We all know and love root beer, but I bet there are lots of things you never knew about the beverage! Learn all about the history of your favorite drink right here (including what the heck it is)!

Sassafras plant Wikimedia Commons

What Is Root Beer?

Root beer, as we know it today, is a popular soft drink that's flavored from the root of a sassafras tree or sasparilla vine.

In case you didn't know, there are two different kinds of beer: the alcoholic kind and the non-alcoholic kind that's flavored with roots. Well, that's where root beer comes from!

Though root beer can have a variety of different flavors, the main ingredients are carbonated water, sugar, and artificial sassafras or sasparilla flavoring.

root beer

History of Root Beer

When root beer first came into town, it wasn't actually named that. It was called "small beer," which is a beer that contains very little amounts of alcohol. The reason people did this, according to author Stephen Cresswell, was because it was believed that small beer was a safer bet than drinking potentially contaminated water. People also believed that sassafras held medicinal factors.

Now, root beer only really became a thing commercially when Charles Elmer Hires came along. This pharmacist started selling the drink under the name of "root tea," in his store during the 1800s, and eventually, he started calling it "root beer." The next few years had a bunch of success for Hires as he started selling it commercially and teaching people how to make it. Naturally, a lot of good came out of that and he soon became known as the man who would introduce root beer commercially to the world.

According to an article published The Press of Atlantic City, Hires started his own company called Hires Root Beer Co. and he sold over 100,000 glasses of root beer his first year of business. After several years he had sold over 700 million glasses and soon became very wealthy. The late 1800s is when Hires started to sell bottled root beer.

Today, root beer is produced in the United States and in Canada. There isn't really a "recipe" for it, especially since so many different flavors have been introduced over the years. However, the main ingredients of root beer are carbonated water, sugar, and artificial sassafras flavoring. You also have a few other ingredients in there (depending on the brand) like caramel color, citric acid, and red #40. There are also a lot of different root beer flavors available, which will obviously alter the ingredient list. Some will have vanilla, wintergreen, or cherry.

Top Root Beer Brands

If you head over to Huffington Post you'll see where they ranked their favorite root beer brands. A&W was the classic choice, and is among many, while other brands on the list were Boyland's, Trader Joe's, and Barq's.

Other blogs, such as the Sur La Table blog, held taste testing to talk about their favorite brands. Once again, A&W topped the list while they recommended people try the brand IBC and Barq's. For them, A&W topped the list because it has "smooth, nice vanilla notes and a nice aftertaste," has that classic taste, has a good amount of carbonation, and "tastes less like root beer, more of a sarsaparilla."

It really all depends on what you like, but there are several brands of root beer for you to try!

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