Root beer is a carbonated, sweetened beverage, originally made using the root of a sassafras plant (or the bark of a sassafras tree) as the primary flavor. Root beer, popularized in North America, comes in two forms: alcoholic and soft drink. The historical root beer was analogous to small beer, in that the process provided a drink with a very low alcohol content. Although roots are used as the source of many soft drinks in many countries throughout the world (and even alcoholic beverages/beers), the name root beer is rarely used outside North America, Britain and the Philippines. Most other countries have their own indigenous versions of root-based beverages and small beers but with different names.
There are hundreds of root beer brands in the United States, produced in every US state, and there is no standardized recipe. The primary ingredient, artificial sassafras flavoring, is complemented with other flavors, common ones being vanilla, wintergreen, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, clove and honey.
Homemade root beer is usually made from concentrate, though it can also be made from actual herbs and roots. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic root beers have a thick and foamy head when poured, often enhanced by the addition of yucca extract.
Although most mainstream brands are caffeine-free (including A&W Root Beer, Dad's Root Beer, and Mug Root Beer), at least one brand of root beer, Barq's, contains caffeine, although Barq's produces a caffeine-free variety sold in several US markets, where demand is sufficient. Additionally, Miami, Florida-based Bawls beverages offers "G33K B33R" (i.e. Geek Beer, written in Leet), a root beer that is caffeinated to "energy drink" levels—62.5 mg per 10 oz bottle—with added caffeine and Guarana extract. (This is twice the caffeine of a can of Classic Coke but about half that of an equivalent volume of brewed coffee.)
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