“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes,” says Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Evidently, the seed from which this famous early 20th Century crime novel grew was dispersed in the rustic and pocket-sized village of Buckfastleigh in the county of Devon, England.
A notoriously sadistic petty nobleman by the name of Richard Cabbell died and was buried in Buckfastleigh around 1677. Upon Cabbell’s ejection into the netherworld, locals reported that black “hell hounds” flew across the landscape, disgorging smoke and fire from their jaws. This legend kicked around from generation to generation, and ultimately seems to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to pen the third of his full-length novels about his popular short story character.
Apparently, way back in the superstitious mists of the mid 1990s, there was also an “obvious” but yet “unobserved” way to save a struggling Buckfastleigh apple orchard.
LUSCOMBE: THE BRAND
Luscombe Organic Drinks began making (hard) cider, as well as plain old apple juice, in 1975. This area of relatively balmy, beachy stretch of Southwest England (there’s a British “Riviera?” Who Knew?) has long been famous for its toothsome produce. But in these days before the Slow Food Movement and the Campaign for Real Ale helped rejuvenate traditional, hand-hewn beverages, cider was roundly seen as a passe tipple of country bumpkins.
Luscombe, as a business concern, was circling the drain. The obvious remedy it was failing to observe was the strategy of doing something else with all those apples.
Gabriel David — who much to our collective good fortune confesses that his latest passion is ginger beer — set about keeping the family business afloat by expanding its line of soft drinks and fitting them out in combinations and with flavors for sophisticated, adult tastes. Here in the states, apple juice is almost exclusively the drink of toddlers. But Gabriel David brought to market a line of minimally processed apple juice drinks flavored with things like elderflower and, yes, ginger. Building on this success, his next opus was a Sicilian-style lemonade recipe — one he says was an entire decade in the making. And he only found perfection in Luscombe’s orange juice when he sourced the oranges from Mexico.
At present, Luscombe produces three different ginger beers: a “cool,” a “hot,” and a “passionate,” the latter flavored with passionfruit juice. On this side of The Pond, the only of these three I have to date been able to get my mitts on is the “cool.” And after sampling it, I’m ready to release hellhounds of my own to scour the landscape for the other two.
LUSCOMBE: THE EXPERIENCE
From the very first taste, it was instantaneously indisputable that this ginger beer — when it comes to sophistication of flavor — is in a category of its own. Luscombe Cool is special; classy. This is a fizzy soda drink you could order at a Michelin star restaurant or offer at a smart dinner party and preserve every atom of your adulthood. You would not think twice about its being non-alcoholic.
For starters, Luscombe Cool is exceedingly dry. While I appreciate this, dryness is not my “go-to” criterion for a good ginger beer. But wow does it work in this one. Luscombe Cool comes on mildly, but then froths up with carbonation. It has a persuasive, well-balanced citrus aftertaste, the latter owing to the inclusion of 3% Sicilian lemon juice.
This ginger beer is not overamped on heat points. It hits you only with a moderate, lingering spice. There is also something a bit vegetabley to the aftertaste. But even that was lacking in the same bitterness notes that might class this drink in the group of “health food” flavors that I tend to see in ginger drinks like Reed’s that aggressively accentuate their organic, “short chain” production.
Of course, all the ingredients in Luscombe “Cool” are organic. And furthermore, Luscombe Cool is most definitively a traditional English ginger beer in that it’s made with brewer’s yeast (an ingredient found in exactly none of the previously reviewed products) and a full 2% of organic ginger root. No extracts here.
I also found this wonderfully satisfying. It presents such a thorough and novel stimulation of your taste buds that it’s almost “filling,” like a book or movie you need to sit and think about for a while before exposing yourself to a second time. If Luscombe Organic Drinks can do all that with a relatively mildly spiced ginger beer, I don’t know how I’m going to wait until I can locate their Hot variety.