red cream

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.

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Bickford’s Creamy Soda

History: G’day mate! Bickford’s is an Australian company famous for producing cordials and craft sodas, among several other beverage-related products. After migrating from England in 1839, William Bickford and his wife Anne Margaret opened a pharmacy. Pharmacies, for those of you who don’t know, were the beginnings of soda. Pharmacists would use carbonated flavorings to disguise the horrid taste of medicine. After William Bickford’s sudden death just 11 years later, Anne Margaret took over the pharmacy business and in 1863, formed A.M. Bickford and Sons with her two boys. And so it began. In 1874, the company began producing cordials, the product it’s most famous for to this day. Craft soda came along later for Bickford’s with Lemon and Lime Bitters being its most famous flavor, followed by their cream soda and their version of sarsaparilla.

Where to get: Available widely in Australia throughout grocers and online, this means nothing to Americans. As a stone cold USA review site, wtf mate? Where can we get it? Lemme be real with you… it isn’t readily available here. BUT… but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it. Bickford’s is a large company that employs very nice people. They’ll be more than willing to be accommodating for orders. Contact them directly and they’ll work with you in getting an order out to you. And starting in June/July of 2015, the company will be doing a slow roll out in America, starting in California.

Nose: Intense bubblegum; fruity and floral notes

Taste: Definitely bubblegum up front, though not as strong as it smells. Then there’s a very hard-to-place flavor that follows. It makes you think. If you didn’t notice it from the photo… it’s raspberry. And it’s damn good. The carbonation is intense very briefly when you take a swig and then fades into a creamy bubblegum-raspberry twist. The raspberry comes in first and hits the back of your mouth with a nice tartness that compliments the soda’s overall smoothness. Raspberry, while not a common flavor in cream sodas, is much more common outside the U.S. So if you get your hands on this in America, you’re likely in for something new. Bubble gum, raspberry and light vanilla highlight this elixir from down unda’.

Finish: Slightly acidic raspberry that quickly fades into a vanilla-bubblegum creamy flavor and lingers on the tongue.

Rating: With its cute-as-hell 9.3 ounce bottle and its unique take on an old classic, Bickford’s Creamy Soda is a must-try. Red cream sodas are often packed with intense bubblegum flavor and loaded with enough sugar to make a diabetic pass out after just reading the label, but Bickford’s does a really nice job using their cane sugar to accentuate and not overload the flavors they want to get across. Bubblegum is a very love-hate flavor in the cream soda world and Bickford’s navigates around that by adding touches of raspberry and vanilla cream to balance it out. The result is something you don’t see often, one you’ll want to put in your mouth. Throw this on some ice and kick back. Cheers, mates.