What is Root Beer?

Root beer is a beloved soft drink that has been enjoyed by many people for generations.


It is a sweet and carbonated beverage that is typically caffeine-free and made from a combination of plant extracts, sugar or honey, and yeast for carbonation. The primary flavor of root beer comes from the root bark of the sassafras tree or the vine of Smilax ornata, which is also known as sarsaparilla.

The origins of root beer can be traced back to the 19th century, when it was first introduced as a non-alcoholic alternative to beer. Over time, root beer has become a popular beverage in North America, and there are now many different versions of the drink available. Some root beers are made with additional spices, such as burdock, licorice root, nutmeg, and aniseed, to enhance their flavor.

Despite its popularity, root beer has also been the subject of controversy. In the past, some root beer manufacturers used safrole, a compound found in sassafras, as an ingredient.

However, safrole was later found to be a carcinogen, and its use in food and beverages was banned by the FDA. Today, most root beers are made without safrole, and they are still enjoyed by millions of people around the world as a refreshing and delicious soft drink.

Historical Background

Root beer is a sweet North American soft drink traditionally made using the root bark of the sassafras tree, Sassafras albidum, or the vine of Smilax ornata, also known as sarsaparilla.


Its origins can be traced back to pre-colonial times during which indigenous tribes commonly created beverages and medicinal remedies from sassafras roots.

Root Beer in North America

The drink gained popularity in North America during the colonial period, where it was brewed at home and often had a low alcohol content. During the 1800s, root beer became more commercialized, and companies began producing it on a larger scale.

Prohibition and Root Beer

During the Prohibition era, root beer became a popular alternative to alcoholic drinks. Many breweries that had previously produced beer began producing root beer instead. The drink’s popularity continued to rise, and it became a staple of American culture.

Charles Elmer Hires and the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition

One of the most significant figures in the history of root beer is Charles Elmer Hires. Hires was a pharmacist from Pennsylvania who became interested in root beer after trying a homemade version at a country fair. He began experimenting with different recipes and eventually created his own version of the drink, which he began selling in 1876.

Hires marketed his drink as a healthy alternative to alcoholic beverages, and it quickly gained popularity. In 1876, Hires introduced his root beer at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it won a medal for “superior quality and purity.” This helped to establish root beer as a legitimate and respected drink in American culture.

Root Beer Ingredients

Root beer is a sweet, carbonated soft drink with a long history in North America.


The drink is made using a combination of primary ingredients and additional flavorings. In this section, we will explore the key ingredients that make up root beer.

Primary Ingredients

The primary ingredients in root beer are typically sassafras root bark or the vine of Smilax ornata, known as sarsaparilla. Other primary ingredients may include wintergreen, ginger, sugar, water, molasses, cinnamon, and molas.

Sassafras root bark has a distinct flavor profile that gives root beer its unique taste. However, it is important to note that sassafras root bark contains safrole, which has been linked to cancer in animal studies. As a result, most commercial root beer is now made without sassafras root bark.

Additional Flavorings

To achieve the carbonation in root beer, carbon dioxide is added during the bottling process. Some root beers are also sweetened with corn syrup or caramel, while others use cane sugar or other natural sweeteners. Other additional flavorings that may be used in root beer include nutmeg, birch bark, burdock, sassafras oil, ginger ale, dandelion, root beer extract, vanilla bean, berries, and mint.

Root Beer Production

Root beer is a carbonated beverage that is traditionally made using the root bark of the sassafras tree or the vine of Smilax ornata, also known as sarsaparilla.


The production process of root beer involves several steps, including fermentation and carbonation.

Fermentation Process

The fermentation process of root beer involves boiling a mixture of water, sugar, and various herbs and spices, such as sarsaparilla, birch bark, and wintergreen.

The mixture is then cooled down and yeast is added to it. The yeast ferments the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. However, in modern root beer production, the alcohol is removed, making it a non-alcoholic beverage.

Carbonation Process

After fermentation, the root beer is carbonated to give it its characteristic fizziness. Carbonation can be achieved using several methods. One common method is to add carbon dioxide gas to the beverage.

Another method involves using yeast to create carbonation. In this method, the root beer is bottled with a small amount of sugar and yeast, which produces carbon dioxide as it ferments.

Root Beer Varieties

Root beer is a popular North American soft drink that comes in different varieties.


Here are some of the most common types of root beer:

Non-Alcoholic Root Beer

Non-alcoholic root beer is the most common type of root beer. It is a sweet and carbonated soft drink that is typically caffeine-free. Non-alcoholic root beer is made using a blend of spices, including sassafras, sarsaparilla, and vanilla. It is a refreshing beverage that can be enjoyed on its own or used as a base for root beer floats.

Alcoholic Root Beer

Alcoholic root beer is a relatively new type of root beer that contains alcohol. It is made by adding alcohol to the traditional non-alcoholic root beer recipe.

Alcoholic root beer typically has a higher alcohol content than beer and is often marketed as a craft beer. It is a popular drink among adults who prefer a sweeter and more flavorful beverage.

Root Beer Float

A root beer float is a classic American dessert that combines non-alcoholic root beer and vanilla ice cream. It is a simple yet delicious treat that is perfect for hot summer days.

To make a root beer float, simply pour non-alcoholic root beer into a glass and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream will start to melt and mix with the root beer, creating a creamy and frothy beverage that is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Rocco

Rocco is a Florida State University alumnus with years of bartending and hospitality experience. From slinging hundreds of vodka sodas a night in jam-packed college bars to serving carefully crafted cocktails in upscale restaurants, there’s not much he hasn’t done behind a bar. Now, Rocco shares his knowledge and passion for all things alcohol-related here on My Bartender for bibulous readers everywhere to enjoy.

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