I came across Abita Root Beer at Fresh Market, where a single, 12-ounce bottle is $1.69. Six-packs are also available. It’s a product of the well-known brewery based in Abita Springs, Louisiana, famous for its Turbodog dark brown ale, its Restoration Pale Ale and Purple Haze, a lager with raspberries, as well as a full line of seasonal and specialty brews. I’m an advocate of full disclosure on labels, and on that standard, Abita Root Beer fails. Here’s the list of ingredients: “Carbonated water, cane sugar, caramel color, root beer flavor, phosphoric acid.” Root beer flavor? Come on! Compare that evasive or at least inattentive term to the roster of ingredients found on bottles of Virgil’s Root Beer:

Carbonated water and unbleached cane sugar; anise from Spain, licorice from France, vanilla (bourbon) from Madagascar, cinnamon from Ceylon, clove from Indonesia, wintergreen from China, sweet birch from the southern US, molasses from the US, nutmeg from Indonesia, pimento berry oil from Jamaica, balsam oil from Peru, cassia oil from China.

Now you might say that Virgil’s list is a bit fussy and foodist in its details — Madagascar! China! Peru! — but at least consumers know what’s in the bottle, unlike the incomplete transparency of “root beer flavor.” Abita’s website mentions vanilla and yucca, the latter a foaming agent, but those brief citations don’t inform drinkers about the actual derivation of the scents and flavors.

And here’s what I wrote previously about phosphoric acid:

“Phosphoric acid (H3PO4) is an inorganic mineral acid that lends liveliness and tang to cola-style soft drinks. It’s cheaper and more widely available than citric acid. Phosphoric acid is also used as a rust remover — ‘naval jelly’ — and has been linked to lower bone density in habitual cola drinkers.”

I’ve had five or six bottles of Abita Root Beer recently, and I found the product more interesting than appealing. It’s pretty reticent for a sweet soft drink, but with good balance between acidity and sweetness and adequate creaminess. The spicy, rooty aspects — and root beer should by definition be a little rooty, n’est-ce pas? — are subdued to a kind of general cloves-and-vanilla quality, while the finish is bracing and surprisingly austere.

Not my favorite root beer, but definitely offers more character than some of the better-known brands such as Dad’s and Frostie.

Image from abita.com.