Hot weather needs cool drinks which, for most of us, comes to a choice of colas. How boring. Once, not long ago, we created our own concoctions of sugar syrups and herbal essences and carbonated water mixed in proportions to suit individual tastes. Then came mass marketing and with it the advertising that convinced us that one brandCoke or Pepsi or 7-Upwas all we really wanted.
Fortunately, for those of us who want some variety, fruit and herbal flavoured syrups are making a comeback. Most supermarkets and specialty food stores now stock fruit syrups like orange or grenadine. But even more interesting are some of the drinks common to the Caribbean. Three that I came across recently are Velvet Falernum Liquer, Sweet and Dandy Mauby Syrup, and Aunt Mays Ginger Beer Syrup. I confess I go for the names as much as the flavours. These onesor similar brandsare sold in many Caribbean grocery stores including Arawak Imports, 5854 Sherbrooke w. (488-6918).
Velvet Falernum is a lime based syrup with hints of almond and clove. It is traditionally served like a lime cordial, over crushed ice with a shot of rum. I find it refreshing mixed in ice water; although served this way, there is a strong medicinal undercurrent to the flavour which the rum easily masks.
Mauby syrup also has a slightly bitter medicinal edge as do other vegetal based beverages like the Italian soft drink Brio. Mauby Syrup is made from sugar and water and mauby bark and has become my favourite drink this season. It is similar to root beer but without the cloying quality of commercial brands. I also like that I can dilute my drinks less than the one part syrup to four parts water that the bottler recommends or that I can make it sweeter if others prefer.
Then there is ginger beer, truly one of the great drinks of summer. Aunt Mays version consists of ginger concentrate, water and sugar. Its tasty with club soda, iced tea, or fruit juices; but best of all is a drink often called a shandy or shandygaff. Mix one part ginger beer syrup with four parts club soda and an equal amount of ale. Add a slice of lemon or orange. The ginger gives the drink a sassy kick and the beer, now diluted, is refreshing but not heavy. Relax in the sun and turn up the calypso music. Welcome to Barbados, or at least as close as Ill likely get to it this year.