A few years ago I wrote a piece on the Secret of Cola and the ingredients used to make cola flavoured beverages. Obviously, Coca-Cola is the king, but Pepsi isn’t doing too bad. The fact is cola flavoured products are tremendously popular, but very few people know what makes that flavour so unique. I’m not going to rehash that part; you can find all the info in the Cola Secrets post. What I want to do is take the basic cola formula and mess with it to make a better Rum and Coke! Can it be done? We’ll see.
This project will be a running series of posts because making homemade soda from scratch can be a bit complicated, especially if you are trying to create a particular flavour. If you are looking at implementing a soda programme at a bar / restaurant follow along, you’ll find this fascinating. Also, pick up a copy of Fix the Pumps if you haven’t already, a lot of the techniques, recipes and background can be found there.
The two specific ingredients that define Coca-Cola are kola nut and coca leaf extract. One is relatively easy to get, the other much harder, though not impossible. Both of these ingredients are optional and you can still make decent cola flavoured soda without them. The following recipe is supposedly the recipe for Pepsi in the 1920s, note no kola nut or coca leaf.
6 parts Lemon Oil
5 parts Orange Oil
4 parts Cinnamon Oil
2 parts Nutmeg Oil
2 parts Coriander Oil
1 parts Petit Grain
Also, most colas contain phosphoric acid and caffeine. For an excellent rundown on the ingredients in Coke, check out Notes on Making Cola.
We know this produces a cola like flavour, so I’ll use it as a starting point. But before the creative process begin, we should define what cola-esque flavour would work better with rum for the uppity cocktail crowd?
For starters, I think angling towards a more bitter brew would big a useful step. Also, making it a bit more potent would make a good non-alcoholic drink.
Why more potent? Well, back when you could get Coca-Cola made from the syrup at a soda fountain, you could get a Strong Coca-Cola, which was double the Coke syrup in the same size glass. Soda Jerks called this “shooting one from the south”. If you added chocolate syrup to a Strong Coke, it was called a “Western”. If a Strong Coke was popular enough to get into the slang of the Soda Jerk, then it seems to be an under-tapped market today.
As for bitterness, the idea isn’t to make an amaro syrup out of it, but to use the mild bitterness to balance out the sweetness. Most rums have a natural sweetness to them and we all know Coca-Cola has sugar as its second ingredient after water.
My first attempt will be to make a base flavour syrup using the ingredient list from above as a guide. Obviously, I’ll need to change some stuff up, but that’s the fun part. As an example green pepper and Cognac essential oils are two things I’m going to try.
This project could lead to some new and exciting things for soda programmes, or a waste of time, but you’ll never know unless you try. Once I get a few formulations done, I’ll post the results.
Writer, author of Fix the Pumps, chemist, beekeper and general do-er-of-things, Darcy can generally be found looking for new and interesting things to do, usually over a cocktail. Currently working on more soda fountain history.