A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 24, 2009
Root Beer

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Root beer
Root beer, also known as sarsaparilla, is a carbonated beverage (or possibly a type of beer) originally created from sassafras. Root beer, popularized in North America, comes in two forms: alcoholic and soft drink.

Ingredients
Although the ingredients in root beer used to come from the extract of sarsaparilla, today artificial flavors are usually utilized along with benzoate anions to stunt microbial growth and EDTA to protect the artificial flavors from flavor retarding oxidation.

Popularity
Root beer is not a popular drink in Europe. It can rarely be found at the import section of supermarkets.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Main Entry: root beer
Function: noun
Date: 1840
: a sweetened carbonated beverage flavored with extracts of roots (as sarsaparilla) and herbs

(Oxford English Dictionary)
root beer, U.S., a beverage prepared from roots
1843 Knickerbocker XXII. 85 Let..the temperance halls and the *root-beer perambulatories make answer.
1851 HAWTHORNE Ho. Seven Gables iii, No less than five persons..enquired for ginger-beer or root-beer or any drink of a similar brewage.
1856 KANE Arctic Expl. I. xxix. 387, I will stay only long enough to complete my latest root-beer brewage.
1921 [see COCA-COLA].
1974 E. BRAWLEY Rap II. xix. 250 Sucking on his root beer freeze through a red plastic straw.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
sarsaparilla, n.
A soft drink similar to root beer, flavoured with sarsaparilla.
[1844 ‘UNCLE SAM’ Pecularities I. 43 On the outside..is printed the following thirsty announcement:..Congress Water, Sarsaparilla Soda, Ginger Champaign, [etc.].]
1850 Jrnl. Amer. Temperance 1 Nov. 167/2 Any description of liquor known as temperance drink, such as spruce beer, sarsaparilla,..ginger beer,..or lemonade.
1917 O. HENRY Roads of Destiny xxii. 311 You sarsaparilla-drinking, checker-playing glutton for death and destruction.
1989 Independent (Nexis) 3 Aug. 28 Anyone who imagines a ballet dancer’s refreshment to consist of a glass of Sarsaparilla and a cream puff would have been amused.
2000 W. SELF How Dead Live (2001) iii. 87, I wanted to summon up sarsparilla and kewpie dolls, baseball cards, jitterbugging, kreplach, [etc.].

4 July 1840, The Colored American (New York, NY):
J.B. BROWN & S.L. WOOD
CONFECTIONARY & Fruit Store, No. 99 Spring street, corner of Mercer street. Mead, Root-Beer, Ice-Cream, Preserves, &c.,
Families supplied with all articles in their line. N.B. The Store is closed on Sunday.

28 July 1840, Southport Telegraph (South Port, WI), pg. 4, col. 1:
The editor of the Rahway Herald spent the fourth in the following rational manner:—Forenoon, feasted on cherry pie and root beer; afternoon, on root beer and cherry pie; evening partook of both. Nothing like variety!

29 May 1841, Portsmouth (NH) Journal of Literature and Politics, pg. 3 ad:
ROOT BEER! ROOT BEER!!
THIS pleasant and wholesome beverage may be found at DUNYON’S ICE CREAM SALOON, No. 3 High-Street; also pure SODA & MEAD. 

19 October 1843, Bangor (ME) Daily Whig and Courier, pg, 2, col. 1:
We are informed that our neighbor of the Democrat, who prides himself upon his greatness, is exceedingly annoyed by the attacks of the Enquirer, but having “wowed a wow” not to notice it, he keeps his wrath bottled up, but it ferments and hisses like root beer in a hot day.

Google Books
High Life in New York
By Jonathan Slice (Ann Sophia Stephens)
Volume II
London: Jeremiah How
1844
Pg. 4:
Now I know jest how it’ll be—the minit I git hum, the old woman will go to making root-beer; she’ll sarch all over the woods for saxafax-buds to make tea on, and there’ll be no end to the snake-root and fennel-seed bitters that she’ll make me drink.

Google Books
The American Family Keepsake;
Or People’s Practical Cyclopedia

By The Good Smartina
Boston, MA: Published at 66 Cornhill
1849
Pg. 72:
ROOT BEER. Take a pint of bran, a handful if hops, some twigs of spruce, hemlock or cedar, a little sassafras, or not, as you have it; roots of various kinds, plantains, burdocks, dock, dandelions, &c.; boil and strain; add a spoonful of ginger molasses to make it pleasant, and a cup of yeast. When you want it soon, let one bottle stand where it is warm, and the rest will work cold. This for a gallon.

Google Books
or, plai, accurate, and thorough instructions in the art of brewing ale, beer, and porter;
including the process of making Bavarian beer, also, all the small beers, such as root-beer, ginger-pop, sarsaparilla-beer, mead, spruce-beer, etc. etc.
By M. L. Byrn, M.D.
Philadelphia, PA: Henry Carey Baird
1852
Pg. 162:
ROOT BEER.
THIS, though a cheap beer, is, with many persons, a great favourite; and it is thought by some to be quite conducive to health at certain seasons of the year. As I am treating of the practical processes of brewing, it would perhaps be out of place for me to speak of its good or bad qualities in this respect; but may be permitted to say, that if used in moderation, this beer is a wholesome beverage, when it is properly made. The sarsaparilla has a world-wide reputation at the present day, and if good in one form, such as “syrup," “extract” &c., it is undoutedly so in the form of beer, as has been proved by observation. It is made as follows: --

Take of molasses 3 gallons; add to this 10 gallons of water at 60 degreees. Let this stand for two hours, then pour into a barrel and add,

Powdered or bruised sassafras bark...1/2 pound
Powdered or bruised wintergreen bark...1/2 pound
Bruised sarsaparilla root...1/2 pound
Yeast (fresh and good)...1 pint.
Pg. 163:
Water sufficient to fill the barrel, which is estimated to hold from 30 to 35 gallons is then put in. Let this ferment for twelve hours, when it can be bottled, if desired.

Google Books
The American Practice COndensed,
Or the Family Physician

By W. Beach, M. D. (Wooster Beach—ed.)
New York, NY: Published and for sale by James McAlister
1851 (copyright appears to be 1842—ed.)
Pg. 25:
MEDICAL OR ROOT BEER.
THe following Beer will not only be found a substitute for many common drinks, but a very pleasant and wholesome beverage. Besides, it possesses alternative properties, attenuates viscid humours, and purifies the blood.

Take Sassafras root. (Rad. Sassafras) q. s.
Take Burdock root, (Arctium Lappa) q. s.
Take Wild Cherry tree bark, of the root, (Prino Virginiana) q. s.
Take Root of Black Alder, (Prinos Verticillatus) q. s.
Take Spice Wood or Fever Bush, q. s.

Make a strong decoction by boiling several hours, strain, sweeten well with molasses or honey, then add, when it is blood warm, sufficient yeast to ferment it. In a short time, or as soon as it commences fermentation, it is fit for use. THis may be freely taken as a diet drink. It is very pleasant, and excellent to prevent disease and keep the system in a healthy state, and it is grateful and cooling in all kinds of fevers. A little ginger and hops make it better.

Google Books
Fermented Liquors
By Dr. Lewis Feuchtwanger
New York, NY: Published by the author
1858
Pg. 28:
Root-beer is prepared by boiling various roots kept by the Thompsonian herb dealers, such as sarsaparilla, comfrey, liquorice-root, and sassafras blossoms and bark, in the same way as the ginger; and by adding to every two gallons of such decoction about two pounds of sugar; and when dissolved, add a gill of yeast to the same quantity, let it ferment over night, and the following day the beer is fit for drinking.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 24, 2009 • Permalink