When I beheld the barley waters in the local Kroger down here in Southeast Virginia, I was puzzled. A beverage made from barley? The only one of these that I'd heard of was most kinds of beer. A type of beer is called "barley wine," but those two were the only ones I'd heard of.
But it turns out that there are indeed barley water soft drinks, of course, and furthermore, they are actually not uncommon throughout the world. The English and Greeks both make versions, as do certain areas in India, and various parts of Eastern and Southeast Asian nations. Some folks serve them hot, some cold, some strain out the barley from the liquid, while others don't. Fruit juices are a common additive, for flavor.
There were two types for sale, and I got them both. Both were made by Robinsons, an English company which was bought up by the huge Britvic Soft Drink company in 1995. Britvic is currently the #2 soft drink producer in the U.K., and among other products they sell (some as franchises of other companies) are Canada Dry soft drinks, Corona beer, 7 Up, and Pepsi. Robinsons might be best known for making Fruit Shoot, a beverage designed for children. They're also a sponsor of Wimbledon, the major tennis open tournament.
Anyway, the two kinds I got were lemon and orange. Oddly, even though they were both the same size (28.7 ounces, or 850 ml.), the orange one was close to a dollar more in price. The orange was a bit disappointing. It certainly does taste orange-y (it should--both types contain 17% or their respective juice) but it was rather bland. It was orange in color, and had a peculiar mouthfeel to it--it was rather thick. I guess from the barley flour which makes up 2.5% of its total. It wasn't bad, exactly, just a bit dull. And way overpriced at about $6.50 per bottle.
Happily, the lemon flavored one was quite different. The mouthfeel/texture was similar, much more substantial than a typical soft drink, and quite cloudy, almost milky. But the taste was the opposite of its sibling--very strong. I enjoy tart and sour flavors usually, and this pushed this to the limit. Way more fully tart than any other lemon-flavored soft drink or lemonade that I've had, without being overly, unpleasantly so. I really enjoyed this one. Even at the very high price of about $5.50, I might pick up another or two before I leave this area.
A closer inspection of the bottles revealed something interesting, and a little embarrassing. These Robinsons are concentrated drinks--you're supposed to cut them with water. 1 part Robinsons to 4 parts water. Which may explain why the lemon one tasted so strong! In my defense, I didn't read the directions on the bottles before I had them because who does that? Unless you have a special medical condition or food allergy, just about every drink is served by opening the can or bottle and drinking it, or pouring it into a glass. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't dilute the Robinsons with water. The lemon was powerful and strong, and thereby compelling and tasty. And the orange one was already a bit insufficient in taste--adding water would have made a barely adequate drink incredibly weaker and tasteless, like a light beer.
So, although I really liked only one out of two, I'll be looking for other types of barley waters. Certainly the drink shows the possibility of being a worthy beverage.