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Brewing Up History: The Origins of Root Beer


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There are few things as American as apple pie, or baseball, but root beer might just be one of the most “American” beverages of all – perhaps even more so than Coca-Cola! This title is well-earned, as the origins of root beer are closely tied to the formation of the United States. Throughout history, many indigenous tribes of North America created their own root beverages using locally grown roots, barks, herbs and spices.

These pre-colonial drinks were heavily focused on the sarsaparilla root and sassafras tree, which are native to North and South America. These were primarily used for their medicinal properties, but when combined with other ingredients, like wintergreen, licorice, birch bark or burdock root, there most certainly was a culinary element to their development and consumption as well.

Most of these root beverage recipes were more akin to tea, than the carbonated soft drinks we associate root beer with today. These concoctions would spark the interest of many colonial settlers throughout the 19th century.

The need to create flavored beverages led to an explosion in the creation of “small beers” in the founding of our nation. These small batch brews used native plants, trees and their roots for unique flavors that were typically sourced from locally available plant species. Some of the beverages were alcoholic and some were non-alcoholic. These drinks included ginger beer, sarsaparilla, birch beer and root beer.

Sarsaparilla was a more bitter beverage and many consider it to be the grandfather of the modern root beer. But some people were looking to create something a little sweeter to drink, so many different concoctions were attempted, to varying degrees of success.

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The experimentation with different ingredients led to a variety of flavor options, but one Philadelphia pharmacist would soon hone in on the most palatable recipe for root beer that would completely change the beverage world forever.

When was root beer invented?

Legend has it that Charles E. Hires discovered an herbal tea (tisane) while honeymooning in New Jersey. He quickly recreated the drink and began selling a dry tea mixture of 16 wild roots and berries called Hires’ Root Tea. When this mix was left to ferment with water, yeast and sugar, it created a delicious carbonated beverage. This product was somewhat popular on its own, but his close friend (and founder of Temple University), Russell Conwell suggested that a pre-mixed beverage would be more appealing to the masses.

Wanting to gain popularity with the working class, and focusing on his local Pennsylvania coal miners in particular, Conwell suggested changing the name from “root tea”, to “root beer”. Though it was brewed like a beer, it remained non-alcoholic. But, the “beer” name certainly made it more appealing to the generally masculine disposition of the coal miners.

Hires Root beer was introduced to the public at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition to raving reviews. Soon, Hires was selling massive quantities of the product to drugstores and soda fountains all across the United States. By 1893, they began selling and mass-marketing the first bottled root beer.


This made Mr. Hires very wealthy and many other entrepreneurs would quickly rise up, attempting to copy his success. These early soda brands included: Barq’s, Saranac, IBC, and A&W root beers.

Root beer was one of the first beverages to be heavily marketed on a mass scale

Hires was a keen marketer and aggressive advertiser, running ads in magazines, newspapers and even creating his own line of collectible trading cards to promote the Hires Root Beer brand. He was even once quoted as saying: “doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.”

When prominent members the Temperance movement in the United States falsely proclaimed that Hires Root Beer contained alcohol and should therefore be boycotted, he fought back. Hires was a prominent Quaker himself, and he most certainly was not in the business of making alcoholic beverages. He hired a lab to run tests of his product and they proved that his root beer contained less alcohol than half of a loaf of bread.

Hires used these findings to his advantage, now marketing Hires Root Beer as a “The Temperance Drink” and even “the Greatest Health-Giving Beverage in the World”. These would reverberate in the minds of consumers throughout the Prohibition Era of the 1920’s. “Soft drinks” became a popular alternative to “hard beverages” during this era and the soda fountain became popular meeting places in most American cities and towns.

As root beer continued its popularity in America, the US Food and Drug Administration would forever change the course of its history in 1960. Sassafras had long been a key ingredient in commercial root beers, but the agency discovered that it contained carcinogenic compounds and its use was banned by the agency.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a delicious root beer today! There are many popular root beer soft drinks available to give you a little taste of American history. At Redstone Foods, we carry over 50 different varieties of glass bottle craft root beers that your customers are sure to fall in love with.

Here are some of the best-selling root beers available today!

Dad’s Root Beer

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Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer is our best-selling root beer, and for good reason! Dad’s Root Beer is a classic American soda that has been fizzing up people’s taste buds since 1937. With its signature creamy and spicy flavor, Dad's has developed a loyal following of root beer lovers everywhere!

Whether you're cracking open a cold one on a hot summer day or sipping it slowly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a classic root beer float, Dad's is sure to put a smile on your face. So pop the top, take a sip, and taste the refreshing goodness of a true American icon!

Dublin Texas Root Beer

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Dublin Texas Root Beer is a delicious bubbly elixir straight from our own home state! Made with pure cane sugar and a blend of secret spices, this root beer packs a flavorful punch that'll have you saying "yee-haw!" with every sip. Dubbed as the "little town with a big taste," Dublin Bottling Works has been satisfying thirsty cowboys and cowgirls since 1891. So saddle up and grab a frosty mug of this deliciously unique root beer, and enjoy the taste of the Lone Star State in every sip!

Sprecher Root Beer

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Sprecher Root Beer has helped bring the taste of Wisconsin to the soda world. This award-winning, fire-brewed root beer is crafted with a special blend of different herbs, spices, and raw Wisconsin honey. These ingredients create a unique and complex flavor that will keep your customers coming back for more.

A craft soda afficionado’s dream, it's the perfect accompaniment to a cheese plate, a bratwurst, or just about any of Wisconsin’s culinary delicacies! With a velvety smooth texture and a creamy head, Sprecher Root Beer is the ultimate comfort drink for any occasion. So grab an ice cold bottle, kick back, and let the flavor of Wisconsin wash over you!

Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer

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Hank's Gourmet Root Beer will make you feel like a kid again. With its old-fashioned “Philadelphia Recipe” and nostalgic charm, this root beer will transport you back to the good old days of soda fountains and penny candy.

Made with pure cane sugar, Hank's has a crisp and refreshing taste that's hard to beat. And, with its quirky and colorful packaging, Hank's is sure to stand out in your store’s soda aisle! So pop open a bottle, take a sip, and enjoy the nostalgic taste of childhood in every bubbly gulp!

Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer

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Virgil's Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer is one very unique beverage that will make your taste buds dance! This decadent beverage is made with a blend of exotic spices, including nutmeg and cinnamon, and sweetened with pure cane sugar. The result is a complex and flavorful drink that's perfect for sipping on a cozy winter night.

With its charming Bavarian-inspired label and festive nutmeg aroma, Virgil's Special Edition Root Beer is a must-try for any craft soda enthusiast. Plus, with their swing top resealable lid, the novelty just doesn’t ever stop!

Route 66 Root Beer

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Take yourself on a nostalgic road trip with Route 66 Root Beer! Inspired by the iconic highway that spans from Chicago to Los Angeles, this root beer is a blend of classic flavors that will transport you back to the golden age of Americana.

Made with pure cane sugar and a hint of vanilla, Route 66 Root Beer has a smooth and creamy taste that's as timeless as the highway it's named after. Plus, with its vintage-inspired label and cool retro vibe, Route 66 is sure to be a hit with soda lovers of all ages. So buckle up, hit the open road, and let Route 66 Root Beer be your tasty travel companion!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our look back at the history of root beer! If you’re looking to sell some of the finest craft glass bottle soda brands in your store, Redstone Foods has what you’re looking for. Our giant craft soda lineup consists of nearly 500 different sodas that we are sure your customers will love.

If you have any questions about our products, don’t hesitate to contact us! Order effortlessly online by signing up for an account with us, or feel free to give us a call: