Top Pick Of The Week

August 23, 2005

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boylan's soda
Give us your tired, your thirsty, yearning to drink HFCS-free, natural-flavored sodas.

The Best Soda On Earth?

Of course we haven’t tasted every soda on earth, but we would be hard-pressed to find a finer complete line of old-fashioned soda fountain flavors than those of Boylan Bottling Company. Boylan’s mixed its first birch beer in a pharmacy in 1891, when sodas were natural and delicious (early soda-makers were often pharmacists). The same family that has owned the business since the 1930s is still on hand overseeing quality, and has given Boylan’s Original Birch Beer many wonderful siblings. There’s no need for sibling rivalry—each of the artisanal sodas is spectacular.

It’s quite a shock to compare a bottle of Boylan’s—whatever flavor you like—to a mass-marketed brand of the same flavor. Most taste buds are not accustomed to clear, complex natural flavors and pure cane sugar shining through the lower level of carbonation of an artisanal soda. Big brands are largely artificial flavors and lots of chemicals—not to mention high fructose corn syrup—with a high level of carbonation to cover the inferior flavors.

Get ready to enjoy new soda sensations as you experience the tastes of childhood—your great-grandparents’ childhood. Be prepared for sodas with layers of flavor. Like a wine connoisseur, see how many nuances you can detect as you sip the Natural Cane Cola (a melange of cola nuts, lemon, lime, cinnamon, vanilla), the Birch Beer (is that mint undertone wintergreen or spearmint?), the Black Cherry (lush layers of ripe cherry fruit—as if it was plucked from the fruit bowl).

Whatever your favorite flavor (with the exception of a lemon-lime drink à la Seven-Up), you will find a counterpart in the Boylan’s line, in an old-fashioned green glass bottle embossed with BOYLAN BTTLG CO. and logos on the front and back—a tactile reminder that you are drinking something different. There are 18 flavors including four sugar-free and four all-natural (Black Cherry, Creme Vanilla, Root Beer and Natural Cane Cola), and more flavors under development.

Diet Cola
Black Cherry Soda
birch beer
We adore this Diet Cane Cola—you can’t tell that it’s sugar-free. It can be hard to find, so when you see it, stock up or order online.
Black Cherry—the darling of many, with real cherry flavor (Diet Black Cherry is also as real as it gets).
Original Birch Beer: if you don’t know the difference between birch beer and root beer, buy both.
  • Black Cherry. According to company representatives, this is the flavor most people clamor for. It’s easy to see why: it one-ups our previous favorite boutique black cherry soda.
  • Ginger Ale. A lovely ginger ale that is at a disadvantage in our tasting because we have moved on to drinking the heavier, spicier ginger beers. This one is elegant and refreshing: if you drink ginger ale, you must try it.
  • Natural Cane Cola. A profusion of gorgeous flavors that made us—a person who disparages the commercial brands with unkind words—a believer. People who actually like the taste of commercial cola may find this too complex, and may prefer Sugar Cane Cola instead.
  • Orange. A beautiful color with the taste of tangerine and other citrus flavors—none of the candy notes of a typical orange soda.
  • Orange Creme. A marriage of Orange and Creme = Creamsicle. We love it.
  • Original Birch Beer. We weren’t around to taste the original birch beers, but from what we read, this tastes authentic: complex, sharp, minty, exciting. And so sophisticated that Boylan’s created a second brand, Creamy Red Birch Beer, for people who want the creamy vanilla taste of today’s root beers. *For the difference between root beer and birch beer, see the footnote at the bottom.
  • Root Beer. Not the creamy, one-note vanilla style of today’s root bears; but a spicy, sassafras root beer.
  • Seltzers. We must admit: there’s nothing wrong with the seltzers, they just don’t leap out at us like the other sodas. Perhaps it’s because it’s easy to enjoy a carbonated mineral water with a slice of fresh lemon or lime. We wouldn’t refuse a bottle, but we focus our attentions on the more extraordinary flavors.

Diet Delight

The diet sodas are extraordinary: pour it into a glass and serve the glass away from the bottle, and no one will know they’re drinking sugar-free. The sweetening agent is a combination of sucralose (the basis of  Splenda) and a lesser-known but excellent sweetener called acesulfame potassium†, or “Ace K.” It works along with the natural flavors like a sleight of tongue to convince you that you’re drinking the real deal.

†Click here to read our article, “Demystifying Sugar Substitutes.”


They’re available in Diet Black Cherry, Diet Cane Cola, Diet Creme Soda, and Diet Root Beer. We like them all but find the Diet Cane Soda awesome, perhaps because of all those years of drinking lesser diet colas in the name of dieting.

All flavors in the line are kosher; and except for the colas, are caffeine-free.

We, who never would have thought to have a cola, orange, or grape soda for the rest of our natural lives, are a convert. Warning: once you try Boylan’s, it will be tough to go back. While it’s pricier than a can of what is normally available, fortunately, at perhaps 50 cents more, you can afford it.

*The difference between birch beer and root beer: They’re close, but made from different barks. Birch beer is made from birch bark extract (and can vary in color depending on the species of birch tree the sap is extracted from). Root beer is made from non-specific roots and barks (often sassafras and/or sarsaparilla plus herbs like wild cherry, wintergreen and ginger. The original root beer, created in the mid-1800s by Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires, was actually a beer—a very low alcohol, naturally effervescent beverage made by fermenting sugar and yeast with the aforementioned ingredients. Today’s products have no alcohol content.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to your soft-drink-loving friends and to dieters looking for something new and exciting with no calories or carbs.

Fine Artisan Sodas

Certified Kosher—Pareve by Kosher
Technical Konsultants

Purchase online at, Boylan’s online store. The $30 case price includes shipping, so its much higher than finding the product locally. Click your favorite flavor to purchase.

Boylan's Soda
The assorted 12-pack includes 1 Original Birch Beer, 1 Creamy Red Birch Beer, 1 Black Cherry, 1 Ginger Ale, 1 Orange, 1 Grape, 1 Creme, 1 Root Beer, 1 Diet Black Cherry, 1 Diet Creme, 1 Sugar Cane Cola, 1 Seltzer Lemon.

Boylan’s is also available at specialty retailers, fine food stores, Fresh Direct, Trader Joe’s, Costco (east of the Mississippi).

To have your retailer carry Boylan’s, call 1.800.289.7978 or write:

For more information visit

Prices and flavor availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. THE NIBBLE does not sell products; these items are offered by a third party with whom we have no financial or other relationship. This link to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.

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