I was at the State Store last night to pick up some stuff I'm short on for this weekend's BBQ when I made an amazing discovery. My wife and I agreed that we have spent plenty of money these past few weeks, on car inspection, food, decor, etc. We decided going in that were only going to buy what we came for. That failed miserably when I discovered a $33 bottle of something amazing. Alcoholic Root Beer, or Root Tea to be more precise. No I'm not talking about the latest flavored vodka craze, and the distiller makes sure state that as well. This is not some neutral grain spirit with some McCormick's Root Beer Extract added, in some flashy bottle. I'm talking about real honest to goodness root beer as it existed prior to prohibition, and they have given it an appropriately simple name of just "Root."
The stuff is made by Art in the Age, a store based out of Philadelphia, which supports artists, musicians and craftsmen who embrace the old ways in today's technological megalopolis. Their website has tons of great information on their product, it's history and how they reinvented it. Root is a rebirth of a preprohibition era Pennsylvania recipe for what would eventually evolve into root beer. We here at JABB are always more than willing to tout the merits of anything booze related that comes out of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (another post on why we Pennsylvanians love our rye). Prior to prohibition it was known as root tea, an herbal concoction passed on from the Native Americans, made from birch bark, sassafras, cloves, lemon peel and much more. Most of the ingredient grew native to the backwoods of Pennsylvania.
To quote the little tag that came with the bottle, "as the temperance movement saw fit to take all the fun out of life" an enterprizing pharmacist named Charles Hires took it upon himself to remove the alcohol from the root tea and replace it with soda water. He marketed this new brew, which he dubbed "root beer", to the hard drinking coal miners of Pennsylvania as something for them to enjoy without becoming a hazard to their fellow workers. It was an instant hit and what we now know as root beer was officially born. This new recipe tries to recreate the original as accurately as possible using nothing but organic ingrediets and a dedication to keep things true.
Naturally upon seeing this in the liquor store and being a root beer fanatic, I had no choice but to deviate from the original plan and picked up the only bottle they had left of the stuff. I haven't tried it yet, but I plan on sampling it this weekend. I'm giddy with anticipation and will definitely let you all know how it goes with a followup. Also check out this great article from the Philadelphia CityPaper on Root.