Bitter Lemon is essentially lemon-flavoured tonic water, although it tends to be more flavourful and sweet than tonic water “with a hint/twist of lemon”. Given its links to tonic, it’s perhaps not surprising that the credit for its creation is claimed by the soft drinks firm, Schweppes.Since 1950, the Research Team at Schweppes had been working on creating a Bitter Orange Soft Drink and by the mid-fifties, Lyons, a rival firm, had brought out a new drink: Tonic Water mixed with Lemon Juice. In response, the team at Schweppes started working on making a Bitter Lemon, too.
On the 1st May 1957, Schweppes Sparkling Bitter Orange and Sparkling Bitter Lemon were released. In the first quarter they sold 500,000 and 250,000 cases respectively. After a television advertising campaign, sales of Bitter Lemon soared far above those of Bitter Orange. In fact, for a time, their sales even outstripped those of their Tonic Water.
By 1959, other companies had released competing products and, as market share, sales of Bitter Lemon dropped and Tonic Water became top dog again. Since then, Bitter Orange has been discontinued, although it is still made for some non-UK markets such as the USA.
In 20__, Fevertree released a Bitter Lemon and in 2010 they renamed it for the off-trade market as Lemon Tonic, to reflect its soft drink ancestry. Today, most Bitter Lemons still contain quinine.
The first thing that I noticed about Schweppes Bitter Lemon was the distinctive blue-green hue. This not the original shade of the product; the colour was added at a later date.
The bitter lemon had a high level of fizz; the very first thing that you get is the fizz, followed by some intense bitter citrus notes, some sweetness and a dry, bitter, tonic-water-like finish. It’s similarity to tonic water is quite uncanny. Not too sweet, this was quite acidic.
This bitter lemon had a medium level of fizz and was a more natural yellow-green. Very tangy, the lemon seemed to contain a relatively high amount of citric acid. There was some bitterness and a cloying sweetness. It was also a bit syrupy and slightly chalky. Really, this was all over the place in terms of flavour profile.
This was a cloudy, white liquid with the barest hint of green. With a medium-to-high level of fizz, the flavour was soapy and lemony with a hint of almond, of the kind found in cherry bakewell tarts. The whole flavour was over quickly, but not too bad.
Light and cloudy with a green tint, this had a medium-to-high fizz. This was a more natural-tasting lemon with a fuller, fruity flavour. Whilst initially intensely bitter, this was balanced out by a lemon marmalade sweetness.
Green-yellow in colour, this had a medium level of fizz and a good amount of quinine bitterness followed by some zesty, tangy lemon. Clean and not at all cloying, this also had a tiny hint of vanilla. Very balanced and very tasty.
Juice & zest of 4 medium lemons (or 3 large)
Pith of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp of Chili Powder
1 tsp Cinchona Bark
4 tsp Citric Acid
300ml Granulated Sugar*
100ml of Water
Add all the ingredients to a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Leave to cool, strain through a sieve, then coffee filter and bottle.
Mix one part of your newly made Bitter Lemon Syrup to two parts soda water, and serve with ice. For an extra treat, add an ounce of your favourite gin.
The most popular Sloe Gin cocktail is the “Long Pedlar”, named as such because it was a long drink made using the Hawker’s Pedlar Sloe Gin although, today, it can be used with any brand. A similar drink, the Sloe Pedlar, uses Lemonade.
Fill a tall glass with ice
50ml Sloe Gin
150ml Bitter Lemon
A a pleasant bitter sweet mix, sweet sloe and almond comes from the gin and the bitter lemon is a great contrasting companion. Very refreshing.