I’ve been working with 5&A Dime for almost a year now with brand management, particularly on their newest venture: Craft Soda. During that time I’ve been learning more and more about the history of soda pop and have perfected my own root beer recipe. Part of that learning included a really great book.
That book? Homemade Root Beer Soda & Pop. In that book author Stephen Cresswell devotes an entire chapter to “Root Beers in American History.” Now, I know when you read the word “Root Beer” you probably think of something along the likes of Virgil’s, Dad’s, IBC, or even Barq’s. When I think of root beer, I think of the Ginger Root.
Ginger Ale, or Ginger Beer to be specific, is my favorite type of soda. It’s spicy because of the ginger root, which also gives it a subtle citrus flavor and sweetness. It used to be prescribed, literally prescribed for stomach issues! This is upheld by modern medicine where ginger is used to aide in digestion, settle stomachs, and can even be used as an anti-inflammatory! Crazy, right?
Sodas as medicine grew out of necessity and were a part of the American diet from colonial times through the Prohibition Era of these United States. Cresswell shares that “in years gone by, self-sufficiency was the goal on American farms. An integral part of this self-reliance was the making and bottling of refreshing beverages for year-round use. For many families, these beverages included… non-alcoholic drinks flavored with the roots, bark, sap, and leaves of local wild plants.”
What’s whack is the Prohibition Era made people really uptight about the amounts of alcohol in beverages and that is what helped lead to soda becoming more boring and ridiculously sweet. In actuality, levels of alcohol were not that big of an issue before this time. Kids usually drank a beverage very lightly alcoholic, the alcohol was by product of the brewing process. Alcohol was found not only in ales but sodas as well. Cresswell asserts that “the sharp distinction modern Americans draw between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages was more relaxed in earlier times.” Farmers brewed beverages in an effort to sanitize water, and used various ingredients to brew various drinks. Malt, hops and yeast were made to brew ales. Grapes and apples were made to brew wines and ciders. Roots, herbs, and spices were used to make root beers and ginger ales.
So what happened to these kinds of sodas?
Creswell shares that a “renewed interest in self-sufficiency (emerged in) the mid-1960′s (when) young people in particular began to reject the everywhere the same aspect of American life, that cultural homogenization brought about by consumers all using identical factory-made goods.”
The cycle is upon us again as is evident with the popularity of craft beer, farm to fork food, and craft sodas, especially in San Diego.
My favorite craft soda available in the shop is River City’s Ginger Beer, a sweet and spicy concoction coming out of the River City, California’s capital: Sacramento. Fun fact, Sacramento is home town to The Huggins family, founders of 5&A Dime.
According to the good folks at River City their sodas are “Sacramento’s Own Sodas, created with love in the River City. Janet and Bob Lake of Blue Dog Beverage have created these sodas with nostalgia in mind. The Lake family has been distributing over 450 unique sodas for over eleven years. These sodas harken for a time when things were simpler, the sky bluer and the breezes of the river kept you cooler.”
River City Ginger Beer brings back memories of a time gone by. Apparently the folks at River City tested this secret recipe “for years, batch after doggone batch to create this magical, refreshing, Ginger Beer. Smooth, lightly sweet with dog biscuit amount of ginger and some heat on the end, not summer hot but enough to warm you up on a cold day or cool you from the heat of summer.”
I really enjoy the soda by itself usually after a meal. Maybe it’s just in my mind, but I feel it helps the bubble guts go away. I also really enjoy it with fatty and salty meats. Think pork like a carnitas taco, or pork adobo, or pork ribs. If you like to get crunk add 2 parts River City Ginger Beer to 1 part Irish Whiskey (Jameson) serve on ice with a twist of lime and feel the happiness soak in.
Come by the shop for a Taste. A bottle will cost you 9 quarters, but the flavor will stick with you a lot longer than those quarters would have.