Root beer is a carbonated beverage with a sweet taste made from the root or bark of sassafras tree and is popularly drunk as a soft drink and an alcoholic beverage in North America. However, since the root beer recipe is not one but many, the taste of root beer may vary widely and even though the sassafras root is the main flavoring agent used in the beer, there are several imitation varieties of the root available today which may somewhat alter the actual taste that comes from a natural sassafras root beer. Since the natural sassafras is understood to be slightly carcinogenic, artificial varieties are become commonplace these days.
History of Root Beer Recipe
In the historical times, root beer mostly found use as a medicinal drink for mouth problems such as sore throat, canker sores and cough. The invention credit of this root lies with Charles Elmer Hires, who happened to be a pharmacist in Philadelphia that started selling the first root beer called Hires Root beer in 1866 as a powder that could be mixed with yeast, water and sugar to produce a carbonated soft drink and this eventually led to the bottled ready to drink version of the Hires Root Beer which came out in 1893.
Hires began marketing this root beer as a healthy and flavorful alternative to alcohol. The success of the drink doubled up after the U.S alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, when several breweries began to commercially produce root beer. The root beer recipe also reached England within the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when variation root beers began to be made with roots other than the actual roots of the sassafras plant.
According to Charles Hires’ biography, he discovered a tasty herbal tea recipe on his honeymoon and then began selling that dry tea mixture while he kept working on its liquid version. This resulted in the original root beer recipe with roots, berries and twenty five different herbs, which he used for flavoring a soda water beverage. The public were first introduced to the original root beer by Charles Hires in the Philadelphia Centennial exhibition of 1876.
Root Beer Recipe: Ingredients Used and Popular Methods of Preparation
Fermentation is one of the most crucial steps in the root beer recipe as it is the carbon dioxide formation caused by the fermentation that makes the drink effervescent. Root beer is created by fermenting assorted herbs with yeast and sugar. The flavors of root beer vary widely from brand to brand as each have their own unique formula improvised upon the original root beer recipe although the drink can also be made in an easy way at home.
Homemade root beer requires herbs of desired flavor or commercially available readymade root beer extract, yeast and sugar. The herbs are first ground and simmered in water along with yeast and sugar. This brewed mixture is then poured in the plastic bottles, which needs to be fermented for two days at room temperature. The firm root beer can be stored in the refrigerator and served chilled.
Serving and Eating Root Beer
While in most restaurants, root beer is served as a float or simply in a glass beer mug, in A&W Restaurants, root beer is offered on tap.
Root Beer Recipe: Popular Variations
One of the best known variations of root beer is root beer float, which is popularly served as a dessert drink with a scoop or more of vanilla flavored ice cream added to the beverage, that’s eaten with a long spoon. While the basic flavoring used in the root beer recipe remains unaltered, variations in the taste is brought about with the usage of different herbs and spices, often in cases which include cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, clove, cherry tree bark, acacia, vanilla, anise and so on. Experimentation is also done on the way of presenting or serving the beer, which can include experimenting with assorted soda and differently flavored ice creams. The foamy head in root beer without ice cream is often enhanced by adding yucca extract.
Miscellaneous Facts about Root Beers
- Root beer is considered a healthier alternative to alcoholic drinks and so, children are also allowed to drink it and while some commercially produced root beers like the one by Barq’s contains caffeine, most are free of it.
- The popularity of root beer had experienced a declined during the 1960s once news spread about the beer being carcinogenic but with the use of imitation sassafras root in the beer has brought back the popularity of the drink in the United States.
Root Beer Recipe: Trivia
- Although, the sassafras roots are used in the preparation of several alcoholic beverages as well as beers worldwide, the name “root beer” is in use only in North America, Ireland, Philippines and Britain.
- A & W Root Beer is known to be the world’s best selling root beer brand, which was found by Roy Allen in 1919.