Soda Review: Which is the Best Cream Soda?

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 13, 2009 · 40 comments

in Soda Reviews

soda

If you read our man Mike’s post yesterday on “drinking” when you’re a teetotaler, you know he suggested seeing if your local bar carries tasty craft sodas. But what’s a good independently made soda to try? Well so far, we’ve given you the skinny on the best root beers and colas. Today we’ll tackle cream sodas.

With a “vanilla” personality, it’s easy to see why cream soda often gets overlooked by thirsty drinkers and overshadowed by its brown brethren.

But that’s a shame because cream soda is a smooth and delightful drink. It pairs well with spicy food, as it cools off the mouth nicely.

The cream soda’s origins go back to the turn of the century, when the creaminess was supplied by a scoop of ice cream on top of flavored soda water. Some places like Italy still make cream soda that way, with real cream, soda water, and vanilla syrup. While the American version lacks real dairy, it somewhat compensates for this with a clean and refreshing taste.

As usual, only sodas that were made with sugar or natural sweeteners as opposed to high fructose corn syrup (soda sacrilege) were considered. Let’s see how these cream sodas stacked up against each other!

Virgil’s Diet Vanilla Cream

IMG_1371

Made in: Los Angeles, CA

OG?* Nope.

Our review:

It’s strange that a soda brewery that produces some of the world’s best sodas, fails so miserably on the diet front. They certainly get points for good intentions; their diet vanilla cream soda is billed not as a soda  but as a “dietary supplement” and is made with stevia instead of artificial sweeteners. But the other ingredients, which include an herbal mix of ginseneg, lycium, fo-ti root, gingko, rhodiola, hibiscus, and shatavari, gave the drink a highly disagreeable flavor. It tasted strongly of stevia and almost like alcohol and burned the tongue. The sweetness was overpowering. Not fit for human consumption.

The AoM Verdict:

halfbottlecap

1/2 out of 4 bottle caps

Gray’s Gourmet Cream Soda

IMG_1374

Made in: Janesville, WI

OG? Since 1856

Our review: Gray’s was sweet, but  lacked any cream flavor, or any flavor at all! There seemed to be almost a hint of maple to the flavor, but otherwise it tasted like sugar water.

The AoM verdict:

bottlecap

1 out of 4 bottle caps

Mad River

IMG_1367

Made in: Vermont

OG? Nope

Our review: I currently live close to the actual Mad River that inspired this soda’s name, so I was primed to enjoy this cream soda. But the reviews of this soda were as divided as Vermont politics. Some testers found the subtle hints of cream to be light and refreshing. Others, including myself, thought the soda tasted akin to flat, flavorless, chlorinated water.

The AoM verdict:

bottlecaphalfbottlecap

1.5 out of 4 bottle caps

Moxie Cream Soda

IMG_1368

Made in: Redmond, WA

OG? Since 1884

Our review: Moxie is famous for its signature brand of soda which tastes like something akin to carbonated cough syrup. But they also make a cream soda, a fairly decent one at that. Moxie cream soda had a light amber color, a strong vanilla taste, and strange undertones of bubblegum, Bazooka Joe bubble gum to be exact.

The AoM Verdict:

bottlecapbottlecaphalfbottlecap

2.5 out of 4 bottle caps

Boylan’s Creme

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Made in: Moonachie, NJ

OG? Since 1891

Our review:

The fancy spelling of “creme” was more than just semantics; this was a tasty soda. It tasted as cream soda should taste, with a smooth, traditional, real cream taste and just the right amount of fizz. It transported you to sitting at a soda fountain in 1949.

The AoM verdict:

bottlecapbottlecapbottlecap

3 out of 4 bottle caps

Virgil’s Cream Soda

IMG_1370

Made in: Los Angeles, CA

OG? Nope

Our review: It’s becoming almost a foregone conclusion; once again, Virgils’ easily rose to the top of the pack. With no artificial ingredients or preservatives, Virgil’s natural cream flavor really shined. It had the taste of real cream and vanilla (it should; it’s made with real vanilla beans) and it was smooth with just the right amount of fizz. Delicious.

The AoM verdict:

bottlecapbottlecapbottlecapbottlecap

(4 out of 4 bottle caps)

*OG: Original Gangster. Or in other words, is this a company that started way back when?

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin November 13, 2009 at 11:34 pm

I completely agree with the top pick. I picked up Virgil’s one day at Whole Foods (knowing nothing about it and having never had it before) because it was on sale and I enjoy cream soda. I was blown away. The vanilla bean instantly shown through. Great drink.

2 Bernie Franks November 14, 2009 at 2:55 am

Virgil’s is tasty stuff, but I reckon it’ll always be about Boylan’s for me. Their stuff is top notch across the board.

3 Squealing Rat November 14, 2009 at 8:25 am

This is a must see video about soda pop:

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/03/video-about-worlds-g.html

squealingrat.org

4 Michael J. Austin November 14, 2009 at 10:12 am

Virgils’ Root Beer is very tasty as well. :)

5 Brian November 14, 2009 at 10:20 am

I haven’t tried any of the cream sodas mentioned, but will definitely as soon as I get a chance. I was surprised not to see Jones Cream Soda in the list, which is the best cream soda I have currently had. Check them out at http://www.jonessoda.com/ .

6 Brian Escamilla November 14, 2009 at 11:59 am

Glad to see Boylan’s fared well. Since they’re local here in NJ, they’re widely available at many eating establishments. I’ll have to give Virgils a try though.

7 Mac November 14, 2009 at 12:06 pm

A&W made a great cream soda… but I suspect you’d need a time machine to find it now.

8 Dan November 14, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I am with Brian E –Boylans is great.
I guess because Stewarts didn’t show up here (or any of your other soda reviews), they use corn syrup? Too bad–they are pretty good too.

Anyway, where do you find all these differenct cream sodas (and the rootbeers and colas in your other reviews)? I have never seen alternative colas except on this web site and any rootbeer or cream soda besides Stewarts is hard to find in NJ.

9 Josiah November 14, 2009 at 1:38 pm

@Mac

On the Pennsylvania\Ohio border, you can find A&W restaurants still around, as well as their delicious beverages stocked in stores. The restaurants often share a building with Long John Silver’s for an interesting, yet delicious combination.

Has anyone had the delightful experience of tasting Birch Beer? It was popular in Central Pennsylvania yet I have not seen much of it anywhere else.

10 Brett McKay November 14, 2009 at 1:46 pm

@Brian-

Yeah, Jones is pretty good. We just couldn’t find it when it came time for our taste test, which is strange because it’s generally more common than the ones above.

@Dan-

Boylan’s is available at our local grocery store. Virgil’s available in some health food stores. The others we got at a cool soda store in Edmond, OK called Pops:

http://www.pops66.com/

There a couple of soda stores in the LA area that I know of like:

http://www.sodapopstop.com/home.cfm

They also ship the sodas out, although the shipping obviously gets really expensive.

@Josiah-

Birch beer is awesome! We’ve got a couple right now and if we can find a couple more we’ll do a taste test on them.

11 Ben November 14, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Sprecher makes an awesome cream soda. http://www.sprecherbrewery.com/soda.php

Located near Milwaukee, I believe most of their product is easily located around the midwest, but according to their website, it can also be found in New York, and Florida.

And note: Sprecher’s Black Bavarian is really tasty, too, if you’re into dark heavy beers.

12 John November 14, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Hosmer Mountain should be on this list. A classic soda maker….
http://www.hosmersoda.com
And I am NOT an employee – just a life-long fan.

13 Craig Wheeler November 14, 2009 at 4:17 pm

I know it’s not one of the small, homemade types, but IBC Cream Soda is probably my favorite. Besides having a great taste, I always have fun with it because the local grocery stores always seem to assume it’s alcohol as I’m carded every time I get it. I just laugh and say it’s a good think I wasn’t buying Mountain Dew, then they realize I’m buying pop and just laugh.

14 Brad Hubert November 15, 2009 at 3:26 am

Pop the Soda Shop in Scottsdale, AZ has a great selection and delivers worldwide… http://www.popsoda.com/index.html

I’d also throw in a plug for Thomas Kemper Vanilla Cream but I also enjoy the Boylan’s and Virgil’s.

15 Brook November 15, 2009 at 6:18 am

Another vote for Boylan’s. Their orange creme and grape sodas are fantastic, too. Now if they’d just do a lemon creme.

16 Bill G November 16, 2009 at 10:02 am

Seems like a pretty limited review. Out here in the east many young lads are baptized with Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. It’s kind of like mothers milk. This smooth brew should be at the top of your list!

17 Anthony Piselli November 16, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Another East Coast favorite which you NEED to taste is Foxon Park Creme soda all natural only uses real sugar Top Notch!

18 Brad Hubert November 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Mmmm, I’d forgotten about Dr Browns, that is good stuff. Speaking of A&W Cream Soda, does anyone else remember the season they were a sponsor on Baywatch. They had a big vending machine in the lifeguard office and anytime people sat down Mitch (Hasselhoff) would ask if they wanted an A&W Cream Soda. It was pretty funny.

19 Michael November 16, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Next time do a review of Ginger Ale’s and please include the only real one, Vernor’s it has a manly story of how it came about, was lost and taken back from the brink of disaster by men devoted to quality. No I don’t work there but I have sentimental reasons for a fondness of Vernor’s because my Grandfather drank it and introduced me to it.

20 Michael November 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I like many of the flavors mentioned here Dr. brown’s, Sprecher’s is high on my list and A&W too but my kids prefer Red Creme Soda like Big Red, too sweet to me but it reminds them of living in Nebraska which we did for a few years when working at the very manly Cabela’s Headquarters there. Each drink like many foods conjures up memories of things I associate it with so Dr. Browns Cream soda goes with NY style deli’s a eastern relatives who introduced me to the fine art of Jewish, Italian, and polish deli foods and interesting cultures that go with them.

PS I love this site and the posts and recommend it to all my friends and family.

21 Peter O'Reilly November 16, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Pink Crush anybody???

22 Brett McKay November 16, 2009 at 10:37 pm

@Ben, Bill G, and Michael-

Dr. Brown’s was disqualified because it only comes in cans and is sweetened with HFCS (neither of which makes for the best soda). Sprecher’s was disqualified because of its HFCS too, although it is also made with honey, so maybe we should give it a pass. Both are tasty sodas, they just weren’t included in this test.

Michael, we definitely plan on doing a ginger ale test and we’ll try to include Vernor’s if we can find it. I think its got HFCS too, but maybe we can say that its manly history cancels that out. At any rate, thanks for the suggestion and for sharing AoM with others. I really appreciate it.

23 johnnylloydrollins November 20, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I was totally going to mention the same video that boing boing posted a few weeks ago..

It’s a must see if you want to edumacate yourself on sodas.

24 marcmagus November 21, 2009 at 10:15 pm

@Brett

That’s really odd regarding Dr. Brown’s. In my experience it’s often the most readily available soda brand in kosher for Passover form come the spring, meaning it’s made entirely from sugar, no HFCS. I didn’t realize they had a separate year-round recipe (with separate can printing). I’m disappointed to know the sugar version isn’t available year round. I wonder if it’s regional.

25 Nathan November 26, 2009 at 11:19 am

Where does Virgil’s sit on healthy scale? Is it something I can drink on a diet in place of the normal soda’s with HFCS? Or is it still something I should cut out all together?

26 Brett McKay November 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm

@Nathan-

Well however it’s sweetened, it’s still liquid sugar. Which is to say, soda is a treat that should only be consumed in moderation. I only drink 1 or 2 a week and only on the weekends.

27 Oren December 27, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Ok Gentlemen,
I stumbled upon this site while looking to see if there is a better “VANIILA CREME” soda than FAYGO available in the U.S. and imagine my shock when I found out it wasn’t on the list! Made since 1907 does it qualify as an “OG” ? 100% CANE SUGAR and still available in old school glass bottles. Now I have to give credit to my friend Joel Cramer from LA who first intoduced me to it.

Although I’m still searching for anything better…(And Jones is amazing stuff…but still second place in my book) you guys obviously have to do another taste test in honor of the true Creme Soda Connoisseurs out there.

28 Joel Cramer December 29, 2009 at 12:08 am

I once had the rare opportunity to have a Canada Dry Creme Soda purchased in Edmonton Canada on my honeymoon. It was so powerfully effervescent like a ginger ale, but sweet/smooth like creme, needless to day I kept the can for many years only to find it is exclusively available in Canada.
I am sure it is also available in a bottle but does anyone know for sure?
This has haunted me for 21 years now and I cannot find others to take creme soda as serious as I and my family…all from Philadelphia where Frank’s Creme (and Black Cherry) was like drinking hard liquor as a kid, it burned a little going down, and the after burp was so intense my eyes would water! Those were the soda days ;-)

29 Matthew Robertson February 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I had the pleasure today of trying Virgil’s Cream Soda. This is without a doubt, the best cream soda I’ve ever had. Also, I may be tempted to only drink cream soda in the future when I am in the mood for a soda. I generally only drink water and this truly is a treat.

30 Kent D. March 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I grew up near the Canadian border and had regular access to cream sodas made by Canda Dry and Crush. Crush made a very nice cherry cream which had a hint of bubble gum to it. While I have a healthy respect for Virgil’s and concur it is the best widely available cream soda in the U.S., Canada Dry and Crush are far superior, but never drink cream soda in a can…I always feel like that negatively imapcts the delicate flavor.

31 Mercurious August 8, 2010 at 3:02 am

I have to say, as a multi-decade teetotaler and self-proclaimed cream soda cognoscenti, I have been baffled by some of these comments. Virgils, which has one of the absolute best root beers, fails badly in the cream soda department. Uninspired, directionless, it tastes like the Lexus level of IBC. IBC? Get outta town. Boylan’s makes sense, Sprecher is a contender and Thomas Kemper puts in a credible showing. But hands down, outta sight, over the top cream soda nirvana is Natural Brew’s offering. As I recall, from Chico, California and is the absolute epitome of what a rich, full flavored cream should be, with a pleasant aftertaste. If you see it, buy it. Your taste buds will thank you for it…it’s a time machine of taste.

32 TED October 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Sioux City Cream is by far the best!

33 Spencer May 28, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I quite like Boylan’s but for me A&W Cream Soda is still the best.

34 Soda Head July 21, 2013 at 7:19 pm

How did you miss Virgils “Bavarian Nutmeg” version of root beer?

Also, check out Hosmer Mountain, and Squamscot which has a surprisingly addictive Maple Cream.

35 Rick August 19, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Very surprised to not see Sioux City Cream Soda at the top of the list. Hmmmm
It’s my favorite.

36 Karen August 26, 2013 at 9:11 am

Too many people recommending sodas with HFCS. Regardless, while I agree with the Boylan’s and Virgil’s (LOATHE their root beer, BTW) ratings, you really need to try Manhattan Special Vanilla Cream. It’s creamy vanilla perfection, not as sweet and heavy as Virgil’s, not as dry as Boylan’s. Elegant and truly the touchstone for all “creams.”

37 Matt November 18, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I also prefer Thomas Kemper’s or Henry Weinhart’s cream soda. HW is really creamy and TK is my favorite overall for its smoothness and mild taste. Not overly sweet.

38 Drew January 4, 2014 at 10:12 pm

I actually found one not on this list that I believe is even better. Henry Weinhard’s is amazing. By far my favorite.

39 michael March 17, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Like the last 2 posts… nothing tops Henry Weinhard. Actually , a beer drinkers creme soda. Head and all

40 Jena Ardell April 15, 2014 at 6:53 pm

I’ve done my own experimentation and the result is: Boylans > Virgil’s.

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