Thursday, June 18, 2015

The American Institution of Root Beer

The other day I was thinking about the A & W Root Beer stand that used to be located about half a mile from the house where I grew up. From the house, an easy walk of 15-20 minutes on a summer afternoon took me, car-hop apron in hand, to my first part-time job during the summers of 1967 and 1968.

Maybe it was the memory of those foamy mugs of root beer sloshing out on the trays I lugged across a gravel parking lot to hang on rolled-down car windows. Maybe it was the thought of amassing a whole ten dollars in tips on a weekend night.

Whatever the case, something told me last weekend that it was time for the grandkids to experience the divine taste sensation of a root beer float. It would be a tasty, easy dessert to greet us after the 60-mile drive home from our annual family reunion. With that in mind, I had the root beer and vanilla ice cream at the ready.

I don't think there is anything more fun than giving the kids the chance to try something new, and their root beer float initiation proved to be no exception. I had even frozen some almond milk to serve as an ice cream substitute for little Zoomie, who is allergic to dairy products.

The official results of the root beer test varied widely among the kids. Sooby, who doesn't care much for foods in the creamy/marshmallowy category, tolerated her float sample but opted out for ice cream and cake. But her brothers and sister loved their exquisite concoctions of texture and flavor and required seconds. Pooh required thirds and made me promise to save some root beer for his return trip next week, a request that I am happy to honor.

We used none other than A & W Root Beer, of course, and when one of the kids asked me what those initials stand for, I went to the official A & W website for the answer. There I learned that A & W stands for "Allen" and "Wright," who first marketed the beverage to the public on a wide scale in 1922.

Roy Allen, the site says, actually created the brew and first served it in Lodi, California, in 1919 to people attending a parade to honor soldiers returning home from World War I. It was also in Lodi that A & W pioneered drive-in accessibility and curbside service by carhops.

The stands became even more popular in the era of World War II and following, when more people began driving cars. Finally, in 1971, A & W Root Beer became available in cans and bottles at the corner grocery.

A little quick subtraction tells us that A & W Root Beer will have its ninety-sixth anniversary this summer. Now, that's a cause for celebration. I can think of no better way to commemorate this momentous occasion that with root beer foaming atop vanilla ice cream on a grand scale when Pooh comes to spend next week at Googie's.

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