My love of root beer has been heretofore entirely private, but I realized that a proper tasting, of some 30-odd beers, called for a public panel, in this case 10 of my most root-beer-mad colleagues, whom I asked to help choose a favorite. Here are our top five picks.
1. IBC From its humble plain brown bottle to its root-beer-candy nose, this root beer is a classic through and through. It's sweet but not too sweet, with a nice, foamy head. Our only complaint is that although it's a national brand, IBC can be hard to find.
2. Fitz's Made in St. Louis, this regional contender comes with an all-American red-white-and-blue label around its brown bottle. A fairly light root beer, it's awfully likable, in an open and sunny sort of Midwestern way, with a nice zing to the finish.
3. Stewart's Medium-bodied, with an attractive mild flavor that one taster likened to A&W (see below), "but not as sweet." Another taster asserted that it is "the best of the big brands" and that it has "a great bite to its finish that really sits on your tongue."
4. A&W Our managing editor's favorite root beer. She and a few other tasters found only perfection here, saying it embodies all the qualities of a great root beer. However, a couple of tasters insisted it is too sweet and even a tad chemical-tasting. (Could it be because A&W, unlike the other four sodas here, comes in a can, not a bottle?)
5. Pirate's Keg In a brown bottle adorned with a raffishly colorful label, this rather sweet root beer has a pleasant touch of wintergreen in the finish. One taster found it has the best nose of all and was pleased that its aromas are "more spicy than sweet."
Buying the beers Beveragesdirect.com is a great source for hard-to-find and regional root beers, although it doesn't carry IBC. If you want to buy our number one root beer, try calling IBC at 800-696-5891; the company will give you the names of retailers in your area.