May 8: Coca-Cola

PembertonIt was on this day in 1886 that a pharmacist named John Pemberton began selling a tonic he called Coca-Cola.

The origins of Coca-Cola go back to the Civil War, when Pemberton was a lieutenant colonel of the Confederate Army’s 12th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia State Guard. During the April 1865 Battle Of Columbus, Georgia he was slashed across the chest by a sabre. Although he survived, he became addicted to morphine and started looking for a solution to his addiction. So, in 1866 he began working on an opiate free painkiller. His first attempt was a tonic called “Dr. Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower”. Next, came the proto-Coca Cola, a coca wine made with kola nut called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

There was just one problem for Pemberton; in 1886, Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance laws and so Pemberton was forced to come up with a new non-alcoholic formula for his tonic. He began working with Atlanta druggist Willis Venable to come up with the new drink, and one day the men accidentally mixed their base syrup with carbonated water.  Although Pemberton didn’t think the new beverage would make for a good medicinal tonic, he thought it would make an excellent fountain drink. Pemberton’s secretary Frank Mason Robinson was the one who coined the name Coca-Cola (after the drink’s two key ingredients) and then wrote the name in Spencerian script that was quite popular at the time. The soft drink went on sale at Jacobs Pharmacy in Atlanta on May 8, 1886 and the rest is history.

Atlanta’s Miller-Union restaurant specializes in Southern cuisine and cocktails, including bar manager Cara Laudino’s tribute to the inventor of Coca-Cola, a cocktail simply called Pemberton. Laudino takes a bitter Manhattan and adds Coke (the Mexican kind in the glass bottle, made with cane sugar, not corn syrup).


  • 1 ounce Rye Whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
  • 2 ounces Coca-Cola

Pour all ingredients in an ice filled Old Fashioned glass and stir. Top with an orange twist.

Tomorrow: We set sail for Neverland.


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