That was the first, most prevalent (and among the lesser most expected) flavor notes that accosted my senses when I first tried Idris.
Maybe that’s because this ginger beer is sweetened not only with sugar, but with two doggone synthetic sweeteners as well. Idris’s candy wallop is additionally brought to you by aspartame — a controversial sweetener that was accidentally discovered by a chemist working on an anti-ulcer medication. As if that weren’t enough, they also threw acesulfame potassium into the mix. And how, you may ask, was acesulfame potassium first developed? Also by accident. And also in the mid 1960s, which was apparently a golden age from chemical food additive tinkering.
Do artificial sweeteners ever happen on purpose?
IDRIS: THE BRAND
Idris is manufactured by Britvic. Britvic started in its more rustic, non-corporate, early years of the 1800s, was spun off from a Chelmsford, UK, chemist who started experimenting with soft drinks. The smart money says said chemist was probably a member of the Temperance Movement: a virtuous, civic-minded gentleman on a quest for non-alcoholic alternatives with which to tempt his famously tippling countrymen. The company’s focus went on to be health-related. The name “Britvic” comes from “British Vitamin Products.” And it had a mission to create affordable, beverage-based dietary supplements for the jolly olde dwellers north of the Channel.
But when you look at Britvic’s subsequent history — one of rampant mergers and acquisitions, which includes acquiring the license to make and distribute Pepsi and 7 Up in the UK — the precipitous decline in natural ingredients and the tongue-numbing influx of sweetness is no real surprise.
Interestingly, though, Britvic puts out a line of fruit drinks known as Robinson’s which combine fruit flavors like lemon, orange, and apple & black currant that are combined with barley flour.
If I know my history of British beverages, I’m betting that the additive that makes these “barley water” drinks what they are was first put forth as a would-be nutrition booth. Fun fact? As you can read in my upcoming The Comic Book Story of Beer, back in the 19th century and earlier, most people did not realize that there was actually alcohol in beer. Believe it or not, drinkers assumed that the intoxicant was only to be found in hard liquors like gin and whiskey. The pleasant sensations that accompany a couple of beers were instead thought to derive from the malt — and the supposed boost or pure nutrition that redounds from the grains from which beer is made. That misguided notion is behind the famous “Guinness is Good For You” ads that for many years promoted Guiness Irish Stout.
So if the barley in beer can be a healthful pick-me-up, why not splash it into fruit juice? I wonder. Would that fly in the United States? I don’t think we’ve had anything like “barley water.” Beverage entrepreneurs, take note. Or maybe don’t.
IDRIS: THE EXPERIENCE
Idris came my way — surprisingly — by virtue of a small, Mom & Pop, slightly cluttered British imports shop in Plymouth, MA. That particular town is quite near and dear to my heart. So I would have liked to be more positive in this here review.
But the caramel-y, artificial-tasting candy flavor of Idris just didn’t ring my bell. (And all apologies to Jevon, a new friend, who would not agree). I am not ashamed to admit I have a sweet tooth. But this sweetness was cloying.
Additionally, I have one last bone to pick with Idris “Fiery” ginger beer.
That devil tail on the label sure is alluring. But this devil must dwell in Dante’s version of Hell, whose Ninth Circle is counterintuitively composed of ice. There is hardly any spice to this at all. The “try me if you dare” come on is farcical. Canada Dry sports more heat than this.
Idris Elba, you’re a hell of an actor. Please, if these guys come knocking on your door looking to make an endorsement deal with you, stick to the Toyota Avalon, CoverGirl cosmetics, and your vanity brand of vodka. This namesake is a toothless, lowest-common-denominator ginger beer also-ran.