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The Difference Between Root Beer and Sarsaparilla

Over the years, we have received a lot of questions about the difference between Root Beer and Sarsaparilla and even more questions about the difference between Bundaberg Root Beer and Bundaberg Sarsaparilla. When it comes to the difference between Bundaberg Root Beer and Bundaberg Sarsaparilla there’s a simple answer – aside from the label, there isn’t one. To help bury the hatchet, we’re tackling this question head-on!  

Bucket of ice cold root beer and sarsaparilla

The Difference Between Root Beer and Sarsaparilla

The Bundaberg Brewniverse stretches far and wide, meaning some members of the brew crew will see their brews a little differently to others. In America and the United Kingdom for example, you will find Bundaberg Root Beer on the shelves of supermarkets, whereas in Australia and New Zealand you will find Bundaberg Sarsaparilla. Even though these brews do not share a name, they are the same – both crafted over three days using real liquorice root, sarsaparilla root, molasses and vanilla beans. In fact, no matter what the brew is called, it was brewed right here in our hometown of Bundaberg, Australia to the exact same recipe.

While Root Beer and Sarsaparilla might be alternate names for the same Bundaberg brew, traditionally speaking, they are two different drinks that have a separate and distinct history. So, we decided to have a look back through the history books…

4 bottles of Bundaberg Root Beer with ingredients

The history of Root Beer and Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla and Root Beer were founded by the Native Americans before arriving in Europe. Both beverages are named after their distinct differences in ingredients when they were first made. Sarsaparilla was made from the Sarsaparilla vine, while Root Beer, roots of the sassafras tree. These days, Root Beer recipes do not include sassafras as the plant has been found to cause serious health issues. The vine was banned by the American Food and Drug Administration for commercial food production in 1960.

Sarsaparilla

While they can appear similar and often be confused, there has always been a difference between the beverages, traditionally Sarsaparilla was made from the sarsaparilla root alone.  The extract made from sarsaparilla root has a slightly bitter flavour profile, which is why most producers now include ingredients like liquorice to try and reduce the bold flavour.

A Berry Sarsaparilla Mocktail on bar with berries & lime for garnish

Check out our Berry Sarsaparilla recipe here.

The Bundaberg Difference

The difference between our Sarsaparilla and the rest of the worlds’ is in the brewing. Our Sarsaparilla is a rich, complex drink using liquorice root, ginger root, vanilla bean, sarsaparilla root and molasses. We take these real ingredients and brew them over three days, creating a unique and wonderful flavour!

Interesting Fact

The name “Sarsaparilla” originated from the Spanish word “zarzaparrilla.” Native Americans taught the Spaniards about the plant, who brought it back to Europe. Some people believe Sarsaparilla has been around for much longer than Root Beer and people’s dislike for the strong taste of the Sarsaparilla led to the creation of Root Beer. We have heard rumours our ‘Sars’ is a key ingredient for making the world’s best barbeque sauce. 

BBQ Sarsaparilla Sauce ribs with extra sauce, coriander and Bundaberg sarsaparilla.

You can find our Sarsaparilla barbeque sauce recipe here.

Root Beer

Root Beer is heavily engrained in American culture, becoming prominent in the 19th century, having been sold in stores since the 1840s and recipes documented since the 1860s. Some describe root beer as an ‘adulterated sarsaparilla’ because it contains a mix of flavour enhancing ingredients. Most brewers choose to add vanilla, wintergreen, liquorice root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, clove or honey to their recipes.  

Hand holding a full bottle of Bundaberg Root Beer

The Bundaberg Difference

As Bundaberg Root Beer and Bundaberg Sarsaparilla are the same brew, you already know about the real ingredients and brewing process. Our ingredients are locally sourced ingredients, meaning our brew has a distinctive flavour, which stands out from most root beers. Producing this remarkable combination of flavours is often compared to making tea – using a three-day process to extract a range of complex flavours. We have it on good authority our brew is perfect for a Root Beer Float.

Interesting Fact

In 1875, Charles Elmer Hires introduced the first commercial brand of root beer, named Hires Root Beer. Hires initially wanted to name the product to be “Root Tea,” but chose “Root Beer,” to make the beverage attractive to Pennsylvanian coal miners.  Hires, who did not drink alcohol, marketed root beer as an alternative to alcohol.

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  • Christoph G. OleschSeptember 27, 2020, 1:41 amHello ... I'm located 60 miles northwest of Chicago. This is my first time tasting your Bundaberg Root Beer. I immediately noticed a "sour" taste. Looking at your ingredients, I noticed it had citrus. Is this the source of the sour-like flavor, or could it be a "spoiled" bottle? The second bottle was consistent with the first. I am used to a root beer with more tones of licorice / anise and vanilla. I have two bottles left to try. Having been an obsessive "indulger" of root beer since the age of 9 (I am now 72), I'm thinking of writing about the hundreds of various brews I have tasted and enjoyed throughout America -- the many small town and private brews across the states. Thanks ... Christoph
    • masterOctober 12, 2020, 8:30 amHi Christoph, you can see a full list of ingredients here - https://www.bundaberg.com/en-us/brew/root-beer/ Maybe that will help you identify the tastes of this unique brew. Thanks for trying Bundaberg Root Beer.
  • Ian MunroNovember 4, 2020, 11:52 amA wonderful explanation of a wonderful drink. I have friends in America who found Bundaberg Root Beer at their local store. They were so impressed, they went back and bought a carton.
  • LindeeNovember 7, 2020, 6:02 amI have recently come across your Sarsaparilla in a small country town in NSW Australia and was immediately transported back to a time when on a family holiday mum and dad would have a drink in the pub’s Beer Garden and dad would buy us 4 kids “kids beer” (not very pc now 😂) and it was Sarsaparilla which we loved and was always the holiday treat. Now I am intrigued to try a diy Sarsaparilla... I have been having great success with Ginger Beer, also inspired by your GB 😀.
    • Bundaberg Brewed DrinksNovember 30, 2020, 5:00 pmSo great to hear of your lovely experience Lindee. Glad we could take you back to a happy moment.