Peter Ranscombe samples a new soda made from that most Scottish of ingredients – rhubarb.
WHETHER it comes in a tart, in a pie or in a crumble – and with custard or ice cream or cream – rhubarb has won a place in the hearts of many Scots.
Our nation’s love affair with the vegetable that gets treated like a fruit goes back generations.
Scottish doctor James Mounsey smuggled seeds of the Chinese plant from the botanic garden at St Petersburg to Edinburgh to break Russia’s monopoly on its production.
Sir Alexander Dick was the first to successfully grow the vegetable – in his garden at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh – and the pair received gold medals from the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1770 for their efforts.
Now, another enterprising Scot, Gregor Leckie, has found a new use for the ingredient – as the basis for his latest soda.
Leckie launched Rapscallion Soda in 2015 and his company has gone through several incarnations, including running pop-up bars and selling his sodas to pubs on draft.
He began canning his drinks in 2018 and last year experimented with his first rhubarb flavour.
This year’s version, which he launched in an online tasting tonight, uses rhubarb grown on Fraser McDonald’s farm near Arbroath.
With a background that includes brewing, distilling and fermenting, Leckie has developed a cold infusion method for making his sodas, which he describes as “low and slow” and allows him to extract the flavour he needs from the ingredients without having to use additives later in the process.
His rhubarb soda is infused with pink grapefruit zest, sichuan pepper and a small amount of raw cane sugar, which he plans to replace with British sugar beet later in the year.
On its own, his S_01 Rhubarb Sour Face Pull (£32 for 12 cans, rapscallionsoda.com) has a light sparkle, a gentle sweetness and great freshness, with a slight vegetal whiff of wet leaf on the nose and then a bitter tang on the finish.
I tried it mixed with Arbikie Highland Estate Kirsty’s Gin (£37, arbikie.com) in a short measure instead of tonic and it brought out some delicious savoury notes in the spirit.
Mixed again with gin but this time as a longer drink, the heat from the more peppery notes came to the fore, alongside a teeth tingling acidity.
It’s a really versatile soda – both as a soft drink on its own and as a substitute for tonic – and I’m now really looking forward to trying more of Leckie’s range, with strawberry and raspberry seasonal sodas on their way this summer, alongside his core range of ginger, lemon and lime variants.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s reviews in his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.