Where Did Root Beer Come From?

Can of Sparkling CBD Root Beer on outdoor ledge

When it comes to root beer the thing that tends to generate more questions than anything else is the word “beer” in the name. “Why is it called root beer?”, “Is it just a marketing gimmick, or is there beer in root beer?” These are questions our CBD drinks team hears all the time - and the answers, as you might imagine, are complicated.

To discover the origins of root beer we have to examine the history of beer, especially as it pertains to Europeans.

Root Beer Origins

Beer has been around for some 7,000 thousand years and was quite popular in ancient Egypt. About 5,000 years ago a small number of Europeans began producing it for their own enjoyment.

Over time the popularity of beer spread throughout Europe and by the Early Middle Ages, it was being brewed in monasteries and by some feudal kings. A few centuries later European towns and cities began to grow in size, but as they did they paid precious little attention to sanitation.

Because of this, water became unsafe to drink (unfortunately, there was no Sparkling CBD Soda back then) so people began to substitute by drinking beer and wine.

As demand for beer as a healthy alternative to water grew, brewers began diversifying their offerings. Some began making what became known as “small beer”, which roughly equates to today’s “light” beer.

Hops were discovered in the 15th century and became a staple ingredient, displacing the roots and bark that had been used to provide bitterness and balance the flavor.

Into the New World

Moving things along, when the Pilgrims came to the “New World” they brought with them an appreciation for beer. But when they got here they were once again pressed for proper ingredients, just as their ancestors back in Europe had once been.

As a result, they did what their ancestors did and relied on roots and barks to provide balance to their brew. Burdock bark, birch bark, wintergreen bark, dandelion root, yellow dock root, sassafras root and more were all used at one time or another and it was around this time that the term “root beer” began to be used.

The Non-Alcoholic Alternative

Root beer continued to have its legions of fans but there were always some people who were uneasy about the effects of alcohol. For centuries these sober-minded individuals would tweak small beer recipes to remove as much of the alcohol as possible, and in some cases, they produced almost alcohol-free brews.

Then, in the late 18th century a British doctor named Joseph Priestley invented a way to carbonate water. As a result, those who wished to remove alcohol completely from small beer now recognized their chance. They would no longer have to ferment their beer to make it carbonated, and no fermentation meant no alcohol.

Enter Charles Hires

Charles Hires lived in Philadelphia in the 19th century. Like a lot of soft drink pioneers, he was a pharmacist. Legend has it that on his honeymoon he became enamored of the herb tea he was served at a hotel. He obtained the recipe, tweaked it to make it his own and began selling premixed packets out of it out of his pharmacy.

His “herb tea” recipe actually produced a type of small beer, and his packets saved people from having to chase down the different ingredients on their own. It was all there and in the proper quantities. As a result, his “herb tea” product became a very popular way of making small beer.

The real breakthrough, however, came when he realized he could mix his ingredients with carbonated water and produce a type of root beer/small beer that was alcohol-free. Hires promoted it aggressively and before long, the drink was a hit. By 1893, Hires Root Beer - the progenitor of Sparkling CBD Root Beer, one of our popular CBD drinks - was being bottled and commercially sold. The rest, as they say, is history.

The US was the original, and remains the largest, market for the non-alcoholic version of small beer that we call root beer. Annual sales are approximately $135 million with growth of some $20 million per year forecast over the next 5 years. Many beverage companies now produce their own root beer, including our CBD beverages brand. Every batch of Colorado’s Best Drinks’ Sparkling CBD Root Beer is carefully crafted with just five simple ingredients, producing a clean, refreshing taste every time.

Are Root Beer and Sarsaparilla The Same Thing?

Sarsaparilla is a plant native to Central America. For centuries the sarsaparilla root was (and continues to be) used to make small beer. For all intents and purposes, sarsaparilla is root beer but without the other ingredients that companies like Hires add to give their root beer a distinctive flavor.

Fans of sarsaparilla like to think of their favorite beverage as the “real” root beer, because the recipe is so simple and has remained unadulterated. But such an argument is largely semantics. Both sarsaparilla and root beers made by other companies, including Sparkling CBD Root Beer, are very much “real” root beer and can trace their origins to the same European small beer tradition.

The Bottom Line

At Colorado’s Best Drinks, our Sparkling CBD Root Beer comes from a long, proud tradition dating back thousands of years. It has a clean, refreshing taste that is free of the bitter overtones you’ll find in sarsaparilla and the overbearing sweetness you’ll find in some other root beers. Give Sparkling CBD Root Beer and our other delicious CBD beverages a try today.