Boylan’s: Creamy Red Birch Beer

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.


Kutztown Ginger Beer

History: Kutztown Bottling Works dates all the way back to 1851. Though it didn’t have the same name then, the Kutztown, Pennsylvania soda business has deep roots and has been passed around several times in its history. An important name to the brand is Percy Keodinger, who purchased a brewery and focused on selling beer and soft drinks. Then prohibition happened. No more beer. Way more soda. Keodinger developed 16 different flavors, his most famous being an original recipe birch beer. According to current Kutztown Bottling Works General Manager, Andy Schlegel, birch beer is still Pennsylvania’s most popular soda flavor. Since then, the business has been sold three times until it eventually wound up with current owners Jeff and Dana Taylor. The company actually didn’t assume the name Kutztown Bottling Works until 2002. The company sells soda in both 12 oz. glass and 24 oz. plastic bottlers. Click here to see which flavors come in which bottles. Like fellow eastern Pennsylvania bottler, Reading Draft, Kutztown is part of the Pennsylvania Dutch style. Again, no one can really seem to explain what that means aside from the fact that there’s a German influence. Shh, don’t worry about it. Yet despite the emphasis on birch beer, we decided to try their ginger beer, if for no other reason than because it’s red. And that’s odd enough to pop the top on this bottle. A fun fact: on the Kutztown bottle label it says “Nix Besser,” which means “Nothing better.” The more you know.

Where to get: Kutztown sodas can be purchased from the company’s online store. Their ginger beer is sold in plastic bottles through the Kutztown Bottling online store. If you’re looking for glass bottles, you can find those at Beverages Direct. Kutztown Bottling Works soda is distributed throughout 30 states and to many small Amish and Mennonite retailers by Dutch Valley Foods.

Nose: Ginger; mild red hot candies.

Taste: Mild ginger; mild spiciness; mild sugar. This is mild for ginger beer… if you didn’t get that by now. There’s a definite ginger taste, but the cane sugar in this almost acts as a bubble that coats the ginger. For some, that could be good. For others, it’s a flavor mask. There’s just the slightest bit of a minty undertone to this hidden beneath the ginger that you don’t find in most ginger beers. It seems like that mint flavor hides some of the bite found in stronger ginger beers. But every few sips that spice will sneak up on you and into your nostrils. It’s more of a heat on the finish than the initial sip. Not much in the way of lasting flavor or fire.

Finish: Light wintergreen mint and sweet candied ginger that swing back and forth until the flavor is gone. No lingering heat or after bite.

Rating: For those who aren’t quite ready for a strong ginger beer with bold spice, this is probably a good starting point. Not too spicy, but there’s just enough of it to let you know this is ginger beer. The sugar in this is a little bit stronger than its relatives and does have a tendency to cover up the richer and deeper flavor profiles ginger root possesses. But again, some will welcome that aspect. Kutztown’s ginger beer is unusually red. It looks beautiful in a glass and would make a fun party drink or mixer. For those desiring a powerful ginger beverage, this probably won’t be strong enough for you. For those looking to just get their feet wet, give it a shot. And for all of us those just looking to get drunk, this works well with a sprig of mint and your favorite liquid courage.