The local food media world has been blowing up with talk of boozy root beer as of late. You can thank Wauconda-based Small Town Brewery, which recently released its Not Your Father’s Root Beer spiced ale in six packs, for that. It’s one of two root beer-inspired adult beverages we found here in the city (specifically, at Binny's; see binnys.com for locations)—the other is a malt beverage from Wisconsin-based Sprecher Brewery.
Our team decided, in the name of reader service and love of root beer, to conduct a little taste test and see which, if any, is worth your liver space.
First, we did a round of solo sampling. The clear winner was Not Your Father’s, which really just tasted like an artisanal root beer (heavy on the sassafras) with the slightest hint of alcoholic afterburn. “This is dangerous,” declared one taster. You could polish off quite a few of these without thinking, and at 5.9 percent alcohol, you’d definitely feel something. If you want a stronger punch, there are 10.5 percent and 19.5 percent ABV versions out there in 22-ounce bombers, but we didn't have any on hand. Several Chicago bars list them on the menu, though, and you can find out where on Small Town Brewery's site.
We weren't as enamored with Sprecher’s offering. This stuff was…well, surprisingly foul, given how great the bottler’s virgin stuff is. Trying to take two sips was asking a lot—the concoction both tasted and smelled overpoweringly yeasty. Could this be because it’s a malt beverage rather than an actual beer? Did we get a bad batch? It remains a mystery. Stick with Sprecher’s zero-ABV root beer.
So we had a clear winner. But this was only part one of the test.
Root beer is lovely in and of itself, but everyone knows its fullest expression comes when you pour it over some vanilla ice cream and start scooping and sipping. So we acquired a pint of the ever-fabulous Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (3404 N. Southport Ave., Lake View, 773-348-7139) and crafted our own boozy root beer float. The tasting panel went silent as we dug in. The ice cream completely softens any lingering edge to the beer, instead rendering it lush and creamy. Save a bottle (or two) from your six-pack for this.