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.

Cocktails with… Darnley’s View

Darnley’s View is a Scottish Gin* made by the Wemyss Family (pronounced weems) who also own Scotch and Wine companies.

The name Darnley’s View originates from a stay of Mary Queen of Scots at Wemyss Castle (the family’s ancestral home) It was during this visit that she first saw (got a view) of her future husband Lord Darley through a courtyard window of the castle.

Darnley’s View is bottled at 40%ABV and contains the following six botanicals:

It’s worth noting that other Scottish Gins such as Hendrick’s and The Botanist also use Elder as a botanical and, along with heather, these botanicals seem to be quite popular with Caledonian gin-makers.

For this “Cocktail with” I had a special request from Darnley’s View Gin (I’m always open to consider requests) to try their Gin with a variety of tonic waters to find a good match.**
Here are the results:

#1) Schweppes Regular
Fruity with some freshness but the drink falls flat in terms of flavour.

#2) Fevertree Regular
A good combo with both the sweetness and the bitterness you expect from a Gin & Tonic. As the ice melts a little the drink certainly improves but, like the 1724, it would be much better with a fruit garnish to add a little extra zip.

#3) Waitrose Regular
Crisp and fizzy, a truly classic Gin & Tonic. It has a more simple flavour profile than some of the others but was very refreshing. It had a good flavour balance, the floral notes of gin are not overpowered and the drink is not too sweet, cloying or bitter. Excellent!

#4) 1724 Tonic
Quite smooth, light and fresh. Good for a really hot day. A little lacking in flavour but this could be rectified by adding a juicy wedge of lemon.

#5) Fentiman’s Tonic
A good fizz, and very flavourful;. The lemongrass in the tonic adds some extra citrus to the drink, which is quite welcome; no need to garnish with lemon here. Some folks may find the citrus and the sweetness overpowering but in general rather good.

In addition here are some extra tasting notes; for the gin (neat) and in a Martini, well how can you review a gin without trying it in a THE mixture of Gin & Vermouth?

Own
Initial flavours of Juniper and Citrus with the faintest hint of milkiness. Despite what is generally a classic nose, the taste of the gin is quite contemporary. It is quite sweet with juniper and a spicy note at end which is almost peppery. Very smooth with minimal alcohol burn/bite. Some floral elements too. Mixed with a dash of water the flowery flavours really present themselves.

Martini
Elegant, one of the best Martinis I have had for a long time. Classic but with a modern delicate and floral edge. The juniper and subtle flowery notes mix well with Dolin Vermouth.

In Conclusion
I enjoyed trying Darnley’s View gin with it’s overall characteristics being that it is a relatively simple flowery and slightly soft gin. Certainly has the potential to be more refreshing than some of the more botanical-heavy gins.
In terms of tonic, for me Waitrose was the winner, followed closely by Fevertree.

Darnley’s View Gin is available for around £24 for 70cl from Royal Mile Whiskies

For our coverage of our Tasting of 11 Scottish Gins, click here.

*Scottish as in made in Scotland, technically it is categorized as a London dry Gin – for details of how the categorizations work, click here.
** These tasting notes reflect my opinion when mixed with Darnley’s View they may not be the same as my overall view of the tonic waters.

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”

Tonic Tasting

Tonic Tasting

A Bitter Sweet Truth

The Gin & Tonic is one of, if not the most popular way to consume this juniper spirit. Much has been written by prolific authors (at least in the drinks world) of the relative merits of various Gins within this context, and in fact some Gins have been specifically designed to make a great Gin and tonic. But what about the other key ingredient? No, I’m not talking about ice, as crucial as it is, nor will I dare to breach the world of garnish and lemon vs. lime; today, I’m talking about tonic water.I found critique of tonic to be sparse and, with an increasing market of premium mixers, I thought it was time to discover whether I was fond of Fevertree, barmy over Britvic, smitten with Schwepps or fanatical about Fentimans.

This was a blind taste test, as all the best tests are. For each drink, I used two blocks of our “regulation” ice and a mix of, just over, two parts tonic to one part Gin. The gin we used was Plymouth.

6 O’Clock
This is made by Bramley & Gage, a fruit liqueur company from South Devon. This was developed to compliment their new 6 O’clock gin. I know that other companies make their own tonics to combine with their gin in canned premixes, but this is first time that I have seen such a tonic sold separately.

Anyway, back to something more important: the taste. 6 O’Clock was very pleasant on its own; lighter than most tonics and with more citrus flavours. The quinine character is still there, but in a more balanced way than some of the others.

It made a refreshing gin & tonic, with a hint of citrus and wasn’t too sweet. It was quite moreish and was easy to finish.

Britivic Regular
This makes a refreshing, sweet and juicy concoction. It is very easy to finish and leaves you wanting more, but still has the bitterness that you would expect from tonic water. On its own, this is quite nice to drink; it’s not too bitter, but still has the quinine character. This came out high in our final rankings and we were very surprised; if you would have told me beforehand, I wouldn’t have believed you. Oh, the perils of drink-snobbery!

Britvic Diet
This had a nice bitterness and wasn’t absolutely awful, but it did have a nasty tendency to cling to the mouth more than most of the other tonics and produced a drink that was rather flat. Not a patch on its yellow brother.

On its own, this was actually quite drinkable – it tasted a bit like a flat lemonade – and although nice, didn’t taste like tonic.

Fentimans Regular*
This gin & tonic was full of citrus flavour from the start, but it still had the bitter character of quinine. This is a gin & tonic that really improves with time, making a lovely drink with a little bit of ice-melt. The higher citrus flavour comes from the addition of lemongrass, which is a common component of home-made tonic and, I believe, from reading The Chap, that Fentimans is closer to the type of tonic drunk in the late colonial-era. The citrus quality almost makes a garnish unnecessary… almost.

Drinking this on its own is almost like supping lemonade, what with its strong citrus flavour, but the slight bitterness means that the quinine isn’t lost.

* Fentimans Diet is not yet (July 2010) available, but it is anticipated for the future.

Schweppes Regular
The old familiar, this produces a cool and refreshing compliment to the tonic with a delightful twang on the finish, although it was not as refreshing as some of its counterparts. We both enjoyed this tonic and it did very well in the rankings, finishing in at a close number four.

On its own, this tasted like a pleasant and good standard of tonic water but was not really refreshing.

Schweppes Diet
In a Gin & tonic, this had a flat flavour and was too bitter, which provided little in the way of a compliment to the drink; a mere shadow of its regular partner. When tasted on its own, it was very dry and very fizzy: it was somewhat reminiscent of Alka Seltzer or highly effervescent soda water.

Fevertree Regular
With Gin, this makes a cooling drink and is initially pleasant and refreshing. However, although flavourful, it has a sharp, bitter, and somewhat unpleasant, aftertaste. On its own, this was not too fizzy, nor did it cling to your mouth; it had a good strong flavour, with a bitter kick at the end.

Fevertree Diet
This was overly bitter and really masked the flavour of the Gin, so its definitely not one for a moderately delicate spirit. This did not refresh, and at the end I was left searching my gin & tonic for any flavour beyond the bitterness. On its own, this was very anonymous and very clingy.

Carters
This is okay, but not great. Nonetheless, it does represent reasonable value. This was fizzier than the others, a little clingy, and quite bitter, but after a couple of minutes it started to improve.

The extreme fizziness and the way it clings to the mouth does not make this a great option for drinking on its own.

Q Tonic
Produced in New York, USA, Q Tonic contains; Triple Distilled Water, Organic Agave, Handpicked Quinine, Lemon Juice Extract, Natural Bitters and it gets its fizz from champagne carbonation. The concept behind this tonic was that the creators went back to the drawing board to create a tonic from scratch that would “taste like tonic water should”.

So to the taste: Q Tonic certainly was different to everything else and so, in that respect, Q have achieved their goal. But in a Gin & tonic it doesn’t have much flavour beyond soda water; a little juniper does get through, but this drink is unrecognizable as a gin & tonic. The drink is unsubstantial and underwhelming, with a very short finish.

On its own, the tonic tastes predominantly like soda water, with a real lack of flavour.

As I said, it is different and maybe some people will love it, but it simply isn’t for me. With all the hype surrounding Q and its high price point, I was left bitterly disappointed.



And finally, this is only a matter of personal preference, but, by request, here is our top five ranking:

#1 – Britivic Regular

#2 – Fentimans Regular

#3 – 6 O’Clock Tonic

#4 – Schweppes Regular

#5 – Fevertree Regular