LemonadeBy amy • • Jul 6th, 2009 • Category: Beverages, Columns
Let’s start with the pips. Yes, some people associate lemonade with old ladies’ porches and kids’ birthday parties; yes, it’s usually too sweet, or too watery; and yes, it’s not an obvious power drink (Shelf Life can’t imagine, say, Christian Bale as Terminator hero John Connor taking time out to glug down lemonade – come to think of it, we also can’t imagine Christian Bale off work, as himself, pausing to sip a refreshing citrus drink between swear words).But make no mistake, the yellow stuff packs serious mojo. As this week’s guest mixologist notes, the ideal lemonade – simple, natural, supremely pleasurable – is difficult to get right. “In a lot of bartending schools, it’s a test – the first thing they ask students to do is to make a good lemonade. If you can’t put together the proper balance of sweetness and bitterness then you shouldn’t be making drinks.” says Christine Sismondo, author of ‘Mondo Cocktail’. Like so many things in life, the challenge with this everyday icon is to harmonize the /schmeck/.
Without question, homemade lemonade tends to be best, chiefly because the vitamins in fresh lemonade don’t deteriorate from sitting on a shelf. But store-bought lemonade has one thing going for it, which is surprise: you never know where you might find the good versions. Shelf Life has encountered listless lemon drinks in the finest restaurants; conversely, we’ve discovered pert lemonades in cheap cartons. And once we find something we like, we know exactly what to do: work that sucker. To continue with the summer action movie theme: lemonade is the Transformer of thirst quenchers, because it can magically change into something else. Sugar, water, and lemon add up to the perfect platform for summer tipples (including the non-alcoholic variety). Accordingly, Shelf Life asked this week’s panel to raid the bar and get creative with the winning pucker-upper.
Declaring that ‘when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, but then actually drink Tequila’ are this week’s expert judges: chef and TV consultant Howard Dubrovsky, overlord of Food Cult; libation authority Christine Sismondo, author of Mondo Cocktail; and food TV producer Sandra Watson, currently food stylist with Food Network’s ‘Fresh With Anna Olson’, all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every brand in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste-tested and awarded between zero and five stars.
Howard: Real lemonade isn’t all that yellow, so you should beware of brands with an over-the-top canary colour. Brand One is pale, opaque, smells natural, and tastes very good. Nice balance of acid to sugar.
Christine: I’m seeing faint traces of pulp, which is promising. There’s nothing sadder than an overly sweet lemonade – you keep drinking it in an effort to quench your thirst, which never happens. Brand One satisfies my thirst and isn’t too sugary.
Brand One Total FOURTEEN STARS **************
Pucker Up Lemonade
Howard: Meyer lemons have a cachet, which restaurants can really play up. Featuring Meyer lemons on the menu means you can charge an extra two bucks. There’s fair amount of pulp in Brand Two, which should indicate a good lemonade, but I’m getting a metallic taste. Nice scent, but overall – meh.
Christine: Brand Two contains pulp, so based on appearances I’d give it a try. Unfortunately the taste doesn’t live up to the look. It’s got traces of the flavour I associate with concentrated lemon juice in plastic squeeze bottles.
Sandra: The sugar and lemon flavours aren’t balanced, and there’s something else, a soapiness. It’s too bad, because the pulp tells us that they did put in the lemons.
Brand Two Total EIGHT STARS ********
Howard: Aha. Brand Three is my nostalgia choice. It’s actually kind of average, but somehow triggers my childhood memories. It doesn’t taste very fresh – more like a powdered mix – but I don’t mind; suddenly I’m six years old again.
Christine: I can see the attraction, but for me the thrill wouldn’t last. A couple of sips and I’d be back to reality. It doesn’t really have a lot of lemon, but having said that Brand Three isn’t bad.
Sandra: I like it – I like its familiarity. I find myself finishing the glass. It’s got a smooth texture, the right amount of sourness in the taste, and sits well on the ice. I’m happy!
Brand Three ELEVEN STARS ***********
Howard: Brand Four has no personality – it tastes as pale and insipid as it looks. On the positive side, its neutral and unassertive qualities might make it a good mixer. Brand Four’s problem is simply that there are better brands out there.
Christine: It has one virtue – it’s not too sweet. I find its taste inoffensive, but not interesting.
Sandra: Light colour, light taste – it’s just light all over. If I was blindfolded I couldn’t say it was lemonade. If you put ice in it the extra water would dilute its taste even further.
Brand Four Total SEVEN STARS *******
Results: Top scoring President’s Choice produced the juice. Compliments brand squeezed into second place, while Pucker Up proved to be disappointing and way too expensive to boot. Nobody wanted to re-visit Santa Cruz.
Off The Menu: Each judge was assigned winning brand President’s Choice lemonade, and asked to add a little extra kick, zing, or wow. Shelf Life completed the lineup with an alcohol-free made-in-the-shade special. While you’re raising a glass, why not visit our essential flickr photostream to accompany your essential drinking? For further entertainments – including a look at our treasured 1968 Gilligan’s Island Cookbook – visit shelflifetastetest.com/?page_id=1356