Unlike other types of soft drinks, root beer is clearly distinct from its competitors. In addition to simple sugars and syrups, many other flavors go into root beer. While roots and bark were traditionally used to flavor root beer, most of the taste now comes from artificial ingredients.
Generally speaking, the overriding flavor of root beer is a sweetness. However, other standout tastes include molasses, vanilla, sarsaparilla, ginger, nutmeg, licorice, and anise. Root beer is heavily carbonated and often has a thick head of foam, not unlike that of traditional beer.
A thick head of foam is one of the distinctive characteristics of root beer. Traditionally this was achieved with sassafras and sarsaparilla. However, more recently it’s done by adding carbonation and lowering the surface tension.
Ways to Drink Root Beer
There are three common ways to drink root beer. Mostly, root beer is consumed as a soft drink, as an alcoholic beverage, or as a root beer float.
Depending on which brand of root beer you purchase, you’ll get slightly different flavors. However, generally root beer consumed in this manner is sweet, carbonated, and has a bit of spiciness to it. The spiciness tends to come from ginger or anise.
In addition, root beer has a very thick, foamy head that lingers longer than most soft drinks.
Hard Root Beer
When root beer contains alcohol, it’s typically referred to as hard root beer.
The most common type of hard root beer is made with yeast to resemble a beer. Although it isn’t brewed, it still has many of the characteristics of beer.
There are a variety of brands of hard root beer and most taste fairly similar. However, there are some flavor variations between companies.
For example, some are cloyingly sweet and taste like liquid candy. Others taste more like vanilla, caramel, and cloves. However, overall, most hard beers do retain the overall flavor of the carbonated soft drink.
Root Beer Whiskey
In addition to hard root beer that resembles beer, there is also root beer whiskey.
Generally, this is a whiskey that has root beer flavors added to it. Typically, root beer whisky is fairly sweet with notes of caramel and vanilla. It’s meant to be sipped on the rocks although it’s not uncommon to add it to a cocktail.
Root Beer Float
A popular dessert in America, a root beer float is typically made with root beer and vanilla ice cream. However, in some places, it’s common to use chocolate ice cream and refer to the drink as a ‘brown cow.’
Generally, when you add vanilla ice cream to the root beer, it produces much more foam than usual. Additionally, the ice cream on top of the root beer tends to mellow out the spices a little. This gives a root beer float a somewhat sweeter, more muted flavor than a soft drink or hard root beer.
Also, the vanilla ice cream, when mixed with the root beer, gives the drink a wonderful, creamy texture.
Overall, root beer is fairly sweet with some spiciness, generally in the form of ginger or anise. In addition, it’s heavily carbonated and has a thick foamy head.
If you don’t love the spiciness of root beer, but enjoy the other flavors, look to add some vanilla ice cream. A root beer float helps to mellow the flavor of the soft drink and gives a bit of a sweeter flavor.
While traditionally, root beer has been non-alcoholic, more recently hard root beer is being produced. It tends to retain the flavor of traditional root beer with other minor variations in taste.