24 March 2012

Kinnie, The Maltese Soda

On a flight from Athens to Malta, the Air Malta stewardess gave us a choice - "Coke, juice, water or Kinnie." Kinnie?
In 1952, to capitalize on the burgeoning popularity of soda pop, the Maltese brewing "giant" (it's not a big country) Simonds Farsons Cisk invented a new drink. Unlike hundreds of other soft drink outfits from the time, this little country's product stuck. Today there are three varieties: the original, Diet Kinnie (interestingly not called Kinnie "Light," like other European sodas) and Kinnie Zest. We felt we had to try all three, to get a first taste of this little island country.
Kinnie is ostensibly an orange soda, but the taste is more centered on bitterness and aromatics. Based in theory on the Chinotto citrus fruit, which is common in Malta, and containing anise, ginseng and rhubarb, the drink is curiously woody and spicy. When Rebecca first tried it she said she tasted cinnamon. Later, she said it was a lot like Campari or Aperol.
The company is adamant that their formula for the drinks uses all natural ingredients, but they keep the recipe secret and it's hard to imagine that a sweet-tasting "diet" soda could exist without chemicals.
Malta - the name sounds like a soda, doesn't it?
European countries - for all their rich history in brewing, distilling and fermenting - generally possess very limited variety in their soft-drink coolers, at least in comparison with America. That's why it's so interesting when we come across a local product - they're rare specimens. What secrets can they tell about a country? What do they say about the national sense of taste? In Switzerland, we became obsessed with the milk-based Rivella (we actually did two posts), and had a few Cockta sodas in Slovenia.
Shouldn't every little country have a soft drink? Like a national song or a homegrown breed of dog, it's not a big part of the culture. But these little window-dressing aspects are what's endearing about a place, like old Citroens in France or apple strudel in Austria.
Of the three Kinnies, I probably like the Zest version the best, though the original would work well mixed with something a bit stronger. The company's website has a list of cocktails, though most sound a little sweet. Also, you should watch the television ads, because they're great. (The ads are in English because it's one of Malta's two official languages)

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