I finished writing my review for Reading Draft Birch Beer several days ago, and that review has disappeared to the land of lost work product. This is my best attempt to recreate what was likely an award winning review.
Many birch beers are one trick ponies. They show off the splendor of wintergreen, but have no depth, no other flavors. Reading Draft Birch Beer is no one trick pony. It does have that fresh wintergreen taste, but the wintergreen is just part of a rich and complex soda. Sweet caramel tones and and a deep and creamy herbal base enshroud the wintergreen, which peaks out from time to time. This is a soda with substance. It leaves you satisfied with a nice taste in your mouth. The flavor is similar to that of Reading Draft White Birch, but White Birch has a much stronger wintergreen flavor. Both are quality drinks. I might give the slight edge to Reading Draft Birch Beer.
Reading Draft Soda makes 13 premium reserve sodas, many of which are eligible for review by Root Beer Respect. In addition to White Birch, I intend on reviewing Reading Draft Root Beer, Birch Beer, Blueberry Birch, Creamy Red Birch, and Sarsaparilla. With all due respect, I have no interest in Reading Draft Diet Root Beer. Reading Draft sodas have been handcrafted in Reading, Pennsylvania since 1921.
White birch beers are something of a new experience for me. Every brand I have tried has had a strong and fresh wintergreen flavor. True to form, Reading Draft White Birch has plenty of wintergreen. It tastes remarkably similar to Wint-O-Green Life Savers. However, unlike other white birch beers which offer nothing more than wintergreen flavor, Reading Draft White Birch is undergirded by a rich and creamy caramel flavor. This added dimension makes for a slightly more complex and superior white birch beer. Although I do not think I would like white birch beer on a daily basis, white birch beer, specifically Reading Draft White Birch, makes a welcome every now and then treat.
The original 1891 soda created by pharmacist William Boylan in his Paterson, New Jersey, apothecary was Boylan’s Birch Beer. Boylan sold individual cups of Boylan’s Birch from a barrel in the back of a wagon. Today, Boylan’s Original Birch Beer is available in dark brown glass bottles embossed with the year 1891, which serve as the standard by which all other premium root beer brand bottles are measured.
Boylan’s website describes its birch beer as “[d]istinctively minty and sharp, with strong notes of sweet birch and wintergreen oil.” That description is pretty spot on. Boylan’s Birch Beer has a light and fresh wintergreen mint flavor, under-girded by a dark and robust birch. There is not much more to say, other than this is a good tasting beverage.
AJ Stephans Birch Beer is the third AJ Stephans soda to make an appearance here at Root Beer Respect. AJ Stephans Birch Beer has the same label set up as AJ Stephans Root Beer and AJ Stephans Sarsaparilla, with a simple display of the brand name and the type of soda. However, out of the tree labels, I like the color scheme of AJ Stephans Birch Beer the most. The crimson lettering stands out from the light tan background and the white base. Speaking of color, I am not sure what color the soda is, but before opening the bottle it looked clear through the dark brown bottle.
AJ Stephans Birch Beer has the icy cool flavor of Wrigley’s Winterfresh gum. The similarlty is uncanny. Winterfresh has an intense taste, so you may think AJ Stephans Birch Beer would be overpowering and abrasive. It is not. It somehow has the same flavor with a slightly toned down intensity. Even if not abrasive, you may ask yourself, “do I want to drink a soda that tastes like mint gum?” For me, in this case at least, the answer is a definite yes. AJ Stephans Birch Beer is one of the best birch beers I have experienced.
Fun fact about Squamscot Birch Beer, of the 22 Squamscot soda flavors, Squamscot Birch Beer is first alphabetically. Squamscot’s website refers to its birch beer as “[a] spin off of Root Beer, (an old timer’s drink).” The birch beer used for this review, like the root beer used in my Squamscot Root Beer review, comes from the 151st anniversary collection of Squamscot.
The first ingredient listed on Squamscot Birch Beer’s label is “lightly carbonated water.” Squamscot Birch Beer is lightly carbonated. Too lightly carbonated. It also has a strong wintergreen smell. Although the drink also tastes of wintergreen, the wintergreen flavor is mild compared to the smell. Squamscot Birch Beer also has a slightly bitter birch flavor. However, both the birch flavor and the wintergreen take a back seat to the predominant flavor, or lack of flavor. As odd as it may sound, Squamscot Birch Beer tastes mostly like freshness. Sure, wintergreen can taste fresh, but this did not taste like wintergreen freshness. Rather, it tasted strongly of simple freshness, with a little wintergreen mixed in. Although there is nothing wrong with freshness, other flavors make better tasting soda.
Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer is produced by Boylan Bottling, as is the first-rate Boylan Root Beer. Interestingly, while the creamy red birch beer is “Boylan’s” with an apostrophe denoting possession (as in the creamy red birch beer belonging to, or produced by, Boylan), the root been is merely “Boylan” Root Beer without an apostrophe. Boylan’s current website does not have any specific information about Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer, but other internet sources state the beverage was developed as an “entry level” birch beer intended for youthful customers. The soda has proved successful not only with its target market, but with anyone possessing undamaged taste buds.
The embossed Boylan’s bottle and simple label design demonstrate the best of a vintage soda look.
Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer starts off with a blast of carbonation. You have to wait for the carbonation to settle down before you can distinguish any flavors. The flavors that do emerge from the fog of carbonation are quite pleasing. First, you taste a birch flavor which provides a slight bite. However the real treat materializes just a moment later. It comes in the form of a rich, creamy red velvet and caramel flavor. This delicious blend does not quickly tail off, but remains strong as you savor its depth. This soda seemed to get better with every sip, and ended at a very high level.
We recently reviewed Hank’s Premium Root Beer here. Hank’s Root Beer received high marks for both taste and bottle design. Hank’s Birch Beer has the same design, and whether their glass vessel holds root beer, birch beer, or antifreeze, it does a dang good job of selling its product. Hank’s describes birch beer as a “traditional northeast favorite [which] is becoming a popular flavor throughout many parts of the nation.” That is certainly true in my west coast habitation.
Hank’s Birch Beer is a red birch beer. I don’t actually recall looking at the color, but Red # 40 is an ingredient. Hank’s touts its birch beer as “similar to root beer, but crisper and more robust, with a ‘kick’ of wintergreen flavor.” Hank’s is not joking about the kick. This soda is one big minty kick to the face. I don’t know if wintergreen is a strong enough description. Hank’s has an intense peppermint-esque quality. That flavor tapers off slightly to a sweet, creamy ending, but this is mostly a mint experience. My daughter thoroughly loved the flavor. I enjoyed it, but would have liked a deeper contrast at the end, transitioning from the mint to a creamier or stronger herbal root flavor. If you like mint then this is certainly the drink for you.
Perhaps the most pleasing part of my quest to find the world’s best root soda is that I have become familiar with the delicious beverage that is birch beer. I was hopeful, then, that Kutztown Birch Beer would be the next in the list of excellent birch beers added to my blog. Kutztown Birch Beer has the same presentation as the rest of the Kutztown sodas, displaying a fine German theme. As always, Kutztown’s label includes a poem. Unlike the Kutztown Root Beer poem which to me is intelligible, Kutztown Birch Beer’s makes sense and sings the praises of the soda. It states:
Say now, no one can resist the spell of Kutztown Birch Beer, Pennsylvania’s finest. Share a frosty mug with your special someone and just watch them fall in love. Drink to your health!
Kutztown Birch Beer was traditionally made from birch oil distilled from the sap of the black birch tree. Today it is made “from the finest birch oil available.” It could be that the other birch beers I have tasted are frauds, not made with the finest birch oil. However, for some reason, this soda using the finest birch oil available just did not live up to the standard set by some of the other sodas. Kutztown Birch Beer tastes more like a root beer than a birch beer. It has a strong root bite. There is a slight birch flavor, but it is overcome by the strong root bite. Those who like strong root beer should enjoy this brew, but it was not what I was expecting.
In January of this year, I was saddened to hear that A-Treat Soda, the nearly 100 year old bottler of root beer, sarsaparilla, and birch beer out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, had gone out of business before I was able to permit its carbonated goodness to pass over my lips. From what I understand, A-Treat had not distributed their soda in glass bottles for some time, but I still would have enjoyed tasting it. Recently, however, hope that A-Treat will survive, has returned. The Morning Call reports that A-Treat “has fielded ‘bona fide offers’ from at least 10 parties interested in purchasing it.”
While the world waits to see if A-Treat will be restored, The Morning Call has collected a series of tributes, nostalgic memories about days past, spent enjoying A-Treat sodas. Read the full story here.
The phrase Pennsylvania Dutch, or Pennsylvania German, refers to the descendants of the early German speaking settlers of the inland counties of Pennsylvania who arrived in Pennsylvania prior to the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. Apparently, at some point the Pennsylvania Dutch created a birch beer recipe. In 1936 Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer was created based on the century old Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. Somehow, I doubt that the original recipe included high fructose corn syrup, but maybe the Pennsylvania Dutch were early food engineers ahead of their time.
The label for Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer is one of my favorites. The name “Pennsylvania Dutch” is printed in an old cursive font you can just imagine an 18th century Pennsylvania German speaker painstakingly writing with a quill pen. The label also shows an old Amish looking Pennsylvania horse and buggy, which is likely distributing birch beer throughout the Pennsylvania farmland.
Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer has a wintergreen flavor mixed with a slight licorice flavor. Those flavors mix with other spices resulting in a soda with a fairly strong but savory bite. The carbonation works well with the birch beer’s natural bite to create Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer’s slogan; “Old Fashioned Taste… Old Fashioned Goodness.”