We tasted nine different birch beers: AJ Stephans, Big Ben's, Boylan's Creamy Red, Boylan's Original, Hank's, Kutztown, Pennsylvania Dutch, Sioux City, and Squamscot. Not all of them stole our hearts, but the following five were the clear winners.
5. Pennsylvania Dutch
"Dare to go Dutch!" commands the Pennsylvania Dutch website, and we have to agree: This is a compelling birch beer. Its flavor is sweet and unusual, reminding us of those old root beer-flavored Bottle Caps. Not everyone in the test group enjoyed it, but those who did were adamant about its inclusion on this list. It's been around since 1936 and has garnered a fiercely loyal following.
4. Boylan's Creamy Red
While Boylan's Original Birch Beer also got high marks, we really preferred the company's Creamy Red version. It adds vanillan to the classic recipe, which our tasters picked up in both the scent of the soda and the flavor. "Well-balanced," one taster noted. "Fruity overtones," said another. It's also the birch beer West Coasters are most likely to find in their local supermarket and/or sandwich shop. Luckily, it's one of the best.
The very popular Kutztown birch beer recipe hails from one of the corporation's early owners, Percy Keodinger, the man responsible for focusing the bottling plant on its carbonated sodas back in the 1920s. Today, the Kutztown birch beer tastes strongly of spearmint and licorice.
2. Sioux City
Sioux City won our recent cream soda taste test, and it very nearly captured the top spot for its exemplary birch beer. Take a sip and you'll be hit first with notes of licorice and cherries that slowly dissolve into robust wintergreen. The cane sugar really comes through, and the moderate carbonation goes easy on your tongue.
1. AJ Stephans
AJ Stephans really has the whole carbonation thing down cold. Most of the AJ Stephans sodas have a distinct medicinal overtone, and their birch beer is no exception, but it's not overpowering. Expect bold wintergreen, anise, and licorice flavors that linger on the palate.
This was the overwhelming favorite from the tasting group, and it's the one you should hunt down if you're looking for that quintessential birch beer experience. We got ours from Galco's Soda Pop Stop.