Editor’s blog: Lemonade brews up storm State-side

An unexpected row has blown up in the US state of Maine over Fentiman’s Victorian lemonade. This botanically-brewed tipple has caused consternation because although its blameless ingredients include lemons, ginger and herbal extracts, there is a little sting in the tail. Apparently a Maine schoolboy who was having a glass noticed with horror that the beverage contained 0.5% alcohol.

Rather than rejoicing and telling all his friends, he took the offending ‘hooch’ off to his principal’s office – whereupon all hell broke loose. The police and the state attorney general are now involved and two pressure groups in the substance abuse area are calling for it to be banned. Someone called Clare Desrosiers from the Aroostook Substance Abuse Coalition said: ‘To me, it is sold in what looks like a liquor bottle.’

‘I think it’s quite amusing, really,’ said Eldon Robson, Fentimans’ managing director and master brewer, when interviewed by The Guardian (all publicity is good publicity, right?). ‘Maine is of course where our Puritanical forefathers went because Britain was not strict enough. And it has been said that Puritans are people who are always worried that someone, somewhere might be having fun.’

I’ve written before about the coming whirlwind that is heading for UK booze producers. Having already shown an appetite for prohibition in America, they are further down the road to demonising alcohol than we are in the UK. Two years ago, the mother of a 16-year-old boy from Virginia was sent to jail for allowing booze to be consumed at his birthday party.

Although one can be amused by the OTT reaction to a devil’s brew lemonade in the States, the effects of alcohol on the young are one of the principal reasons the anti-booze lobby is gaining strength. The fact that 20% of 11-15 year olds in the UK are consuming booze at least once a week isn’t anything to be proud of.

So, in the long run, Robson is onto a great thing with his range of adult soft drinks. One of the age-old problems is that the non-alcoholic niche is still so poorly served in pubs. Most mixers taste terrible on their own as they come from cheap concentrate; a Virgin Mary is usually a bottle of ageing Schweppes tomato juice with a bit of white pepper thrown in (how difficult can it be to get a tetrapak of V8 juice behind the bar?). As for the Nab Labs (non or low alcohol beers), they taste like god knows what.

But the tiny Hexam-based Fentiman’s – with its 15 employees and a turnover of £4 million – is a cool brand with some excellent products: their ginger beer is infinitely superior to Old Jamaica and they have a new rose lemonade flavoured with petals from Bulgaria. And no need for Nurofen the following morning.