What Is Birch Beer, Really?

Sometimes I want a good old fashioned beverage. Not like a literal Old Fashioned cocktail, but like an old timey drink. What’s more old timey than a drink with beer in the name but no alcohol? That’s right, I reach for a root beer or a birch beer. Every single person reading this who is not from the Northeastern U.S. may have just asked, “What’s birch beer?” Well, it’s kind of like root beer but it’s different. What does birch beer taste like? Does birch beer have caffeine? Okay that’s enough questions. Shut up and read on for the answers!

What is birch beer? 

Birch beer is a soft drink made from a variety of herbal extracts and birch bark that is popular in the Northeastern United States and Newfoundland, Canada. Yep, this drink is made from the bark of birch trees. Way back in the olden days, the English and the American colonists would make low-alcohol “small beers” as it was way cheaper than importing alcohol. 

Wait, so is birch beer alcoholic?

In 1707, agriculturalist John Mortimer described how birch beer was made in The Whole Art of Husbandry: “To every Gallon whereof [of sap] add a pound of refined sugar, and boil it about a quarter, or half an hour, then set it to cool, and add a very little yeast to it, and it will ferment.” So old timey birch beer was alcoholic but most modern birch beer is not alcoholic. It is bottled quicker so as to not allow much fermentation.  

Does birch beer have caffeine?

The alcohol level is not the only thing that’s changed in birch beer over the years. A lot of modern, mass produced birch beer contains caffeine. The original recipe did not. Of course you can still find some caffeine free varieties out there; just check the label. 

What does birch beer taste like?

Birch beer tends to taste more “natural” than root beer. It is clearer, more intense, and more complex than root beer. Birch beer also has a surprising distinct minty scent and flavor. 

Birch beer is gaining in popularity and the number of manufacturers just keeps growing. By far, the most popular brand is Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer. You can find birch beer at stores throughout the Northeastern U.S. and a growing number of specialty soda shops nationwide. I don’t go for fancy sodas though. I prefer to eat my birch bark straight from the tree.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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