Adding things to Coca-Cola is a time honoured tradition, two that immediately come to mind are cocaine and rum. Another is Aromatic Spirits of Ammonia. Now this isn’t kitchen cleaner ammonia, which would be a big mistake, this is a pharmaceutical preparation that has been used for over a century, even before Coke was invented. For druggists, this preparation was an over-the-counter medicine used to treat a variety of conditions. Unlike other patent medicines (snake oil), Aromatic Spirits of Ammonia survived and can still be bought at some pharmacies today. It makes for an interesting taste combination with Coca-Cola.
So there I was….walking through the Carousel Bar at Tales of the Cocktail 2009 when I happened upon Chris McMillian. I stopped and had a brief chat with him. During the conversation he asked me about using phosphoric acid or “acid phosphate” in cocktails, like they used to use at the old soda fountains. The term “phosphates” usually means the salts of phosphoric acid, and not pure phosphoric acid. I said I’d look into it for him.
Well I have, Chris doesn’t know it yet, and that question led me to rediscover a lost part of American history, that is so very closely intertwined with bartending and cocktails.
I was originally going to write a few posts about it here, but there was so much information I just kept writing and it turned into a book on soda fountains titled “Fix the Pumps” which is now available on Amazon for $12.50..
Aromatic Spirits of Ammonia
Aromatic Spirit of Ammonia is a combination of ammonium carbonate and ammonia, as a 10% solution of ammonium hydroxide, mixed with water, alcohol and the essential oils of lemon, nutmeg and lavender. After diluting with the water and alcohol, the free ammonia concentration is around 1%. Once mixed in an 8 ounce drink it is very diluted, around 0.02%. Just enough to be noticeable.
It was often used as an antacid, for America’s communal case of dyspepsia in the 1800s. The mixture has a basic pH, so it neutralized stomach acid very effectively. Besides the stomach soothing application, it was used for a variety of other conditions, like nervousness, hysteria, mild drunkenness and hangovers.
Yep it was used in the 1800s to help people who got a bit tipsy at the saloon and needed a little clarity to get home. Most of the documents state that it did nothing for truly intoxicated persons, but those who were just a bit buzzed could benefit. It was also helpful to remove the hangover mind fog and invigorate the senses.
For the nervous and easily overwhelmed, Aromatic Spirit of Ammonia was the Xanax of the Victorian era. If a person was hysterical or fainted, a dose of aromatics was given STAT! If you were taking your first trip in a dirigible, a splash in some sweetened soda water might steel the nerves and obviate nausea. Basically, the whole class of ammonia compounds were thought to ease anxiety.
But there’s more! Aside from all of those wondrous properties, Aromatic Spirit of Ammonia was also used as a mild, short term, energizer. If you were feeling pooped and a little in the dumps, a full dose would help get your groove back.
I haven’t done a first hand experiment to verify the veracity of Aromatic Spirit of Ammonia’s powers, but the next bender I go on I’ll try to remember to test for hangover improvement.
As for the energizing properties, I’m drinking an Ammonia Coke now, and I am writing this post; therefore it must work. It’s a miracle! Actually, I was feeling a little tired when I came home today and the thought of flopping on the chesterfield, watching TV, and gorging on junk food did cross my mind. Then I remembered I cancelled cable last year so I could be more productive. That’s probably why I’m writing.
I could also be energized by the mere act of playing with chemicals and then drinking them. Don’t try this at home kids, I’m an invincible super-being…..ahhh, ok, maybe I’m just a little off my rocker, but I did a lot of research on this and feel comfortable with the resulting product. My recommendation for everyone else is to go buy Aromatic Spirit of Ammonia at the pharmacy or on the Internet.
So what does an Ammonia Coke taste like? Well, it’s actually pretty decent. I used a part dose of 20 drops (1ml) to test it out first. The full dose is 3 scruples; 3.75ml; or about ¾ of a teaspoon, in a glass of Coke. The neutralizing properties are evident as the acidity of the Coca-Cola is reduced, not in a bad way though. The ammonia is perceptible, and might be a little more obvious when using a larger measure. There is potential for wider use, but more experimentation is needed. The most important part is that it does knock out the acidity of drinks.
And about the magical properties? Sorry no purple dragons and I haven’t cleaned up my desk. I am feeling mellow, but I suspect the late nights and early mornings are probably making me groggy.
The morning menu: three cups of coffee, a Corpse Reviver and an Ammonia Coke. If that doesn’t get you going, nothin’ will!
If you enjoyed this post, you will love the book Fix the Pumps or check out the Angostura Phosphate, Cherry Phosphate and their key ingredient Acid Phosphate for more drinks from historical soda fountains.