I have recently embarked on a new gourmet root beer quest, to catalog every ingredient that has been placed in gourmet root beer. The ingredients will come directly from the bottles until I get to the bottom of every single last “natural flavor” and additive. I’ll be categorizing them as Roots, Other Flavorings, Spices, Sweeteners, or Additives. Since a large focus on this will be to root (pun intended) out the different roots and ingredients, I have registered rootbeerroot.com to specially link to the page. I hope someday that this will become the world’s most complete list of root beer ingredients. It’s in its infancy right now, but I’ll be updating it regularly with the rest of the site.
So as of the time of this writing, the top three rated root beers in my 13+ years of reviewing and running the site are: Iron Horse Root Beer, Hank’s Root Beer, So Duh! Rockin’ Root Beer. Hank’s was the first of those three that I tried. It was actually the 9th gourmet root beer I ever tried back in early 1998. The company was newly formed and when they heard I wanted to mail order some for my new website, they sent me a free case. Honestly, at the time I didn’t even have the website, but I was in the process of building it, and Hank’s was the impetus for getting it done and up. I loved it immensely. It was much better than Henry Wienhard’s in everything but the Head. I wanted to give it a 5, but I thought it was premature to give out a 5, plus it almost seemed like I was doing that because of the free sample, so I gave it a 4.5.
About a year and a half later I tried Iron Horse. I literally got weak in the knees on the first sip (I actually taste tested it standing). The Head was the first to overflow the glass. I loved it and determined it would be the first 5. I got a case for every birthday and Christmas after that, often coupled with a case of Hank’s. Drinking them side by side. I never had my doubts. Then I went on a mission and suffered a great root beer drought. They don’t sell root beer in Madagascar. After two years and a month, I finally returned. My parents had a case of Henry’s, Iron Horse, and Hank’s waiting for me, plus a case of a new variety to review. I didn’t touch the new variety for a month so I could become accustomed again to delicious root beer. I noticed something after about half a case of each, the Iron Horse didn’t seem to be as good. The other root beers seemed about the same, but the Iron Horse didn’t do it for me anymore. I got one more case for Christmas with a case of Hank’s and noticed the same thing. I didn’t go back and compare ingredients with my original bottle though and I didn’t think to review it again, and so I just stopped getting it. And I hadn’t had one since 2004. I kept having Hank’s every birthday and Christmas, but eventually my parents stopped that tradition as well and I hadn’t had one since about 2007.
Then a few months ago I tried So Duh! Rockin’ Root Beer. Wow, was I amazed. I wanted to give it a 5 but I didn’t know if it was better than my beloved Hank’s, but I couldn’t find any local, so I gave into my doubts and left it 4.5. A few months later and I found a store that sells both Hank’s and Iron Horse, so I figured it was time to have a show down. To settle the score, to set things straight, to determine what root beer really is the best I’ve had so far.
The showdown consisted of binary comparisons. Two frosty mugs, two bottles of different root beers, water and saltines to clean the pallet when switching between the two. I started at the bottom. So Duh! vs. Hank’s. After pouring I noticed that Hank’s has a good Head, So Duh! has an excellent Head. I sipped the Hank’s first. Sweet mother of root beer! I had forgotten how good that was. I mean it’s got it all. How root beer should taste. Sweet, rooty, creamy, spicy. Ah! Then So Duh! Mmm. Love that honey and those spices. Creamy elixir of deliciousness. But, as I kept drinking back and forth. So Duh! just couldn’t hold up. I mean. It is amazing, but, Hank’s is better on everything but the Head, but the Hank’s Head is plenty sufficient for the most adamant connoisseur. I guess my original review placement of So Duh! was correct.
Next round, Iron Horse vs. Hank’s. I poured the Iron Horse. What happened to that amazing Head from days of yore? It wasn’t bad, medium height, decent froth, but not even as good as Hank’s. The taste, sweet caramelized corn syrup with vanilla, herbs, and spices. Good amount of spices, but, nowhere near the same quality of the Hank’s, or even the So Duh! Still good. Still pleasurable. Still a Seal of Approval, but I’d say more of a low 4 and not the 5 I had originally given it. So then, the king has been DETHRONED! In a coup of coups, Hank’s is now the best and So Duh! is up to number two. So then that begs the question. Shouldn’t Hank’s be a 5, the heavenly Elixir of the Gods? I think so. I’ve tried a lot of root beers, and nothing’s topped it except that original Iron Horse. I think the novelty of a free sample has worn off as well. So Hank’s, you have been exalted! Now, So Duh!, (I really hate the exclamation point for making odd punctuation as I write by the way), my original gut feeling was to give you a 5, but I didn’t do it partially on grounds of fearing you not being better than Hank’s. Well, now Hank’s is a 5. I almost think So Duh! should barely squeak in as well, but the core flavor is still just a little too off. It’s a toss up. I really feel it could go either way, and every day and bottle of So Duh! I drink I seem to change my mind, it’s so down to the wire, and maybe that should tell me, that you really shouldn’t be a 5. So Duh! you remain the same! Iron Horse, what happened? I need to go back to my parents house, dig out the sealed wooden crate, find the original bottle I saved, and see if you changed recipes like Tommyknocker. You’re more like a low 4 now, so you have been abased! But let’s be honest, having a Seal of Approval is still top notch, just not the top of the top.
And before anyone calls blaspheme, or says I’m being inconsistent, my policy has always been that root beers can fall if they change their recipe, or I would reevaluate with the chance to rise at a bottlers request. Check the Wayback Machine if you don’t believe me. I don’t take lightly my top ten root beers, so rest assured that much soul searching and root beer drinking is behind this major decision. So there you have it. I think now that all is right in the root beer world.
The new website layout officially launches! It’s not perfect but few things are. The new site will be updated regularly with blog posts and other additions. There are some new recipes, a more detailed root beer history, and so much more. Also I just posted my 99th review! So sing 99 Bottles of Root Beer on the Wall for each review so far. To celebrate I am having a wonderful Gourmetrootbeer.com launch party with some quality Seal of Approval Brews, a root beer cake, and A&W floats. It is a good day to be a root beer lover.