Tag Archives: Toblerone

Dull Or Shiny?

The date of Charles and Julia Hall’s first production of aluminium by electrolysis, February 23, 1886, was significant because in France, Paul Héroult, using the same process to produce aluminium, was quicker off the mark in applying for a patent. When Hall applied for his patent on July 9, 1896, he was sued by Héroult for infringement of the patent granted him on April 23, 1886. Thanks in part to Julia’s testimony, Hall demonstrated to the court’s satisfaction that he had a prior claim.

With a patented process that produced aluminium cheaply and in large quantities, Hall established the Pittsburgh Aluminum Company, later to become Alcoa, which by 1890 was daily producing 250 kilogrammes of the metal. He bequeathed to Alcoa on his death in December 1914 what they regard as their crown jewels, a chest holding the small aluminium pellets produced from his first successful experiment.

The possibilities offered by this lighter, more flexible metal were quickly recognised by inventors and design pioneers. Le Migron, commissioned by Alfred Nobel in 1891, was the first passenger ship with an aluminium hull, while the Hartford Railway Company produced lightweight railway carriages with aluminium seats in 1894. Karl Benz exhibited the first sports car with an aluminium body in Berlin in 1899 and the Wright brothers finally got off the ground with an engine containing aluminium parts.

Manufacturers of household goods also caught the aluminium bug. In 1893 the first mass-produced aluminium kettles were marketed, soon to be followed by frying pans and saucepans, which were lighter and warmed up and cooled down more quickly than their copper and cast-iron predecessors. Aluminium was also seen as a possible alternative to tin foil which, although it had been used since the 18th century to wrap food in while cooking, was expensive to manufacture, rather stiff, and left a bitter, metallic taste.

Robert Victor Neher’s invention of a continuous rolling process to produce thin strips of aluminium foil encouraged him to open the world’s first aluminium rolling plant in the Swiss town of Kreuzlingen in 1910. Bern-based chocolate manufacturer, Tobler, was an early adopter, wrapping their confectionary, including the distinctive triangular Toblerone, in aluminium foil from 1911. Maggi followed suit, using it the next year to package soups and stock cubes.

Aluminium foil soon demonstrated its superiority. It was a much more effective conductor of heat and electricity than tin foil, able to withstand very high temperatures, thus preventing foodstuffs from drying out in the oven. Once the food had been cooked, foil extended its life by offering an effective barrier against light, oxygen, and moisture.

Outside the kitchen it is used by pharmaceutical companies to package drugs and by food manufacturers to produce aseptic packaging which allows perishable goods to be stored without refrigeration. By the mid-20th century aluminium foil, of which Britain is one the largest consumers in the world, had almost completely replaced tin, although, confusingly, it is sometimes still called tin foil.

One of aluminium foil’s most distinctive visual features is a consequence of its manufacturing process. To meet the standards of ISO 7271:2011, the sheets must be between 0.006 and 0.2 millimetres thick and are milled in layers, a process which involves the application of heat and tension to stretch the foil to the required thickness. As a single strip is likely to break during the process, two layers are milled together and then separated.

Where the sides of the two layers have been in contact with each other they develop a matt or dull finish while the outer layers retain a gloss or shiny appearance. However, the performance of the foil is the same, irrespective of which side forms the outside of the wrapping. It seems it is simply a question of aesthetics. When it comes to non-stick foil, though, only one side is treated with the non-stick coating and food must be placed on the side marked “non-stick”.

In future, I will wrap my food in foil to reflect my disposition; shiny side out if I am happy and dull side out if I am down. You never know, it might catch on.

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty

Back to my Aldi trolley. The second gin I selected, for just £15.99, was Harrison Handcrafted Gin.

One of the criticisms levied against bargain basement supermarkets like Aldi, apart from the dispiriting shopping experience and the untidy shelving, is that they often play fast and loose with intellectual property rights and copyright laws. A case in point was the legal spat between Poundland and Mondelez, manufacturers of Toblerone, over the Twin Peaks chocolate bar. Mondelez claimed that the Twin Peaks bar looked suspiciously like their own brand, and to be fair, it did. Bowing to legal pressure, Poundland redesigned the bar, it has more chocolate content than Toblerone, and it is back on the shelves.

What has this got to do with Harrison Gin? Well, you will soon see.

It comes in a bell-shaped bottle with an oval-shaped brown label at the front and a rectangular label at the rear. On top of the bottle is an artificial cork stopper which fits tightly and makes a satisfying plopping sound when it is released. The front label informs me that it is “crisply and refreshingly balanced” while the rear tells me that it is specially produced for Aldi Stores Ltd, although there is no information as to who the distillers might be.

Where my suspicions were aroused was when I looked at the colour of the bottle, a distinctive dark green, and the ABV of the spirit, a respectable 41.4%. The label at the back tells me that it is “crisp, well-balanced and smooth with zesty botanicals, floral aromas WELL BALANCED (their capitals) with juniper and refreshing cucumber.” At this point the penny dropped. Was this an ersatz Hendrick’s, one of the early pioneers of the ginaissance, now part of the William Grant & Son’s stable, and the seventh best-selling gin in the world. Hendrick’s is around twelve to fifteen pounds more expensive.

On opening the bottle, there was a very definite aroma of juniper with orange and spice coming through. A very clear spirit in the glass, it had a distinctive mix of spice and the cooling flavour you associate with cucumber. The aftertaste was a very pleasant mix of spice, citrus and cucumber. As it said on the bottle it was a well-balanced drink and quite moreish. If you are a fan of Hendrick’s, then you will appreciate this gin and save a few bob into the bargain.

Of course, the unanswered question is whether this is a deliberate rip-off of a well-respected, well-established brand, a cynical attempt to cash in on a demand already created for cucumber-based gins or is it just happenstance. After all, if you intend to make a gin that has cucumber as one of its principal ingredients, then perhaps it is not too surprising that the result should taste rather like another gin which is cucumber-based? I do not know the answer and perhaps it will be a point to be deliberated over by more razor-sharp minds than my own in the months to come.

However, in the short term we have two very similar gins on the market, albeit one restricted to the Aldi supermarket chain, and it is the consumer’s choice as to which to buy. But it doesn’t quite seem to be cricket to me.

Until the next time, cheers!