The Joys of Bitter Lemon

I grew up in a family of serious drinkers, which goes back a long way, as my grandfather’s involvement in this should attest.  That meant that we had a stocked bar in the house (it wasn’t a “wet bar” in the sense that it had a sink, but it was stocked all the same.)  At the same time I was an accomplished snacker, and an opportunistic one at that.  Maraschino cherries and stuffed green olives that were ostensibly intended for my mother’s gin martinis (this was before the vodka ones became de rigeur) ended up going “down the hatch” of the youngest inhabitant of the house, save the cat.

62-9480

A drawing from the archives of Vulcan Iron Works, which combined the engineering activities of the employees on the job with their activities after hours. It’s worth noting that the first office Vulcan had in West Palm Beach was adjacent to a bar.

To wash all of this down, I turned to yet another thing that was stocked in the bar: Schweppes’ Bitter Lemon and, sometimes, Bitter Orange.  Bitter Lemon/Orange was basically tonic water (which includes quinine) with the suitable citrus drink. It was stiff stuff for the “Pepsi Generation” but I drank it anyway and liked it.

In recent times I’ve always wondered what happened to these interesting soft drinks.  Research on the internet showed that Schweppes certainly still makes them but doesn’t distribute them in the US; inhabitants of the UK, Singapore and Australia still were able to enjoy this, but evidently Americans’ obsession with things being sweet killed it in this country.

The advent of COVID-19 and the fracas over hydroxychloroquine–and its relationship to quinine, which the British used to dampen the effects of malaria–got me thinking again about this stuff.  Why not?  So my wife and I got to mixing things and, with some help from my country club, got things rolling there and at home.

There are elaborate recipes out there to make it, some involving things like lavender, others adding sugar or other sweeteners.  For me the latter kills the whole appeal, and in any case most tonic water we get here (we usually get it at Publix, from its Florida roots the drinkers’ choice for grocery stores) is sweetened, as it comes in either regular or diet forms.  With orange I’ve been ordering 3:1 tonic water:orange juice; with lemon concentrate you don’t even need that much.  It’s definitely a face slapper but that’s the appeal, especially for someone who listed his favourite coffee as Sumatra.

It’s also possible to use other fruit drinks.  We actually started with cranberry juice, which isn’t bad, and we’ve also tried lime juice, and that’s in some ways better than lemon.  We have a friend from Guatemala who’s going to try apple juice, and that should be interesting.

And what of COVID?  I think the whole stink over hydroxychloroquine is proof as to how unscientific (and corrupt) our culture has become.  Setting aside the mercenary power of Big Pharma, everything in this debate–masks, face shields, social distancing, you name it–has been presented as “preventing” the spread of COVID-19.  But, as I explain to my Foundations students, finding that kind of deterministic absolute is impossible.  We’ve always “played the odds” with what we do in the material world.  (The other side is different.)  My wife and I have done our part with the masks, social distancing and “hiding out” (the appropriate TN term for sheltering in place,) and it’s paid off.  But things we can do to help things along, some nutritional, some like this–can’t hurt and may make the difference.

In any case I’m having a blast in these troubled times.  Cheers!

4 thoughts on “The Joys of Bitter Lemon

  1. Schweppes’ Bitter Lemon/Orange continues to thrive in Scandinavia, aided by the recent craze for small batch gins. I hadn’t thought about the structural similarity of hydroxychloroquine to quinine but you are right – they both feature a quinoline ring. That said, I’m sure tonic water makes a far better mixer than powdered Plaquenil.

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