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The History of Root Beer

Early root beers were made from sassafras roots by indigenous tribes in North America. Later, colonists created “small beers” that varied by region and made use of whatever ingredients were on hand. Early root beers of this type contained different combinations of herbs, barks, and roots. Interestingly, many of these same ingredients are used in root beer today – and there is still no single recipe for root beer. The first commercialized root beer was created by a Philadelphia pharmacist named Charles Elmer Hires, who discovered a tisane while on his honeymoon in New Jersey. Soon after, he began selling a dry version of the tea blend that had to be mixed with water, sugar, and yeast and then left to ferment. His friend Russell Conwell (the founder of Temple University) suggested Hires create a liquid formulation for a carbonated root beer beverage. Hires used over 25 herbs, berries, and roots to flavor carbonated soda water and then introduced his version of root beer at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition, where it was a huge hit. In 1893, the Hires family began selling bottled root beer. Soon after, other root beer brands popped up, including Barq’s, Dad’s, and Mug Root Beer. A&W, which is currently the top-selling root beer in the world, began when Roy Allen purchased a root beer recipe in 1919 and began marketing it in California. He then partnered with Frank Wright to form the now-famous company, A&W Root Beer (although he later bought out his partner and trademarked the brand himself).

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