These cola brands give the popular soda an artisanal remake
Think of cola and you likely think of Coke, Pepsi and the rivalry between them.
The two beverages were initially developed by pharmacists as patent medicines—one to aid digestion (Pepsi), the other as nerve tonic (Coke)—but today they are simply sweet, carbonated beverages with flavours of vanilla, citrus and spice, especially cinnamon.
Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 by Atlanta-based pharmacist John Stith Pemberton, who was looking for a non-addictive alternative to morphine. He created a syrup from coca leaf extract (which is also the plant from which cocaine is derived), caffeine-rich kola nuts and wine, later removing the wine to appease the growing temperance movement. Pepsi, meanwhile, was created in 1893 by another pharmacist, Caleb Bradham, in North Carolina. Originally called Brad’s Drink, the sugary, vanilla-flavoured soda was renamed Pepsi-Cola in 1898 and shortened to Pepsi in 1961.
And that rivalry? It may appear that the two have been duking it out for the title of best cola since the 1890s, but the battle was largely fabricated by marketing teams in the 1970s.
The formula for both has changed over the years (the originals didn’t contain, for instance, high-fructose corn syrup and contemporary Coke doesn’t contain coca) but remains a closely guarded secret. That has not stopped others from creating their own cola variations, trying to recreate the nostalgia and flavour of a childhood favourite, only with high-quality, artisanal ingredients.
These pre-packaged artisanal beverages appeal to adults looking for cocktail mixers as well as those seeking non-alcoholic drinks that aren’t your average mass-produced pop. They contribute to the growing sober movement and offer consumers more thoughtful and considered choices by lowering the amount of sugar, calories and/or caffeine, while offering a more complex flavour profile.
Here are five craft colas to try. They may not be medicinal these days, but they are still the real thing.
Fentimans Curiosity Cola
One of the first to introduce artisanal sodas, Fentimans is a British beverage company that has been around since 1905 and uses botanical infusions to create its carbonated drinks. The Curiosity Cola is made with fermented ginger root extract, pear juice concentrate and glucose syrup, and it does contain caffeine.
¾ Oz. Cola Maison
The Coca-Cola corporation creates a syrup that’s mixed with carbonated water at designated bottling facilities around the world. The Gourmet Warehouse in Vancouver, on the other hand, stocks an artisanal cola concentrate by a Montreal company called ¾ Oz., which creates small-batch soda syrups. The Cola Maison is an herbal citrus syrup made with spiced essential oils, and can be mixed with sparkling water at home or added directly to a cocktail.
Boylan Bottling Co. Cane Cola
Boylan Bottling Co. is a heritage brand from New Jersey, dating back to 1891. The company started with birch beer and has expanded to craft sodas in recent years, including the Cane Cola made with cane sugar, orange, lemon and lime oils, nutmeg, coriander and lavender.
Phillips Soda Works Speed King Craft Cola
Vancouver Island’s Phillips Brewing & Malting Co., best known for its Blue Buck beer, has branched out into the world of craft sodas with a slew of classic childhood favourites including root beer, orange cream, ginger ale and cola. The Phillips cola is made with kola nut and cane sugar, and promises a nose full of bubbles with hints of toasted cotton candy and traces of lime.
Not Too Sweet Cola
This low-calorie option from Vancouver’s Not Too Sweet beverages (formerly known as Canoe Cola) contains no caffeine and is made with natural sugars derived from dates and sugar cane. The cola is meant to evoke memories of childhood sodas and is made with citric acid, vanilla extract and warming spices for a complex flavour that’s sweet—but not too sweet.
—by Allie Turner