Some root beer drinks aren’t made from the extracts traditionally used for them. Some are. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking real root beer on more than one occasion.
This article explains the history pretty well. The first commercially-sold root beer used sassafras (Hires). A major competitor (Barq’s) used sarsaparilla. Most brands use either one or combinations of something else. I’ve tasted both of the major types and I don’t like one more than the other. The Sarsi soft drink in the Philippines is made with sarsaparilla. I don’t know why, but I don’t like it. But then, I don’t like drinking soft drinks by themselves.
On a school field trip, in the 1970s, I had a sarsaparilla drink at a place called “Rawhide City” in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was a 1800s-style western town, and I was in a western saloon. Rawhide has since relocated to Chandler, Arizona (and dropped the “city” part) and has more attractions. I don’t have any desire to return there. I don’t have any desire to return to that state.
I can’t tell you how many brands produce root beer. The flavor exists in countries other than the United States as well as the United States. Here are a few that I can remember:
What I know about root beer may only seem useless to me. I’m sure a lot of people are interested in it or the Wikipedia article wouldn’t exist. I guess it’s like that for a lot of trivia items.
Many words aren’t pronounced the way they’re spelled. One way to say sarsaparilla is like that. It omits the first “r” and second “a”. Click the speaker icon at dictionary.com to hear it spoken that way.
I’ve learned a bit about “malt” and “malting” as well. For me, the information is useless. Fortunately, it isn’t useless for people who make beer, whiskey and certain confections.