Sunday, June 9, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--English Soft Drinks

     Today I’d like to talk about two English soft drinks—Vimto and Fiery Ginger Beer.  Vimto is a fruit flavored beverage while the other, as the name suggests, is ginger flavored, similar to what many call a “ginger ale.”  Both of these are tough to find in the States—I’ve only found them in the magnificent Wegmans grocery chain in the Northeast and the slightly less awesome but still very good Publix in the Southeast.
     But before I go into their respective charms I want to digress and discuss regional names for soft drinks in the U.S.  Growing up in the Northeast (NJ), while these types of beverages might occasionally be called, generically, “soft drinks” or “soda pop,” the overwhelming amount of the time they were called “soda.”  Therefore, it seemed strange when I discovered that most people from the Midwest refer to these same drinks as “pop.”  But things got even weirder—people from the South call all such beverages a “Coke,” which is of course a popular brand name.  So in the South a waitress might ask, in all seriousness, if you want a “Pepsi Coke,” which seems absurd and bizarre to me, since it mixes two distinct, bitter rivals, into one.  That seems akin to a car dealer asking if you want a “Ford Chevrolet,” or a bartender inquiring if you want a “Yuengling Budweiser.”  (Friends from the South defend this by pointing out that calling something by a brand name isn’t that uncommon, like calling all copiers a “Xerox,” or all facial tissues a “Kleenex.”  While this is true I maintain it just isn’t the same, as I don’t think many people have passionate feelings about copiers or snot rags, but they often do have them about their drinks.)  There are other regional food/beverage name differences, of course, such as the “hoagie” versus “sub” versus “grinder” sandwich debate, but for some reason I find the soft drink one particularly annoying, even though I know intellectually that these differences are stupid and trivial.  I looked up a soft drink name national map, and the boundaries of the various names are fairly distinct.  The Northeast, the Southwest, and Hawaii call it “soda,” the rest of the South call it “Coke,” and the Northwest, Midwest, and Alaska call it “pop.”
     Anyway, back to the topic of the post, Vimto is an old soft drink, dating back to 1908.  It started out as a health tonic, but was quickly rebilled as a non-medicinal beverage shortly thereafter, and has flourished ever since.  Unlike many/most U.S. soft drinks, it does contain a small amount of fruit juice—3% is blackcurrant, raspberry, and grape juices.  In addition to its home country, it’s become popular in Gambia, Senegal, and especially the Arabian Peninsula.  I found it to be very good.  Sweet but not cloyingly so, and with a pleasant fruit flavor, apparently helped by the presence of actual real fruit in it.
     The Fiery Ginger Beer, made by Idris, was a real show stopper for me.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of ginger ales, so I had low expectations going in.  I’m happy to report that the Ginger Beer is excellent.  It had a strong ginger taste, and quite a nice spicy “bite” to it.
     So, to sum up, Vimto is very good, and Fiery Ginger Beer is top notch, one of my very favorite beverages.  I’ll definitely have both again, whenever I can locate them.  I heartily recommend both to anyone who likes fruit or ginger flavored drinks.  Just don’t call them “Cokes” or “pops.”

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