Yes, root beer looks kind of like beer with its head of foam. But that’s not why it’s named after the best (alcoholic) beverage in the world. We’ll have to step back a couple hundred years to find the real answer.
Root Beer Used To Be Made Using RootsThe beginnings of root beer go all the way back to Medieval Europe. Water was extremely unsafe to drink at the time because there was no public sanitation. Instead of getting a fatal illness by drinking disease-riddled water, people used to quench their thirst with “small beer,” or beer that contained very little alcohol. Brewing beer with malt involves boiling water, which purifies water and makes it safe to drink. Workers who had physically demanding jobs would sometimes drink up to 10 pints of beer a day to stay hydrated. Sounds pretty good to us.
But what does root beer have to do with small beer? We have to move along the historic timeline to a newly-founded America to find out. In America, colonists found local crops to brew beverages like small beer with. These included many different types of roots to create a bitter taste like beer, definitely not the same flavor we taste in root beer today. This is where the “root” in “root beer” comes in. Surprisingly, this root-based drink wasn’t given the name “beer” at this point.
So Where Does the “Beer” Part of the Name Come In?Back in the 19th century, pharmacists tried to sell these root drinks as drugs that cure all ailments. One pharmacist in particular, Charles Hires, is famous for commercially marketing the root-based drink, and, more importantly, naming it “root beer”. When the Pennsylvania-based pharmacist first packaged his herb mix, he wanted to call it “root tea”. But after thinking it over, he decided marketing it as “root beer” would make it more successful with Pennsylvania coal miners, who were renown lovers of beer. Smart man.
Root Beer As We Know it TodaySo now that we know where the name root bear came from, how has the drink changed so much? In just a couple hundred years, it’s evolved from a brewed bitter drink that tasted like medicine into a sweet carbonated soda.
After Charles Hires created his root beer mix, pharmacists started adding the drink to sweetened carbonated water. Eventually, they bottled these drinks to make their customers lives even easier. At this point, pharmacists still promoted the idea that root beer was good for you. Because of this, root beer became extremely popular, especially during Prohibition. Berghoff Beer actually stayed open and became very successful during the Prohibition because of a drink we brewed that was similar to root beer and provided health benefits. Check out our history here!
Then, in 1960, everything changed. The sassafras root, a key ingredient in root beer, was ironically banned by the U.S. Food And Drug Administration because it was found to be a carcinogen. Root beer was no longer considered to be good for you, nor did it have any roots in it. Companies then found artificial flavors to preserve the flavor of the sassafras root without actually using the banned ingredient. This experimentation led to the root beer flavor we know and love today.
All this talk about root beer get you in the mood for the delicious soda? We’ve been brewing classic American root beer for over 75 years, preserving the cream-style taste reminiscent of the first half of the 20th century. Best of all, we recently kicked root beer up a notch with Rowdy Root Beer, a hard root beer that clocks in at 6.6% ABV. It tastes just like your favorite childhood soda, but will get you feeling just as joyful as it looks. Click on the image below to find a can near you!