Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer is so good-looking in its over-sized 16.9 fluid ounce bottle with its resealable top that I felt a little guilty even thinking of opening it. Yet this special edition beverage called out to me. How can you resist a root beer claiming to be “So Pure, So Rich, And Creamy, You’ll Swear It’s Made In Heaven”? Claiming to be the root beer equivalent of what Ben and Jerry’s is to ice cream? You can’t. Well, I couldn’t. I did, however, think it would be best to drink this brew on a special occasion, an occasion worthy of Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer. Super Bowl weekend seemed to be an appropriate event.
Before delving into the details of the drink itself, I must make one more comment on its glass bottle. The Special Edition bottle is not only over-sized, but the opening of the bottle is smooth with a great lip feel. I never before realized how nice good lip feel can be. With my lips relaxed and comfortable, I was ready to dive into this root beer. Now it was my palate’s turn to be spoiled. Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer has a long list of all-natural spices which are combined to make an extremely smooth and satisfying soda. The initial taste is highlighted by Chinese wintergreen and sweet birch from the southern United States. They create a light and sweet creamy taste. Then Spanish anise and French licorice kick in. Although the flavor was noticeably licorice in quality, it was smooth and creamy throughout, not a hard licorice flavor. Although the original iteration of Virgil’s is a perfectly good root beer, I found Virgil’s Special Edition to be a definite step up from the original variety. This is an expensive soda, but every once in a while everybody deserves a good celebration or special event root beer. This could certainly be that root beer.
Purchase Location: Galco’s Old World Grocery (also widely available at World Market)
The world owes a great debt to Orca Beverage Soda Works. We have mentioned Orca before. They manufacturer and bottle specialty and retro soda beverages, including several root beer sodas. They have brought back to life sodas which had not been produced for years. Bulldog Root Beer was not brought back to life by Orca, but was given life in 1997 when it when it was created. According to the Bulldog website, it took only 9 test batches to develop the recipe for Bulldog. They developed a winner.
Bulldog’s slogan is “Unleash the Taste.” This slogan, combined with the name Bulldog and the picture of two powerful, although seemingly friendly, bulldogs on its label led me to believe that this root beer would be a powerful, strong, rip-your-throat-out root beer. I know people love bulldogs, but when I think of bulldogs or hear, “he’s a bulldog,” I conjure an image of the rough, the tough, and the cut throat. The name and mascot are fine, but to me the image created by the word bulldog do not at all describe the character of this root beer. It won’t rip your throat out, but it may disable you with its silky goodness.
Bulldog Root Beer is light on carbonation. It has a velvety smooth root beer flavor. Although Bulldog uses real vanilla, which I assume adds to the creamy smoothness of the root beer, it did not taste like vanilla. Instead, the star of this root beer is the honey. The honey provides the perfect sweetness and perfect compliment to the root beer. It is as if the honey root beer fluid envelopes your tongue in absolute goodness. There is no doubt about it, this is a top root beer contender.
Columbia Soda Works was established in 1996 in the gold mining town of Columbia, California. Like other root beer sodas from small mining towns, Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla evokes the nostalgic bond between root beer, or sarsaparilla, and the Old West. Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla’s label explains, “The flavor will take you back to the days of yesteryear when miners and settlers alike enjoyed the rich tastes of these early refreshments. A taste as rich as the Mother Load.” Elsewhere, the label displays a banner declaring that Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla is “A VERY PRECIOUS LIQUID.” I could not agree more. Do not be fooled by the simple crest displayed on Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla’s label. This is indeed a very precious liquid with a taste as rich as the mother lode.
There are a lot of good root beers and sarsaparillas out there, which makes sense because root beer is based on some dang good flavors. Many root beers stick to the proven, classic root beer construction, providing very good sodas. Some stray from that pattern and create fantastic and bold sodas. Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla is of the later category. This soda has a dark root beer flavor with some bite. The bite is not harsh, but is solid. Suddenly, a faint wintergreen sensation becomes recognizable. However, the wintergreen does not take over. Rather, it gently guides you to the next and final flavor, licorice. I know there are many misguided souls out there who dislike licorice or anise flavor. Although those who do not like licorice may not like Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla either, the licorice flavor is smooth and sweet, and may not be too overpowering for licorice haters. I personally found the mixture to be very satisfying and delicious.
Saranac root beer is a product of the Matt Brewing Company. The brewery, which was established in 1888 has been making hand-crafted root beer in small batches for the past thirty years. The brown bottle has a simple scarlet label with the words “Root Beer” emblazoned in yellow. The bottom of the label has a small, antique picture of the brewery.
I first had Saranac several years ago as part of a New Year’s Eve root beer taste test of some 12 root beers. As I recall, I came away from that taste test very pleased with Saranac. My most recent Saranac experience was similarly pleasing. Saranac is a well rounded, delicious root beer. It has a creamy, full, rich flavor. Saranac boasts smooth vanilla overtones without being dominated by its vanilla flavor. Then, Saranac’s aftertaste provides a kick of licorice. However, the licorice kick is perfectly balanced, not too powerful. This is a very good root beer.
I immediately knew that Saranac deserved high score. My only concern was that unlike other gourmet root beers which use cane sugar and other premium sweeteners, Saranac uses high fructose corn syrup. I took my time considering the issue. In the end, I could not penalize Saranac for using high fructose corn syrup. Saranac earned its score based on its terrific taste. I highly recommend this beverage to all.