The first time I tasted Lemon-Lime & Bitters was at a pre-Carnival party—a “lime,” in the local dialect of Trinidad and Tobago. It was many moons ago at a well-executed house party in Santa Cruz. I attended with my big brother, a gaggle of cool older cousins and my inseparably close mother and aunt. Bouncy soca music played in the background, guests mingled, danced and drank under a dense canopy of Caribbean stars, and I felt a sense of self-possession in my budding adolescence. I craved a drink that could meet me in my moment.
The bar was small, but well-stocked with a canon of spirits. I remember being dumbfounded at the number of bottles, all new and unfamiliar to a girl who had never experienced what filled them, but who was sure she wanted to. The barman sized me up in a second, and went to work. Into an amply sized rocks glass he ushered a handful of ice cubes, then poured in lemon-lime soda, dripped over top a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters and pushed it my way.
I was rapt. And I have remained so in the years since. Unabashedly ageless, the Lemon-Lime & Bitters boasts such faint levels of alcohol as to not register on any index. That evening, I sipped it slowly, wondering at the new flavors volleying across my tongue, and meandering through the crowd, imagining myself a sophisticate. In reality, of course, I was holding the drink over my chin to cover a volcano of a pimple, giddily seeking out my brother, eager to gloat over this liquid revelation that was seemingly mine and mine alone.
It turns out, the Lemon-Lime & Bitters was revelatory only to me. LLB, as it’s affectionately known, had already enjoyed a long and venerable history as a staple of golf culture in Australia, where it’s often enjoyed at the 19th hole. When St. Croix native Patrick Bennett, a marketing professional and content curator on Uncommon Caribbean, traveled to Australia a few years ago for a bucks show (or “bachelor party” in Western parlance), he discovered the tradition, which traces back to the late 19th-century when Angostura arrived on the continent's shores from the Caribbean. But like many cocktails, its precise genesis is a question mark.
Over time, the LLB’s appeal grew, and by the early aughts, The House of Angostura began capitalizing on the beverage with a ready-to-drink offering, containing a dose of nonalcoholic bitters. According to Bennett, “with each [can of] LLB, you basically get the complex flavors inherent in Angostura bitters without the alcohol.” It’s since proliferated, and has become so common as to be available at grocery chains and Amazon.
Nowadays, at my home in Raleigh, North Carolina, making a batch of LLBs conjures up the same self-possession I felt years ago with my first sip. I start by steeping freshly grated lemon and lime zest in their respective juices for 10 minutes. This process creates a lively, assertive tang that resonates through a heavy hand of the spicy, tannic bitters. An unadorned simple syrup lends necessary sweetness, while the clean rush of good sparkling water draws out the Angostura’s nuances and mellows the combination.
Looking back at my first encounter with LLB, I see a girl buoyed by the spindly confidence of untested youth. And I also see how this unpretentious concoction so accurately and acutely captured a sense of the world I couldn’t yet fully articulate—longing for adulthood while in the midst of youth. Today, LLB’s easy, refreshing snap continues to validate a salient truth—that it’s okay to be young and feel old (and vice versa), that the duality can be cohesive, that the world can feel new and old all at once.