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May 1, 2012 06:26 PM

Root Beer -- housemade or good bottle selection??

I'm organizing a root beer tasting, and would appreciate your ideas on which stores have a good bottle selection (North Bay preferred) or where all over the Bay Area, a restaurant or brewery makes good house-brewed root beer. Happy to drive to chase down a good product.

I prefer spicy, complex brews, but all suggestions are welcome, including those for birch beer, sarsaparilla, etc.

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  1. I'd suggest getting in touch with the various branches of Powell's Sweet Shoppe. The original, flagship store in Windsor used to have a soda department with dozens of root beers. It has since scaled back, but I've not been in recently to say how much. Here's the page on the corporate website with locations, linking to each store's own site.

    And I'll put in a word for Sparky's root beer, made in Monterey County. Almost too spicy and complex, I prefer it with lots of ice or better yet, in an ice cream float, to dilute its power.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Will do. The Windsor shoppe is on my radar. Thanks, Melanie.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I haven't posted forever! been too busy working... but I have to chime in and say that I also love Sparky's. It is very strong and I can't drink a lot of it at once, but it is amazing. Bevmo carries it now I believe.

        Also, as much as I want to love Devil's Canyon's root beer (they are very local), it is just too sweet and not complex enough... I enjoy there beer however.

        1. re: lrealml

          Happy to see a post from you again, welcome back!

          Today I was parked near the Healdsburg location of Powell's Sweet Shoppe (smaller than Windsor) and popped in to see what might be in the soda case. Found IBC, Rat Bastard, Frostie, Polar Classics, and Sioux City. There may be more but the staff were busy and I couldn't ask.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Thanks! The Windsor store was a bust...

            We've got a pretty good list assembled.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              There's the IBC: red bottle cap and non-paper labeled bottle.

        1. re: wolfe

          Great topic. You'll find a great variety in terms of sweetener (HFCS, sugar, honey, molasses), and presence of vanilla, wintergreen oil, or anise.

          I'd caution against BevMo--- I did a root beer tasting of their entire selection a few years back, and several of them were stored improperly and interacted with the metal caps. As a general rule, stick to places in which the root beer is refrigerated.

          The only house root beer I had in recent memory was at Ice cream bar in Cole Valley last night. They don't package to go though.

          1. re: wolfe

            Bevmo had quite a few selections. Thank you!

            1. re: maria lorraine

              ETA Bevmo in San Rafael was the mother lode.

              Also, surprising, Friedman Brothers!! Pick up some root beer with your drywall.

          2. +1 BevMo carries a lot of RB. They carry KEGS of root beer on order and I think a sampler. Sprecher and Berghoff are interesting but I'd just buy anything there.

            I always liked Hires which of course you can't get. I liked it because it had a dry finish and works great with a root beer float. Too sweet or a wet finish gets lost with ice cream. Too wet a finish and not so good as cold bev. In the same range as Hires but not spicy or complex, I like IBC and Teddy's, both available at Lucky's supermarket and probably at BevMo.

            You might try Brewcraft the beer place on Clement, I'm positive they sell a RB kit and I'm sure they can tell you how to prep/doctor it towards your taste. It would be a great comparo. Actually I should check that out. If they can tell me how to produce a dry finish I'd buy it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              Indeed Brewcraft does sell Root Beer extract (as well as Ginger Beer). Have tried them both, but moved on to experimenting on my own to get the taste I want. Here's a book I got a brewcraft for ideas.


              1. re: leefc

                We used to make root beer when I was a kid living in the Midwest. I'd love to make it next round. I've heard Zatarain's extract is great.

                Bevmo sounds like a good resource. I'll check it out.

                If any other gourmet grocery stores with good selections come to mind, let me know.

                So far, we have Frostop (current favorite), Rat Bastard (rated pretty highly), Stewarts,
                Sioux City and a few others. I'll probably get around ten or so bottles -- Abita, Weinhard,
                Virgils, and then supplement with the fresh brews.

            2. I don't know much about rootbeer except that I often find bottled ones too sweet but FWIW I really enjoyed the housemade rootbeer at Magnolia I tried a couple of weeks ago. The brewer would not share the exact ingredients but it tasted quite complex to me. Perhaps you could get a couple of litres to go?

              4 Replies
              1. re: grayelf

                I'd like to check out Magnolia's. I have a Cabernet tasting on Monday in SF, maybe I'll roll by and try the RB at Magnolia's. Thanks for the tip.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I hope you like it. Be warned though that if you order a full glass it comes in a pint. I couldn't finish it despite wanting to :-). The other thing I really liked about it was that it wasn't overly carbonated.

                  1. re: grayelf

                    Perhaps your root beer at Magnolia was different than mine. This one was thin, not much to it. But we journeyed on to Kezar, just a few blocks away and had the Devi's Canyon.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      So sad! But I surmise that the brew was indeed different. The guy we spoke to said he made the batch I was drinking and he preferred his rb less sweet and made it so. I guess they brew it up frequently and different people are in charge of it on any given day.

              2. Phil's Sliders downtown Berkeley makes root beer to order but on my visit the mix wasn't right. About those Bevmo root beers it's probably best to only buy the ones made with cane sugar as I believe they have the longest bottle life.

                7 Replies
                1. re: wolfe

                  Root beer to order is probably just made from root beer extract.

                  1. re: sugartoof

                    Then again maybe not..
                    Perhaps Lindsay makes it from scratch.

                    1. re: wolfe


                      You just linked to a recipe for an extract.

                      If you made a ginger syrup, and added seltzer it would be a different process than if you made a ginger ale. Same with Root Beer.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        I dare say that many of the commercially bottled root beers are probably made the same way. I'm sure you know better and can provide examples of the companies that actually ferment their product.

                        1. re: wolfe

                          I always thought root beers were by definition non alchoholic. Wouldn't that mean no fermentation?

                          Certainly some sodas were/are made from syrups. I have seen old bottles of root beer and cola syrups.

                          All that said, Fentiman's might make a slightly alcoholic version. They do make a nice cola with minor alcoholic content.

                          1. re: chocolatetartguy

                            "A WORD ABOUT THE ALCOHOL IN HOME MADE ROOT BEER (OR GINGER ALE ): I have received numerous inquiries about whether there might be alcohol in this home made soft drink. The answer is yes, but... We have tested in our lab the alcoholic content which results from the fermentation of this root beer and found it to be between 0.35 and 0.5 %."

                  2. re: wolfe

                    Phil's has a heavy star anise flavor. Not sure I've tasted that in a root beer before. They have other house syrups as well such as ginger. I wasn't too keen on the carbonation level.