Bitter Lemon Tasting, History and Recipe

HISTORY

Original Schweppes Bitter Lemon Label

Original Schweppes Bitter Lemon Label

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.

John Lennon (second from left) being poured a glass of Schweppes Bitter Lemon

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.

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TASTING

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Schweppes
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.
6, 5

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Britvic (Sac)
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.
5, 6

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French
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.
6, 7

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Fevertree
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.
8, 4

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Thomas Henry
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.
8, 6

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MAKE-YOUR-OWN

Bitter Lemon Recipe

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.

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COCKTAILS

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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.

Thomas Henry Mixers Review – Tonic Water, Bitter Lemon Etc…

Thomas Henry Tonic Water is just one of a range of mixers produced by this German firm that we shall be reviewing today.

I’ve long been interested in tonic water and, after a recent tot-up, I realised I have now tried over 50 different varieties; so you can imagine my intrigue when Simon Difford’s digital version of Class Magazine gave first place in their Tonic Water tasting to a product that I had never even heard of, let alone tried.

Needless to say, I quickly got on the phone to Germany to find out more about it. I spoke to Sebastian Brack, who told me that, in addition to the acclaimed tonic water, they also make Bitter Lemon, Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer and Soda Water; he was kind enough to send me samples of the first four of these.*

Thomas Henry was an apothecary from Manchester, England. He is attributed with the first production of carbonated water (the first fizzy drink/soda) in 1773; he made this  in 12-gallon barrels. The technology he used was based on the system by Joseph Priestly (who invented/discovered carbonated water in 1767). It wasn’t until 1794 that Jacob Schweppe started production of his sparkling water.

Tonic Water

1) Own
Clean, crisp, fresh and light. This is not too heavy in terms of citrus and has a balanced sweetness. It has a high-to-medium level of fizz and a good depth of flavour, with some earthy bitterness and a touch of sweet citrus at the end.
2) Gin & Tonic
i) As always in my tonic water tastings, I used Plymouth Gin for this Gin & Tonic. The drink was excellent: the full flavour of the gin comes through, with added bitter and fresh characteristics from the tonic. It was clean and crisp, with a brilliant balance; exactly how a Gin & Tonic should be.
ii) For a second G&T, I used Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin. Superb; I was surprised at how much of the flora and fruity elderflower notes from the gin were brought out by this tonic water. There was a touch of sugar at the end, but the cocktail is neither too sweet, nor cloying. This was a great way to enhance the gin and a very tasty Gin & Tonic.
3) Vodka
I used Beluga Vodka. With Thomas Henry Tonic, this made a pleasant drink, with the underlying vodka coming through. This drink seems quite clean and refreshing, and citrus notes are more prominent. Once again, the mixer complements the spirit, rather than overpowering it.

Bitter Lemon

1) Own
Good levels of citrus, sweetness and bitterness. Medium fizz with a full, but not overpowering, flavour. There’s also a good tang at the end, as well as a crisp bitterness, rather than a nasty cloying effect.
2) With Xoriguer Gin
This is a traditional way to drink this Xoriguer Mahon Gin, from Menorca; the floral and herbaceous flavours of the gin are very strong and cooling, and the bitter lemon provides a crisp, citrus finish. This gin can also be used to make a great Gin & Tonic.
3) With Sloe Gin
I used the Marks & Spencer Sloe Gin (made by Boudier, In France) Delicious; a gentle way to lengthen your sloe gin in the summer. The bitter and tangy citrus contrasts nicely with the sweet, fruity and marzipan characteristics of the sloe gin.

Ginger Ale

1) Own
Thomas Henry’s Ginger Ale has a typical ginger ale nose, with ginger, citrus, and a hint of sugar, all of which are quite light. It has a medium-to-high fizz and quite light flavours, including subtle ginger. There’s good effervescence, although it’s a touch cloying. Still, it is a fresh and unobtrusive mixture that should work well with most spirits.
2) Gin Buck
Quite nice, with a ginger-nut biscuit fieriness. Flavours of the gin come through strongly and the drink is not too sickly, although in vast quantities it may become so.
3) Horses Neck
An unobtrusive mix: the ginger ale gives the brandy room to breathe and the flavours come through. For my taste, it’s a tad sweet and could do with some more fire, but it’s still rather good.

Ginger Beer

1) Own
A very familiar nose of a good standard ginger beer. Reminds me of my standard when using the soft drink, D&G’s Old Jamaica. A cool start, with medium-to-high fizz, musky ginger and then sweeter, with medium fire from the ginger. A very good mixer and comparable to Old Jamaica, but not better.
2) Moscow Mule
Works well; the ginger beer is not too intrusive, but does add something to the mix. The drink isn’t sickly or overpowering and is a good standard for the Moscow Mule, but not spectacular.
3) Dark ‘N Stormy
Pretty tasty. The ginger beer let’s the dark burnt sugar of the rum through, whilst adding the fresh combination of lime and ginger, as well as a fiery kick. Very tasty and above average, but not exceptional.

In Conclusion

I think that it’s clear from my review that I am impressed with Thomas Henry mixers overall, the Ginger Beer and Ale being of a good standard and the Bitter Lemon being better than most of its competitors (it was the bitter-sweet balance that did it). But Thomas Henry’s Tonic Water was the real gem of the tasting; it is truly exceptional and possibly the best I have ever had (a blind run-off of my top 5 is in order, I think).
Overall, this is an excellent range. I hope that they find a UK distributor soon so that we can all get a chance to try and enjoy them.

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The Thomas Henry Products are not available in the UK but if you are and importer/distributor and think it may be of interest please Contact Them Here.

.* Sebastian seemed a little bemused at how much e-mail interest he had been getting from the UK in the previous day; once I had explained about the article (and e-mailed him a link) it became much clearer.

Home-made Bitter Lemon Recipe

Following a number of requests for Bitter Lemon recipes, I decided to have a go at making one myself.

So what is Bitter Lemon? Essentially, it is tonic water with an added element of lemon; often this comes from the juice, but it could come from the zest or the pith/peel. In addition, sugar is often added to stop the lemon from making the drink too tart. So there is a difference between tonic water with a twist of lemon and bitter lemon.

The world’s biggest name in Bitter Lemon is Schweppes who, already famous for their tonic water, released their variety, which they claim was the first commercial one, in 1957. Another increasingly well-known name in the market is Fevertree’s Lemon Tonic, which is essentially Bitter Lemon, but uses its name as a more accurate description of what it is.

On with the recipe:

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. I like mine with Foxdenton’s. And of course who could resist mixing it with a spot of Sloe Gin in a Long Peddler?

* For a less messy method do not add the sugar to the pan:

Add zest/juice/pith, chilli powder, chichona bark, water
Bring to the boil, simmer
Stain the mixture through a clean tea towel in to a bowl
Stir in the sugar whilst the mixture is still hot
Cool, Bottle, Refrigerate

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Long Peddler / Sloe Peddler – Mixing Sloe Gin

The Sloe Peddler

Some readers may have caught our Tasting of 17 Sloe Gins, but, in the in the interests of thoroughness, we did not just try these sloe gins on their own: we also tried them mixed in Long Peddlers, thanks to some bottles kindly sent to us by Fevertree.

A Long Peddler Made with Fevertree Lemon Tonic (Bitter Lemon) and Gordon's Sloe Gin in a 2:1 ratio.

Background and history on the Long Peddler is very thin on the ground. The recipe is simple: a measure of sloe gin topped up with bitter lemon; a bit like a gin and tonic. My best guess is that it was created as a cooler for the summer months so that sloe gin could be enjoyed all year round and it certainly achieves this purpose.

I imagine the “long” came about because it makes a long drink, but the “peddler”? Your guess is as good as mine; maybe it’s a nice refreshing drink once you’ve finished a long cycle?? Recent research points to the fact that the Long Pedlar was original made using Hawker’s Pedlar Sloe Gin, it was a long way to drink the sloe gin.

Either way, it seems to be an established drink among sloe gin drinkers and, when I was speaking to Fevertree, they also suggested making it with their Lemonade (Sloe Peddler) as an alternative to bitter lemon.

Fevertree Lemonade is carbonated, but it’s a distant cousin to the likes of 7UP and Sprite, which nonetheless do still have their place. With Fevertree’s Lemonade you can really taste the lemon juice and it doesn’t have any artificial sweetness that you may find with others; it is still quite fizzy, but it doesn’t leave you with that cloying feeling in your mouth.

Fevertree’s Lemon Tonic (their version of Bitter lemon) is refreshing, but a little bitter; however, when you consider that it has quinine in it, it’s not so surprising. Once again, this is a departure from the sharp, sweet, and turquoise drink presented as bitter lemon by others and I believe it was renamed to take a step away from this image.

A Sloe Peddler made with Fevertree Lemonade

But the most important question is how did they mix with sloe gin? After various tests, we found that Gordon’s worked best with the Lemon Tonic and probably made the panel’s favourite Long Peddler of the evening.  SLOEMotion and Bramley & Gage Organic also mixed very well with the Lemon Tonic.

The Lemonade was rather more surprising, I had never tried it before and wondered how well it would work. It created a lovely drink when mixed with the Lyme Bay Sloe Gin (this drink was my personal favourite). In the pairing, once again Bramley & Gage worked very nicely in a Sloe Peddler.

In conclusion, I found that I enjoyed both the Lemonade and the Lemon Tonic, but I found that the Lemon Tonic went better with the bolder sloe gins and the Lemonade complemented the more subtle ones.

So if you ever want a refreshing drink and you have some sloe gin to hand, why not try a Long (or Sloe) Peddler?

Vodka Tonic Taste Test

Not Just Gin

A Vodka Tonic Taste Test

After thoroughly enjoying the Tonic Tasting that I had the opportunity of helping to organise at Graphic Bar, I started wondering about what to do next. I’ve had an excellent suggestion regarding Ginger Ales (something that I will definitely pursue), but whilst perusing the Fevertree website, I became aware of their new Mediterranean Tonic, which has been developed specifically for vodka. This got me thinking about mixing vodka with tonic, or similar alternatives, and thus we came to test six such products, all mixed with Brannvin 1467, a smooth Swedish vodka.

From Left to Right: Schweppes Tonic Water, Fevertree Lemon Tonic (Bitter Lemon), Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic, Schweppes Russchian, Fevertree Tonic Water, Schweppes Bitter Lemon

Fevertree Lemon Tonic
Originally, I thought that this was another new product, but, after speaking to a helpful lady from Fevertree, I discovered that this is essentially a re-branded version of their Bitter Lemon, specifically for supermarkets (the on-trade version will still be called Bitter Lemon).
When served ice cold, this was really nice and had a taste similar to Sicilian Lemonade; it was rather tart and fairly bitter (it contains Quinine). Unfortunately, when mixed with the vodka, it lost most of its flavour and didn’t make a very refreshing drink.

Schweppes Bitter Lemon
Being a rather lurid aquamarine, this was strikingly different in appearance to Fevertree Lemon Tonic. In addition, it had a nose somewhat like orange pith. To drink, it was quite sweet, but rather bitter at the end; it was less refreshing than Fevertree’s version and tasted more artificial. However, I did really like this when it was mixed with vodka. In conclusion, this wasn’t bad, but was a lot better when mixed.

Schweppes Russchian
This is known in Schweppes’ ancestral home as Russian Wild Berries and was invented in the mid-1980s, created specifically to partner with vodka. It seems to have a small, but cult-like following among drinkers. I first encountered it during my last years of secondary school and really liked it; however, I’ve not had it for a few years.
Russchian is a light pink colour, was very fizzy and had a berry flavour, which reminded me of blackcurrant Opal Fruits (Starburst). The tremendous fizz actually warms the throat somewhat, but was very refreshing when served chilled. When mixed with vodka, I thought that it gained some sickly characteristics normally associated with alcopops: it was too sweet and lacked balance.

Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic
A new member of the Fevertree family and designed, like the Russchian, specifically for Vodka. It contains quinine as well as flavours of the Mediterranean coast such as lemon oil, thyme, geranium, rosemary and thyme.
The flavour of this Mediterranean Tonic was a pleasant mix of tonic, lemonade and soda water. It was fresh, with little notes of herbs and spices and other savoury notes in the middle. When mixed with vodka, it added a freshness to the spirit that lengthens it; very good indeed.
I think this a smart edition to the Fevertree range and certainly addresses a gap in the market.

Schweppes Tonic Water
A familiar face to many, this came out very well at a recent blind tonic tasting at Graphic bar in Soho.
Sweet with a short flavour, this was quite drinkable on its own. It made a good, standard vodka tonic that was smooth, easy to drink and not too fancy.

Fevertree Tonic Water
On its own, this seemed cooler and was quite fizzy; it was bitter in the middle and rather clings to the tongue at the end. I thought that it needed a little more flavour.
With vodka it was bitter, with a little citrus. It was cooling and moderately refreshing. Initially, it was not a great vodka tonic, but with a little ice-melt, it really improved.

In conclusion
My favourite was certainly the Mediterranean Tonic with Mrs B. favouring Fevertree’s Lemon Tonic (Bitter Lemon) followed by the Schweppes Russchian. I enjoyed revisiting a drink and it’s associated mixers that I had tried in a long while and, for once, got me to think that there may be something beyond Gin.

Summer Fruit Cup Will Return In “Cocktails With… Hayman’s London Dry Gin”