With no alcohol content it might seem odd to call Root Beer a beer at all.
The origin of Root Beer can be traced back many centuries. As far back as in Medieval Europe and also in our early Colonial ancestry, when local beverages which were made from locally sourced natural plant based ingredients were brewed just like beer and were considered much healthier drink options, much safer in fact than the often sickness inducing and over polluted water.
The mixture of ingredients known to be used in the earliest root beer recipes included such things as Birch bark, Prickly Ash bark, and Wild Cherry bark. Spices like Coriander, Vanilla, and Ginger. Allspice, Juniper berries, Hops, Wintergreen and Yellow Dock to name just a few. These would have been brewed alongside organic roots such as Burdock, Liquorice, Dandelion, Sarsaparilla and Sassafras.
Today some of these natural ingredients are still used in both home-made and commercial Root or small beers. The main flavor of Root Beer is provided by natural Wintergreen leaf and Sassafras, though artificial Sassafras flavorings is used now rather than the natural root after it was discovered that oil from the Sassafras root contains a substance called Safrol discovered to be damaging to the liver as well as being a carcinogen.
Brewed using natural ingredients, most of which were used to make traditional herbal remedies, Root Beer, just like other sodas such as Coke, began their more modern rise in popularity when they were sold in pharmacies or on soda fountains. Widely advertised as tonics or curatives used to treat all kinds of maladies and ailments the soda element was introduced to these "medicines' simply as a way of making them more palatable.
Thought to have been created originally by pharmacist Charles Hires, the origin of the Root Beer we enjoy today was originally sold dry as Hires Root Tea to be stored in the cupboard and mixed at home. Later, Hires began selling it ‘ready-mixed’ and in order to make it sound more appealing to the working classes changed its name to from tea to beer. From then on its popularity soared, in fact during the temperance movement, though its name caused some controversy, Root Beer was heavily advertised as ‘the temperance drink’!
Sold commercially in bottles and cans once opened there is a quick escape of fizz, releasing a pleasing and delicious aroma into the air. Root Beer soda pours into the glass a beautiful deep dark brown and is topped with a generous thick and creamy head. The sweet, slightly medicinal tasting cool drink lends itself wonderfully to becoming a float when topped off with a generous dollop of vanilla ice-cream!