Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Gin Safari 2: Bitter and Twisted

Just some of the tonic drinks we found in Wenty Tropical Foods

I recently reported on our expedition to darkest Forest Gate in search of two African gins. But what started it all was our curiosity about some African bitters we’d been told were rather tasty. During our safari we did manage to find some, plus some Caribbean tonics and soft drinks that were new to us—including the eye-catching Bedroom Bully which, like a number of tonics, sells itself mainly on a claim to boost male, erm, stamina.

Back at the lab DBS couldn’t wait to crack open the Bedroom Bully. In appearance it is brown and cloudy, like a glass of flat Coke from which someone has clumsily swigged after eating crackers. Its smell is vegetal, reminiscent of dock leaves and damp roots, with hints of orange, gravy granules and cheesy feet. After all this the flavour is unexpectedly thin, but with a pronounced aftertaste of rusty metal. David declines to finish it.

Herb Afrik Gin Bitters is 40% ABV and is sold in 70cl bottles as well as the smaller flask we purchased, intended to be drunk neat as well as mixed with gin, beer or soft drinks. The term “gin bitters” is derived from the introduction of European botanically flavoured alcohols but the drink has nothing in common with gin. In fact it doesn’t go into detail about what is in it but the website observes that, “The ingredients are carefully selected for their potency, and other beneficial properties. It is appreciated for its pleasant taste and soothing effect while it answers the growing need of consumers for a drink with potent and beneficial herbal ingredients.” So clearly it is intended to have some effect, but they don’t say what. (It’s interesting how no one sells gin on its medicinal properties any more…). Unless it is all just a euphemism for a cheap way to get drunk. It’s a rusty brown colour and the predominant smell and taste is ginger. It fact it reminds me of one of those Dutch speculoos spiced biscuits. Mixing it with Castle Bridge gin from the same distillers improves it, though frankly the gin is better without the bitters.

Alomo bitters is the other one recommended by Dr Leizaola. Made by Kasapreko in Ghana, it is bottled at 42% and again does not detail the “carefully chosen plant extracts” going into it, but asserts that it is “the best and most reliable restorative provided by nature” and “promotes vitality especially in Men”. It smells of boot polish and is very bitter on the palate. To me it tastes vaguely of mussels. Adding tonic water makes everything taste worse.

Sea Moss is a type of seaweed that is considered health-giving in the Caribbean, once again having alleged aphrodisiac and potency-boosting properties. Caribbean Flavours Sea Moss and Peanut sounded intriguing enough and smells enticingly of coconut and Baileys—in fact there is no coconut or alcohol in it, although there is milk. It actually tastes a bit like Baileys too but is disturbingly gloopy from the seaweed and has an unpleasant metallic aftertaste. Adding rum improves it but I couldn’t stomach much.

I also bought a can of straightforward sea moss drink (flavoured with vanilla). Boy is this stuff disturbing: it has the look and texture of snot (see photo). It is stomach-turningly repulsive and I could only manage a small sip. I was even scared to pour it down the sink in case it set in the pipes.

Not a glass of mucus but a sea moss beverage
Finally we cracked open a bottle of Solo Grape Soda, a Trinidadian beverage. I think David was attracted by the label, which is splendid and looks like it was designed in the 1930s. It has a violently synthetic colour and an astonishingly foul odour—we eventually agreed that it smells like someone has vomited in a Chinese supermarket. The taste is primarily sugar and water but that stench predominates.

DBS had also bought some other curios, such as “Sof Drink Kola Champagne”, but we’d had enough fun for now and needed a stiff G&T to cleanse our palates before any permanent damage was done.

I have to say that if Herb Afrik and Alomo were the best bitters that Dr Leizola encountered (and there were very many on display in his exhibition) then I think I’ll sit tight with Angostura for a bit.


  1. It all sounds foul! Thanks for experimenting so I don't have to. :-)

  2. Yes, I would have liked to be able to say I'd uncovered a hidden gem, but it was all pretty horrible. And I didn't feel any more vital afterwards. A bit sick, actually. I'm still haunted by the sea moss…

  3. i am a frequent consumer of herb afrik and i tell ya, nothing beats it. talk of vitalty in men, its the ultimate, u wont hav to worry about a hung over, no. its the best gin bitters yet.