Remember the Great Four Loko Moral Panic of 2010? Newspapers and TV commentators alike fell over themselves to condemn the line of powerful, caffeine-fortified alcopops, ubiquitous in classier 7-Elevens nationwide, as college students found them exceedingly useful for getting trashed ASAP. Not Your Father's Root Beer ($11 six-packs of which debuted in Bend supermarkets last week) follows in Four Loko's footsteps in many ways—i.e., it's something alcoholic that doesn't taste the part at all.
Made by Small Town Brewery, a northern-Illinois outfit that signed on with a contract brewer in Wisconsin to ramp up distribution from coast to coast, Not Your Father's Root Beer is...wait for it...root beer with booze in it. Or "Ale with the Taste of Spices," as Small Town puts it. Root beer itself, after all, was traditionally an alcoholic beverage, one that provided a "small beer" alternative to local (possibly tainted) water.
While 19th-century root beer almost never went above two percent alcohol by volume, NYFRB is 5.9%, making it more potent than seemingly heavier beers like Black Butte Porter. You will not notice this as you pour out a glass and have a sip, because the mixture of spice and vanilla-ish sweetness is soda, through and through. Alcohol doesn't penetrate the palate at all, and no doubt the sentence "I can't believe this is real beer!" has been uttered thousands of times by barbecuers, beachgoers, and curious beer fans in the United States by now.
Despite being an unconventional beer, NYFRB is brewed with hops and has a remarkable 96/100 score on BeerAdvocate.com as of this week. But once its national debut is over, a lot of the novelty should wear off—in fact, after the initial "I can't believe it's beer" shock, the heavy sweetness and fairly weak body can make another glass seem about as palatable as, well, a second Four Loko. (If you want more, though, head over to Chicago—some bars have NYFRB taps clocking in at 10% and even 19.5%, both reportedly tasting just as soda-like and alcohol-free. You have been warned.)
Note: This article was corrected to reflect the fact the NYFRB is indeed brewed with hops.