This week’s roundup features three root beers containing the same special ingredient: Quillaja Extract. Quillaja is a South American flowering tree whose sap is,according to Wikipedia, a natural soap. Under the names Panama bark extract, China bark extract, and Murillo bark extract, Quillaja is used as a food additive and in a more refined form is an ingredient in veterinary vaccines like the one used to treat Foot-and-mouth disease. I did not know that before drinking these.
Barrel Brothers Root Beer, Apple Beer Corp, Salt Lake City, Utah, distributed by RealSoda.com
This one's a high fructose corn syrup root beer that the label calls “Creamy Vanilla”
despite the fact that vanilla is not in the listed ingredients. Quillaja extract sure is though, perhaps solely for it’s properties as a foaming agent! That can’t be right, while this one did have the largest head of the three, it still wasn’t that large. Maybe I’m just super good at pouring?
Tastes cheap. Like flat, canned A&W cheap. Maybe I’m just projecting because of the HFCS. Maybe I’m predisposed to disliking it because I’m bigoted against corn. Maybe this just sucks. Creamy, yes. Vanilla-y, eh. A little bitter on the backend like Robitussin. Smells better than it tastes, but smells like the platonic ideal of “artificial root beer.”
Polar Root Beer, Polar Beverages, Worcester, Massachusetts.
More Quillaja extract, less sweetness. This one smells more like medicine. It’s got a little bit of a bite (the citric acid, no doubt) and almost a tutti-frutti aftertaste. I’m guessing that at it’s base, Quillaja tastes a bit bitter, but not overpoweringly so. Actually tastes remarkably similar to Barrel Brothers, though not quite as sweet. Smells about the same, as well, though with a touch of cinnamon to it.
Rating: 1.1 because I would rather drink it than the Barrel Brothers, but not by much.
Ithaca Soda Company Root Beer, Ithaca, New York.
This one lists its Quillaja as “Natural Panama Bark Extract” in an ingredients list that includes hops, star anise, juniper berries, and vanilla bean, which are all traditionally very strong flavors. But everything seems to be keeping one another in check, or the hops and juniper they use are in such small quantities that they don’t matter. A well-balanced, vanilla-y root beer. Smells like it has more bite than it does in taste. Definitely the most refreshing of the three, and the only I’m likely to even think about purchasing again.
Rating: 3.5. It’s more complex than it needs to be, but still very drinkable.