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Root Beer

Long time veterans of the forum will recall that there has been a long running joke about the lack of American style root beer in Europe. Funny anecdote about this.....just returned from a week long visit in London with my 14 year-old nefew who loves the stuff. We were eating at a restaurant near Covent Garden, and he was complaining for the millionth time about the lack of it. We adults told him to suck it up choose an alternative soft-drink:) A local at a nearby table overheard the conversation, and mentioned that one can get cans of A&W root beer at the Chinese grocery stores in the nearby Chinatown area. After dinner we wandered over there and he was spot-on, they do indeed sell the stuff. Looking over the label it is bottled in Malaysia by an A&W subsidiary out there. So if you are desperate for it, it's likely you can find it in these kind of stores in London and probably other cities in Europe.
Also on our last day we also discovered it at the Cereal Cafe at Camden Lock market, and Shake Shack.

Posted by
3040 posts

I’m guessing the shops don’t sell vanilla ice cream, so people don’t assemble root beer floats.

There’s also a long-running discussion about Brits seeing little value in a frosted mug. So much for A&W’s “frosty mug taste” advertising slogan!

Posted by
1094 posts

Next time you visit, get him to try dandelion and burdock. It's not quite as nasty, but has the same medical taste and comes from roots. Many decades ago, we were given d'n'b as a "treat" at primary school sports day after prayers. When I first tried root beer visiting the US, I had a taste-memory flashback.

Posted by
2755 posts

the lack of American style root beer in Europe

There's also a lack of real American-style root beer in the US. Decades ago A&W root beer sold at an A&W stand was quite good. But in my opinion, the stuff they put in cans tastes nothing like that. Of course, I drink about one soft drink every few years. But I do know that there are small "artisanal" soft drink producers that supposedly make good root beer.

Posted by
2575 posts

Robert, in my opinion, nothing in cans taste good - particularly A&W root beer. I had some recently from the drive thru. No ice chilled mug, but enough ice to cover that flaw. It did bring back taste memories from 1960s when we would pull into the drive in and roll down the window with the tray hooking on the frame (or glass). I can't remember if the attendents were on roller skates are not.
Slightly on topic, I am not a soda fan, but this is making me crave Stoney Tangawizi...Tanzanian ginger beer. Another pop better served ice cold and from a glass bottle. Sigh.

Posted by
84 posts

For true lovers only- visit Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs, CO. Their root beer is made on site and comes in a large mug, though not frosty. It does have a distinctive taste. Not anything like A&W. And yes, they brew beer too. The restaurant is family friendly. Cheers-

Posted by
3095 posts

European soft drinks use real sugar while US soft drinks mostly use high fructose corn syrup. There is a difference in taste and texture. To me, European soft drinks taste much better.

Posted by
3897 posts

You can buy root beer in most UK supermarkets including A&W if the store has an American section however most sell Bundaberg root beer, an Australian brand and far superior to A&W www.bundaberg.com/en-GB/brew/root-beer.

I know for certain that my local Sainsbury's and Tesco sell it and, as Nick has suggested, Dandelion and Burdock makes an acceptable substitute.

Posted by
1451 posts

MariaF,

I realize you are in Canada. At the Home Goods stores in my neck of the woods, once in awhile, I have seen the original stoney's.

What is nice about the Home Goods stores, and of course their marketing / selling points, are the unique food products they sell. Things you really can't get in a regular supermarket or Walmart, lol.

HomeGoods usually stocks authentic Italian soda - lemon flavor as well as blood orange.

Maybe you are familiar with the store. Tons of products from food to oils and other condiments; pottery, unique dishes, bowls, pans, cookware, chocolate and other sweets, and novelties direct from Italy.

Most of the stores stock similar but certain stores will have a slightly different inventory.

Besides TJ Maxx, there are a lot of the HomeGoods stores around - dangerous, lol.

Posted by
1451 posts

I haven't been in a very long time, but I think in the past I have also seen Stoney's in a restaurant called Cracker Barrel.

I don't think Cracker Barrel restaurants are in Canada.

Their basic philosophy is down home cooking -- you will never leave hungry, a fun little country store to browse that is an extension of the restaurant.

Unique little novelties and candies and sodas and other things. Remakes of toys from yesteryear. Unique kids games made from wood that look like science projects, lol

A bit on the pricey side - of course it is a gift shop, nonetheless it is fun.

Another draw - the old fashioned porch rocking chairs. They are for sale. Lots of restaurant patrons usually sit out there for a little bit of snooze time if you will.

They do have barrel tables with checkerboard games on them for people to play with.

Or, you can pretend you are in Mayberry RFD sitting in a rocker on Andy's porch with a bottle of $0.05 Pop.

Unfortunately, some years ago, they made bad press.

Still that does not keep tour bus companies from bringing 25 or 30 people to the restaurant and having a good time. 🤭

The restaurants are usually accessible and located off a major highway which makes it attractive for tour bus companies; especially during the leaf-peeping season and summer vacations.

Posted by
1451 posts

Doug. I could have sworn I saw Fanta for sale at my Walmart supercenter. It may not be imported from Germany.

Next time I am in there I will double check out of curiosity.

Posted by
7109 posts

@ Doug and Girasole, we love orange Fanta in Europe which is made with real sugar (as Mark said). Here (very easy to find) it’s made with corn syrup which tastes awful to us. Same with cereal, candy, cookies, all sodas, etc. We especially like Corn Flakes and Twix candy bars in Europe. So good in Europe, not good here.

That’s why a lot of Americans buy Coke made in Mexico (with real sugar) here, vs the American version made with corn syrup.

The Home Goods stores in my area don’t sell food products. But it’s super easy to find real Italian Soda in many grocery stores.

MariaF, i agree about canned drinks. Awful tasting.

Posted by
2575 posts

Fanta is a common soda ("pop" this side of the border) in Canada.
Girasole, I don't know the Home store, but did once visit CrackerBarrel. Great potato casserole, but so much food! Almost went into a carb and fat coma and had 500 miles to drive that day. Great porch rockers, but I didn't like the business model of having to wait in the store to be seated. Poor families with kids and all that merchandise at eye height.
I did do a bit of a search. I can order Stoney from Amazon, but also an African store near Toronto. Still cans, or 2 L plastic bottle. Blaah. I might phone the African stores in Ottawa, to see if I have any luck.

Posted by
1104 posts

I thought that we'd explained here before that sarsaparilla / sassafras oil / safrole (sp?) was banned in the USA many years ago already for not-very-good reasons and that the major soda manufacturers switched to other sources for flavoring root beer. Smaller suppliers in the last decade or so have found better recipes.

There is a root-beer fan community online that is easy to find.

On a side note, even more than old-time authentic root beer, I miss birch beer, which was more red-hued. There are a couple of good sources for it these days, like Boylan's...

Posted by
6674 posts

Nick—you aren’t the only one who thinks root beer tastes medicinal; my husband does, too. It’s definitely an American phenomena, an appreciation acquired young.

Posted by
3897 posts

It’s definitely an American phenomena

I disagree. Dandelion and Burdock which is very similar has been consumed in Britain since the Middle Ages whilst Sarsaparilla has been produced in the UK since the 19th century and is also very popular in Southeast Asia so the medicinal taste is enjoyed all over. However, the likes of Cola and other, more fruit based soft drink flavours have become more popular.

Posted by
273 posts

Making homemade root beer was an Easter tradition for my family when I was youngster in rural Somerset county Pennsylvania circa 1960. My grandmother would of course use yeast for carbonation and granulated sugar. I recall HIRES (not Hines as originally inserted by autocorrect) extract being used once and at other times a homemade sassafras recipe from the colonial era. There were a number of sassafras trees in the wooded part of the farm. She also taught us how they dyed their Easter eggs with various natural items such as onion skins, beets, etc.

I never really liked A&W root beer very much but that may be due to having homemade many times.

Posted by
2575 posts

We also made root beer at home with extract. I only remember the small extract bottle, my dad's old stubbies, and the big bottle capper stashed waiting for summer to arrive. Each bottle had a raisin in it.. I have no idea why.

Posted by
102 posts

@mariaF

We also made root beer at home with extract. I only remember the small extract bottle, my dad's old stubbies, and the big bottle capper stashed waiting for summer to arrive.

We did too! We used to love drinking out of the stubbies, it seemed so illicit! All the looks we'd get from people who saw us tickled us to no end.

Each bottle had a raisin in it.. I have no idea why

That one is new to me! I know that raisins impede the growth of yeast, so I wonder if it was used as a kind of retardation. Perhaps fewer exploding bottles in the basement.

Posted by
6000 posts

In the US at Cost Plus World Markets they often have sodas, including root beers, from around the world. Also, I love their selection of European (and other countries') snacks, candies, and cookies. It's like shopping in another country.

And you can still get root beer extract for home brewing root beer.

Posted by
242 posts

The last time my French colleagues were visiting, they had a lot of fun convincing one who was in the States for the first time to taste root beer. He basically gagged after trying it and they burst out laughing saying more or less "I know, right? Americans LOVE this stuff!" Definitely an acquired taste!

Posted by
2575 posts

@Jodi,being a curious one, I had to do some more searching about raisins in carbonated beverages. It appears it may feed the yeast as for mead making. Supposedly, the grape tannins may also add an additional layer of flavour. Others use it for a simple measure of specific gravity as in floats to the top when yeast has done its job and should then be ready to drink. I just remember liking to eat them as they often had fizzy air bubbles on them.
We had a full set of wide stairs to the attic and mom used it to keep everything. A real catch'all. That is where the root beet was stored. We learned one summer to not move it too far up the stairs. An uninsulated attic generates a lot of heat (pop, pop, shatter).

Posted by
273 posts

@Jodi Yes, I recall they always used a handful of raisins in the gallon size containers.

Posted by
1398 posts

There used to be a soda pop store in Scottsdale, AZ that sold root beer from several bottlers. For Christmas I gave my son a case of 24 different root beers.

Here in Greeley a local drive-in sells its homemade root beer