THE LITTLE CHILL

RICHARD EHRLICH'S beverage REPORT
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It's not every day that a drinks columnist gets invited to an event unveiling not just a new product but an "entirely new product category". I was intrigued to get just such a thing, therefore, from United Dist- illers UK. This was in the thick of Wine Tasting Week so I couldn't make it, but I did ask for samples and info. And then thought nothing more about it until a rather squidgy Jiffy bag squeezed through my letter box.

The product is Tony's Freezer Cocktails, and the idea is as follows: United Distillers mixes hard liquor with fruit juice, to an ABV of 5.4 per cent. It packs it in plastic pouches with an American chrome retro- chic label design. And it sells them at an introductory price of pounds 1.19 per 250ml pack (pounds 1.49 thereafter), and targets women aged 20 to 35 in search of a new way to enjoy "a girls' night in or a relaxing gathering before a night on the town".

I am not in a position to argue with the marketing expertise of United Distillers. But I am in a position, having tasted Tony, to say that he needs to go back to the drawing board. Sweet as a sugar cube, these drinks have the sickliness of alco-pops - which is presumably what they're supposed to have. They make no attempt at authenticity: the Strawberry Daiquiri is made with gin, the Mango Daiquiri with Scotch. And the cleverness of the packaging concept loses some of its lustre when you try to squeeze the drink out after it's spent the night in the freezer. It took me 30 seconds to coax out a couple of semi-solid tablespoons, which resembled in the glass a pallid lump of sorbet.

What's more, they fall at the first fence in the Value For Money Grand National. If my calculator's working properly, each pouch of Tony's finest contains around a shot and a half of booze and around 20 pence worth of fruit juice. That means you're paying around pounds 1.30 for the alcoholic component. Buying a low-price bottle of hard stuff and mixing it with juice yourself, you would pay around 75 pence for the same drink - and you could control sweetness, strength and quality.

But this is generally true of pre-mixed cocktails, a species of drink whose foundation in financial reality simply escapes me. There can be nothing in the world that's easier to make than a good old G&T, yet buying one in the canned incarnation costs anything from 50 to 100 per cent more than if you mixed your own. And you still have to add ice cubes, not to mention the lime or lemon slice without which the drink is unacceptable. This strikes me as taking the pursuit of convenience to lunatic heights. What's next, tea-bags with powdered milk so you don't have to add your own?

I am not immune to the charms of frozen drinks. It's just that I want to have some say in the matter, especially as regards the sweetness level; and I don't want to pay over the odds. Here's an alternative to Tony that I made last night and slurped with pleasure. It will probably be increasingly popular if global warming continues. And it tastes better than anything Tony ever made.

LEMON FREEZER

Add the lemon juice in stages, tasting as you go to judge when you've reached about the right balance of sweetness and acidity. Use ordinary vodka, nothing fancy, but it's a good idea to keep it in the freezer to minimise melting in the glass.

Makes anything from six to 12 drinks

500ml/16fl oz water

150g/5oz sugar

1-3 lemons

vodka to taste

Heat the water and sugar gently and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved; leave to cool to room temperature. Squeeze the lemon juice and strain into the sugar syrup, a bit at a time, then decant into a glass bowl or jug.

Freeze, stirring occasionally to break up the ice, for two to four hours. To serve, give the sludge a final stir and spoon into large goblets. Add vodka to taste, letting it seep into the mixture, and garnish, if you like, with lemon slices.

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