A longtime mission in my life is finding the best diet root beer. What’s not to love about root beer? That ineffable mix of vanilla, licorice, and wintergreen flavors, a little bit of anise or nutmeg, perhaps — it’s a liquefied spice cake of a drink. Smooth and creamy over ice, it’s a dessert, a delightful accompaniment to a hot dog at a baseball game, or simply a lovely midday treat.
Despite being an East Coast invention — it’s thought that early colonists used sassafras and sarsaparilla roots to brew a witchy low-alcohol beer, and a few hundred years later, the first commercial root beer debuted at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia — I find it difficult to obtain a quality ale in my Brooklyn stomping grounds. You can find cloying Mug or flat A&W at any bodega, but life is too short to debase yourself with subpar R.B. More precious environs carry some of the full-sugar, glass-bottle varietals — IBC, Virgil’s, Boylan, Stewart’s — but those all tend too much toward the sweet side. Growing up in the Midwest, we stocked our fridge with Diet Barq’s, which was my favorite until very recently, when I was introduced to Sprecher’s Low-Cal Root Beer.
Let me tell you some things about this root beer. It goes down like velvet but has the gentlest sparkle on the tongue. The sweetness (and the 45 calories) comes from the inclusion of “real Wisconsin honey,” whatever that means, but it tastes decidedly less artificial than other diet root beers — even my beloved Barq’s. According to the Sprecher website, a mysterious brewmaster (a colonist of yore?) “skillfully combines a host of flavors in a gas-fired brew kettle, then ages it just long enough to achieve peak flavor.” Yum!
Other reviewers agree with me. Soda review site Sodafry says, “If you’re someone who loves a foamy head on your root beer then this is your brew.” I’m not one to talk about foamy heads (improper), so I’m grateful to Sodafry for saying this for me. Gourmetrootbeer.com says it has “one of the best root beer bodies that I have ever tasted,” which also sounds improper. And in 2008, the New York Times rated Sprecher’s the No. 1 root beer in the entire country. Obama-era innocence? No. This root beer withstands the test of time.
There are some other things to know about Sprecher’s Low-Cal Root Beer, and unfortunately they’re not great, but I must deliver an honest review for both my own integrity and that of the Strategist. As stated, this root beer is not easy to find. I’ve been ordering it from the brewery’s website, where a 12-pack goes for $31.99. This price may seem exorbitant, but it’s a double-edged sword: The beers are only available in 16-ounce cans. Do I feel chic walking around with my root-beer tall boy? Not exactly. But I suppose it is more bang for my buck, and Sprecher is worth it.
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