Every summer when we go camping in the Berkshires (see Savoy 99), we frequent a local soda brewery called Squeeze. One of our favorite Squeeze flavors is their root beer and we often go out of our way to buy some for the week and some to bring home. When camping, Squeeze root beer is always one of our favorites, but we were curious whether it was worth the trip to western Massachusetts.
Another family favorite is Virgil's root beer, a local microbrew. I first tasted Virgil's when I was given a four-pack as a gift from David Platt for talking to his COM class at Harvard. Since then, we have gone out of our way to buy additional four packs of Virgil's despite the expensive price (almost a dollar bottle). But do we like it because it is good or because the idea of an expensive microbrewed root beer interests us?
We decided to address these pressing questions head on. We scheduled a root beer tasting party for ourselves and our friends. For the party, we assembled a collection of eight different brands of root beer. Then we asked the group of 14 adults and 6 children to pick their favorite.
The following different root beers were represented:
- Squeeze - A local brand, made in the Berkshires of Massachusetts
- Trader Joe's - The house brand of this speciality supermarket
- A&W - An inexpensive national brand, easily found in supermarkets
- Natural Brew - By Juice Creations of California, found at Wild Harvest
- IBC - A national brand, commonly served in resturants and bars
- Sensational Brand - A very inexpensive store brand, found at Stop&Shop
- Virgil's - A premium local brand, made outside of Boston
- Barqs - A common national brand, served in Burger King
We had high hopes for the premium root beers, especially the microbrews made with real sugar instead of corn syrup. Sensational Brand root beer was included at the last minute as a control. It represents a very cheap store brand. A&W, another inexpensive brand was included based on the recommendation of a friend.
We ran a single-blind taste test. Only I knew which root beer was which. Each root beer was poured into a plastic pitcher, labeled with a colored dot or colored strip. Then each child and adult was given eight cups, also labeled with the corresponding colored dot or colored strip for each root beer.
People tasted each root beer, ranking their eight cups based on taste. Then people voted for their first, second and third choice by placing poker chips in sealed containers. Unsalted saltine crackers were provided to cleans the palette between tastes. After the voting was over, pizza was served.
The following table summarizes the results. The root beers are listed in order of group preference along with the number of first, second and third place votes. The adult votes are listed separately from the kids votes. In addition, after the votes were tallied, we allowed people to vote for their least favorite and those results are also listed.
|Sensational||7 / 1 / 1||1 / 1 / 0||2|
|A&W||2 / 3 / 3||1 / 2 / 0||0|
|IBC||0 / 5 / 3||3 / 0 / 2||0|
|Barqs||1 / 2 / 1||0 / 1 / 1||0|
|Natural Brew||1 / 2 / 1||0 / 0 / 0||2|
|Squeeze||1 / 1 / 2||0 / 0 / 1||0|
|Trader Joe's||1 / 0 / 0||1 / 1 / 2||1|
|Virgil's||1 / 0 / 1||0 / 1 / 0||4|
The conclusion to be learned is that price does not equate to taste. The two cheapest root beers ranked first and second. The most expensive brands ranked last.
It also seems that if you are throwing a party, A&W is a safe buy. Everyone liked it (including the kids) and no one hated it. Sensational was more popular but it also had its critics. And if you must serve a premium brew in individual glass bottles, IBC is a good all around choice.
Meanwhile, we have enough root beer left, good and bad, to last us for quite a while.
This web page (http://www.gouldhome.com/rootBeerTasting.html) was last updated on August 15, 1999.
For any comments or suggestions about the site contact Daphne Gould.
Contents copyright © 1999-2003 by Joel and Daphne Gould.