Root beer is traditionally a sweet non alcoholic soft drink that many kids and adults love. However, this isn’t the only approach. You can find alcoholic root beer as well, which also goes by the name hard root beer – and is exactly what you’d expect it to be.
Traditional root beer uses sarsaparilla as the main ingredient for flavor, plus a variety of other herbs, spices, and roots. The exact ingredients and taste of root beer have evolved over time, leading to the treat we love today. Most alcoholic root beers aim to keep this flavor profile intact, although there’s always room for some experimenting.
Modern root beers often cut corners and are made using artificial flavors and colors, rather than natural ingredients. Still, there are some high-quality companies and products out there too.
Alcoholic root beer is actually a good choice here, as many companies focus on using actual roots and herbs, rather than artificial ingredients. This is particularly true for the brands that brew their root beer and bottle it themselves.
How Is Alcoholic Root Beer Made?
There are two different ways to make alcoholic root beer. The first is common among companies producing and selling root beer to customers, while the second is an easy option for making alcoholic root beer at home.
In many ways, this version of root beer is simply an unusual type of beer. It’s basically flavored beer that’s been brewed using plant roots rather than grains like wheat.
The exact ingredients vary depending on the company making the root beer, but you’re often looking at ingredients like sarsaparilla, vanilla, anise, and cinnamon.
Fermented root beer doesn’t rely on traditional beer ingredients at all (no hops, no malt). It just focuses on that combination of herbs, spices, and roots. As a result, the drink doesn’t taste like regular beer at all.
In fact, fermented root beer tries to get as close as possible to the flavor of traditional root beer. Companies carefully choose their ingredients to get this outcome. Some use additives as well.
Some steps of the production process vary from company to company. Companies like Not Your Father’s Root Beer also have proprietary aspects to their process, in the hopes that doing so gives them a competitive edge.
Still, regardless of the company, we’re talking about the same basic steps as beer brewing, just with different ingredients. This means there should be the classic mash, separation, boiling, and fermentation steps.
The other approach is to simply take root beer and add alcohol to it. Vodka is the logical choice here, as the spirit is flavorless and won’t mess with your root beer much at all.
Some people take this a step further and use vanilla vodka. This is particularly good if you’re making a root beer float, as the flavors of the vodka will perfectly complement the ice cream.
However, you might look for a spirit that complements the flavor of root beer instead, like bourbon or spiced rum.
Think of spiked root beer like a redneck version of real hard root beer. It still tastes good and is fine when you’re stuck, but won’t ever give you the complexity found in true fermented root beer.
While you can make hard root beer at home, many people choose to buy it instead. Why not? There’s a surprising array of brands out there now, some of which have delicious entries.
That said, the industry seems to be constantly changing. Many of the root beers that are well-reviewed in other lists (or, at least moderately well-reviewed) are no longer in production. It seems that alcoholic root beer doesn’t sell as well as some companies think it should.
Not Your Father’s Root Beer
Not Your Father’s Root Beer is easily the most famous hard root beer on the market. That’s not surprising, as they basically kickstarted the entire alcoholic root beer movement.
Yet, Not Your Father’s Root Beer has been through its share of ups and downs. The company initially sold its brews through restaurants and pubs, with three versions on offer – 19.5%, 10.7%, and 5.9% ABV.
In an effort to fight recent decreases in popularity, Not Your Father’s Root Beer has gone through a considerable rebranding effort – complete with a new marketing strategy. It now targets young consumers, particularly women.
The current version has bright minimalist labeling, with an ABV of 5.9%. The combination of ABV and sweetness in the root beer makes it easy to enjoy. There’s now also a Not Your Father’s Lemonade at 5%.
Mission Hard Root Beer
Mission Hard Root Beer kicks things up a notch, with an impressive ABV of 7.5%. It garners excellent reviews too, especially as it isn’t as overwhelmingly sweet as some other root beers, yet still retains the distinctive
The alcohol content is more noticeable in Mission Hard Root Beer than in most other products. Some people notice the alcoholic hit first and find it difficult to taste the root beer flavor. Others find that the balance is perfect, where the alcohol hit nicely underscores the root beer.
Your experience will be influenced by what you normally drink and how much alcohol you prefer. How you’re using the root beer will matter too. For example, this one is exceptional in a root beer float, but isn’t as nice consumed on its own.
This root beer is getting increasingly hard to find, which may mean that it has been discontinued or is being produced in smaller batches. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for many alcoholic root beer brands.
Sprecher Hard Root Beer
Sprecher is most well-known for their regular root beer, which uses a heat-based brewing process that infuses plenty of flavor into their soda (making it tastier than many other root beers). Sprecher Hard Root Beer is similar in many ways, except that it also has a 5% ABV.
It’s nice to see a company that focuses on regular root beer and the hard variety. This approach should lead to a much better root beer.
Reviews suggest that the root beer holds onto all the flavors you’d expect, while also offering noticeable heat from the alcohol. The root beer isn’t as sweet as you might expect, but this can work well, as some hard root beers are cloyingly sweet.
Here’s another cool thing – the root beer is fermented in bourbon barrels. This approach provides an interesting richness to the flavor profile and makes the root beer much more powerful.
Jed’s Hard Root Beer
Jed’s Hard Root Beer is a decent expression, although it can be difficult to find. You’re in luck if you do find it, though, as this is a decent expression with a fairly mellow combination of spices, plus some interesting licorice flavor tones.
The ABV this time is 5.9%. That’s fairly similar to other products and gives you a decent alcoholic hit without being too overwhelming.
There’s a decent amount of sweetness too, as there should be (we are talking about root beer, after all). Still, this sweetness isn’t overpowering. There’s a nice balance to the drink instead that makes it go down smoothly.
A few interesting root beers haven’t made this list because they’re no longer in production. Forbidden Root is one of these. The company focuses on botanical beers, so they have plenty of expertise in creating amazing botanical flavor profiles.
Their hard root beer came in at 4.2% and was more complex and nuanced than many other brands. There was some sweetness on the palate, but much less than you might expect
A second to mention is Coney Island. While this once-popular root beer still features on many lists, it was discontinued in 2018. The decision was part of Coney Island Brewing Company’s move to focus more heavily on their craft beers.
This root beer had an ABV of 5.8%, yet the alcohol content was difficult to notice under the intense sweetness of the drink. This flavor profile really was reminiscent of the sweet childhood root beer that many of us loved.
What Does Alcoholic Root Beer Taste Like?
Alcoholic root beer tends to have a similar flavor to regular root beer. Manufacturers often use a combination of herbs and roots to get as close to the authentic flavor as possible.
However, the alcohol in the root beer does notably change the flavor profile, giving it an edge you don’t normally find. This typically makes the root beer taste less sugary.
Many products are more carbonated than regular root beer, which changes the experience as well. You may also notice different aspects to the flavor profile, including more complex herbs and spices. The finished drink still largely tastes like traditional root beer, but the flavor profile is never exactly the same.
Crucially – despite the marketing, alcoholic root beer doesn’t taste like beer at all. It’s an entirely different drink. If you try it expecting some type of sweet spiced ale, you’re going to be disappointed.