Cocktail fiends are an adventurous lot: check out the wide variety of blogs and you'll come across recipes for things like falernum, shrub, pimento dram, orgeat syrup, and gomme syrup. And of course there's no shortage of discussion around the web and in print about tonic water. The latest issue of Imbibe Magazine has a taste comparison between six different commercial brands. Jeffrey Morgenthaler tackled tonic and shared his recipe with the world on his site. You'll also see links to a piece in the and Washington Post and another in SF Gate in his post. Here is the recipe from The Washington Post.
But there's another product out there that doesn't seem to get as much discussion as tonic, is far more interesting, and is obscure enough to inspire a religious following by cocktail fiends. Bitter lemon soda is produced and distributed in various places around the world, but in my searches in New York City and Seattle, I have only been able to find it in a single supermarket chain in each city. A web search will turn up various suppliers more than willing to ship wherever you are. But if you happen to be in NYC, check out Gristedes on University Place and 8th Street. I've always been able to find liter bottles of Schweppes bitter lemon soda there. In Seattle, try Metropolitan Market. I think I picked up my six-pack at their Queen Anne location.
You may wonder if seeking out something like this could be worth the effort. If you already buy tonic water on a regular basis and add citrus to your gin and tonics, I can assure you it's worth it. If you're looking for a new twist on your Pimm's Cup, because ginger ale is just too sweet and seltzer water doesn't add enough flavor, bitter lemon soda is worth your time. And by all means, if you are a fan of amari likesuchas Cynar or Averna then you are an ideal candidate for bitter lemon soda conversion.
I took a bottle with me the last time I visited Vessel in Seattle and my pleased bartender compared it to the house Collins mix. "We used to make a Collins mix with bruised lemon balm in it," Jim told me. "This tastes a lot like it." So there's one more reason to acquire a taste for this elixir - requesting a bitter lemon and Ramazzotti surely won't raise your barman's ire like demanding a Red Bull and vodka. Trust me. And in a few more weeks, er, months, when my own personal batch of M. Boudreau's own Amer Picon Recipe #3 is assembled and ready for consumption, it will also be a prime candidate for quaffing with bitter lemon soda. Can your tonic water do that?