Sarsaparilla Reviews


More serious theological blogging to come soon. In the meantime and in the spirit of ‘doing all things to the glory of God’ here’s a post that I had immense fun doing the research for and writing up.

According to Wikipedia ‘Sarsaparilla is a soft drink, originally made from the Smilax regelii plant, but now sometimes made with artificial flavours.’ Like Coca Cola it was originally marketed as a remedy for skin and blood problems as well as a preventative for venereal disease, was often the butt of jokes in Westerns where ordering sarsaparilla instead of whiskey was mocked, and has since died out as a drink in the US though remains popular in some Asian countries and Australia.

I pity those countries who are missing out.

So here’s a review of seven sarsaparilla brands I was able to find in my local vicinity. Some are easily available from supermarkets (such as Bundaberg or Schweppes) and others a little more trickier to find.

The tastings will attempt to feature notes on the aromas (the nose) and the taste (the palate). A personal score out of 5 is given, make of that what you will. Sugar content will also be noted.

So in no particular order, let the tasting begin!


A very nice drop…

Bickford’s Old Style Sarsaparilla

‘Handcrafted to the original award winning recipes dating back to the 1870’s’

On the nose: vanilla, very subtle star anise

On the palate: mid to light carbonation, a pleasant lingering finish, not too sweet with a good mouth feel, hints of liquorice and aniseed spice

Score: 4.5/5

Sugar: 10g/100ml

This is a really smooth Sarsaparilla. Pleasant from the opening, the freshness of the nose, the mid-level carbonation and mouth feel, to the lingering and gently sweet liquorice finish, with hints of star anise spice.

There are however two negatives. The first is that the bottle is 275ml – barely over a cup! This then is a good Sarsaparilla for enjoying the taste while watching your waist.

The second is that Bickford’s can be hard to find. The only place I have seen it is in my local Caltex Woolworths petrol station…

Last bit: The bottle has an interesting little kink on the bottom – kinda like IKEA mugs with the kink which allows water to drain off quickly when in the dishwasher. So are Bickfords recycling bottles…?!


Gorgeous from start to finish

Bundaberg Sarsaparilla

‘Brewed over three days.’

On the nose: sweet liquorice and vanilla pleasantly dominate

On the palate: very light carbonation, I think the lightest of this test batch, hence the mouth feel is delicate.  A gentle sweetness is provided by the molasses, with hints of that original sarsaparilla flavour mixed with a little bit of grass/herbal jelly.

Score: 5/5

Sugar:  12.4g/100ml

When most people think of Sarsaparilla around these parts (ie Brisbane) we tend to think of ‘that other Bundaberg drink which is not rum’. Bundaberg brewery is obviously famous for its rum and ginger beer, but following closely behind that would be its sarsaparilla. (UPDATE: I’ve been informed that the Rum distillery and Ginger Beer Brewery are unrelated).

Boasting a three day brew this is a very nice drop. Opening the pull tab is a ceremonial rite of passage, and learning how to get it open quickly and properly is a skill to boast of in of itself (if boasting in such things is your thing). The gentle sound of trapped gas escaping in the initial ‘phsshh’ is an aural delight. The nose and palate are greeted with the same flavours (sweet liquorice and vanilla) and the light carbonation makes this very easy to drink.

The one negative is that this is really a sit down to drink all at once type of beverage because the fitted ring pull tab lid does not make for an easy travelling and sipping companion. Still, if you want to know what a proper and classic Sarsaparilla should taste like you can’t go much further.


One note wonder

Cascade Sarsaparilla

‘Classic premium refreshment. Finest quality ingredients. Since 1886’

On the nose: strong liquorice… only liquorice

On the palate: medium levels of carbonation, liquorice, star anise, a big mouth feel which dissipates quickly leaving some gentle cloying.

Score: 3/5

Sugar: 11.4g/100ml

Not to be confused with one of Tasmania’s finest breweries, though related, Cascade Beverages offers a range of non-alcoholic drinks. I’ve enjoyed their mixer drinks before, such as Lemon-Lime-Bitters. But their sarsaparilla offering is only ok. If you’re a liquorice fan you’ll love this drink. The strong aniseed aroma is backed up by a liquorice palate (and a liquorice infused burp). Sweetness is well balanced, but the rest of the drink is not as complex as other Sarsaparillas on this list. It’s also one of the more expensive drinks on this list.




Schweppes Traditionals Sarsaparilla

On the nose: liquorice, sweet cola

On the palate: generic sweetness, some cola flavour, very subtle liquorice, hints of caramel and vanilla

Score: 2.5/5

Sugar: 10.9g/100ml

Schweppes has a long history of gracing our supermarket shelves, since 1783 as boasted on its logo. Most of us probably know it is the brand we often don’t buy because it’s so expensive! But we do love their ‘Agrum’ and ‘Blood Orange’ drinks.

Their Sarsaparilla, however, ain’t that great. I’m not sure this drink knows what it wants to be. Is it a sarsaparilla or generic cola? This isn’t to say it’s unpleasant, but it is to say that there are better drinks on this list.



So disappointing…


Wimmers Double Sarsaparilla

‘Sweetened with pure cane sugar’

On the nose: strong grassy herbal notes, hints of liquorice, oddly unpleasant.

On the palate: that taste of cane sugar comes through loud and clear – that fibrous note from chewing on sugar cane dances on my tongue, hints of vanilla and liquorice and that traditional sarsaparilla flavour. The taste lingers… in an unpleasant way.

Score: 1/5

Sugar: 12.8g/100ml

To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. I’ve purposefully left this one till later because I’ve always enjoyed Wimmers Double Sarsaparilla. It was my go to Sars when the options were there. Now having drunk my way through these last few I can see that there are some remarkable differences in palate and olfactory feel.

This is a wildly unbalanced drink. The nose is simply too strong and unpleasant. The palate is all over the place: sugar, hints of bitterness, a touch of vanilla, and all without finding any enjoyable equilibrium. I imagine this is what it would be like to actually munch on the Smilax regelii plant this stuff is made out of.

I’m hoping this was a dud batch, and that perhaps the supermarket I purchased it from didn’t store it correctly.

Update: Nope. I went back and bought another bottle and it was the same all over again. *sigh*


Surprising find!


River Port Double Sarsaparilla

‘Made in country Australia’

On the nose: strong earthy liquorice mixed with the menthol of tiger balm!

On the palate: Mild carbonation meets sweetness, bold yet restrained sarsaparilla flavours and hints of vanilla bean

Score: 4/5

Sugar: 11.8g/100ml

In my hunt for sarsaparilla bottles I stumbled upon this one at my local fish and chip shop – and I have never seen it anywhere else.

Given that sarsaparilla started out as a medicinal drink it seems that River Port Double Sars gives us probably the closest representation of that. From the medicinal quality of the smells that greet you upon opening up the bottle to the bold sarsaparilla flavour this is drink that makes you feel healthier with every sip. And I don’t mean that in a starve-yourself-diet kinda way.

This drink is a surprise to say the least. A surprising find and a pleasantly surprising taste, though I might add this might be a more acquired sarsaparilla flavour.


Wow, nice… [photo courtesy of]


Saxbys Double Sarsaparilla

‘Taste it to believe it!’

On the nose: subtle yet deep liquorice, hints of vanilla

On the palate: decent carbonation, velvety mouth feel, gentle sweetness mixed with vanilla and a deep yet not overpowering liquorice. This is very nice.

Score: 4.5/5

Sugar: 12.1g/100ml

Well this certainly is a surprise. I didn’t expect much from Saxbys but their double sarsaparilla is very good. Very comparable to the Bundaberg Sarsaparilla. It loses a half point for not being as complex as its rival, but the double sarsaparilla more than makes up with a generous depth of flavour. This is how a double sarsaparilla should taste!

I’ve tasted and I believe!



Alrighty, so there you go. 7 bottles of my favourite soft drink Sarsaparilla tested. I’ll probably keep going back to Bickfords when I can find it (for the benefit of my waist) and Bundaberg above other options.

So what soft drink should I trial next? Ginger Beer? Creaming Soda? Put your preference in the comments below.


Update I: 15th April 2015

HeySong SarsaparillaIMAG0477

‘Something, something, something…’ – my translation of the Chinese.

On the nose: Cola, subtle Asian Medicinal Herbs, hint of musk

On the palate: Mid to high levels of carbonation, very subtle star anise, some vanilla, some generic cola sweetness, well balanced but tastes watered down.

Score: 2/5

Sugar: 11g/100ml (I think)

Stop the presses! I’ve found me an Asian Sarsaparilla at my local Asian grocer. HeySong Sarsaparilla, which I tried recently at a social gathering, and now for a proper tasting. The first thing you notice is how light the drink looks in comparison to the very dark and earthy colours of all the previous drinks. I thought the Cascade Sarsaparilla was light. This looks like someone watered that down even further.

The nose is greeted with an interesting mix of generic cola, hints of musk and subtle Asian medicinal herbs. That smell you get when walking into one of those Asian medicinal stores – imagine bottling that (or in this case canning it).

On the palate there is an immediate greeting by the carbonation – possibly the highest of this test batch and a definite reminder that this is a soft drink. The carbonation dominates, making it very hard to taste anything. Subtle star anise flavours mixed with vanilla float to the front of my olfactory senses which is quickly chased down by watered down cola. Think that glass of cola and ice that’s been sitting there for a little too long and you’ll know what I mean.

Disappointing entry from Taiwan.

Noah: Review of the Reviews

Noah-Review of the Reviews


So I haven’t seen the movie yet. I probably won’t – not necessarily out of any conviction but mostly out of time.

But, one doesn’t need to eat a slice of the cake to know it’s sweet.

What I have been reading plenty of are the many reviews that have been posted up since the movies’ release. Facebook has also made it much easier to access these reviews since most of my FB friends are Christians and have posted up dozens of different reviews of the movie.

So what I thought I’d do is something different. Seeing as I haven’t seen the movie I might do a review of the reviews.

Let me start with some of the negative reviews, look at the positive reviews, then look at the positive and discerning reviews.

First to the negative reviews. The major theme I’ve picked up in these reviews is the spectrum of annoyance to deep frustration that the movie lacks much of the biblical detail, and the extra details the movie did contain change and/or twist the biblical story beyond recognition. Some of the reviews were negative not just on theological lines, but also on the strength of the movie itself: some claiming the scripting and directing to be below average in their own right.

I’ll put up my hand now and say that I posted before the movies’ release to state that I didn’t think it would be worth going to see – but rather sitting down with your friends to read the original story and pointing them to Jesus would be more worthwhile. I made these comments primarily because I believed that audiences expecting a faithful biblical retelling – or at least an attempt at faithfulness – would be disappointed. I also believe that the trailer gives enough scope for Christians to believe so as well. I have since changed my mind – more on that below.

I know some have expressed, including good friends of mine, that Christians shouldn’t have been so presumptuous – that just because a movie is based on a biblical character/story does not necessitate it to be ‘Christian’ in the sense that the story and message must match the biblical narrative. But I don’t think it was unfair for Christians to expect a faithful rendering of the story line. I base this judgement on the fact that the trailer itself appears to suggest a faithful rendering of the story (or at least leaves it very open that the movie will be faithful), and the other fact that it’s not very often we get to see biblical stories on the big screen. It’s not going too far to suggest that if movie studios realise the potential they have in recreating biblical stories for the big screen then flocks of Christians would come and pay their hard earned money to see these stories come to life (see ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘The Bible’ TV miniseries).

Back to the reviews – in all the negative reviews I noticed an earnest attempt by the reviewers to try to engage with the movie. But part of the negative criticism came about because they felt disconnected from such a familiar story. I don’t necessarily disagree with the negative reviews, I just think that’s how the some will inevitably react.

Some other reviews attempted to point out how the movie isn’t Christian at all, but has either gnostic and/or kaballah elements. While some of it rings true, other reviews have dismissed these claims fairly convincingly.

The positive reviews, however, have been an interesting mixed bag.

First, most positive reviews took a fairly light view on the theological errors of the movie, and tended to take a strong finger-waving view against those who have negative criticisms, particularly those who were negative but hadn’t seen the movie.

Second, most of the glowing positive reviews always ended up in the same place – with the hopes that anyone watching this movie would go home, open up their bibles, and read the real account (and perhaps come to church afterwards).

To be honest, I think this hope is a tad naïve and forgets that with all the hype of ‘The Passion of the Christ’, according to Barna research, church attendance did not change one bit nor was there any significant increase in conversions. Certainly I want to affirm that God can and does use anything and everything to bring about his purposes – but I’m with Tim Challies on this to say that we should not hope for a movie to do what God’s Word already promises.

Other positive reviews have been quick to point out the strengths of the movie, the stunning visuals, and some also view the dialogue and directing more positively. This note you can’t really argue against – art is of the nature that one person might find something deeply intriguing and satisfying, and others just don’t ‘get it’. One of these days I’m going to post a review of mini-book ‘Art for God’s Sake’ by Philip Ryken.

Now to the positive and discerning reviews.

I can think of no two greater examples than this one by friend Nathan Campbell for Creek Rd Presbyterian Church, and this other one by Gregory Alan Thornbury guest blogging at the Gospel Coalition.

In both of these reviews you’ll see two things. First, you’ll see an appreciation for what the film does well – cinematically as well as theologically. Both reviews point out insightfully that Noah contains one of the best depictions of human depravity on screen – and that as a starting point in a conversation might make it worth viewing with a friend who has questions.

Second, both reviews do raise up alternative theological viewpoints in contrast to what is seen on screen. And this is where I’d commend Nathan’s review the most – for not only does he point out a contrasting theological view, but he does so with a biblical theology lens: always pointing us from Noah to Jesus.

Hollywood was never going to be able to do Biblical Theology well. And this, in some ways, has, I think, made Nathan’s review the best I’ve read – because it actually helps the reader think Christianly about the movie. Rather than navel-gaze and wonder why Aronofsky didn’t make a more faithful movie, the review takes what is there and points to something greater. That is a helpful model of cultural engagement.