Birch Beer is a carbonated soft drink most popularized in Pennsylvania. It is made from the essential oils derived from the bark of the Black Birch Tree also known as the spiced birch or the sweet birch. Birch Beer is in the same family as root beer and sarsaparilla but to call it the same thing isn’t only wrong, but it could start a fight in Pennsylvania.
The flavor of birch beer is earthy, spiced and sweet, like root beer, but flows across the tongue first with a rich creamy-ness followed by a distinctive minty finish. The oil of the birch tree is the main ingredient of birch beer. It is made by distilling the sap found in the bark then filtering it followed by the addition of bubbles (carbonation). Next the sweetness is added (we prefer pure cane sugar at the North Market Pop Shop) as well as various spices like cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg or cloves depending on the brand or on your recipe.
There are three main kinds of birch beer each from their own tree, original (brown), creamy red which has added vanilla and almost no bite, and white birch beer which is clear and heavy on the wintergreen.
You can’t find Birch Beer just anywhere, though. It is a regional soda specific to the northeastern part of the United States as well as some parts of Canada.Pennsylvania, being the southernmost point of the Birch Beer region is also the largest consumer of the beverage.
A recipe for alcoholic birch beer has been around since the mid 1600’s and involves fermenting the sap rather than reducing it to an oil. Long before the 1600’s, Native Americans relied on Birch Trees to make herbal remedies and to add spice to their meals.
There are numerous popular brands making Birch Beer. Many recognize the popular yellow Pennsylvania Dutch can, but it’s not the only birch beer worth noting. Companies like Boylan, Reading Draft, and Kutztown Soda works have been making soda for decades, birch beer being their staple soda. Other notable birch beers include Hank’s, Stewart’s, Foxon Park, Hipposize, Sioux City, Avery’s and Appalachian Brewing Company; all of which are available at the North Market Pop Shop.