This post was guest written by Wren Schultz from Blog du Wren.
Back in the colonial days, when a diverse range of beverages was hard to come by and people had that pre-“DIY” do it yourself spirit, root beer was invented. Okay, well maybe not “invented” per say, because there have been beveragey-challenged cultures with creative people throughout history, but at least that was its introduction to North America. The original root beer (although not thusly named yet) contained a small amount of alcohol, somewhere around 2%. The alcohol not only provided those settlers a minor diversion from their Xbox-free lives, but also helped keep it free of water-borne pathogens which were the cause of cholera and other nastiness. Besides being a safe(ish) source of hydration, root beer was also used as a traditional medicine for treating cough and mouth sores. Root beer, along with birch beer, ginger beer, and various other concoctions formed what were collectively known as “small beers”, low- to non-alcoholic social drinks made from herbs, berries, and bark. With the passing of such concoctions, “small beers” has now taken on a somewhat different meaning, which is more similar to the present-day term near-beer” (ugh).
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that an enterprising young fellow named Charles Hires got the clever idea to brew this concoction of roots, bark, and berries into a non-alcoholic tea. After a brief stint of marketing a dry packaged mixture under the name root tea, Hires started bottling the new beverage and changed the name to root beer, possibly to appeal to the hard-drinking Pennsylvania miners in the area. Just about that time (and arguably partially because of the Hires’s invention), soda started its rise to the popularity it now enjoys today. Root beer, although it enjoyed great popularity and acceptance during the prohibition era in the United States, now only has around 3% of the market share of soda.
Today, the only way to come across alcoholic root beer is to brew it yourself. Recipes for it abound on the internet (check here, here & here for starters). And if someone asks you why you don’t just go out and buy and A&W, you can tell them you are just going back to its roots.[tags]root beer, beer, Charles Hires[/tags]