Don’t have a black cow, man! Today’s food holiday is perfectly refreshing. August 6 is National Root Beer Float Day!
Root beer actually did, once upon a time, contain alcohol. 18th century farmers used to brew their own lightly alcoholic beverage to share during family gatherings. Originally made from the root or bark of the sassafras tree, the drink naturally contained small amounts of alcohol, and resembled beer (or Michael Moore) with its distinctive thick and foamy head. During the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, pharmacist Charles Hires introduced a commercial version of root beer that he wanted to call “root tea” because, when it came to booze, he chose to abstain. Fearing the coal miners, who were his key demographic, would want nothing to do with such a dainty sounding beverage – these were dirty men who cursed, spit, and braved the threat of Black Lung day in and day out, after all – he christened the drink “root beer” instead. By 1893 it was being sold as a bottled soft drink. That same year, Frank J. Wisner – owner of the Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company in Colorado – was struck by inspiration one night. The entrepreneur, who’d been selling soda water to thirsty miners, was looking for a special drink for the children of Cripple Creek. He glanced outside one moonlit night and noticed that the snow-capped peak of Cow Mountain looked like a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Inspired by this vision, the next day he added a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the soda water that was most popular with the kids, Myers Avenue Red root beer. The beverage was a smash hit. Originally called a “Black Cow Mountain,” the name was later shortened to “black cow.” Nowadays, it is most often referred to, more simply, as a root beer float.
There are few things tastier than a root beer float on a warm summer day. To celebrate, we met up for lunch at Burgerville and split a root beer float. The perfect antidote for a 90-degree afternoon!