It’s the mixer thing: Coca-Cola’s stirring relationship with booze

The Coca-Cola Company has just announced the launch of an alcopop. But the soft drink has long liked to mix it with the hard stuff.

Coca-Cola may have originally been marketed as a “temperance drink”, but the company’s recent announcement of a shochu-based alcopop for the Japanese market isn’t its first foray into the world of intoxicants. Most of us know it once contained cocaine – indeed, the Coca-Cola Company is still supplied by the only business allowed to import coca leaves into the United States, which extracts the active ingredient for medical use before they’re turned into cola syrup.

Coke is already, of course, a popular mixer – more, I’ve always assumed, for the way its strong, sugary flavour masks the taste of alcohol than for any particular affinity with the stuff. A few years ago, a winemaker for a high-end Australian brand sadly recounted seeing wealthy customers mixing his vintage shiraz with Coke in Shanghai – the Coke a convenient shorthand for the market’s perceived lack of sophistication. While it’s true that this may not be the ideal way to appreciate a complex wine, the practice of improving rough and ready wines with some sugary soda is widespread, and a handy trick to keep up your sleeve for house parties – known as calimocho in Spain, Jesus juice in Argentina and motorină, or diesel fuel, in Romania; a 1:1 ratio is generally recommended.

Coke’s syrupy sweetness (Victoria Moore cautions that you should always use the “full sugar” version) and vanilla spice makes it an excellent mixer for golden rum: add a dash of lime juice, and it becomes a Cuba libre, which even sounds cool. In his book The Spirits, Richard Godwin suggests swapping the rum for tequila to make a bantanga, adding that it ought to be stirred “with a large knife, as per Don Javier Delgado Corona”, who created it in Mexico City in 1961. Meanwhile, Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail contains no fewer than four recipes for different Coke-based iced teas, including a London version with amaretto, as well as the usual gin and rum.

My top tip? Save it for the morning after: sugary Coke is the best hangover cure I know.

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