History: You know Boylan Bottling’s soda. It’s widely available. It’s recognizable with its raised letter glass bottles. It’s one of the powerhouses in the world of craft soda. And it’s been around for a long time. “Our heritage is very rich,” says Senior Vice President, Chris Taylor. It all started back in 1891 when William Boylan began selling cups of birch beer out of the back of a horse-drawn carriage in Petterson, New Jersey. “He had a horse, so he had distribution,” Taylor quips. At the turn of the century, Boylan teamed up with local politician John W. Sturr to bottle his now-famous birch beer. The partnership didn’t last long. In the words of Taylor, Sturr had some “ethical challenges.” Wait, a corrupt politician? No way! Not even soda is safe. Post-prohibition in 1933, Boylan decided alcohol would be more profitable and sold his business to the company’s lead truck driver, who began selling kegged root beer and birch beer. In the 1980’s the truck driver’s two grandsons moved the company toward glass bottles and began introducing new flavors. Today the company is headed by CEO Michael Milstein.
Boylan is one of the most easily accessible craft sodas on the market with distribution in all 50 states. Boylan has had multiple breakthroughs that have opened the public’s eye to craft soda. In 2008, they were one of the first non-Pepsi or Coca Cola companies to have a fountain soda offering. They’ve also made significant inroads merging into the food industry. Boylan Black Cherry, Creme Soda, and Ginger Ale are available at Arby’s locations throughout the nation. They have the meats. And they have Boylan. In fact, according to Taylor, 55% of the company’s total sales comes from food service. So don’t be surprised if your favorite upscale burger joint carries Boylan products too. Their most recent project, Boylan Heritage, is a venture with W&P Design into upscale mixers. They also run a seasonal program that includes the flavor we’re reviewing today: creamy red birch beer. Since Boylan is such a big company, we wanted to review something that remained true to the original flavor, but was still unique. Taylor notes “It’s a northeast flavor with hints of peppermint and birch,” as well as a mixture of vanillas that were kept secret from us. He uses the term Pennsylvania Dutch as we’ve mentioned before when birch beer is in play. Again, no one knows what this means. Just pretend it’s a real thing. One thing we do know that’s real is the liquid. Let us refresh now.
Where to get: Boylan Bottling sodas are widely available across the nation. I’d be pretty shocked if you can’t find it in a grocery store near you. But maybe you live in the woods or something. As long as your treehouse has wifi, you can buy it online from Summit City Soda, Amazon, or Soda Emporium.
Nose: Wintergreen mint; vanilla; red cream soda.
Taste: Peppermint; foamy bubbles; birch oil; light vanilla. The birch and peppermint flavors in this are immediate and bold. This is unmistakably birch beer. The “creamy” label on this, in my opinion, is more derived from the carbonation than the flavor. The bubbles are light and frothy, foamy even. They bite the lips, yet float across the tongue. It’s a wonderful form of carbonation that feels perfect in the mouth. There’s some vanilla in this, but it’s fleeting between the birch and peppermint flavors. I think the soda would be better served bringing the vanilla profile more to the forefront. The sugar level in this works really nicely. It’s up there at 42 grams, but the mint cuts it for a balanced symmetry of flavors.
Finish: Cane sugar; wintergreen; creamy foam.
Rating: If you’re a fan of birch beer, you’ll drink this one up. Boylan has crafted a soda rich in both birch and peppermint flavors with a hint of vanilla. But where Creamy Red Birch Beer really excels its carbonation. Often an overlooked element in sodas, the fizz or bubbles or whatever you want to call them, are critical in creating a pleasant mouth feel. This one is light and airy, similar to foam. It’s really fantastic. Birch beer is often a love it or hate it soda with little in between. It’s an acquired taste. It’s like the step-mom of soda, except if you hate it you don’t have to live with it until your late teens. Hope you’re not reading this, Michele. This could use a little more creaminess in its flavor profile as opposed to just mouth feel. I think a bolder vanilla taste would be a nice solution. But all things considered, this is a nice twist on classic birch beer that executes its most important flavors in a pleasing fashion. Lovers of earthier, botanical sodas will enjoy immensely.