reading draft

Reading Draft: Strawberry Cream Soda

History: Reading Draft is one of the older soda bottlers in America, concocting their own flavors using pure cane sugar since 1921. But there’s a new sheriff in town, baby. Er… sort of. The company had been under the ownership of Martin Radvani and his wife since 2004, but was purchased by the Hiester family in November of 2015. But don’t worry, they aren’t making any sweeping changes just yet and seem to retain the old school mentality the brand has had since its creation. Reading Draft Marketing Director Jared Hiester says “Drinking a great soda is something that’s both nostalgic and tradition, no matter what age you are…. Being born and raised in this area, this brand of soda had a great reputation, and we all loved the idea of continuing a tradition of handcrafted soda.” Hiester says the family plans to retain the “Pennsylvania Dutch” style of the company as well as all of Reading Draft’s current 13 flavors and is planning to add peach cream in the near future. They also gave the company web page a much-needed update. He added that previously, the company was successful with minimal advertising, so the new website of one of the first steps the Hiester family is taking to revamp the scope of the brand. Reading Draft is known for its variety of birch beers, but arguably, their most unique flavor is strawberry cream. There’s a bit of mystery to every Reading Draft flavor because of the amber bottles and tan labels. You can’t see the liquid inside. Strawberry cream is bright red, almost pinkish. It’s primed to give your tongue a nice painting. Hiester says his family describes the flavor as “liquid strawberry sundae” and that his nieces enjoy it on top of vanilla ice cream. He goes to say that he believes it’s a balanced soda with “just enough creaminess to give it a bit of extra sweet.” I wish when my girlfriend was um, “out of balance” around the middle of the month, I could just give her a bit of sweet and make her go back to normal. Don’t worry, she doesn’t know this website exists. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend. Speaking of balance, there’s one other element about Reading Draft Soda that contributes to it. Hiester explains “What makes the soda unique is that it is one of the select few on the market that is made with a pinpoint carbonation technique. Carbonation is introduced and absorbed slowly into the soda, which leads to smaller bubbles that have a smooth taste and longer persistence.” Another company famous for this method that’s worth checking out is Natrona Bottling. But we’re here for Reading Draft and its strawberry cream, and review it we shall.

Where to get: Reading Draft Soda is mostly sold locally throughout Pennsylvania. For those of us not living the Pennsylvania Dutch lifestyle, Amazon has the hook up online in 12-packs.

Nose: Has a very artificial strawberry scent. Think like Strawberry Sour Punch Straws mixed with mild bubble gum. Definitely reminds me of going to the candy store and opening the bin to some strawberry-flavored sugary treat.

Taste: Tangy strawberry candy; sugar; flush carbonation. This is more straightforward than we expected. The strawberry flavor is rooted in old fashioned strawberry soda flavor, but Reading Draft has added a mild tanginess to their version. It’s definitely a strawberry flavor you’d taste in candy as opposed to eating the real fruit. A little bit of an artificial taste, to be honest. It’s a sweet soda, but the tangy notes help balance it in the mouth. One thing we aren’t tasting here – creaminess. No vanilla. No frothy or velvety texture in the mouth. It might have something to do with the fact that this soda’s carbonation definitely plays a part in the flavor. The bubbles amplify the tanginess, and perhaps take away from the intended strawberry cream flavor. Despite what’s on the label, I’d call this more of a regular strawberry soda.

Finish: I’m not getting much of a cream sensation unless I wait for a long time after the sip. It’s mostly a lighter, more floral version of the strawberry from the soda’s body. Pleasant, but again, reminds me more of regular strawberry soda than strawberry cream.

Rating: Reading Draft Strawberry Cream Soda has the classic liquid strawberry candy flavor many of us in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s used to drink as children. A good comparison soda would be Fanta Strawberry, though Reading Draft’s flavor is way less syrupy. The soda is mildly tart, sweet and slightly artificial with nice levels of carbonation. A really nice strawberry soda. Thing is… this isn’t supposed to be a regular strawberry soda. It’s supposed to be strawberry cream soda. The only part of this soda that’s creamy is the finish, and you have to really wait before that sensation comes through. There’s no vanilla or strawberry-vanilla hybrid flavor. Just strawberry. In a few words, this isn’t bad; it’s just not what I expected. Kind of like my sister’s baby. Don’t tell her I said that. I didn’t know babies could have heads that big. Back to this. I think a lot of the people who will wish to try this soda will want to on the basis that strawberry cream is an unusual flavor. I’m afraid a lot of those people may be let down because this just tastes like normal strawberry soda. On the other hand, for strawberry soda, this is good. So are you a glass half empty or half full kind of person? If I’m making changes to the recipe, I’d throw in vanilla or more(?) vanilla to make the flavor match the label. Until this happens, Reading Draft Strawberry Cream is a fine soda for a hot day in the sun.

Three Stars

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Reading Draft: Creamy Red Birch Beer

History: Reading Draft is a classic, 100% American-made, old-school soda company that’s had roots in the soda industry since 1921. Located in Reading, Pennsylvania (pronounced Red-ing), the business has been through several different phases of ownership. In 2004, it was purchased by  Martin Radvani, but his wife was the driving force. After cashing out of his own previous business, Radvani’s wife got tired of seeing him sitting around the house. When the two met with a banker about the possibility of purchasing Reading Draft, Radvani’s wife said “Give him a check” before they’d even had time to discuss. He pulled out his pen because “happy wife, happy life.” Despite the exchanging of hands multiple times, the company is still known for its handcrafted “Pennsylvania Dutch” flavor. Ah yes, now you’re intrigued. So what does that mean? Well, even the Radvani’s have a hard time putting it into words. It’s a combination of things. On its founding in 1921, Reading was a city heavily influenced by German immigrants who had settled throughout the northeast. The Germans liked their beverages made simple with a bold taste. Ever had German beer? It’s delicious and jammed with flavor. It’s that German, err, “Pennsylvania Dutch” influence that led to Reading Draft’s signature soda: beer… well, birch beer. The company actually makes four variations. Reading Draft birch beer comes in regular, white, red cream, and blueberry. The company is proud of its soda’s emphasis on flavor. “It’s an adjunct to local beers,” says Radvani. Another component unique to Reading Draft’s methods is its style of carbonation. We’ll spare you the science, but the bottom line is that their sodas are infused with lots of pinhead-sized bubbles instead of the traditional carbonated bubbles that are about the size of an eraser head. This is done to ensure a smoother mouth feel. As with most craft soda, Reading Draft uses also pure cane sugar in their recipes.

Where to get: Reading Draft soda is available through the nation. Radvani encourages the public to contact their nearest distributor to ensure the safest method of shipping. That said, the company is open to placing custom orders directly.

Nose: Cream soda; light wintergreen breath mints; yellow cake.

Taste: Creamy wintergreen; minty vanilla; sugar; soft mouth feel. This is interesting for birch beer. You’re greeted right away with that classic wintergreen flavor found in almost all birch beers, but it’s so much lighter in Reading Draft’s Creamy Red. The wintergreen only lingers for a few seconds before giving way to a light classic cream soda taste. Interesting, considering this soda is as burgundy as cheap furniture from the 70’s. You’d expect maybe a red cream bubble gum taste, but it’s definitely just vanilla tinged with mint. When we say wintergreen, don’t think mint or spearmint, despite the photo above. WINTERGREEN LEAF IS HARD TO FIND, OK?! Sorry. Basically, wintergreen is that flavor of candy grandma always has in her glass bowl that’s been there for like seven years. Hence, it’s an acquired taste. Yet, this is surprisingly easy-drinking for birch beer. The more you drink this, the bolder the flavors become. The cane sugar really helps to accentuate the mint up front and the creaminess at the end. Reading Draft does use more sugar in this recipe as opposed to their original. When paired with ice, the wintergreen really mellows out, while the creaminess becomes more noticeable.

Finish: Creaminess that rises on the back of the tongue and evaporates into wintergreen that lingers until the next sip. By the end of the bottle, the creamy aftertaste becomes more mint and less vanilla. Unique and smooth.

Rating: Typically, birch beers are an acquired taste due to their strong mint flavors found in birch oil. I liken birch beer to being the scotch of the soda world because you’re usually older by the time you start enjoying it. But this is something even kids would probably like because of its blend of traditional vanilla flavor with the classic wintergreen taste. Reading Draft’s use of extra sugar in this particular birch flavor is really nicely done and acts as a flavor enhancer as opposed to shocking the drinker’s taste buds. Kudos for pulling that off. However, the increasingly strong mint finish leaves the drinker’s taste buds a little disoriented and longing for more creaminess. While we still can’t really give you a tangible answer of what “Pennsylvania Dutch” flavor is, we can definitely recommend this deep, dark red concoction. Surprisingly easy-drinking for a soda that’s known to be a sipper. Only lumberjacks from the Northeast drink birch beer fast. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a lumberjack to like this. A must-try for connoisseurs of birch beer for its unique take on an old original. If you’re not big into mint, this may not be for you. This is still birch beer; it’s still minty. If you’re looking for something different, but aren’t in the mood to get really experimental and try a soda with something like white balsamic in it, this is your bottle. Just don’t spill it on your clothes. It will look like you killed something.