May 16, 2007

Hires Root Beer Day!

On this date in 1866, Charles E. Hires invented root beer.

Well, sort of.

Something like root beer had been around for a long time. "Small beer", they called it, when the colonists made a root-flavored drink, partially fermented, but with little or no alcohol content. George Washington brewed it, and Benjamin Franklin extolled its merits. Besides tasting good, it had the added benefit of making water safe to drink -- the water had to be boiled as part of the preparation process.

What Charles Hires did do was to effectively merchandise a commercial product. He considered naming it "root tea" but decided that "root beer" might find more favor among the working class. He presented his still-relatively-unknown product at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, billing it as "The Temperance Drink" and "the greatest health giving beverage in the world." Hires believed in advertising; he once said that "doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does."

The root beer was first marketed as a mix. You had to combine the ingredients with water, sugar, and yeast. Still, it was easier than hunting for the 16 roots, berries, and barks yourself.

Hires Root Beer was purchased in 1989 by Cadbury-Schweppes, the owner of the Dr. Pepper/Seven Up products. The manufacturer claims that it is the longest continuously made soft drink in the United States.

I, for one, am thankful I don't have to make it from roots and berries.

No comments: