30 Oct 2009


With it's list of soothingly archaic ingredients - burdock, juniper, speedwell - it's elegant glass bottles and Victorian labels, the FENTIMANS range of soft drinks seems to hark back to a more innocent age.

But not everyone finds its wares morally palatable. A transatlantic row has erupted between the Northumberland company and campaigners in the US after a schoolboy in Maine noticed the bottle of Victorian lemonade he was drinking contained 0.5% alcohol and took the offending beverage to the principle's office.

The principle of HOULTON High School got in touch with the police and the matter is now in the hands of Maine's Liquor Licensing officials and the state Attorney Generals office.

Two pressure groups - The Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (Asap) and The Maine Alliance To Prevent Substance Abuse (Mapsa) - are now calling for the lemonade to be banned from sale to those under 21 and reclassified as "imitation liquor".

Claire Desrosiers, project director for the Asap coalition, said the lemonade contains alcohol and so should not be sold to minors. "To me, it is sold in what looks like a liquor bottle".

The reaction at Fentimans' Head Quarters in Hexham is an odd cocktail* of bemusement and gratitude.

"I think it's quite amusing, really," said Eldon Robson, Fentimans' managing director and master brewer.

"Maine is of course where our Puritanical forefathers went because Britain was not strict enough and it has been said that Puritans are people who were always worried that someone, somewhere might be having fun."

The company said it did occasionally receive inquiries about the 0.5% alcohol content of it's drinks, adding that trace alcohol content of its drinks, which is the result of botanical brewing and a seven-day fermentation process.

It pointed out that its beverages are legally classified as soft drinks, adding that trace alcohol could be found in "bread, mouthwash, orange juice and even chewing gum"

Not that the company is complaining: the row has left it's US operation "inundated" with inquiries from people in 30 US states and parts of Canada asking where they can buy Fentimans lemonade.

And while McKirdy (Fentimans spokesperson) stressed that underage drinking was a serious issue, she doubted that Fentimans lemonade would become the 'poison' of choice for American teenagers.

"To get the same effect as drinking a pint of 4% beer, you'd have to drink 16 bottles," she said. "You'd be awash or in hospital."

SOURCE: Sam Jones, reporting in the Guardian newspaper.

PETTY WITTER SAYS: * A bad choice of words? I hope that's a non-alcoholic cocktail they are talking about. Seriously though ....

A non drinker or am I?

Expensive as it is, I do enjoy the odd glass of Fentimans lemonade/cola/dandelion & burdock or, my personal favourite, ginger beer and have never noticed that it contained 0.5% alcohol but then, even if I had, it wouldn't have put me off as, as the Fentimans spokesperson says, that amount of alcohol (if not more) is found in so many every-day products and even occurs naturally in some food stuffs.

I don't, however, think it was very helpful for Eldon Roberts (managing director and master brewer) to make the comments that he did with regard to it being said that "Puritans are people who are always worried that someone, somewhere is having fun." Even if, as I suspect, this was said purely tongue-in-cheek, surely it is only adding fuel to the fire? Much more sensible of the spokesperson who pointed out that 16 bottles would have to be drunk in order to obtain the same effect as having drunk a 4% proof pint of beer. Now that's an awful lot of lemonade and, as nice as it might be, I'm sure it's more than enough for anyone to drink in one go and though I don't know much about any alcohol problems in Maine (or anywhere else in the US for that matter) I'm also pretty sure that it won't become the choice of 'poison' for youngsters if only because, if it's anything like here in the UK, a litre bottle of cider can be cheaper to buy than a 275ml bottle of Fentimans lemonade - and certainly a lot cheaper than 16 bottles of the stuff.

Well, that's me having had my say, where do you stand on the issue?


Kelly said...

I'm not familiar with the brand. They obviously don't sell down south where I am.

That said, I think this a lot to do about nothing.

The publicity probably will increase their sales, though. A plus for them!

MOLLYC said...

I think the whole thing is hilarious, and if it were available in our little neighborhood, ALL THE KIDS would be buying it and trying to get drunk! By the way, does it taste good? Where can I get some?

susan s. said...

I remember the aspirin in a Coca Cola brew-ha-ha years ago. It was supposed to make you drunk. Sure it was.