A&W Root Beer

A&W Root Beer

Out of more than sixty different varieties of root beer, none is more indelibly linked to the all-American experience than A&W, with its fresh, draft beverage served with a nose-tickling head of foam in a frosty mug. With its rural appeal and simplistic design, it hearkens back to a frothier time, if not a sweeter one.

Born at a roadside stand in a 1919 parade for returning World War I vets, maker Roy Allen sold his sweet brew for a nickel in Lodi, California. Three years later, Allen partnered with Frank Wright to create A&W restaurants, offering favorite American dishes such as burgers, hot dogs, and fries. The restaurant became a chain. Then the chain became a sensation. Today, A&W exists all over the world: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, the U.K., and the United Arab Emirates.

A&W became the first fast food restaurant in history. What was has been globalized (and, in turn, demonized) by McDonald’s and Burger King was begun by Roy Allen and Frank Wright. War had changed everything. Mechanized us. Mobilized us. Localized us. Rural became urban as the workforce of the twentieth century congregated into tighter quarters. And with that migration came the need to feed them, quickly and efficiently. Thus, Allen and Wright didn’t just start A&W. They started fast food.

But while the fast food phenomenon can largely account for the cultural impact of A&W, it didn’t create the icon. For that to happen, it would require another ingenuity credited to A&W … the drive-thru. Nothing said “Americana” quite like the drive-thru, or its near-cousin, the drive-in. It brought about the carhop, the window tray, and more. It said “teenagers,” and “radios,” and “milkshakes.” It said “dusty roads that stretch on forever.” And above all, it shouted “root beer float” the way Abe Lincoln shouts “freedom.” The drive in became the setting in any film wishing to capture something to do with innocence and nostalgia. It became part of America.

In 1971, that brilliance was put into bottles and sold in the local grocery store as c (and Cream Soda). But while the taste was there, the experience wasn’t. Not without that frosty mug. Not without that drive-in. And not without the knowledge that you were a scoop of vanilla ice cream away from having something that shouted “root beer float” the way Babe Ruth shouts “home run.” Yes, while the American experience is generally boiled down to baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie, none of those things truly belong to a place – to a picture – quite the same way as root beer belongs to A&W.

Are you a fan of A&W Root Beer? Have you had the pleasure of drinking an ice-cold root beer at one of the old drive-in restaurants? We’d love to hear all of your memories of this classic American experience in our comments section below.

2 Responses to “A&W Root Beer”

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  1. Gina says:

    We had an A&W/Long John Silver’s mash up in a local mall, but it’s gone now! :( I don’t know of any more A&W restaurants in the area.

  2. fahadhamed14 says:

    impressive article. I really like your website and its work

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