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In the 1700’s, it was called “Root Tea.” An herbal remedy made with sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch bark and other wild roots and herbs. Native Americans taught the recipe to colonial settlers. As it was passed it down from generation to generation, it grew in potency and complexity. Particularly in the Pennsylvania hinterlands, where the ingredients naturally grow in abundance.
At the close of the 19th century, as the Temperance movement conspired to take the fun out of everything, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol from Root Tea and rechristened it (ironically) “Root Beer”. He did this so that hard drinking Pennsylvania coal miners and steelworkers could enjoy it in place of true alcoholic refreshment. He introduced his “Root Beer” in a big way at the still legendary 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The rest, as you know, is flaccid history
Here at Art in the Age, we thought it would be interesting and fun to turn back the clock and recreate a true pre-temperance alcoholic Root Tea. We’ve even made it certified organic, since back then, everything was organic. This is the opposite of corporate culture. It’s a genuine experience rooted in history and our own landscape. It is a truly interesting and contemplative quaff. Certainly like nothing else we have ever tasted before. It is NOT Root Beer flavored vodka or a sickly sweet liqueur.
Just like the Root Teas that came before it, birch bark gives ROOT its pleasantly strong backbone of full-bodied aroma and flavor. Harvested from white birch trees, the bark is first subjected to a slow destructive distillation process that yields a crude birch tar. This tar is then steam distilled to produce a pure sap that is mixed in with ROOT’s cane sugar base.
Our smoked black tea gives ROOT its distinctive tea notes, burnished rose-gold hue, and delicate hints of smokiness. Instead of being dried in the sun like most other teas, the organic lapsang souchong tea we use is smoked over a pine fire to impart the necessary flavor requirements.
ROOT is distilled from a pure organic cane sugar base. Not excessively sugary, the cane sugar allows for great clarity in the finished spirit and accommodates ROOT’s earthier, slightly bitter undertones and its clean finish.
A couple hundred years ago, all the colonists made their Root Teas with sassafras root. However, scientists later found that the ingredient posed certain risks to the liver, and the FDA banned it as a food ingredient in the 1960s. No worries though, we’ve mighty close to approximating sassafras unique flavor with a mixture of organic citrus fruits, spearmint, and wintergreen.
We use American-grown, pesticide-free, certified-organic lemons and oranges to give ROOT a subtle touch of citrus aroma and flavor that comes out when mixed, and to closely mimic the taste of sassafras root.
Produced from the dried, unripe fruit of the Pimenta diocia plant, allspice was a favorite of many colonists who felt that the spice combined the flavors of several aromatic spices and added a desired layer of complexity to their Root Teas.
Aniseeds lends ROOT its licorice notes, which combine especially well with the sprits birch and sassafras flavors.
A spice produced from the dried flower buds of clove trees, clove was another favorite ingredient in colonists’ highly spiced Root Teas. Native Americans also found the spice to relieve tooth pain.
Cinnamon, much like ROOT’s birch flavoring, is harvested from the bark of the cinnamon tree through a similar process. Along with clove and nutmeg, it gives ROOT its pleasant baking spice flavor.
The seed of a type of evergreen tree, nutmug, along with clove and cinnamon, contributes heavily to ROOT’s distinctive, highly spiced taste.
Cardamom A member of the ginger family, cardamom’s strong, unique flavor is a welcome addition to ROOT’s well-rounded spiciness.