The Historic Roots of Root Beer

Sparkling CBD Root Beer Can on Outdoor Ledge

Root beer has been a beloved soft drink in the U.S. and beyond for more than a hundred years. Our Beverage Blog guide to root beer explores root beer's origins, fun facts about the delicious drink, and seven Sparkling CBD Root Beer cocktails you're sure to love.

Taking Root

In the late 1800s, a range of health issues plagued the nation. Rampant illness spread more quickly than than science could keep up with, claiming countless lives far before their time and adding pain and misery to the days of millions. Pharmacists throughout the United States knew their plight like few others. As such, many pharmacists throughout early America grew increasingly determined to craft their own “cure-all” remedies for their customers’ most common ailments. This mission had immense potential for the public good - and for pharmacists' own profits.

In 1875, Pennsylvania pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires successfully launched the first successful commercial line of root beer. Hires had experimented on and off throughout his career with attempts at the perfect recipe. As the story goes, he first developed the winning combination in the form of a delicious herbal tea while honeymooning with his new bride. He soon began to sell a dry version of the tea, instructing buyers to mix it with water, sugar and yeast before leaving it to ferment. This process caused carbonation in the resulting beverage. Russell Conwell - founder of Temple University and trusted friend - advised Hires to create a liquid variety to increase the product’s appeal and rate of sale. The batch that followed incorporated more than twenty-five ingredients - a careful selection of herbs, roots and berries added to carbonated soda water.

At Conwell’s insistence, Hires introduced his concoction to the public in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Hires was an adamant teetotaler and wanted to call the drink “root tea” to avoid any association with alcohol whatsoever (though his standard recipe didn't actually contain any). However, he ultimately agreed to call the brew “root beer” to increase its appeal to the large community of coal miners throughout Pennsylvania, believing that they’d be much more likely to sample a drink described as “beer” instead of “tea.” While the drink contained no actual alcohol, the era’s Temperance Movement was in full swing, and proponents of prohibition were outraged by the public sale of a brand new type of “beer.” Hires persisted nevertheless, sticking to his guns with the name “root beer,” and the beverage’s fanbase gradually grew. Like cola in its earliest form, root beer was originally pitched as a health drink with the slogan “Join Health and Cheer, Drink Hires Root Beer!”

By the end of the 1800s, root beer was a widespread favorite throughout the United States. Despite the initial common misconceptions that Hires’ version of the drink contained alcohol, its popularity surged after the onset of prohibition outlawed all varieties of alcoholic drinks.

A Recipe for Success

Hires’ original root beer recipe was made from sassafras. Another popular recipe of the drink’s earliest days included a sugar made of water and molasses paired with the root and bark of sassafras. The distinctive oil of the sassafras plant - otherwise known as Safrole - gave root beer its well-known flavor. Unfortunately, when laboratory animals were given large doses of safrole, they developed cancer and liver damage at alarming rates. This prompted the FDA to ban the oil from use in mass-produced foods and beverages in 1960. Thankfully, safrole can be fully extracted from natural ingredients through the processes of distillation and extraction. Further research by the FDA has determined that this process fully eliminates the harmful health risks - allowing for the classic root beer flavor to be reborn.

Sassafras naturally foams, which gave earlier root beers the classic appearance still recognized today despite evolving modern recipes. Some manufacturers added carbonation to their root beer products to make them more bubbly. Many now prolong the bubbling and lower surface tension with the use of surfactants or thickeners.

A range of successful root beer brands were launched in the decades following Hires’ immense success - including A&W, Barq’s and Mug Root Beer. Today, countless varieties of root beers are available for purchase - including non-alcoholic and alcoholic varieties and a range of unique variations of Hires’ original brew. Most use natural extracts containing zero safrole and artificial flavor varieties.

Why Is It Called Root Beer?

According to food historians, beverages similar to root beer known as “small beers” predated the soft drink’s origin. Like Charles Hines’ first recipe for root beer, they contained a mixture of herbs, berries and bark. Small beer was a staple in medieval Europe, where water pollution was a rampant and ongoing issue. There was no clear way to determine the safety of drinking water in those days, so with every sip, ancient citizens risked illness. brewing beverages offered a safe way to eliminate pathogens, so tea and beer were both considered safer and healthier alternatives to plain old H2O. Though Hines’ root beer was non-alcoholic, small beers generally contained between two percent and twelve percent alcohol. These were so common that they’re referenced by many literary greats of the era from William Thackery to William Shakespeare.

Businesses Started With Root Beer

We owe credit to root beer for the founding of several of today’s best-known companies, including Marriott Hotels. Washington state couple John and Alice Mariott started a root beer restaurant in 1927 called the Hot Shoppe. Their original soda shoppe was purchased from A&W, which has also expanded to widespread success in the century since its founding. The Marriotts’ mom-and-pop endeavour proved to be a huge success, with the gradual expansion to restaurants all over the nation which evolved into the Marriott Hotel chain. Sonic also got its start selling exclusively hamburgers and root beers, and eventually expanding to more than 3,500 American locations.

Sticking to its Roots

Smiling man holding Sparkling CBD root beer can toward camera

Root beer was originally made in the United States and beloved here ever since. However, other countries haven’t seen quite the same levels of popularity. Brands of root beer sold abroad are much more rare than the range of options sold in America. Those flavors that are available abroad are notably different in composition and taste from the classic flavor Americans have come to know and love. Outside of North America, ginger beer is a much more common beverage option.

Hundreds of recipes for root beer are available for sale in the United States today. While the general flavor remains pretty consistent from brand to brand, variations of individual ingredients are fairly common. Root beers may include cherry tree bark, anise, licorice root, cinnamon, and even molasses. Colorado’s Best Drinks’ delicious root beer flavor includes the highest quality extracts of sassafras, vanilla, birch, and just a hint of wintergreen.

Early to Bed, Early to...Booze?

Benjamin Franklin left a legacy of wisdom and revolutionary innovation, including the discovery of electricity in his famous experiment flying his kite in a thunderstorm. Franklin once famously quipped “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” As such, some may find it surprising that Franklin stated in his autobiography that he’d regularly enjoy a small beer - similar to an alcoholic root beer - with breakfast. We’re not here to judge Benjamin Franklin (though we don’t recommend risking electrocution in a rainstorm). As we mentioned earlier, small beers and teas were a popular choice in Medieval Europe and remained prevalent as a safe alternative to water before the days of safe, clean running water in every home.

The Very First Float

Colorado’s Best Drinks got its start in Denver, CO where all seven of our beverage flavors are made to this day. Like our delicious sodas and sparkling water options, root beer floats were originally crafted right here in the Rocky Mountains! Creator Frank J. Wisner owned the Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company in the mountain town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. As the story goes, late one night, Wisner stared out his window lost in thoughts of his company’s soda water line. The bright, full moon above nearby Cow Mountain reminded Milner of a vanilla ice cream scoop - prompting a delicious innovation. Milner rushed to his bar and scooped some ice cream into Myers Avenue Red Root Beer, his best-selling soda flavor. Milner served up the delectable blend the following day, and his customers couldn’t get enough. He dubbed the drink “Black Cow Mountain” as a nod to its origin story. As the drink gained popularity, it became more commonly known as “Black Cow.” The blend is now known as a root beer float. Its basic components remain unchanged, with many spin-offs including complementary flavors or an alcoholic twist. Nearly two centuries later, the root beer float is still savored as a delectable treat for kids (and adults) of all ages.

Seven Sparkling CBD Root Beer Cocktails

Great minds think alike - and sometimes they drink alike, too. If you and your better half can’t get enough root beer, stock your shelves with Colorado’s Best Drinks’ carefully crafted take on the classic American soft drink. Our blend of tried-and-true root beer elements like vanilla, birch and sassafras stay true to the original soda fountain flavor beloved for generations.

Looking to mix things up? Refreshing root beer-infused cocktails are sure to hit the spot. Make a relaxing night in with your sweetheart even sweeter with seven delicious cocktail recipes from Colorado’s Best Drinks.

Root Beer and Caramel Float

Root beer float in plastic cup with straw beside Sparkling CBD Root Beer can

Serves: Two

What You'll Need:

  • Two cans Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Three ounces bourbon whiskey
  • Two scoops vanilla ice cream
  • Caramel sauce

How It's Made:

  1. Divide bourbon and ice cream evenly between two large drinking glasses.
  2. Slowly pour Sparkling CBD Root Beer into each glass to desired fill.
  3. As a finishing touch for your delicious beverages, drizzle each root beer float with caramel sauce.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Sparkling Cinnamon Whiskey Float

Serves: Two

What You'll Need:

  • One can Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Ten to twelve ounces ice cream (preferably cinnamon swirl flavored)
  • Eight ounces brown sugar and cinnamon flavored whiskey
  • Whipped cream
  • Two cherries
  • Ground cinnamon

How It's Made:

  1. Chill two drinking glasses in freezer.
  2. Slowly divide Sparkling CBD Root Beer between both glasses.
  3. Place an inverted spoon above one glass, then pour approximately four ounces of whiskey slowly above the spoon. Then, repeat the process with the second chilled glass. While the use of a spoon is optional, it optimizes the blend of each component’s flavor.
  4. Add several scoops of cinnamon ice cream (or your desired flavor) to each glass.
  5. Add a dollop of whipped cream to each blended cocktail.
  6. Sprinkle ground cinnamon onto both cocktails.
  7. Top off your blended alcoholic beverages by adding a cherry to each.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

White Russian Root Beers

Serves: Two

What You'll Need:

  • One can Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Four to six ounces vodka
  • Three ounces Kahlua liqueur
  • Three ounces heavy cream
  • Ice

How It's Made:

  1. Add ice, kahlua and vodka to a large cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake the mixture vigorously until kahlua and vodka are chilled and blended thoroughly.
  3. Select two tall drinking glasses, and divide the mixture evenly between each.
  4. Slowly pour Sparkling CBD Root Beer into each glass, then top off both blends with a drizzle of heavy cream.
  5. Gently stir each drink until well-blended.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

Spiced Rum and Root Beer

Woman in denim jacket pours Sparkling CBD Root Beer into drinking glass for cocktai

Serves: Two

What You'll Need:

  • One can Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Five ounces spiced rum
  • Ice

How It's Made:

  1. Add ice to two drinking glasses.
  2. Divide spiced rum between both glasses.
  3. Open a can of Sparkling CBD Root Beer, and slowly pour half into each glass.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

RumChata Root Beer


What You'll Need:

  • One can Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Four ounces RumChata
  • One teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

How It's Made:

  1. Add ice to two tall drinking glasses.
  2. Slowly pour six ounces of Sparkling CBD Root Beer into each glass.
  3. If desired, add one half teaspoon per glass.
  4. Top off each drink with two ounces of RumChata.
  5. Gently blend each cocktail until ingredients are well-mixed.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

Sweet and Sour CBD Cocktail


What You'll Need:

  • One can Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Four ounces tequila
  • One ounce lemon juice
  • Ice
  • Salt (optional for rim)
  • One sliced lemon (optional for garnish)

How It's Made:

  1. Add ice, tequila and lemon juice to a large cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously for thirty seconds (or longer) until contents are well-blended.
  3. Select two tall drinking glasses. If desired, add salt to the rims of both glasses.
  4. Top off each blended beverage with Sparkling CBD Root Beer.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Sparkling Sambuca

Serves: Two

What You'll Need:

  • One can Sparkling CBD Root Beer
  • Two to four ounces Sambuca
  • Ice

How It's Made:

  1. Add ice to two tall drinking glasses.
  2. Add one to two ounces of Sambuca per glass, adjusting the amount to reach the desired strength of each beverage.
  3. Slowly divide Sparkling CBD Root Beer between both glasses.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Colorado’s Best Root Beer

Two women holding Sparkling CBD root beer cans while laughing on foggy day

Colorado’s Best Drinks’ Root Beer stays true to the original soda fountain flavor beloved for generations. Each delicious batch blends all-natural ingredients like vanilla, birch, and wintergreen with broad spectrum hemp extract for a modern-day twist on the traditional beverage. We carefully craft each batch of Sparkling CBD Root Beer and proudly offer our certificate of analysis for each of our seven beverage options, so you’ll always know exactly what you’re drinking.

Don't let social distancing stop you from enjoying your favorite sparkling waters and soda flavors. If you order a twelve-pack or a forty-eight pack of Sparkling CBD Root Beer today, we'll bring a case straight to your doorstep to safely savor from the comfort of your couch. All five flavors of our hemp CBD sodas (and our two flavored Sparkling CBD water options) are delicious and refreshing. Our products all contain phytocannabinoid-rich, broad spectrum hemp extract. Better yet, each flavor of sparkling CBD beverages is vegan, non-GMO, and free of gluten, sodium, and preservatives. PCR hemp extract is one of just five ingredients in every can of Colorado's Best Drinks, and you’ll taste that sweet simplicity with every sip.