Getting to the Root of Root Beer

From indigenous medicinal tea to quintessential North American sweet treat, Root Beer is steeped in history.

The Root Beer we know and love today didn’t always embody the characteristic rich & creamy flavour we know and love today. The delicious soda actually has its roots in an indigenous medicinal tea made of – you guessed it – roots. The primary two plants used were sarsaparilla and sassafras, creating a tea espousing a myriad of health benefits. Though not initially designed for recreational consumption, the tea quickly gained popularity in the colonial era.

Charles E. Hires is often credited as the inventor of modern Root Beer after discovering the herbal tea and bringing to market his own “Hires Root Tea”, a blend of 16 roots and berries fermented with water, yeast, and sugar. Hires rebranded Root Tea to Root Beer, given its beer-like brewing method, appealing to coal miners who preferred the masculine connotation. He then advertised the soft drink as a non-alcoholic beverage during the prohibition era, skyrocketing its popularity.

Iconic Root Beer companies still dominating the Root Beer market today, like Barq’s and A&W followed Hires lead and have been in operation since 1989 and 1919 respectively. While A&W wasn’t the first to market with Root Beer, they did introduce the concept of the frosty mug, which in the eyes of many, cemented their position in the upper echelon of Root Beer experiences.

Next time you’re mulling over your soda pop selection at the checkout of your favourite burger joint, remember the deep roots this delicious drink has in North American culture, and choose a Root Beer.