Philly’s love for all things antiquated is really exploding right now, which isn’t too surprising given the City of Brotherly Love’s rich history as the centerpiece of early America. The classic cocktail scene is thriving at bars such as Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Southwark, and APO Bar & Lounge (formerly Apothecary). There’s also interesting non-alcoholic concoctions (such as orgeat, grape, and bitters phosphate) to be found at Franklin Fountain, a classic ice cream and homemade soda shop. So it’s not too surprising to see ROOT, an organic root tea liqueur based on a Pre-Prohibition recipe that was a predecessor to root beer, sprout up in Pennsylvania. Only available for online purchase ($38.99) in 28 other states, ROOT was released in May as a small-batch spirit by crafty collective Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in collaboration with the producers of Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum.
Long before the Pilgrims breezed into Plymouth Rock, Native Americans were sipping root tea as an herbal remedy. As colonial settlers handed the recipe down from generation to generation, the drink grew in potency and complexity. During the Temperance Movement, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol and mixed the tea with soda water, renaming it (ironically) as “root beer” to folly hard-drinking coal miners and steelworkers. Turning back the clock to the colonial era, ROOT is an 80-proof sugarcane spirit containing birch bark, smoked black tea, essence of sassafrass, orange and lemon peel, anise, allspice, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The essence of sassafrass is a mix of citrus, spearmint, and wintergreen since actual sassafrass root was banned by the FDA in 1960 because the root bark contains a mildly toxic oil.
I can’t tell you what ROOT tastes like because I haven’t ordered it just yet, but I thought you all should know about this exciting new spirit which is getting added to many cocktail menus in Philly. Hopefully NYC will catch up soon! Just this week, the makers of ROOT held a cocktail competition at Silk City in Philly. Here’s the winning recipe by Kate Loeb of Oyster House:
Dr. Hadley’s Root Restorative
.5oz Demerara simple syrup
6 large mint leaves
1.25 oz. Lairds Bonded (100 proof) Applejack
1.0 oz ROOT Liqueur
.5 oz. Benedictine
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Mint sprig
Muddle mint in simple syrup. Add ice and other ingredients. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a spanked mint sprig.