Sunday, December 11, 2022


As much as I like Coca-Cola, I am increasingly turning to British soft drinks. Dinner usually includes a glass of Vimto, while I may choose Tango or Tizer when I am out somewhere. If I find a pub serving Pepsi instead of Coke – I really don’t like Pepsi - that means their supplier should have also stocked them with R. White’s lemonade, so I will choose that instead.

I don’t think this is because my tastes have changed, more than my consciously trying other flavours because my tastes do not include alcohol, let alone tea or coffee. I am happy Guinness 0.0 now exists, while I consider Vimto, a cordial of blackcurrants, grapes and raspberries, to be a non-alcoholic version of Pimm’s No. 1, until they join the bandwagon. A good non-alcoholic drink should taste similar to the fuelled-up version anyway, as Budweiser Prohibition Brew (now Budweiser Zero) also proved.

And then there’s Tizer. Introduced in 1924, Tizer is like a mid-point between Vimto and the strange, sherbet-like (to me) taste of Irn-Bru, the official drink of the Cop26 climate summit when it was held in Glasgow, and a drink I have since found contains quinine to taste, and whose colour I keep calling “Agent Orange” instead of “sunset yellow”. With Tizer having a strong citrus flavour comprised of whatever has been put into it, including what gives it its particularly red colour – it’s not just Coca-Cola that employs the idea of “secret recipe” in their mystique, I mean advertising - I usually say that Tizer “tastes of red”. The flavour is of itself, making comparisons difficult. Tizer’s original name was “Pickup’s Appetizer”, named for its inventors Fred and Tom Pickup, making it an aperitif in the same way that Jägermeister is meant to be a digestif.

Tizer has been owned and made since 1972 by A.G. Barr plc of Cumbernauld, originators of Irn-Bru in 1899, moving the drink there from its native Manchester, from where Vimto also appeared. Drinks sold under the “Barr” name include their own cola, cherryade, lemonade, orangeade, limeade, bubblegum flavour, ice cream soda, ginger beer and “shandyade”. Reading through this list made me realise that supermarket own brand drinks have also supplanted the old brands, being sold just as widely, taking up as much space on shelves at a lower cost, and probably not too dissimilar in taste.

From what I can see, or from what the shelves of my nearest corner shop can attest, Barr is the last of the regional soft drink makers that were the main suppliers of soft drinks for its local area, much like channel 3 on British televisions was for Granada, Meridian or Tyne Tees, before “ITV” became the main name. Other such brands with history reaching back to the 19th century like Corona, Alpine and R. White’s, of which only the lemonade now remains on sale, wouldn’t be sold nationwide until the 1960s and 70s.

As it stands, British soft drinks are dominated by three companies: alongside A.G. Barr is Britvic, which owns Tango, Robinsons fruit drinks and R. White’s in addition to producing Pepsi, 7Up, Gatorade and Lipton’s Ice Tea under licence; and Coca-Cola which, despite being an outpost of the US giant, originated the pineapple and grapefruit drink Lilt in the UK in 1975. In other words, they compete on brands rather than flavours. It isn’t a surprise that Corona, bought by Beechams in 1958 and sold to Britvic in 1987, has failed to survive while its orange soda brand Tango, which was introduced in 1950 and produced alongside a separate Corona orangeade, that must have tasted different in some way to be worth the effort, has thrived since the 1990s through its use of surreal and absurdist advertising – “You know when you've been Tango'd” was a slogan used in everyday life at one point, whereas “I’se Got the Ize”, from a 1986 Tizer ad that showed the drink changing the drinker’s speech, didn’t take so well. 

The temperance movements of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries have, while losing out to liberation and moderation, have left their mark in what I get to drink instead. With Coca-Cola gaining popularity quickly due to its being introduced in 1886, the same year alcohol was banned in its home city of Atlanta, “Vim Tonic”, later Vimto, was introduced in Manchester in 1908 just as a new Licensing Act sought to increase alcohol duty and reduce the number of pubs. This history gives the impression that soft drinks are what you have “instead”, which for me is preferable from umpteen types of beer and wine.

That said, I can’t think of an alcoholic equivalent of Tizer. Aperol? Ruby Grapefruit Bacardi Breezer?

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