The Grand Debut: Brooklyn Soda Works Cola

With market season amping up we’ve been hard at work perfecting what has been one of our most challenging recipes to date: a Brooklyn Soda Works original cola.  The complexity in the recipe creation process was embedded in the very essence of what makes a cola what it is: it’s famously intangible but unmistakable flavor.  While we certainly haven’t set out to recreate Coke, it was important to us that our rendition be inspired by the taste of colas past, so research played a heavy role in the process. Our quest began with a look to the flurry of recent reporting that has centered on cola and cola production— starting with the widely publicized article from the Atlantic that gives a history of the split of the beverage from its two primary original formative ingredients: cocaine and alcohol.

image credit: University of Buffalo

image credit: University of Buffalo

Marketed originally as an all-around medical remedy, cola was first formulated in the United States by Dr. John Pemberton of Atlanta— likely in response to the grand success of the French coca wine Vin Mariani. When prohibition struck in Atlanta in 1886, 34 years before the rest of the nation, Pemberton removed the alcohol from the concoction but without the wine, the bitterness of the cocaine and caffeine was overpowering. Pemberton masked this off-putting taste with strong sugar syrup and spices, and remarketed it as “the temperance drink”, inching the beverage closer to its modern form. Following a racially-fueled backlash against the use of cocaine (as detailed by The NewYork Times) and increasing restrictions on narcotics in the early 1900’s, the drug was also removed from the formula. What was left become the foundation of what we know as cola today. Although no formula changes as drastic as the ones that occurred in cola’s early years have happened since, the industrialization of the food and beverage industry and the controversies surrounding high fructose corn syrup and so-called “natural” ingredients have had a profound effect on the making of cola

image credit: This American Life

image credit: This American Life

An earlier version of the tightly-guarded recipe purportedly became available in 2011 when This American Life aired its broadcast “Original Recipe”— sharing in it an article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution that closely matched an entry from Pemberton’s diary detailing the famed formula.

What interested us about this was not so much the mystery of the story (although we were admittedly intrigued!), but rather the essence of the drink: the herbs and spices that make up that classic taste. We wanted to shy far away from the syrupy sweetness that is the mark of so many colas today and get back to the root of the flavors. We looked to this recipe and countless others to get a feel for the “soul” of cola. Lime, orange, lemon, nutmeg, coriander, and cinnamon, kept popping up, as did kola nut.  Despite being the origin of the term “cola”, kola nut is surprisingly flavorless and used primarily to caffeinate the beverage. With our knowledge as our starting point, we set out to create our own cola extract, which in and of itself was a new process for us juice enthusiasts! Extracts take 3-5 weeks to make, so modifying a recipe is as slow as well, the molasses we use later in the process:

But back to the extract: we let cinnamon, lime peel, orange peel, lemon peel, nutmeg, and coriander steep in alcohol until all of the flavors are just right:

After about a month it emerges looking like this, and ready to be mixed:

Next we add lime juice, molasses, a touch of cane sugar, and at long last we carbonate. 

All our hard work testing and retesting different extracts and flavor combinations paid off, and what emerges is a light refreshing cola that makes our taste buds here at Brooklyn Soda Works do a jig. We are excited to have created something so unique that still manages to honor the traditional flavor of cola and are already thinking of all the delicious things we can mix it with come summer...Cuba Libre anyone? Speaking of mixins' the Strand Smokehouse in Astoria, Queens (25-27 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11106, Phone: 718-440-3231) will have a custom Lime Cola on tap which will be mixed with a barrel aged rum by Ballast Point for a summery Coke and rum cocktail. Delicious!

Our cola will be making its debut by in a couple of weeks at Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, come by and see us for a taste!