A Hamburger Today

Taste Test: Birch Beer

[Photographs: Adam Lindsley]

Ask a West Coaster if they've ever had a birch beer and the response is almost always the same: "Birch beer? What's that?" Birch beer never really took off for the rest of the country like it did in the eastern United States. That's a shame, because birch beer can be just as satisfying as its closest relative, root beer, and some of us even prefer it. We gathered nine different brands of birch beer to figure out which one was the best.

What gives birch beer its unique flavor? Glad you asked! Birch beers are flavored with oil distilled from the sap of birch trees, usually the Sweet Birch. These trees grow primarily from northern Georgia to southern Maine, which might be one explanation for why the East Coast has such a monopoly on birch beer.

Other common ingredients in birch beer include yucca extracts and acacia, which meld with the birch oil to help form the duo of wintergreen and licorice flavors most frequently associated with this soda.

Are you a fan of birch beer? Do you have a favorite?

Birch Beers We Tried

AJ Stephans
Big Ben's
Boylan's Creamy Red
Boylan's Original
Hank's
Kutztown
Pennsylvania Dutch
Sioux City
Squamscot

Each birch beer was sampled in a blind taste test and judged on the following criteria:

The Criteria

Why The Losers Lost

Because of the strong wintergreen aspect of birch beer, drinking a substantial quantity of it has a numbing effect on the mouth. Our least favorite sodas from this bunch sped up that process, and delivered an overbearing sweetness as well. One brand was astonishingly sour, leaving a bizarre aftertaste that no one in the tasting group enjoyed.

20110125-134577-birch-beers-pour.jpg

After a rigorous round of tasting and re-tasting, we settled on our five favorites:

The Top Five

5. Pennsylvania Dutch
4. Boylan's Creamy Red
3. Kutztown
2. Sioux City

And the Winner Is...AJ Stephans

From: Fall River, MA

20110304birchbeersmalluse.jpgAs noted in the Root Beer Taste Test, AJ Stephans really has the whole carbonation thing down cold. It stayed fizzy several hours after the bottle was opened, and was, as one taster put it, "Like pouring a thousand tiny bubbles onto your tongue."

Though this soda had a distinct medicinal bite, it wasn't overpowering. Expect bold wintergreen, anise, and licorice flavors that linger on the palate.

This was the overwhelming favorite from the tasting panel, and the one you should hunt down if you're looking for the quintessential birch beer experience. We got ours from Galco's Soda Pop Stop.

Printed from http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/03/best-birch-beer-taste-test-boylans-pennsylvania-dutch-kutztown-sioux-city-aj-stephans.html

© Serious Eats