On Trend Root Beer

Craft root beer is gaining in popularity at breweries across the region.

Many craft breweries produce root beer to offer guests a nonalcoholic drink option – but some are finding the spicy sipper is why customers are seeking them out in the first place.

With Vodka

The housemade root beer at Big Rip Brewing Co. has been around since the brewery was founded in 2013. A few months after opening, however, it introduced an “adult” version of the root beer, made with local S.D. Strong Vodka. It was a favorite drink of Big Rip’s self-described beer chancellor, Josh Collins, in college, albeit formerly made with cheaper vodka. “The drink really took on a life of its own,” Collins says. “Straight-up root beer takes a backseat to the mixed drink, and it’s gotten to the point where non-beer drinkers feel comfortable coming out because they’ve heard of this drink – it’s mentioned on Yelp just as often as our beers.” The root beer and vanilla-vodka-root beer cocktail are only served at the brewery’s tasting room. Big Rip Brewing Co. also occasionally serves housemade sarsaparilla and is planning to make a birch beer later this year to serve in a drink with J. Rieger & Co.’s Kansas City Whiskey.

Big Rip Brewing Co., 216 E. Ninth Ave., North Kansas City, Missouri, 816.866.0747, bigripbrewing.com

Creamy Old-Style

Guests visit Charleville Vineyard Winery & Microbrewery in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, specifically to try its “old-style” root beer, which is only served in the tasting room, and has been since 2004. It’s always been popular, especially with regulars who fill up growlers to take home to kiddos, but the crowd now seems to be seeking it out for its hand-crafted quality. “It’s a little heavier than standard root beer, pouring a foamy head and going down really smooth,” says co-owner Joal Russell. “I remember going to Carl’s Drive-In [in St. Louis] as a kid and getting its root beer in a frosted mug, and ours is much richer.” The root beer is served year-round and made with sucrose, honey gathered from hives on the property and vanilla extract, according to brewmaster Tony Saballa.

Charleville Vineyard Winery & Microbrewery, 16937 Boyd Road, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, 573.756.4537, charlevillevineyard.com

Since 1939

Excel Bottling Co. has been making Frostie Root Beer since 1939 – that’s 76 years – and it’s the company’s oldest product. General manager Bill Meier’s grandfather bought a franchise from Frostie Beverage Co. to sell its root beer, and the company has continuously sent the concentrate to Excel to produce and bottle. Glass bottles have been filled at the mom-and-pop bottler in Breese, Illinois, in the same process and with the same product since the beginning, with a few small tweaks, Meier says. For example, the initial formula included sassafras, which has since been banned by the FDA. “On our end, we’re mixing it the same way we always have,” he says. “The flavor profile has stayed the same.” Excel uses granulated sugar, dissolves it overnight to yield a golden simple syrup, adds flavoring the next morning and bottles it. The inclusion of yucca gives it a foamy head, and it has flavors of vanilla, wintergreen and anise. Meier says an increasing number of people are seeking out the craft product. “A fresh, cold Frostie in an icy mug with a big, foamy head – you just can’t beat that,” he says. Excel’s root beer is available in many restaurant and retail outlets in St. Louis and across Missouri and Illinois.

Excel Bottling Co., 488 S. Broadway, Breese, Illinois, 618.526.7159, excelbottling.com