Nowadays, there are hundreds of Root Beer brands all across the United States. Though there’s absolutely no one recipe, this favorite soft drink flavor has definitely found its place in American history, and is a favorite of young and old.
This beverage really started as a two percentage low alcohol”small beer”. Poor public sanitation led to water-transmitted diseases which often resulted in death. The daily consumption of small beer was just one way to escape possible infection, as the alcohol helped to kill the germs. Historical documents note that Shakespeare had partaken of small beers, George Washington had a recipe for little beer, and Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography mentions that he sometimes had a small beer with breakfast.
In Colonial America, small beer was part of their diet. As the colonists settled, they did not have the crops of barley or other grains to use when making their little beer. They had to use other sweeteners like cane sugar, honey and molasses. For bitterness, rather than jumps, they had to discover which plants in the new world would provide the bitterness and flavor.
A lot of these components are still used today with the addition of carbonation.
The invention of a genuine Root Beer recipe may have happened by accident. Using a handful of roots, herbs and berries, an unknown pharmacist came up with a beverage that was very medicinal. While the pharmacist was eager to create a miracle cure-all drug for the general public, it never really took off.
In the 1870s another pharmacist, Charles Hires, made a recipe for a tasty herbal tea. Later, the mixture of over twenty-five herbs, roots and berries was used to flavor his carbonated soda . In 1893, Hires tasked the Crystal Bottling Company to bottle and distribute his Root Beer to local retailers. Being a pharmacist himself, Hires encouraged his Root Beer as a good-for-you brew, and he called his new product”origin tea”. However, to appeal to a larger audience, he was encouraged to call it Root Beer. The popularity for this soft drink skyrocked as a consequence of Hires mass advertising, and this soft drink soon became as American as apple pie and baseball.