The story behind Not Your Father’s Root Beer

SOMETHING smells about Not Your Father’s Root Beer, and I’m not talking about the heavy dose of vanilla extract that flavors the suddenly popular brew.

Described as “ale with the taste of spices,” it tastes exactly like soda and contains 5.9 percent alcohol. Two other versions sold in large bottles contain 10.7 percent and an astonishing 19.5 percent alcohol.

The brew has social media and beer aficionado websites buzzing with excitement and high ratings, and buyers in Pennsylvania have been scooping up $50 cases since they arrived earlier this year. Its manufacturer went from an unknown startup to national distribution in under five years, with one sales survey calling it the fastest-selling new craft-beer product of 2015.

What is this stuff, and who’s behind its incredible success?

Tim Kovac, founder and brewmaster of Small Town Brewery, in tiny Wauconda, Ill. (population 13,823), where Not Your Fathers Root Beer was born, says he’s astonished at his success.

“It has been very much an amazing ride,” Kovac told me. “Going from a few dozen Chicago bars to one of the most sought-after beers in America – it’s a phenomenal beer, it really it is.”

At first, Small Town Brewery sounds like the prototypical independent craft brewery with a quaint back story: The owner is a graphic artist who stumbles upon his best-selling recipe during a carefree day of stovetop home-brewing with his son. It takes him two years to perfect it, finally producing an authentic, old-fashioned hard root beer.

One day, he serves it to a woman and watches a tear roll down her cheek as she declares, “You just brought back memories of me being a little girl.”

There are other gems, including the discovery of a 17th-century “leather-bound scroll” filled with brewing recipes from a seafaring ancestor who, legend has it, won a brewery in a card game.

Kovac shared the homespun tale with me last week during a phone call arranged and monitored by his public-relations agency, Sard Verbinnen & Co., a high-priced New York City firm known mainly for representing Wall Street scoundrels, including the Madoff family and Lehman Brothers’ Dick Fuld.

When I asked for details on how the root beer is brewed, the PR rep interrupted and said, “Parts of the recipe are proprietary.”

Kovac said it’s “brewed and fermented just like any other beer.”

Perhaps, but this is what else we know:

The brewhouse at Small Town Brewery, tucked into a small industrial center that also houses a body-jewelry outlet and a smoke shop, is capable of making fewer than 15 kegs a day.

That’s the equivalent of about 2,500 bottles – or would be if the brewery owned any bottling equipment.

Most of the root beer is brewed and packaged 238 miles away, at the former G. Heileman Brewing plant now owned by City Brewing in La Crosse, Wis.

Kovac said that City Brewing uses his original recipe.

The La Crosse plant, however, is known primarily for the production of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice and other so-called malternatives.

These drinks, which are not generally regarded as real beer, are fermented from grains and sugar, then stripped down to their essential taste-free alcohol and reflavored artificially.

It’s a fairly advanced technique, one that no small, largely inexperienced craft brewer would likely tackle on his own.

Kovac and the names of two other area men are listed on Small Town’s state liquor license. Nonetheless, there is ample evidence that the brewery is either controlled by or in a partnership with a much larger company called Phusion Projects LLC.

For example:

Why the subterfuge?

Possibly because Phusion is responsible for the most notorious alcoholic beverage to hit the shelves in the past decade: Four Loko.

Made with caffeine and marketed as an alcoholic “energy beer,” Four Loko was linked to dozens of hospitalizations and at least one death from excessive consumption before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration forced it off shelves in 2010.

The drink has since returned but without added caffeine.

Phusion did not reply to a request for comment about its relationship, and Small Town declined to answer further questions about its ownership.

However, a source familiar with the companies told me that the brand (but not the brewery) was recently acquired by Eugene Kashper, the new CEO and chairman of Pabst Brewing.

Pabst will distribute the root beer in all 50 states

Meanwhile, Small Town Brewery is developing other brands, including Not Your Father’s Ginger Beer and a barrel-aged root beer with 24 percent alcohol.




  1. Vaunted  July 2, 2015

    The whole thing smacks of a huge-budgeted, masterfully orchestrated product roll-out. It’s more akin to the launch of a new McDonald’s burger than any beer I’ve seen before, even from the big boys.

    • Mike  July 2, 2015

      That’s because it was Pabst that did the roll out, not the little brewery

    • JPE Beer Guy  July 3, 2015

      This is a perfect example of a Great American small business success story! Hats off to Tim and all of the people who have helped make this company a success. Individuals who take pride in their passion and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeve’s are what makes this the best country in the world! Happy Birthday America!

      • Dan  July 13, 2015

        The above message brought to you by Pabst/Phusion/illiteracy.

    • Rhett  January 14, 2016

      The rootbeer tastes like syrup it’s touch sugar and what spices are in it? A few friends who have had it got sick due to spice whatever they are init.

  2. Kevin  July 2, 2015

    Nobody brings up the fact that the ingredients list artificial flavors and carmel coloring. I don’t think any real craft brewer would use coloring to make a dark beer and would most likely use real flavorings to flavor their beer.

    • Tom  July 15, 2015

      uh, many home brewers use artificial flavorings in their brews. All home brew supplies sell artificial flavorings for the use in beer.

      • Tom  July 15, 2015

        nevermind, re read your post, you said craft brewers. you’re probably right. my apologies.

        • Matt  July 17, 2015

          Less homebrewers than craft brewers use artificial anything. So, you are still wrong.

    • Tova  September 9, 2015

      Can anyone say for sure what the “artificial ingredients are?
      I HATE the taste of this….it has a lingering flavor of aspartame!
      (Willing to bet the sweetner is not natural )

      • Tim Inak  October 18, 2015

        I just cracked my first one up here in Alaska (hey, we still listen to Nickleback,) and it reminded me immediately of Milwaukee’s Best with some vanillan eyedropped in. This is a beer for teenagers.

  3. Jon  July 3, 2015

    I knew something was up with this stuff from the first moment I saw the packaging, but they’ve managed to surround the product with just enough truthiness that I couldn’t immediately get to the bottom of the matter… and then I gave up. Thanks for the exposé.

  4. Richard Stueven  July 6, 2015

    Yet another industrial flavored fake beer dressed up to look folksy.

  5. Jesse  July 11, 2015

    You can tell the person who put the website together if full of BS, read the description of their 20% version and it says they ended up with that ABV because they accidentally added twice the yeast. Anybody who understands the brewing process knows that is completely wrong.

  6. Red okane  July 17, 2015

    Who cares who’s behind the people who came up with the beer. It tastes great and isn’t that what’s important. I hear they’re going to make one that tastes like cream soda. If it’s anything like the root beer it’ll be in my fridge. Keep up the great work

  7. Tom  July 17, 2015

    Do you sell it in Connecticut?

  8. Dave  July 22, 2015

    LOL, you all sound like bitter whiners.

  9. Spiker1967  July 28, 2015

    Just want to know when it will be available in Idaho? :0)

  10. Lisa Rudy  July 29, 2015

    I fell for the chatter and picked some up tonight.
    Does the cadre of “artificial flavorings” include artificial sweeteners? Certainly tastes like it.
    The general root beer taste isn’t bad, but it is overly sweet – almost cloyingly so. The aftertaste smacks of saccharine and aspartame.
    And to think I spent on these six bottles ($10.99) what could have spent on one somewhat larger bottle of JackieOs BBA Dark App. Stupid move.
    Anybody want the other five of this… stuff?

    • Jesse  July 30, 2015

      Make pulled pork. I always marinate mine in rootbeer before I throw it in the slow cooker. This stuff should work just as well.

    • Kelly Tanneth  August 12, 2015

      I bought some tonight too, for 11.99 …sooooo pissed off. This stuff is awful. What is everybody so happy about? This stuff is the worst I’ve ever tasted, even moreso than the crappy bitter beers out there! What a joke! I think they’re paying a bunch of people to further the excitement and holding back on production to increase demand. The first sip was like spices, not rootbeer, the second sip, ok, sure, more like rootbeer, but certainly not delicious and certainly not “gotta have it”.. Real bummer.

    • joe  December 22, 2015

      Agree totally it’s one nasty beer and way over priced

  11. Kim Crews  August 13, 2015

    I’m not a beer drinker but love Not Your Father’s. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to find and when i do find it a buy a case!!!!!

  12. Billie  August 14, 2015

    The root beer beer is a delicious beer and has a great punch to it .its also good at making root beer floats with a added punch. Goes great with pizza hot dogs and chips and some other foods . Its all in your taste if you like root beer u will love it.

  13. Craig  September 14, 2015

    How much sugar does this beer have?

    • Sean  September 15, 2015

      All of it.

      • Tarah  November 22, 2015

        Lol! Yes, so much sugar.

  14. Jerry  September 28, 2015

    For me the ingredients make the difference whether I buy or not. Are there any GMO Roundup Ready ingredients involved?

  15. Don  October 3, 2015

    This is how crap beer takes over craft. The buy in by the tasteless macrobrewers to craft beers like Goose Island and this under wraps let’s fool the public. I won’t buy it. Nearly as tricky as Miller Lite saying they invented Light Beer, without telling you they bought the company that bought the company that did originate light beer. No macro swill will pass these lips.

    • Doug  December 7, 2015

      And yet Lite Beer does Taste Great & Is Less Filling. I’ve been drinking it since the day it came out, and hands down it is the best in breed easily surpassing Bud Lite, Coors Swill Lite, Michelob Lite, … any and all Lite beers. Tried them all, none even came close. It probably comes down to taste buds though. I can’t even stand to look at food from India, they seem to love the crap though.

  16. Jet Fuel Can't  October 14, 2015

    This is a good drink and anyone who denies it is a hipster beer snob

    • Jeff  January 16, 2016

      Well, if by hipster beer snob you mean people who actually KNOW the details of what they consume, and talk about, then you’re right. Not Your Father’s is shit chemical beverage with aspertame. Any questions?

  17. Binky J. BEAR  October 27, 2015

    I knew it was a fakeout but wanted to try it anyway. It was repugnant. Worse than kroger diet root beer with a malt liquor finish that coupled with the excessive sweetness made me want to boot. Like a 5 hour energy with fuzz and booze.
    10.99 at midtown Fred Meyers!

  18. Erraticabee  November 2, 2015

    I love the taste of it, though I don’t buy that it’s actually brewed like beer. I also think there are artificial sweeteners. Sucralose gives me migraines and so does this!

  19. RomieRome  November 12, 2015

    For everyone wondering why we’re pissed. This beer is a complete scheme!! This article says so much already, but what if we found out the real ingredients?! It’s a cheap “beer” filled with a whole bunch of crap, has a made up (with just enough truth) back story, professionally marketed and backed, and is sold for an insane price!!!! In CA it costs anywhere from $13-$18… for a beer that is as cheap to produce as the four lokos!! I’m furious! I hope they’re shut down.

  20. Bob  November 18, 2015

    To all you guys drinking Haterade. Who cares what you think. People vote with their dollars and obviously Small Town Brewing is winning. Welcome to the minority and free market of competition. If it truly sucks then we shouldn’t be seeing too much success right? Any of you take economics in school LOL?

    • Doug  December 7, 2015

      Good post. It does seem that there are a lot of beer snobs in the world. Personally. I like the taste and alcohol content of this one. You get a 2 beer kick from one bottle of this stuff, so the price is about right in line with regular beer.

  21. Debbie  December 2, 2015

    I work at a grocery store where, on occasion, people have come thirty miles from Reno, Nevada, to Truckee, CA. to purchase this”beer”, so, made me curious. I laid down nearly $14. bucks only to drink one of these tasty, very sweet drinks and wound up very ill for a day and a half. Terrible headache that couldn’t be touched by any over-the-counter pain meds and just generally ill. Never again. Poison. Ingredients in alcoholic beverages should legally have to be listed. Why does everything else we consume have ingredients listed but companies selling alcohol are somehow excluded? I want to know what’s in the beverages I’m purchasing and consuming.I’d like to make an informed choice as to what I’ll spend my hard earned dollars on!

  22. Doug  December 7, 2015

    HELP. Although I really like this beer, I do have one very large issue with it. After drinking just one I have been getting a bad case of indigestion, gas and pressure in my chest which takes about half an hour to go away. Don’t take an antacid, it made things worse and I almost got very sick to my stomach, the saliva glands were pumping overtime!!! So ….. how do you combat this? In spite of all that I still like it and want to drink this brew, but I need something to offset the side effects.

    Thanks – “Root Beer Junkie”

  23. Chantal  December 13, 2015

    It’s terrible! Like just terrible. Thankfully I didn spend my hard earned money buying this stuff because I just poured almost a full bottle down the drain. I couldn’t take the after tast after two sips. It ruined the taste of my prime rib too! I feel a headache coming on too. I just had to look this up and see what the buzz was about and since this stuff is giving people sickly symptoms I honestly would drink it. Ever.

  24. tennistom  December 17, 2015

    Came across this site by accident while googling Not Your Father’s Root Beer out of curiosity. I bought a six pack at Walgreens in Palm Springs area. It was in the bottled water section, I think I paid $10 something for a 6 pack, it had just come in the clerk said when I asked him for a price check because they hadn’t priced it on the shelf yet. So let’s say it’s $11.00, I don’t have the receipt handy. So that’s about $1.83 a can maybe. I like root beer and my favorite beer is Pyramid Apricot Ale. I LIKED IT! I poured it over a glass of crushed ice.

    I see this site is called Joe 6 Pack, so I don’t know what all the hating is about–this ain’t about Champagne or Cognac. I didn’t even know it was a beer, I bought it as a root-beer with a buzz. I don’t care what the ingredients are, i’m not a hypochondriac who is worried that the government is trying to poison me–that’s what I have a tin-hat for. So it’s got an old timey label and is sold with a story, that’s called marketing. I’m not expecting to get moonshine at a Walgreens. I’ll buy it again and make floats with it. I’ll add it to my collection of boozes: Pyramid Apricot Ale, Watermelon Codial Liqueur, Torani Pecon, Pimms Cup, egg nog liqueur for my morning coffee and Tres Leche Liqueur which unfortunately seems to have gone under so I’m cornering the market on what’s left on the Bev Mo shelves for future speculation.

    • Nicole  January 3, 2016

      I like rootbeer, so on occasion, ONE is good. Two, probably not. Started tasting like cough syrup at the end of the first bottle…..

  25. Tony J  January 2, 2016

    Put me down on the “drank one, crapped my lungs out for days” list. Not a good feeling

  26. Barbara  January 3, 2016

    It’s funny. We just had a conversation about corporations buying up craft breweries then using their vast resources to lobby legislators to pass laws making it harder for craft breweries to get started and succeed. Now THAT’S something to get worked up about.
    Spending time arguing over whether or not a beer tastes good seems crazy since taste is subjective. I had this root beer beer last night at a party and I personally loved it. It was given to me by someone raving about how it tasted just like root beer, so maybe because I expected it to taste sweet (because root beer does) and not like beer, I enjoyed it. In fact i enjoyed it so much, I went looking for more info on it.

  27. Doug  January 5, 2016

    A number of things give me acid indigestion which this Root Beer does also. I found a natural cure for indigestion, which is cased by acidity in your stomach. A teaspoon of mustard will counteract that acid since mustard is an alkaline. It takes 5 to 10 minutes to work since the lining of your stomach is already inflamed and I found if I take it BEFORE having a bottle of this Root Beer I am good to go and can now enjoy this mighty fine brew! Now I make sure I have a packet or 2 of McDonalds mustard with me when we go out to eat.