When I was a kid, I had oddball taste in food. Among other things, I didn’t care for soda. I didn’t like the carbonation – it stung – and was used to drinking milk, so the sweetness had no appeal. But in my early teens, I discovered a soda I actually enjoyed drinking: Schweppes Bitter Lemon.
Bitter lemon had a long history, first developed in the 1830s as a mixer. It was a combination of lemon juice and tonic. It’s name described it: it had a slightly bitter taste and the tang of lemon juice.
It was a change from the usual sugary sodas for me. One difference was the presence of a little bit of lemon pulp. Even though I wasn’t concerned about “all-natural” in those days, the little bits of lemon floating made it seem more real to me, and the fact that it wasn’t cloyingly sweet made it very refreshing.
It was never a very popular brand in the US. If you found it in a supermarket, it would be with the cocktail mixers with bloody mary mix and swizzle sticks. You had better luck in a beverage store and, possibly, in liquor stores in states that allowed for its sale. For me, it was a real treat.
There was also a Bitter Orange, which was the same thing, only the orange juice was sweeter. I haven’t seen it in years, and it seems that they stopped making it in the US in 2011.*
There are some attempts to market the flavor in the US, though it’s limited to knockoffs of Bitter Orange. Polar, for instance, has Orange Dry, which is a less-sweet orange soda, but with no tonic, and it was the taste of quinine that made Bitter Lemon so good.
I probably wouldn’t drink it enough now to support the brand if it came back, but I hope that someone might try.
*It’s still available in the UK, Germany, and Canada.