There’s nothing quite like fizzy pop for keeping one’s summer cool, and soft drinks will forever be associated with childhood. But the soft-drinks market is growing up, with the ‘adult’ sector currently worth about £157 million. This would have amused able seaman Titty, who, in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, called ginger beer by the grown-up sounding ‘grog’. How times change.
Apparently, 15% of the adult population is teetotal, and soft-drinks producers have been happy to pipe them aboard, Swallows and Amazons-style. The key has been an explosion in sophisticated flavours (cue pomegranate, lemongrass and the ubiquitous elderflower), grown-up packaging and, importantly, renaming fizzy pop as spritzers and pressés. And, in light of the obesity epidemic, these days they’re less heavy- handed with the sugar.
The best grown-up soft drinks available
The choice is daunting, but I would recommend the Belvoir range (containing no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives) and Bottlegreen (free from artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners) for cordials and sparkling pressés. Belvoir’s Rhubarb and Strawberry cordial is summer in a glass, while Bottlegreen’s Ginger and Lemongrass cordial is zingy and refreshing.
The Feel Good Drinks Company’s new range of non-alcoholic cocktails, including Bucks Fizz (grape, orange and lemon) and Peach Bellini (grape, orange, peach, lemon, raspberry and acerola – no, me neither, but a cherry-like fruit apparently) more than compensates for lack of booze.
For truly posh squash add sparkling water to Pixley Berries Blackcurrant cordial, which now comes with a hint of ginger or raspberry. Mix them, like cassis, with crisp, dry, white or sparkling wines for an English kir. Or make a non-alcoholic spritzer by mixing blackcurrant cordial with ginger ale (lighter and drier than ginger beer), adding a sprig of fresh mint.
The musky sweetness of elderflower cordial is the perfect foil for the bitterness of quinine in tonic water, prompting the question, who needs gin? Served over plenty of ‘ice and a slice’ or a sprig of borage, it’s simplicity itself. Bottlegreen has a new pre-mixed Elderflower Tonic Water and Pink Tonic, which contains pomegranate juice.
Unleash your inner child with Fentimans’ go-mad-in-Dorset range, which includes Dandelion and Burdock, scented Rose Lemonade, cloudy Victorian Lemonade and invigorating Curiosity Cola. The simple addition of a lemon slice and plenty of ice to ‘full-fat’ cola should never be underestimated; just add white or golden rum for a refreshing Cuba Libre.
Thorncroft’s traditional English cordials must win a prize for imaginative flavours, including Wild Nettle, Cranberry and Hibiscus, Rosehip and Detox, which is good old Dandelion and Burdock with added liquorice and ginger. Dandelion and ‘bird muck’, as children are wont to call it, can be strangely reminiscent of cough syrup and Drumstick lollies. And if you can’t resist a snifter, it’s a revelation with a slug of bourbon. Just don’t tell Titty, that’s all…
Pixley Berries available at Waitrose; Thorncroft cordials from jameswhite.co.uk; Belvoir, Bottlegreen, Feel Good and Fentimans are widely available.
Perk up soft drinks with floral or fruity ice cubes
Zhush up your drinks with floral, fruity (n)ice cubes. Half-fill large ice-cube squares with water, add fruit/flowers/herbs and freeze; top up with water, then freeze again. Try chopped strawberries, blueberries, lemon zest, rose petals, violets, lavender, basil or mint. Boiled water left to cool makes the clearest cubes. Fruit-juice cubes can take 48 hours to freeze. Frozen grapes and raspberries make good ‘ice cubes’ too.