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A & W Root Beer

The last time I had A & W root beer at their drive-in was as a kid ... at that time there were still car hops, a tray was attached to your window that held huge frosty mugs.

I've had a can here and there over the years, but that is the equivalent of bottled Starbucks frappucino ... it isn't the same.

So, I was passing by an A & W, the thirst was upon me and I drove up and placed my order.

Now I knew there would be no glass mug and my expectations were it wouldn't be close to what it was those many years ago. However, I was expecting better than canned and pleasant.

First I thought they gave me diet A & W, it had that artifical taste with the unpleasant aftertaste of fake sweeteners. On top of it, it was weak and watery.

I don't recall EVER taking a fast food item back ... we aren't talking pricy fine wine here ... I usually just toss and take the loss of a buck or two.

However, I was so offended by this drink that I took it back ... first to check if it was a mistaken diet version and second to alert them if they had a dispensing machine having problems.

They were nice as can be. Confrimed it was regular and not diet, tossed my cup and put a bit in another cup to sip and check ... yep, that was what A & W was meant to taste like. They substituted a Pepsi for me because I really couldn't drink that even if it hadn't been tossed.

The Pepsi was on the weak side too, so perhaps it is just the way this A&W mixes its soda.

So the question is ... has A&W deteriorated that much ... or did I just stop at a bad A&W?

Is there still frosty goodness out there or has it went the way of car hops?

How's the rest of the food?

Here's a post from a few months back that seems positive and gives me hope there are better A & W's out there.

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  1. Frosted mug as a youth and brought home many a quart to savor over the years. It has been about five since I had a fresh and frosty at the orange window but it was as I remembered.

    My understanding was in the old days the real stuff at the hut did not have preservatives because they told us we nneded to drink within two days. The cans had no such time restrictions.

    It is a shame that you did not enjoy.

    Could it be like so many other items from our youth that it does taste the same, but our memories remember it better. I used to loved baked macaroni with Velveeta as a kid but i tried as an adult and we tested the disposal that night.

    5 Replies
    1. re: jfood

      No it wasn't a memory thing. This was undrinkable. It wasn't even good by major soft drink standards and had no root beer taste. Seriously, if someone gave me this in a blind tasting, i would have guessed watered down diet cola ... an off brand.

      1. re: rworange

        Only one word for that RW, Blech!!

        1. re: rworange

          I had the same experience. Decades ago my cousins and I used to go to A&W in Sacramento - they didn't have them for some reason in the Bay Area. Recently one opened here on Oahu.... I was SO disappointed when I tried it. Watered down, no bite, just sort of an "off" sweet taste. Like you I wondered if it had been "contaminated" by the diet variety.

          1. re: rworange

            There might have been something wrong with the mixture in the fountain.

            We have an A&W in the town south of us (such places are only open during warm weather although the Sonic in Ft. Dodge is open year-round, including carhops bringing your food out), and we went there for a root beer float awhile back. Big frosty glass and it was so full it spilled when I stuck the spoon in it. Yummy.

            1. re: revsharkie

              No. The person working there poured herself a bit from the fountain and said that was how it was supposed to taste. That was my first question ... if there might be a problem.

        2. You can still get it in the frosted mug at actual restaurants, which is a nice touch if you can find it! Apparently they still hand-dip the onion rings too, but I don't like onion rings so I can't vouch for them.

          I'm not a fast food burger person, but I indulge in and enjoy a mozza or teen burger once a year or less. And I like their diet rootbeer. Especially in float formation!

          That said, last year in BC we found A&W was very common so we ate there twice in a week, that cured me of my cravings for a while.

          1. I was a fry cook in one in 1966. That cured me. The only good thing was that Janet Perez worked there too.

            1. A&W are quite common in Toronto. At the stand-alone locations they still have the frosted mugs. I love their onion rings. I have been to various locations in Toronto and have never had bad root beer there. And they still do not put any ice in their drinks which is great.

              1 Reply
              1. re: callitasicit

                I didn't even see your name before I thought that it might be you. What do you eat and enjoy here? And I do mean that as an honest question. What? Anything? Have you had no decent meal here ever since coming from Boston? (It was Boston, right?)

                I drink rootbeer infrequently, but Barque's is sharp, fresh, but it's not the same as A&W of old. Best available locally, to my mind. And I do agree with rworange.... the rootbeer ain't what it once was.

              2. I stopped at the original A & W location (Lodi, CA) over the weekend and had a root beer float, and it was as wonderful as I remember they always used to be. Frosted mug, hand-scooped ice cream, and a new generation of "Janet Perez", too!

                I don't know if this particular location is part of the Yum Foods group or not...since it's the original location, it may have been excluded from the buyout. (They don't sell chicken or tacos there.) Sadly, the only remaining member of the Burger Family is 'Papa Burger'. Mama, Teen, and Baby are history.

                1. Our local A&W is co branded with a LJS, and as you can imagine, there are some scents that mingle...oddly. However, the root beer is never a complaint. It's draught in the dining area, and they hand you a frosted mug.

                  1. Not had their rootbeer, but stop by the local A&W when the mood hits for:
                    -- coney dog or corn dog
                    -- fried onion rings

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Sharuf

                      There coney dogs are the best. I went by one in hanford Ca. on thursday but it wasn`t
                      open yet. I use to go to the one out off the 99 freeway at avenue 384, just south of
                      Kingsburg. It`s closed now, But I made it so My 3 sons can tell stories about that
                      place. I use to buy rootbeer by the gallon jugs and take it home to make our own
                      rootbeer floats. I bought everyone a glass mug, and my mother had hers at 94 yrs
                      old. that was her favorite. we still have fond memories from that little stand. they
                      had a fantastic bussines there because the young people who ran that place kept
                      it clean, and a alot of people from the freeway would stop there.

                    2. My experiences with A&W recently have been very good. I think that all the ones I've been to have frosted glass mugs and it has always been a good product. Certainly better than anything I'd get via tap at any other fast food restaurant. They've been doing lots of those combo stores with LJS and others recently. Maybe a part of YUM brands? anyway, perhaps there's something about these new stores that they've changed. Actually, that's a certainty probably.

                      1. I've eaten at several in the last few years,California,Co,W.V.,and here in Fl, none of'm great (as i remember when i was a kid),and the root beer is hit ,and miss

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jword2001

                          Just had a burger(big poppa) from local A&W...what a surprise, very good hot fresh,and messy!, the fries...well sad at best, but I'll for sure go back for a burger, as for the fries, well there is a mickey d's across the street : ).

                        2. rw, I had a similar experience at the A&W near my apt. I too remember the delicious frostiness of the good ol' days. It can't have been more than a decade since I went in there for a coney dog and a RBF in a mug. But this last time (maybe a year ago), the food and RB both were absolutely wretched. Oh, and the service was bad, too. This was at one of the combo stores that kindofabigdeal mentions (KFC is the other).

                          1. A friend of mine worked at the ad agency that had the A&W account in the mid-'90s, when the company was attempting to rebuild itself. She told me at the time that the company's biggest problem was that they had too many franchisees who weren't following proper company protocol. Foremost, A&W root beer is brewed to be served without ice in a frosted glass mug. (As recently as 2002, when I left Albuquerque, the A&W there used frosted glass mugs, but I haven't eaten at an A&W since.) So if there were no frosted glass mugs, then you were at a bad franchise.

                            1. Each spring I head out to the Midwest to chase storms and for two weeks am at the mercy of the group for dining choices (3 each Pizza Hut and Applebees this year...shudders), but one afternoon this year we were waiting for things to develop somehere probably in Texas and pulled over for a snack at A&W. Not only was the RBF as wonderful as it should be, and in a frosted mug, but they also had wifi so we could all check up on our electronic lives. Last year we made our Canadian friend George try the 72oz steak at the Big Texan in Amarillo. Hee hee. (He got through 41...pretty good!).

                              1. From what I understand, glass mugs aren't used in many A&W restaurants because of a high theft rate. If one still serves a chilled mug...might be a low tourist/crime area. As for the drink itself...the chilled glass mug reduces the sweetness and "candy" flavors to reasonable...without the chilled glass mug, it's bad.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ML8000

                                  I've definitely had a glass mug in the last two years at an A&W

                                2. In my town (Detroit area) we have an actual A&W drive in with car hops and frosty mugs. The frosty mug root beer is still all that, as well as the chili dogs. The fries are, as another poster noted, meh. I don't bother with root beer to go in a cardboard cup, it's just not the same.

                                  Saturday nights they host a classic car "cruise" and it's a trip to be sitting in the drive in with the tray on the window, looking at a bunch of old cars (and old guys).

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: coney with everything

                                    Our A&W/LJS has glass mugs and serve yourself rootbeer. I drink a mug while standing there and refill for my meal!

                                    1. Last time I went to A&W was last November in Okinawa (there's a surprising amount of branches there), where I had a root beer float in a frosted mug, with hand-scooped ice cream and decent root beer.

                                      However, it looked like they no longer served the tonkatsu burger, so beloved by my father.

                                      1. Well sadly the food is atrocious . Victoria BC has a few. I hadn't been in a long time so I thought what the heck. I know better now.The Papa Burger is now a fright, greasy patties with mayo, a hint of ketchup and mustard. A pickle slice the size of a dime and 2 thin rings of onion. Soaking in a foil bag of grease . Ugh. Not worth a buck let alone $4 !! The onion rings are nothing more than a bag of crumbs , err salt , and 4 or 5 deep fried onions.Again, $4 !! WTF?! Just pathetic. Is this place for real? Served by some snot nosed cheese eating kid fresh outta high school with disdain for his occupation.Hey that's where your train of life let you out -deal with it. No cheese on my burger , no ketchup for my onion rings in the bag , not even a blasted napkin. No wonder the "Now Hiring' sign out front has become a permanent fixture. Everything a fast food joint shouldn't be. Lousy service , lousy food and expensive.Like a bad stain on a nice rug -they just won't go away . C'mon A & W , just give up the ghost so no more unsuspecting victims craving a reasonable burger don't get taken for $10.

                                        1. Wow, I never realized it was hit and miss for this joint in the States. In Edmonton, every location has frosted mugs if you eat in. The rootbeer tastes as good as I rememeber as a kid. It's still DH's favorite fast food burger (and we have fatburger here) too.

                                          Funny though, I tried the onion rings for the first time in 10 years (this past Dec) and they were so salty. I could barely get them down. I used to love them but, since axing a lot of processed food out of my diet, its crazy how something I used to love can taste like pure salt now.

                                          1. There's a REAL A&W, stand alone not co-branded, in Tulare,CA. on "J" Street. They have the glass mugs, and the last time I stopped there I thought the taste was the same as back in the '60s.

                                            1. A&W are the only fast food joint that i really like their burgers..fresh buns and toppings and the burgers really look like the ads..

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. Between 1982 and 1986 my parent operated an A&W in a small rural logging town. At that time, I believe we were the ONLY fast food restaurant in town. I was a young teen at the time and I fondly remember stopping off after school for a burger or coney dog. The root beer was made fresh every day from cartons of rootbeer concentrate (secret formula), sugar, and water. It would sometimes be my task to make the root beer in the two huge metal bins in the back of the store.

                                                It's been over 20 years since I've eaten at that A&W, but there's one downtown where I live now (Eugene, OR) and I've stopped in there a few times for a frosty mug and it tastes EXACTLY how I remember it. Maybe you just got a bad A&W?

                                                1. I have had similar experiences at the A&W in our town and my wife and I have noticed that the diet and regular come out of the same spigot even though they have different handles on the "barrel." We assume that causes some flavor contamination if people have ordered diet ahead of your regular. So now if we stop at an A&W we look at their root beer setup before we order because we don't want the contaminated stuff. But we may just be crazy.

                                                  1. (was googling for A&W and came across this thread...)

                                                    I recently realized that the A&W/KFC on Bascom Ave. in San Jose has a dedicated tap for the root beer (not sure if that tap is shared with the diet stuff, but honestly I don't think that matters much). I've had a couple frosted mugs of the stuff (with NO ICE of course 8^) ) and it was very close to what I vaguely remember having at a gen-u-whine drive up joint in Middletown, OH as a kid in the early 60s, complete with the window tray thing. In other words - heaven in a glass.

                                                    The only thing that I remember differently is that they'd serve it so cold in Ohio that the foam would freeze - but that was a long time ago and perhaps my memory has modified the facts. At any rate, I give this particular A&W a thumbs up for the root beer. The food is more average, but OK. I ordered a dog with cheese and they used some kind of "comes out of a nozzle" Cheese Product - nnnnnnk. Won't be doing that again.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: blave

                                                      Is the A&W in Mountain View still open?

                                                    2. I dunno, I have an EXTREME fondness for this stuff....frosted mug or not. I have fond memories of A&W as a child (complete with the umm..."free" mugs we had in our cupboards).

                                                      I of late, really like the diet stuff, just because i am not fond of regular soft drinks (too sweet for my tastes), and if im' near an A&W i have to stop for one. I will mention that i am a fan of fountain drinks for some reason, in general. But i like that theirs has no ice (in Canada anyway), so at least you get what you are paying for.

                                                      As for the food... I love the onion rings , although they're not as spicey as a few years back. The veggie burger aint half bad either !! I like the milkshake but hey, according to the nutritional information, you have to save up a week's calories to have one :)

                                                      1. We have an A&W down the street (attached to a KFC) and if you go inside you get the frosty mug with the same rootbeer I remember when there were carhops. Add some soft ice cream for a rootbeer float, and it's heaven. We manage to go there often since it's been hot just for the frosty mug and that great taste.

                                                        1. One more thing. At our A&W, if you are eating inside thus getting the frosty mug, they use root beer from their end of the counter. Not from the spigots where you help yourself. Don't know if that makes a difference, but the taste is still as I remember. And as someone said, the burgers are great!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: katroberts

                                                            Apparently unmentioned previously in this thread is, IMO, the best single item on the A&W menu, which is the cheese curds. Yes they're breaded with a mixture of dried spices and frozen and dropped in the fryer and all that, but they're still great (you can skip the little packet of "marinara sauce" that comes with them however). Specifically, they are superior to the cheese curds at Culver's, which is otherwise one of my fav chains and which is celebrated for its cheese curds.