Boylan’s Original Birch Beer

Summer Root Beer Project Post 25

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MADE FROM: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Pure Birch Oils, Natural Flavors, Caramel Color, Natural Yucca Extract, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness).

“Boylan’s Original Birch Beer is the one that started it all! The unique taste is distinctively minty and sharp, with strong notes of sweet birch and wintergreen oil. Because of its “bite” this product has an almost cult-like appeal among the true birch/root beer enthusiasts, those who aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. Which is great, because neither are we.

“Tastes great with:

“Philly Cheesesteaks, of course!”

Whoa, they aren’t kidding, boy is the Boylan’s Original Birch Beer Birch-ey!

About the only criticism I have is that it is a tad sweet for me and lacks a bit of the complexity of the Boylan’s Root Beer. Otherwise, it is very tasty.

4 out of 5 Barrels.

What is Root Beer?

First let’s tackle the roots of modern, commercial root beer.

I’m still investigating its historic ancestors.

Modern, commericial root beer began with Charles E. Hires.

He was a pharmacist who lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.

He started selling a flavored mix around 1870. He initially called it Hires Herb Tea, but soon changed the name to Hires Root Beer. It was a dry powder which came with instructions to mix it with water, and sugar, to produce a carbonated beverage. Soon after, he switched the product to a liquid concentrate instead of a powder.

He made a big splash with his beverage at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, as a temperance alternative to more alcoholic beers.

Around 1890, he started selling a bottled, carbonated, pre-made version, and the rest, as they say, is history. Even with some Root Beer competition from A&W in California and Barq’s in Louisiana, Hires Root Beer became one of the biggest selling soft drinks in the United States for most of the 20th Century. It remained the king of soft drinks, until Coca-Cola unseated it with its marketing push in the 60s and 70s.

Here’s a lovely pamphlet from around 1892 made available in its entirety thanks to the University of Iowa: Hires Root Beer

Hires Root Beer

Hires Root Beer

And here’s a list of some of the ingredients Charles Hires claims were in his root beer circa 1920:

Birch Bark – United States, New England
Chirreta – India
Dog Grass – Germany
Ginger – Africa
Ginger – China
Ginger – Jamaica
Hires special plant
Hops – United States, Northwest
Juniper Berries – Italy
Licorice – Spain
Licorice – Russia
Sarsaparilla – Honduras
Sugar – Cuba
Vanilla – Mexico
Wintergreen – United States, North Carolina
Yerba Mate, Brazil

Funny, Yerba Mate! And Hops!

Most people assume that the “Hires Special Plant” in this list was Sassafras.

Dog-Grass may be Couch-Grass, (Agropyrum repens), whose, “roots have a sweet taste, somewhat resembling liquorice,” and were used medicinally.

Chiretta (Swertia chirata) appears to be a Gentian-like plant which is, “used a great deal in India as it has two valuable bitter tonic principles.”

The next big change in Root Beer came in the 1960 when it was determined that the safrole in Sassafras could be linked to cancer in rats. Sassafras was banned from food products and all commercial root beers had to be reformulated with a different balance of flavors. Primarily, Wintergreen came much more to the fore in modern Root Beer.

As an afterward, Hires Root Beer ended up in the hands of the people at the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Unfortunately, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group already had a Root Beer, A&W, and have gradually phased Hires out in most markets. It seems, they mostly bought it for the name. It is now very difficult to find Hires Root Beer, except by special order from some Internet marketers and (apparently) those olde tyme, fun loving people at Walmart.

Boylan’s Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 4

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Boylan‘s Root Beer

Made From: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Caramel Color, Natural Yucca Extract, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness).

Rather generic ingredient list, they are a bit more forthcoming on their website description of the Root Beer:

“Boylan Root Beer has a rich and spicy sassafras flavor, thanks to its blend of cinnamon, anise, black pepper, mushroom, sweet birch, extracts of chocolate and coffee, vanilla, and wintergreen oil. Sounds complex, but the end result is an authentic, traditional tasting root beer with only a subtle creamy note.”

In any case, this is another very, very good root beer, pretty complex with a good aftertaste. Stronger Cinnamon spice component than most Root Beers I’ve tried so far, along with the birch. Not sure where the black pepper and mushroom come in!

I think I have to give this one 5 out of 5 barrels, as well.