What is Root Beer Soda?

  • By: Max S.
  • Date: September 13, 2022
  • Time to read: 9 min.

What is the first thought that streams your mind when you hear root beer for the first time?

It might be the unusual description of the typical root beer that exists today, which has a unique and delicious taste of honey with the right blends of wintergreen and vanilla, topped by the heavenly mouth feel of its thick and creamy foam that comes to mind.

Well, you’re not absolutely wrong. However, root beer has a deep history that trails back to the 1840s in North America when it was being sold in popular confectionary stores.

In fact, root beer is more of an American tradition than it is for the regularly consumed Apple pie and Hamburger.

Root beer is a unique beverage made from roots, just like its name. Pretty shocking, right?

Stay back till the end of this phenomenal article to know the actual historical transformation of this sumptuous creamy drink of a beer and discover if it’s the right beer choice for you!

When was Root Beer Invented?

bottle of bundaberg root beer
When was Root Beer Invented?

The mysterious history behind root beer started way before it was officially first brewed in the 1840s. Before the eruption of root beers, root teas and medicine were the ones in vogue in North America.

They were popularly consumed and demanded because of their medicinal benefits.

Root teas were made from the barks, roots, and flowers of majorly Sassafras and Sarsaparilla plants, which were known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-allergen capabilities.

When was Root Beer Invented?
When was Root Beer Invented?

Of course, the taste wasn’t pleasing; therefore, they were rarely used for fun engagements but for special occasions that require a boost in immunity. Regardless of how beneficial these plants were, they had their shortcomings. 

A good example is the Sassafras plant, famous for its pain-relieving and sepsis necrosis agility, which can also be detrimental to the liver when consumed excessively. 

Root beer revolution began when the European colonists settled in North America, heard of their outstanding medicinal benefits and decided to brew the first ever root beer. 

Before this occurred, European colonists were excellent at producing small beers – beers with a low percentage of alcohol.

Where Does Root Beer Come From?

Where Does Root Beer Come From?
Where Does Root Beer Come From?

Root beer originates from North America.  

The collaboration of the European colonists and the indigenous natives of North America helped to successfully craft a satisfactory beer that has grown to become a part of America’s culture.

The valiant European colonists spent most of their days crafting delicious small beers as they were considered healthier than typical water, cheaper than other standard alcoholic drinks and more nutritious.

On arrival in North America, they observed and discovered the remarkable medicinal teas and their origin – Sassafras and Sarsaparilla plants. It was only a matter of time before they began exhibiting their excellent beer crafting ability.

Thus, the production of the first root beer ever!

The main purpose of producing root beers by colonists was solely to provide a source of medicinal nourishment and hydration and not to derive pleasure by getting excessively alcoholic saturated – getting drunk.

The revolution continued with the creation of root beer recipes that were passed from generation to generation to ensure that their significance was never forgotten. 

Over time, root beer production became advanced as different medicinal plants, yeast, sugar, and other nutritious ingredients were added to its recipe.

Who Invented Root Beer?

Who Invented Root Beer?
Who Invented Root Beer?

Thanks to the unprecedented evolution of root beer passed from parents to children, from generation to generation, Charles Elmer Hires got a sip of this delicious beer and enjoyed its medicinal benefits.

Charles Elmer Hires, a Philadelphia-based pharmacist, was amazed by the wonderfulness of root beer during one of his honeymoon visits to an inn. He got interested and asked the innkeeper’s wife to share the invaluable root beer recipe with him.

After achieving this huge task, he contacted beer experts and professors to help him improve the quality and consistency of the beer. From this period, root beer was processed into a more easily distributed form – root beer powder.

Also, the strong laxative aspect of the famous drink was drastically reduced, which was a good thing as the tendency to have gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhoea was hugely reduced.

Charles E. Hires, who was a Quaker – a historical protestant Christian – had little regard for drinks with a high percentage of alcohol. 

He thought of his newly crafted root tea as a healthy alternative to alcoholic beers while staying hydrated at all times. He implemented creative marketing strategies to sell his “Powder Root Tea” to local miners, and he was successful.

Which Root Beer Came First?

Which Root Beer Came First?
Which Root Beer Came First?

Charles E. Hire officially launched his root beer brand officially in 1876 by rebranding his company’s name to a more indigenous one – ‘Root Beer’. 

This was after the coal miners in Pennsylvania sought a stronger beer as the “Powder Root Tea” didn’t satisfy their masculinity and taste buds sufficiently. Charles strategised, upgraded the nature of his drink and altered its name.

Hence, the rebirth of his drink label – “Root Beer.”

Ever since then, root beer has dominated the spirit and beverage industry. As a marketing strategist, Charles thrived in his brand by implementing the most terrific promotions, which were quite effective due to the low competition in those days.

He started by distributing free mugs imprinted with his company’s logo, which boosted his business speedily. His customer base improved magnificently, and sales erupted. 

Afterwards, he moved to the production of bottled beers in 1893 and also started producing soda fountains and root beer kits for consumers to gain the freedom to make their unique breed of “root beer conveniently”.

As expected, this marketing strategy took his business to another level, and it was recorded that he sold over 115,000 mugs of root beer in his first year alone, which is rare for the first year of a new beer company.

What a remarkable root beer brand!

Barq’s Root Beer

Barq’s Root Beer
Barq’s Root Beer

The new limelight of Charles E. Hires root beer success captivated the attention of other great minds and business strategists, hence, the development of new root beer companies.

One of the innovative brands is Barq’s Root Beer Company, which launched in 1898 in Mississippi and began root beer production with a new approach. Barq’s root beer was made with sarsaparilla with the right blend of caffeine and low sugar. 

Its carbon content is high as compared to other root beer-producing companies. 

Barq’s root beer continued to gain popularity in the 1900s, especially during prohibition. It continued to thrive until 1995, when the majestic Coca-Cola purchased this amazing company. 

A&W Root Beer

A&W Root Beer
A&W Root Beer

Another notable brand owned by Roy Allen started its root beer production in Lodi and Sacramento in 1919. This brand created a new innovative approach to root beer serving that made it exceptional compared with other beer brands – using frosted mugs to serve root beer.

The newly improved innovation amazed consumers. A&W root beer gained multiple customers and thrived in the root beer market even during the prohibition period, just like Barq’s.

Is Root Beer a Soda?

Is Root Beer a Soda?
Is Root Beer a Soda?

Yes, root beer is a soda drink. But first, what is soda?

Soda is a general term used to categorise carbonated beverages that do not contain alcohol. Although I do agree that the name might sound confusing since most “beers” tend to contain alcohol.

I am glad to inform you that root beer is an exception to that rule. 

Root beer is a mouth-watering carbonated drink produced with the right blends of healthy herbs, flowers, berries, sweeteners and other saucy spices that would make you cherish the savouring taste of the drink on your taste buds forever.

So, yes! Root beer is a healthy alternative to alcoholic drinks and beverages.

Is Root Beer Made From Roots?

Yes, root beer is made from roots in conjunction with other fascinating ingredients such as carbonated water, yeast, sugar, molasses and caffeine – in rare cases.

As pointed out above, root beer has different recipes, and there’s no definite guide on the required ingredient to brew your special root beer. 

Generally, root beer is made from Sassafras roots and bark, sarsaparilla vine and sweet sarsaparilla, root beer plant and licorice root.

What Spices are in Root Beer?

What Spices are in Root Beer?
What Spices are in Root Beer?

Root Beer is a special kind of carbonated beverage that is not just made from beneficial roots alone but also contains alluring accessory spices to produce that meticulous sweet and refreshing taste it gives.

Of course, we have general ingredients such as yeast, sugar, and carbonated water. Other significant spices you can find in the various forms of root beer that exist today are chocolate, vanilla, tolu balsam, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, fennel seed, cassia, mint, and wintergreen.

You can also become more innovative and creative by crafting your specialised root beer and adding your favourite ingredients to soothe your yearning taste buds and cravings.

What is Root Beer Supposed to Taste Like?

Root beer tastes blandly sweet. Generally, the taste you’ll get from root beer depends totally on its brand and flavor.

Some brands of root beer smell minty and may remind you of toothpaste; some taste like a diluted herbal cola. Most root beers made from sarsaparilla or sassafras tend to have a bitter medicinal taste but are counterfeited with enough sweetener – sugar.

Some people also love to describe root beer as a soft drink that has hints of nutmeg, vanilla, wintergreen, and licorice. 

What are the Ingredients in Root Beer?

What are the Ingredients in Root Beer?
What are the Ingredients in Root Beer?

Root beer market has grown beyond North America. It is currently traded and consumed in Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Philippines, Sweden and other prestigious countries.

There may be variations in the taste, flavorings and ingredients used in root beer production across these countries, but the main ingredients of root beer remain the same; sassafras extract (safrole free), filtered water, sweeteners – sugar or corn syrup.

However, these ingredients can be complemented with other spices or flavors such as caramel, wintergreen, licorice, vanilla, black cherry, anise, acacia, cinnamon and honey.

The major ingredients used in the traditional production of root beer include sarsaparilla, sassafras, allspice, ginger, wintergreen, licorice, molasses, nutmeg, acacia, vanilla beans, hops, burdock root, dandelion root, spikenard, pipsissewa, guaiacum chips, spicewood, wild cherry bark, and yellow dock.

Why is Root Beer Called Root Beer?

Root beer earned its name from its main ingredient, Sassafras root. Charles E. Hires, who was the first human to come up with this name, initially labelled it as root tea since it contained zero to two percentage of alcohol.

Just before the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition occurred, he rebranded his drink from “root tea” to “root beer”. This was to make the drink more appealing to the coal miners of that era and presentable to the general working class.

How Old is Root Beer?

Root beer history trails back to the 1840s, when it was brewed solely for its medicinal benefits and nourishing replacement for bland water. The process of brewing root beer started from the old European way of brewing small beer.

In the 1850s, the culture of combining root beer with soda came into existence and the first ever written root beer recipe dates back to the 1960s. During this era, it was packaged and sold as a syrup rather than the standard beverage we’re familiar with today.

 The first commercial root beer brand was launched in 1876 by Charles E. Hire, who made root beer known to the world before other famous root beer brands came to join him in the industry.

How is Root Beer Made?

Traditionally, root beer is made from;

  • The formation of syrup from molasses and filtered water
  • Leave it to cool for three to four hours
  • Addition of Sarsaparilla vines, sassafras root and bark, wintergreen and other desired flavors.
  • Add yeast and leave it for twelve hours to activate the fermentation process.
  • Straining and secondary fermentation 

This fermentation process generates carbon dioxide, making it carbonated and giving it an effervescent taste.

Wrapping Up,

Root beer is an amazing carbonated drink you won’t regret taking for a long time. You have to be ready for its unique medicinal taste and explore different root beer brands to choose your preferred choice.

Another brilliant option to consider is brewing your special root beer right in your home. Regardless of your choice, ensure to have a fantastic root beer drinking experience!