940s when it was known as Belfast Root Beer (via ThoughtCo). While this variety is one of the most ubiquitous root beer brands in the United States, the unfortunate truth is that this beverage is terrible. It’s not only the worst of all the most popular brands of root beer, but it’s also one of the worst soda brands of any flavor.
The problem that sinks Mug Root Beer is its inescapable sweetness. Root beer is supposed to be sweet, sure, but this stuff has gone way too far in that direction. Instead of a rich, complex flavor profile, this drink tastes like carbonated sugar water. When the root beer first hits your taste buds, the sweetness is immediately off-putting. Tragically, the aftertaste manages to be even sweeter somehow, further intensifying the unpleasant experience. Unless you have a truly battle-hardened sweet tooth, you’ll be ready to move on after only your first sip of this sugary disaster.
All in all, Mug Root Beer is totally unimaginative and is missing virtually everything that makes the best brands of root beer taste so scrumptious. Appropriately, the bulldog on the label that serves as this brand’s mascot is unimaginatively named Dog. That dog’s name is almost as one-note as the flavor of this root beer — but not quite.
The best thing about root beer made by Zevia is the fact that it contains no calories. If you’re looking to limit your caloric intake, these sugar-free drinks will help you do just that. Sadly, that’s about the one and only positive thing we can say regarding Zevia’s root beers. They have two options and both of them are really bad. The brand’s Creamy Root Beer tastes like it has been watered down, while the Ginger Root Beer has a harsh ginger-powered bite that will leave you regretting your decision to crack open a can of this stuff. Sure, ginger may be healthy, but it’s only enjoyable in the right quantities.
Even if you’re desperate for root beer that has zero sugar and zero calories, there are much better options on the market. Simply look for diet versions of the root beer brands at the top of this list and you’ll be much happier with your selection. Not only is Zevia’s sparkling water the worst of the worst, but their root beer flavors are also entirely forgettable, too. Don’t waste your time or money on this soft drink.
11. Frostie Root Beer
Aesthetically, there’s a lot to love about Frostie Root Beer. Not only does this beverage share a name with the legendary dessert from Wendy’s, but Santa Claus (or at least a Santa Claus-like figure) also makes an appearance on the label. In fact, he has a giant smile on his face even though he appears to be in the middle of a blizzard. Unfortunately, any jolliness you may feel while looking at that holiday scene will likely evaporate once you take a swig of this root beer.
Like the aforementioned Mug Root Beer, the first thing you’ll notice is an overbearing amount of sweetness. Instead of tasting like root beer, it tastes like nothing more than liquified candy. Once you survive the sweetness, you’re met with a minty aftertaste that has an odd toothpaste-like flavor. That flavor at least offers a little bit of a reprieve from the sweet onslaught, but it too will get old after a short while. Even if you’re buying root beer for a Christmastime get-together, ignore Saint Nick on the label and pick a better brand. Your party will surely be merrier for its absence.
10. Dad’s Root Beer
Dad’s Root Beer has an instantly recognizable label that features blue letters outlined in red and sitting on a yellow background. This beverage was created in the 1930s in Illinois and it didn’t take long for Dad’s to become one of the most popular root beer brands in the country. To this day, you can find this particular type of root beer from coast to coast and it’s even available internationally.
If you sample the aroma of this soft drink before you take a sip, you’ll be thoroughly impressed. It smells like the perfect combination of licorice and vanilla with just a hint of wintergreen. But once Dad’s Root Beer enters your mouth, you will likely be disappointed. That’s because, while this beverage smells amazing, its flavor is underwhelming. Within a few mouthfuls, your taste buds will be bored stiff. To make matters even worse, this brand of root beer also has an unsatisfactory amount of carbonation, lending it a certain flatness that causes it to be even more yawn-inducing.
9. Bundaberg Root Beer
Of all the root beer brands on this list, Bundaberg Root Beer is far and away the most unique of them all. First of all, this drink comes in what appears to be an old-fashioned medicine bottle. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though, because root beer was originally used as a medicine. At least you can pretend to be an old-timey apothecary as you drink this brand. Secondly, the bottle says you need to turn it upside down before you open it to ensure that the liquid is properly mixed.
Ultimately, the taste is unlike that of any other root beer you’ve ever tried. While it’s not hard to find Bundaberg Root Beer in America, it was actually created by a family-owned business in Australia back in 1960 (via Bundaberg). Compared to American root beer, this stuff has almost no sweetness and instead tastes more like a combination of licorice and cough syrup. The only sweetness to be found is in the molasses-infused aftertaste. If you think that every root beer you’ve ever tried is too sweet, try Bundaberg Root Beer. Otherwise, select a brand that sits a little higher in our ranking.
8. WBC Chicago Style Root Beer
While WBC Chicago Style Root Beer has its pluses, this beverage is not quite tasty enough to be worthy of a full-throated and hearty recommendation. On one hand, you’re very likely to enjoy its strong vanilla aroma, its creamy texture, and the fact that it’s made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. After a few sips, you may even think that you’ve found your new favorite brand of root beer.
Regrettably, that opinion can change over the course of your drink. The more sips you take, the less you will enjoy the experience. Firstly, the carbonation is almost overpowering. Even if you drink this root beer slowly, each sip will feel more and more like a bubbly, nose-invading chore. Second of all, there is a slightly bitter aftertaste with which you must contend. You might not pick up on it at first, sure, but eventually, the bitterness will become impossible to ignore. Bitterroot beer is nobody’s idea of a good time, at least not when they’re really looking for root beer. All told, WBC Chicago Style Root Beer is okay in small doses but you’ll probably think twice before reaching out for a second bottle.
7. Stewart’s Root Beer
Once upon a time, Stewart’s Root Beer was one of the most flavorful beverages of its kind. The brand can trace its roots back to 1924, the year when founder Frank Stewart decided to make the world’s finest root beer. After concocting a recipe to his liking, he opened Stewart’s Drive-In and his root beer was the star of the show.
While you can still find Stewart’s Drive-In restaurants in the United States if you look hard enough, these days it’s much easier to just buy bottles of Stewart’s Root Beer. That’s because it’s now owned by the Keurig Dr Pepper conglomerate. Sadly, all of this means that this beverage no longer has the same distinctive flavor it must have had all those decades ago.
Nowadays, the modern iteration of Stewart’s Root Beer just tastes like generic root beer that you can find at any supermarket across the United States. It’s not terrible but it’s not anything special, either. If you fondly remember Stewart’s Root Beer from your childhood, don’t succumb to nostalgia because it no longer tastes as you may remember it.
6. Sioux City Root Beer
The first soft drink on this list that deserves a hearty recommendation is Sioux City Root Beer. It has a deep, rich flavor and enough cane sugar to keep the party rocking. The aftertaste is a little bit lacking but otherwise, this is a high-quality root beer that’s worth a try.
That said, if you like Sioux City Root Beer, you will absolutely adore Sioux City Sarsaparilla. While this beverage has a tagline that claims it’s the "granddaddy" of every other root beer, it doesn’t taste much like traditional root beer. Rather, Sioux City Sarsaparilla tastes like it’s made of 60% cream soda and 40% root beer. That may sound strange but your taste buds will agree that it’s yummy.
Although sarsaparilla beverages have a history in the Americas dating back centuries, the FDA actually outlawed using real sarsaparilla in 1960 as the genuine stuff contains potentially carcinogenic compounds. Thankfully, there are now much safer alternatives that keep the flavor going strong without the potential poisoning risk. If you want to try the best sarsaparilla-flavored soft drink on the market today, get a bottle of Sioux City Sarsaparilla.
5. Virgil’s Handcrafted Root Beer
If you’re in the mood for a complex root beer that is sure to titillate your tongue, opt for Virgil’s Handcrafted Root Beer. This brand is supercharged with more than a dozen different roots, flavors, and spices including sweet birch, nutmeg, cinnamon, and anise. If you find that typical root beer is too bland, this is the stuff that you need to add some real spice to your life. As the name suggests, this beverage is also created in small batches to help ensure its quality.
While all root beer tastes better when it’s cold, you need to make sure that Virgil’s Handcrafted Root Beer is as cold as ice before you take a sip. If it’s room temperature, this beverage is can actually come off as somewhat gross, as all of the competing flavors will instantaneously overwhelm your senses. However, that’s not an issue as long as it’s served up cold.
Virgil’s also makes a Zero Sugar Root Beer that’s an excellent alternative for drinkers who want a sugar-free treat. It tastes very similar to the original, with the main difference being a somewhat more muted aftertaste.
4. IBC Root Beer
IBC Root Beer has been a favorite among root beer aficionados since it first hit the market in 1919. This brand used to be near the top spot on this list, but the truth is that it has slipped a little bit in recent years. The issue is that this soft drink has gotten sweeter and sweeter as time goes on. Today, it’s still one of the top five best root beer brands — but we have to admit that it’s not quite as awesome as it was back in the day.
The best characteristic of IBC Root Beer is its delicious combination of vanilla and licorice flavor. The added sweetness somewhat interferes with the vanilla and licorice but both flavors are still strong enough to cause you to grin from ear to ear.
If you’ve never taken a sip of IBC Root Beer, you should do so soon. If this root beer keeps getting sweeter, it could eventually be ruined as the more complex tastes get drowned in sweetness. But right now, it’s still really good — though few people know how much longer that will last.
3. Sprecher Root Beer
Sprecher Brewing Co. is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, craft brewery that was born in the 1980s. This brewery makes a variety of beers and sodas including the marvelous Sprecher Root Beer. Even if you have to travel a long distance to get your hands on this soft drink, it’s well worth the effort. All it will take is one swig for you to be a fan for the rest of your days on this earth.
Two aspects of Sprecher Root Beer will catch your attention. First, the creaminess of this beverage makes it a joy to drink and sets it well apart from the competition. Second, the subtle yet unmistakable flavor of honey takes this root beer to the next level. Once you drink a couple of bottles of this stuff, you’ll wonder why more root beer brands don’t add honey to their recipe.
Sprecher also makes a Maple Root Beer that exchanges the honey for maple syrup. It tastes good and has a distinct flavor that you may still enjoy, but it’s not quite as wonderful as the original honey version.
2. Barq’s Root Beer
What’s the best part about Barq’s Root Beer? The fact that Barq’s has bite, of course! That "bite" comes in many forms, but primarily, it’s a reference to the sharp yet clean aftertaste that causes a jolt of happiness in your mouth. This root beer also has a smidgen of black licorice flavor, which adds an indisputable bite to its flavor profile. Additionally, this beverage has the optimal amount of carbonation. It’s strong enough to keep things exciting, yet loving and gentle enough to make sure you continue to have fun.
Barq’s Root Beer is also famous for being one of the few mass-produced root beers to have caffeine in the mix. If you need an extra amount of pep in your step and want to feel energized, this delicious brand of root beer is up to the task.
While this brand didn’t quite come in first place in this ranking, it was really close. All told, you can’t go wrong with either of the top two choices.
1. A&W Root Beer
When you want to drink the best root beer money can buy, A&W Root Beer is what you should purchase. Its smooth flavor promises to make it a hit for people of all ages. It’s complex enough to satisfy a root beer connoisseur, yet it’s serene and velvety enough for even kids to enjoy it just as much.
The legend of A&W Root Beer began when a man named Roy Allen sold root beer at a stand in California in 1919. A few years later, Frank Wright was brought on board and the pair started opening multiple root beer places in the state. Taking a cue from their initials, Allen and Wright named their chain A&W and the rest is history. More than a hundred years later, this root beer is still as beloved as it was when it first caught on.
No matter how you drink A&W Root Beer, you can’t go wrong. If you drink it out of a can, you’ll love it. If you go to an A&W Restaurant and drink it out of a frosty mug, you’ll love it. If you have a root beer float for dessert, nothing tastes as great as mixing the ice cream with A&W Root Beer. This beverage is a big hit in any situation and for practically any crowd.