Root Beer usually is not made of roots and it is not a beer, but like many things we celebrate at Crossroads, this uniquely American beverage grew out of a concern for clean drinking water. On July 12 at 2:00, the Door County Historical Society will celebrate all things root beer with a Root Beer Fest in the Heritage Village. Patterned after an Octoberfest celebration, this Sunday in the Village program will feature root beer and fun.
Participants will be able to sample varieties of root beers and then have the opportunity to purchase the brand they like best. Members of the Historical Society will offer root beer floats root beer cake, root beer Fizzies, pretzels and other munchies–some for sale, some complimentary.
This soft drink had its roots back in Colonial days when water often was polluted. For health reason, people drank hard ciders or variety of fermented beverages known as small beers, believing that the alcohol protected them from tainted water. They would brew beer from whatever they could find — birch bark, sarsparilla, ginger, and various roots combined with dog grass (whatever that was!) molasses and licorice.
Perhaps the most popular root for making small beer was that of a strange little tree called sassafras. It grows on the East Coast, in the South (where they dry the spicy leaves to make thickener and flavoring for gumbo) and as far west as the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Sassafras is distinctive because it has leaves of three different shapes on each tree. Some leaves are shaped rather like forks, some are spoon-shaped, and in Michigan, folks point out that the third kind of leaf resembles a mitten [but then, Michiganders seem to compare a lot of things to mittens.]
The roots of sassafras trees could be boiled to make a flavorful tea which was used as a spring tonic. (In modern terms, we might say that this tea has laxative effects. After a long winter, pioneers probably appreciated this property.) Sassafras tea is a pinkish brown and was also used to dye homespun fabrics.
There must have been countless recipes for root teas and root beers and they would have been lost to history were it not for a pharmacist named Charles Elmer Hires. According to legend, when on his honeymoon, he came across recipe for a delicious small beer made from sassafras roots. He was able to produce and sell an extract of this beverage, but because is he was a teetotaler, he called it root tea. Apparently, he didn’t let his personal beliefs interfere with marketing, because he soon learned that the beverage sold much better if it was called root beer. He introduced it at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, and root beer was an instant hit even though it was non-alcoholic.
Later, he started to bottle the drink, mixing the sassafras extract with sugar, yeast and water. The yeast gave off the carbon dioxide to make the drink fizzy with a foamy head on top.
As the years went by, and especially during Prohibition, the carbonated beverage became popular throughout the United States. But in 1960, the Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras oil as a potential carcinogen so some root beers are made with artificial flavorings. Other bottlers still use parts of the sassafras tree for the root beer flavor. Now there are countless brands, all using different recipes and and some still using actually roots. So celebrate on Sunday. Sample some brews in the Heritage Village. It’s a summertime tradition.
Wednesday, July 8
10:00 Family Program: Gifts of the Glaciers
Be a geology detective and learn about melting glaciers, which leaving the Door Peninsula and Lake Michigan. Learn about the habitats that are the result of the Ice Ages. Free and open to the public. Meet in the Entry Level of the Collins Learning Center.
1:30 History Program: One Room School and the First Door County Chapel
Gather with schoolchildren, ages 4-18, in a one room school to learn reading script and ciphering with the schoolmarm. Then enjoy the hymns of 1890 and Door County History tales.
Thursday, July 9
10:00 Family Program: Fabulous Flyers
Get acquainted with migrating birds and butterflies and explore their breeding habitats. Free and open to the public. Meet in the Entry Level of the Collins Learning Center.
Sunday, July 12
2:00 Sunday in the Heritage Village: Root Beer Fest
Join us to celebrate all things Root Beer. Participants will be able to sample varieties of root beers and then have the opportunity to purchase the brand they like best. Members of the Historical Society will offer root beer flower, root beer cake, root beer Fizzies, registered trade mark pretzels and other munchies–some for sale, some complimentary.
Monday, July 13
10:00 Family Program : “Amazing Great Lakes Fish”
Enjoy our Great Lakes Exhibit as you learn about the habitats required of fish under the waves. Free for all ages. Meet in the Entry Level of the Collins Learning Center
Tuesday, July 14
10:00 Family Program: Butterflies Everywhere
Join the summer educator to learn about butterflies, which can be found at Crossroads as caterpillars or adult butterflies. Capture release activities–we will provide the nets. Free and open to the public. Meet in the Entry Level of the Collins Learning Center.
1:30 History Program: Life on the Warren Farm and Schopf Log Cabin in 1890
Experience farm life with Grandma Warren and explore two log cabins in the Heritage Village.