HOT UNDER THE COOLER

RICHARD EHRLICH'S beverage REPORT
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The Independent Culture
When reliving the liquid experiences of my recent trip to the USA in these pages last week, I neglected to mention the best thing that we drank. Up in New England, in the skiing centre of Stowe, Vermont, a company called the Mad River Trading Company makes what may be the best soft drinks anywhere. Their products are high-grade, non-alcoholic coolers, the best of which is a fruity and refreshing Orange Chill. It`s better than any cola or similar libation, and with fewer calories. The Mad Riverites sell their wares all over the US, but not, to my knowledge, over here. I am making enquiries, and will pass on any good news.

In the meantime, when pausing occasionally from the pursuit of alcoholic enlightenment, I am keeping the freezer well stocked with ice cubes for those odd days when the sun decides to shine. Not so long ago, the weather bore closer resemblance to the New York summer than balmy old London, and my wife had taken to chugging orange juice with ice and fizzy water, trying, perhaps, to recreate the Mad River sensation. I, ever eager to try new things, have continued to fiddle with other ingredients. And all in search of coolness, which may still be needed in the waning days of summer.

For ease, you can't beat iced coffee. Apart from homemade lemonade, this is the most reliable of America's fast-food drinks. Make the coffee, first thing in the morning, to around twice its normal strength. When it's finished brewing, pour it into a heatproof pitcher and leave it to cool; if you like sugar, add it now and stir to dissolve. When it's reached room temperature (which might just be around the time you're gasping for it), half fill a tall glass with ice cubes and pour the coffee on. The ice should melt just enough to dilute the brew to proper strength. Milk and sugar: only if you like them.

Lemonade is just as easy, and suitable for the underage as well. Dissolve 30ml (2 tablespoons) of sugar in a tiny bit of water, and leave to cool while you squeeze four of the yellow spheroids and remove the pips if necessary. Mix the juice with 500ml of water to start with, adding more if it tastes too tart. Now add half the sugar syrup, mix well, and taste again. If it's sweet enough for you, leave it. If not, add more. Lemonade does need a bit of sweetness to counteract the acid. Keep in the fridge, pouring (when the doctor prescribes) over ice in a tall glass.

Of course, man does not live by soft drinks alone. Nor does woman. Try light, crisp white wines such as Muscadet Sur Lie. Any of the Bieres d'Alsace sold under brand names or supermarket own-labels. Pimm's, if you don't mind being paying cut-throat prices for a drink that isn't as good it used to be. G&Ts properly made. All of these are worthy libations for the hot and sweaty.

If you're looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, you may want to consider a drink called Passoa, made from passion fruit and assorted other fruit flavours and with an ABV of 20 per cent. Passoa was launched in the Netherlands in 1985, but has made its way here more recently. The manufacturers have designed it for mixing with orange or grapefruit juice; I tried it with orange, well iced, and liked it. If you like passion fruit, and have a taste for drinks with a dash of sweetness, try Passoa at pounds 10.99 per ultra-cool bottle from Tesco and Unwins.

And finally... My Californian ruminations last week also omitted another terrific white wine, La Crema Sonoma Chardonnay 1995. It's available here (pounds 11.95) solely from their UK agents, Roberson, who won last year's IWC Small Independent Wine Merchant of the year award. You can reach them on 0171 371 2121; by e-mail: wines@ roberson.co.uk; or at their new website: www.roberson.co.uk.

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