Yes, sort of, well no.
These are the answers you will often get if you ever ask someone if root beer is actually beer. The reason being is root beer today isn’t like root beer of a few years ago – hence the confusion. Today, root beer is nothing more than a flavored soda. And, while super delicious, it isn’t like its ancestor, which was made from a grain based beer. So, yes, back in the day, root beer was technically a brew just like beer, but not all people would still refer to it as a “beer.”
The issue is the origin of the word “beer” and how people perceive it. Back in the day, root beer wasn’t even referred to as “beer”; instead, it was referred to based on the ingredients used to craft it – such as Birch Beer or Sassafras (a term you have likely heard before). To create a grain-based beer, the process is similar to that of a crafted true beer, but there is one key difference: the fermentation – which we’ll get into more in a second.
Common Misconceptions about Root Beer
Before we can dive into how root beer could be beer, we must first get into the common misconceptions that drive the belief that root beer isn’t beer at all.
Now, the Term “Beer”
Okay, now that you have dispelled the misconceptions that are confusing you, the next thing is understanding the origin of the word beer. Beer is based on a Jewish word for grain, known as “bre.” In Jewish culture, they used to create their own brews. There is also the term for barley, known as Saxon. Lastly, it could have come from the Latin word for drink, “bibere.” As you can see, the term beer itself has numerous origins – it is all so confusing!
How Root Beer Came About
Here’s the thing about root beer: it is brewed – or at least it was traditionally. Early colonists didn’t have barley or other grains they needed to make beer, but they had plenty of plant life and yeast. So they foraged and found roots, plants and other items to mix with their yeast and create a brew.
Now they needed something for flavor, which is why they turned to cinnamon, roots (hello root beer!) and other flavors. Using their sprouted barley, they couldn’t get the same fermentation out of the yeast, but they got a beer-like consistency and thus, root beer was born.
So, Is It Beer?
Today’s root beer is NOT beer. It is flavored soda and we’ll give you all that.
But, the root beer back in the day was a beer made from real roots and flavors and it was fermented – which means it technically was brewed. And, while it didn’t have a high alcohol content, yes, it was in fact a beer.
For a real beer, don’t forget to peruse our list of beer of the month clubs – where you find true craft and microbrewed beers that aren’t confused for sodas in today’s beverage world. These are handcrafted by artisans that even turn back to their roots (different kinds and definitely non-edible) to create beers and brews that speak of their region and sure taste good on a Friday night.