In Defence Of Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial

This last weekend, a good friend of mine went to lunch.

This is perhaps the least exciting opening sentence I have ever written. But wait: there is conflict to come.

Asked what she’d like to drink, she said: “I’d like a soda and lime please. With lime cordial.”

“We use fresh lime,” said the waiter.

“That’s a totally different drink,” said my friend.

“Yes, but we use fresh lime. Would you like fresh lime?” Which amounts to a refusal to serve what was asked for, for one thing. And a dismissal of lime cordial. Which shows a disregarding ignorance for all matters Bar.

Fresh lime has its place. And it’s an important place. There is no Margarita without fresh lime. But lime cordial, and by “lime cordial” we mean Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, has an important place too, and no bar should be without it.

For one thing, if you don’t have it and someone orders a Gimlet, you’re fucked. A Gimlet doesn’t just require a slug of Rose’s, the recipe demands it. By name.

Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial was first produced by Lauchlan Rose in 1867. It was the world’s first fruit concentrate, and within a year of its launch it became a key part of the Royal Navy’s Vitamin C delivery system. Though lime juice consumption had been advocated since the middle of the 18th Century, its preservation was not always reliable. So…

… Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial is why yanks call us limeys.

And adding to the Gimlet’s naval heritage, it is said to be named after Rear-Admiral Desmond Gimlette, who was a key advocate of the lime ration, and of the mixing of lime with gin.

As to the drink itself, Harry Craddock’s recipe in The Savoy Cocktail Book lists the Gimlet’s ingredients as 1 part Plymouth Gin to 1 part Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial. “And nothing else,” Raymond Chandler adds in The Long Goodbye. Which makes it one of the very few cocktails made without ice. Which is hardly surprising given ice’s scarcity on the high seas.

These days, Gimlet’s are often stirred over the cold stuff or served on the rocks, and the ratio of lime cordial in the drink tends to be much lower, as low as one part in five in some versions. But even at this lower quantity, its sweet-tang flavour has a role to play in the overall cocktail.

To dismiss lime cordial in favour of fresh lime juice is not just snobbery. It is stupidity. But beware: some Rose’s Lime Juice Cordials are more Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial than others. Rose’s was acquired by Schweppes in the late ’50s, which in turn merged with Cadbury’s, with the beverage holdings being off-loaded in 2008. This has resulted in different versions of the cordial in different territories. The UK and Canadian versions remain close to the original recipe, using real sugar as a sweetener and no artificial preservatives. The US version uses high fructose corn syrup and sodium metabisulfite, while the New Zealand version bins out the corn syrup for sugar but keeps the preservatives.

As with so many things, the original recipe is the best.

Review: Fever-Tree Madagascan Cola

I first learned of Fever-Tree’s Madagascan Cola when I interviewed Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow around this time last year. The mere idea of it was enough to make me feel really rather excited because I have long been on a quest for The Grown-Up Soft Drink™.

For me, The Grown-Up Soft Drink™ is, or rather should be, the ideal drink to have at a pub or a restaurant when you’re the designated driver. Not water. Not too sweet, which pretty much all soft drinks are. Something satisfying and refreshing. Something delicious.

Although the Fever-Tree chaps see themselves as being in the mixer business as opposed to the soft drinks business, they currently make what I consider to be the Aristotelean Ideal of The Grown-Up Soft Drink™. So when they told me about their then soon-to-be-launched cola, I hoped that it would be a worthy contender for the top spot.

And with good reason. I am a big fan of the Fever-Tree MO. They have since their launch thoroughly disrupted the mixer market by committing themselves to absolute quality. Their ginger ale and ginger beer contain three different types of ginger to ensure the full breadth of ginger flavours in the bottle. Their Lemon Tonic and Lemonade contain lemon oils of such quality that the only other people prepared to pay for them in their products work in the perfume industry.

They have set a high bar for themselves, a bar that their competition consistently fails to clear. And in this case, so have they.

And I’ve been trying to work out why.

Part of the problem lies in the very challenge of making a cola in the first place. As Tim told me when we spoke, you’re inherently entering into competition not just with Coca Cola, but with people’s very idea of what a cola is supposed to taste like.

You cannot, for example, point at a bottle of lemonade and say that it was invented by Mr. Ade in eighteen hundred and whatever, and it is supposed to taste like X. But with cola, you can: it was invented by John Pemberton in Atlanta, Georgia in 1886. And the public has a very clear idea of what it’s supposed to taste like. It’s a very narrow channel of expectation. So you can’t fuck about.

And this channel of expectation remains the other part of the problem. Fever-Tree’s goal was to create a cola that was less sweet than the others, driven by top quality Madagascan vanilla. And, as with all their other products, the sweetness would come from cane sugar. So I expected a not-quite-so-sweet version of Mexican coke. I was not expecting the flavours to combine in my mouth to create a taste akin to aspartame.

Yes, you read that right: this tastes of watery diet coke. I had to spit it out. And those are two sentences I have never wanted to write less.

When it is next my turn to drive, I shall mostly be sticking with the aromatic tonic water.