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Created in the mid-1800s by Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires, the original root beer was a (very) low-alcohol, naturally effervescent beverage made by fermenting a blend of sugar and yeast with various roots, herbs and barks such as Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, wild cherry, Wintergreen and Ginger. Today's commercial root beer is completely nonalcoholic and generally contains sugar, caramel coloring, and a combination of artificial and natural flavorings (including some of those originally used) and carbonated water for sparkle.