Now just hear me out.
Back in July, out of semi-desperation, I bought a pre-bottled, pre-mixed, $11 Jack and Coke from a vendor at a Mets (again, just hear me out!) game. It was surprisingly good, actually rather delicious, with no chemical sheen to the taste and a proper balance of liquor and cola. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, that Jack Daniel’s is well suited to the and-Coke genre. Bourbons almost blend in too well, with too much overall roundness to the highball; rye whiskeys can work but can also go down scratchy. Jack and Cokes are smooth up front and finish with a pleasantly peculiar, sour twist. Duly noted.
This post, however, is more about the Coke part. Not long at all after that Mets game, the Times ran a story on The Rise of the Hipster Soda Jerk (not its real title). And yes, the piece read as a cavalcade of waxed mustaches, sassafras, seltzer siphons and suspenders, but also the notion that “soda” oughta be “special” — uttered by not one but two of the jerks quoted.
Instantly, I vowed that I couldn’t agree more, and swore that someday I’d attempt the homemade cola syrup recipe that accompanied the story. And thus, the seed for the World’s Greatest Jack and Coke was planted, germinating for several months before finally taking root over the Christmas break, when we finally got around to buying ourselves a SodaStream (Merry Christmas, Martelorres!) and sourcing the three ingredients that neither my home pantry nor the supermarket ’round the corner kept in stock: dried lavender buds (food-grade); whole vanilla bean (yes I know I should have this); citric acid. The first two I got at Whole Foods, but the citric acid was a BITCH to find. (I finally did at a bulk/health food store.)
So: What is it like, to make your own cola? Pretty low-key, not as intimidating as the recipe reads on paper. You basically grate and crush a bunch of stuff (citrus peels, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) and simmer it. Then you strain it and mix the resulting liquid with a buttload of sugar. (Seriously, the amount of sugar will make you think twice.) Most of your time will be spent grating, then minding your simmering pot, then stirring in your sugar until it dissolves. But I did all this while having about 10 friends over and managed to ignore my syrup for long stretches without harming it.
The Times’ recipe notes that caramel color powder is optional. I did without because I was dying to see what cola looked like when it wasn’t forced to look like fudge pop. Dear The Coca-Cola Company: Why do you insist on making this stuff the color of cow dung? My syrup came out the most splendid, sunny, optimistic, adorable shade of orange. It was fucking translucent! Like the dawning of the age of Aquarius, like tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow.
Alright, enough already. We break out the SodaStream, carbonate our filtered tap water, bippity boppity boo, put it together and what’ve you got?
Folks, you will
love go apeshit for this cola. You will kvetch and clutch your pearls and Facebook-post about it and just die for this stuff. THIS is what you get when you look up refreshing in the dictionary. And what you’ll find incredibly nifty is that it tastes like Coke but also tastes nothing like Coke. I mean, your tastebuds will get intuitively that this is cola — not orange pop or root beer or flavored seltzer — but then again, if this is cola, why am I getting this undeniable grace note of pure lavender? And why does this lavender taste so right in what is still undeniably cola?
Mixed with a shot of Jack and a squeeze of lime? Yeah, it’s the World’s Greatest Jack and Coke.
The World’s Greatest Jack and Coke
1 1/2 to 2 ounces Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
About 3 ounces homemade cola
A quarter of a lime
Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in your Jack, then your cola. Top off with a squeeze of lime.
We actually bought an airplane bottle of Jack just for this drink, which is technically 50ml, or 1.7 ounces. So that’s why I said 1 1/2 to 2 ounces above, to taste.
You’ll also note in our pics that we used one of our big-ass ice cubes for this, as I think is wise for any highball drink. Welcome to the rock!
The Times’ cola syrup recipe can be found here. I followed it to the letter except: 1) I didn’t whirl the white and brown sugars together in a food processor before combining them with the simmered liquid; 2) I used coffee filters instead of cheesecloth to strain my simmered mixture.