Root Beer

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

root beer a N. American beverage akin to the spruce beers and small beers of the Old World. Although made by early settlers, it was not commercialized until the late 19th century when Charles E. Hires began to market packets of the powdered ingredients for home brewing, then diversifying into syrups and the finished beer itself. Artemas Ward (1923) gave a good description:

a refreshing beverage made by the fermentation of an infusion of roots, barks, and herbs, such as sarsaparilla, sassafras, spruce, wild cherry, spikenard, wintergreen, and ginger, with sugar and yeast. The flavoring or extract, is retailed in convenient packages, each sufficient for about five gallons of ‘beer.’ It is the action of the yeast on the sugar which gives the slightly exhilarating quality (from the small percentage of alcohol produced) and the effervescence (from the action of the carbon dioxide).