The story of Root Beer

Photo by Creative Commons user Stacy Spensley

Root beer is much more interesting than you might think. To start with root beer is related to what are called small beers, lower alcohol level beers that were drunk by children at the time when water was still dangerous. When colonists arrived in the modern day United States they used roots to try and create the same small beers they had drunk back in Europe.

One of the most popular roots in this process was the sassafras root, until it was banned as a carcinogen by the FDA. Some of the roots used in root beer were sarsaparilla root, ginger, and dandelion root. Modern root beer typically contains anise, birch oil, wintergreen, and vanilla extract, among other flavourings and ingredients.


The creation of our modern day, soda root beer can all be traced back to one man; a pharmacist named Charles Hires. Hires was a pharmacist in Philadelphia who was the first to nationally market a root beer syrup that could be mixed with soda water to create a soda pop. Initially it was sold in kits so that people could make it at home, or premixed in bottles.

Hires presented his idea at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, and interestingly he changed the name from root tea to root beer to make it more appealing to the working classes.

The story of root beer is so much more than a sugary syrup. Let us know if you enjoyed this article and what your favourite root beer is.


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