Sarsaparilla is a soft drink originally made from the Smilax regeli plant but now often made with artificial flavours. D introduced it to me a decade ago and it’s since become a favourite soft drink for us. It’s been popular in the United States since the 19th century as a purported cure for many medical conditions, but we appreciate its pleasant medicinal flavour with hints of vanilla, caramel, wintergreen and liquorice.
Kirks Big Sars Sarsparilla is the first in a series on the flavour of the brands available in Sydney. This was a surprising find. All stores of major supermarkets stock Bundaberg’s sarsaparilla, but this one appears only on the shelves — but not the website — of a less-visited Woolworths store in western Sydney. The spelling of sarsaparilla on the label is missing the second ‘a’ although it’s unclear whether this was intentional.
The beverage is lightly carbonated and made with natural flavours — not brewed — and a darker brown-black colour than Bundaberg. It has a sweet vanilla and liquorice nose, as you’d expect from sarsaparilla. The taste, though, could not be more different. Consumed ice-cold, very sweet notes of caramel and vanilla come through in the head with a faint liquorice undertone in the body before giving way to a sweet minty vanilla finish that lingers on the palate. While the beverage retains its effervescence throughout, the minty notes of wintergreen that were absent in the Bundaberg are overwhelming here. The sweet minty vanilla finish isn’t entirely unpleasant, but it’s odd — like sweet minty toothpaste — and balanced poorly by the overly subtle liquorice undertones that usually brings the pleasant medicinal sharpness.
While we can get used to the flavour, it’s not what we look for in sarsaparilla so we’re unlikely to repurchase.
This bottle of Kirks Big Sars Sarsparilla contained 1.25 litres. It was bottled in Australia and was purchased in Sydney, Australia in 2017.