Home Beauty recipe “It’s called Disco, so we buy it!” : the rise and rise of fancy cordials | Soft drink

“It’s called Disco, so we buy it!” : the rise and rise of fancy cordials | Soft drink


AAs soon as the sun comes up in Brittany, you want to be outside with a drink. Socks are shrinking, shoulders are loosening, the park’s tennis courts are teeming with hopefuls counting the days until Wimbledon, and it’s starting to rain.

You might assume that means alcohol. In a recent very hot week at the end of March, Waitrose said it saw a 600% increase in searches for ‘hearty summer recipes’, compared to February. It also says that when Wimbledon was canceled in 2020 (dashing Robinsons’ hopes of being the tournament’s official soft drink for the 85th consecutive summer), households stockpiled all sorts of squash for their homeschooled children, as well than what the industry calls “premium dilute” – heartfelt – for working-from-home parents.

Ever since the soft drink industry tax in 2018, AKA the sugar tax, beverage companies have reduced the sugar content of these deals, but that doesn’t mean we’re drinking less. Supermarkets can barely keep up with demand. Waitrose is banking on the same nearly 10% increase in sales for 2022 as in 2021. “In any hot country this is what you need,” says Itamar Srulovich of Honey and Co. cold and something really sweet.”

Until recently, “premium dilutes” basically meant cordial brands such as Belvoir Farm and Bottlegreen, and French syrups (Monin or Teisseire), which a Mumsnet user recently described as “a bit like squash but much more enjoyable”. How dilutes are sweetened is crucial to understanding their differences. In France, for something to be sold as a “fruit syrup», it must contain at least 10% fruit juice (7% if it is citrus fruits) and at least 50% sweetener (sugar, dextrose, honey, fructose). Syrups, on the other hand, are often sweetened in the same way, just less concentrated. Syrups and cordials are meant to be diluted (which basically means with water, still or sparkling), but where the ratio for cordial is usually 1:4 or 1:5, with syrups , it is 1:7.

Strawberry and Sage from Urban Cordial. Photography: Scott Kimble/RP

However, all that a dilute can be, in terms of flavor, has lately been spangled into an array of downright exhilarating possibilities. First of all, the cordials have been improved in taste and climate. Ex-financial auditor Natasha Steele launched Urban Cordial in 2016 to fight food waste. It uses surplus fruits and vegetables (120 tonnes of savings to date) and the entire production process is zero waste as the leftover pulp from juice making goes to farms as animal feed. “It’s really good quality. It’s good for you. And that feels good,” Steele says. “I think people want that.”

Urban Cordial has received five Great Taste awards for unexpected flavor combinations. These include raspberry and rosemary; strawberry and sage; and apple, lemon and fennel. Of the latter, one commenter said, “Not too sweet. A Goldilocks product. Just right.”

Some of the numbered cordials from Bristol Syrup Co.
Some of the numbered cordials from Bristol Syrup Co. Photography: Publicity Image

West Country brand The Bristol Syrup Co numbers its flavors, which range from classic simple sugar syrups (for making highballs and whiskey sours) to pineapple and coconut syrups. Although primarily for the bar trade, when Covid had us all mixing cocktails at home, people started buying Bristol syrups to drink themselves too.

Steele says she has a list of recipes on her website, but mostly only mixes her syrups with water. “I tend not to recommend anything too elaborate because you don’t want to stray away from the cordial flavor.” Price and context are crucial here. Steele says that because her products are labeled as cordials, she can’t price too high (£6 for 500ml) because people just wouldn’t pay a high price for a cordial, when they will do for a shrub (a vinegar- based syrup flavored with fruit, often added herbs).

And Bristol Syrup Company business development manager Greg Williams says the same thing: syrups are always mixed with something (you wouldn’t drink them neat). Mixologists will use them in cocktails. But just like French mint or grenadine syrup, they are also good with water. His passion fruit (number 5) is the best seller, and the grenadine Disco (a newcomer, at number 19) is highly regarded for its 1970s flamboyance. “People have come up to me and said : ‘Look, we don’t really care how it tastes, but it’s called Disco, so we’ll buy it.'”

A December 2021 survey found that one in three UK drinkers regularly order low or no alcohol drinks, up from one in four in 2020. This trend has seen the low to no alcohol sector grow by 40% in the UK between 2019 and 2021. “Chic squash,” as a category, might not be quite what beverage purveyors are looking for with their 0% spirits and soft squash blends, but understanding what you pour, it’s not far.

Six years ago, after designing drinks for restaurant group Dishoom, British mixologist Carl Anthony Brown tackled non-alcoholic spirits. Drinking, for him, has always been about flavor, and he found the options for anyone who wants to have a good time and not get drunk decidedly underwhelming. “Your choices were: water; tonic water – because it is water for adults, only because of its bitterness; some kind of soft drink, cola or other; or a mocktail. And that word just makes me angry.

So he locked himself in a dark room with a notebook and every alcoholic spirit he could think of, and got very drunk, noting how each one felt, tasted and otherwise affected him – whether his cheeks were flushed or his dry mouth. He wanted to come up with a drink that would elicit a similar multi-layered experience for the drinker. As he says, “One of the best drinks in the world is Morrisons peach cordial with soda added, but you can’t really do that in a bar. People would say, “Sorry, you just use Morrisons brand cordial and mix it up.” They wouldn’t be happy.

To achieve the complexity of a good cocktail, he worked backwards. Instead of trying a soft version of any individual spirits, he started with the basic categories of drinks they are mixed into. He offered three: citrus fruits (Cosmopolitan, G&T, lime vodka and soda); bitters (aperitifs, digestives, Italian bitters); and smokey (anything with whiskey, mezcal, or aged rum). Its versions are respectively based on fresh citrus fruits (tangerine, lemon, grapefruit, orange), hibiscus (with rhubarb and other floral notes) and lapsang souchong. And you mix them like you would a cocktail, with sodas, tonic water and such.

Just as cordials were originally medicinal liquors of the Renaissance, believed to be guardians of health, many of these new drinks are, in fact, old ideas. Shrubs are a good example, mainly from the Mesopotamian/Persian sharbat tradition.

Nonsuch Grapefruit Pineapple Spritz.
Nonsuch Grapefruit Pineapple Spritz.

Henry Chevallier Guild and his brother Barry were the eighth generation of their Suffolk family to own and run cider and vinegar makers Aspall, before selling them in 2018. Nonsuch shrubs grew out of that tradition. Where a cordial or squash has added sugar and water, these shrubs are made only from vinegar and fruit. Flavors include blood orange and bitter lemon; wild and pink hedge; and bittersweet apple and cardamom.

“What I like about them is that they don’t try to be anything else,” says Chevallier Guild. “Vinegar adds balance while botanicals provide flavor and provide a savory element.” You end up with, he says, something really interesting.

Cocktail of Citrus and Glasswort Shrubs from Sevenstones.
Cocktail of Citrus and Glasswort Shrubs from Sevenstones. Photography: Publicity Image

You can also get Cornish Shrub, now bottled in small batches by Sevenstones. Its recipe is based on that found in Elizabeth Moxon’s English Housewife of 1741, and contains a list of ingredients as evocative as the origin story of the Cornish shrub itself: sugarcane, samphire , honey, orange blossom, orange zest, orange juice, lemon. zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, cordiander, rosehip, allspice and fennel. It is said that barrels of rum were sunk into the sea to avoid customs, and when the salt water spoiled the contents, a shrub (made with 500 oranges per barrel!) was added to make it drinkable.

From Robinsons’ octogenarian affair with British tennis to smugglers filling rum with sea salt and citrus, the beauty of these drinks isn’t just their sweetness, it’s their romance. The promise of a universe in a cup on a hot summer day.