Colin Emmins. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 1. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
In considering the human body’s demand for food and nutrition, the simple need for liquid refreshment is sometimes overlooked. Although this fundamental physiological requirement can be satisfied by drinking an adequate supply of pure water, most people, when given a choice, prefer to achieve the required level of liquid intake with a variety of flavored drinks to stimulate the palate.
Soft drinks are usually defined as nonalcoholic, water-based drinks, although a few may contain alcohol, albeit in quantities too small to warrant their classification as “hard liquor.” Soft drinks are usually sweetened—soda water being an obvious exception—and flavored with food acids, essences, and sometimes fruit juices.They are often carbonated—that is, charged with carbon dioxide gas—and, indeed, in North America are referred to as carbonated beverages. In some countries, including the United Kingdom, there is a significant retail market for concentrated soft drinks intended for dilution at home before consumption. Soft drinks in powdered form are similarly marketed for preparation at home. In addition, uncarbonated, ready-to-drink soft drinks are also found.
The flavors of soft drinks may be derived from fruits, nuts, berries, roots, herbs, and other plants. Moreover, fruit (and to some extent vegetable) juices, as such, have grown in popularity in recent years and have come to be included among the soft drinks. In many countries, soft drinks are distinguished from hard liquor by the higher taxation of stronger drinks, for example through excise duties, and the term “non-alcoholic” can sometimes mean merely “non-excisable.” However, soft drinks are frequently subject to other taxes, though usually at lower levels than those that are levied on alcoholic drinks. Soft drinks are often distinguished from medicines by legislation. In the past, these distinctions were less precise, and a historical study of soft drinks will include products that began with a mainly medicinal purpose but are regarded today as simple refreshment.
Over the years, the names of various classes of soft drinks have been used very imprecisely. The term “mineral waters,” originally and properly confined to spa and spring waters, has subsequently been used for artificial spa waters and even for flavored carbonated drinks. Even today, words like “lemonade” or “pop” may be used colloquially to embrace a wide range of drinks—an imprecision that often prevents our determining the flavor or, indeed, the composition of past drinks. It cannot be assumed, merely because a bygone drink bore the same name as a current one, that it necessarily shared the same compositional standards. Another generic term, “aerated waters,” is believed to have been coined by the eighteenth-century French chemist Gabriel Venel, who, in preparing an artificially carbonated water, called it “eau aerée” (aerated water), erroneously believing the carbon dioxide gas to be mere air.
The commercial manufacture of prepacked soft drinks began in the last years of the eighteenth century, and some of its products were known in one form or another well before that.The term “soft drink,” however, dates only from the last years of the nineteenth century and seems to have originated in the United States. It is, therefore, strictly anachronistic to refer to such bygone products as soft drinks, although admittedly, an appropriate alternate term is lacking.
Before the mid–seventeenth century, the principal European drinks were what today would be considered alcoholic: beer, ale, mead, cider, perry (fermented pear juice), and wine. Until that time, and beyond, there was—certainly in England—a distinct prejudice against drinking water, as such, unless from sources of proven reputation. Nor was this prejudice wholly unjustified given the contamination of much of the water supply, particularly in populous districts. Nonetheless, cheaper and weaker ales (“small ales”) and beers (“small beers”), containing insignificant amounts of alcohol, were produced for those who could afford nothing stronger, and for children. In his fourteenth-century Piers the Plowman, William Lang-land refers to halfpenny ale and penny-ale as beyond the pockets of the poorest laborers. In Leicester, the brewers were especially enjoined to make “good wholesome small drink for the poor people” (Bateson 1901, 2: 288).
An English cookery book of the fifteenth century contains a list of “herbs for the cup.”Among those to be grown in the garden were sage, rosemary, hyssop, marjoram, and gillyflower; these were as likely to be used for flavoring mead (made from honey) as for small beers. Nettle beer and heather ale were also found among the small beers. Not surprisingly, small beer was despised by the more hardened drinker. “Doth it not show vilely in me to desire small beer?” asked Shakespeare’s Prince Hal before his reformation (Henry IV, Part II 2.2.7). And, in mentioning Shakespeare, it is humbling to note that for him,”to chronicle small beer” was to deal in very minor matters indeed!
The strength of church ales is less certain. They were drunk as both a social custom and as a fund-raising exercise. In the seventeenth century, John Aubrey recalled the church ales of his youth as a means of raising funds for the poor before the introduction of a formal system of taxation by local government: “In every parish is, or was, a church house to which belonged spits, crocks etc., utensils for dressing provision. Here the housekeepers met, and were merry and gave their charity: the young people came there too, and had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, etc., the ancients sitting gravely by, looking on.All things were civil and without scandal” (Barber 1988: 184).
Church ales were numerous but their names distinguished them more by use than by strength. Among them were bride ale, wake ale, and Whitsun ale, all intended for fund-raising of various sorts. Aubrey noted that “the clerk’s ale was in the Easter holidays, for his benefit” (Barber 1988: 184).These ales were probably stronger than the small beers; despite Aubrey’s assertion of their innocent intent, they certainly attracted clerical and Puritan criticism as giving rise to licentiousness and disorder.
Small beer, however, survived the years. It was to be found in the coffeehouses of late Stuart and Georgian London. In the early nineteenth century, William Cobbett noted that the grass mowers’ drink allowance was “two quarts of what they call strong beer, and as much small beer as they can drink” (Jekyll and Jones 1939: 112).An inventory of the cellars of a Berkshire squire at his death in 1822 showed 210 gallons of small beer out of 2,630 gallons of beer and ale of all sorts. Small beer, indeed, but still a measurable quantity.
In his 1833 report The Poor Laws in London and Berkshire, Edwin Chadwick noted that every convict on board hulks in England was allowed one pint of small beer a day as part of his diet, and Dr. Jonathan Pereira’s Treatise on Food and Diet of 1843 included small beer—or, as he called it, table beer—among his dietaries of London hospitals and other institutions. Pereira incidentally noted that whereas a barrel of best Burton ale contained 40 to 43 pounds weight more than an equivalent barrel of water, a barrel of good table beer contained 12 to 14 pounds more, and “common table beer” but 6 pounds more than water. Although in the 1790s Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia had recommended small beer as part of a diet against “gaol [jail] fever” (typhus), we may suspect that the drink was preferred by these institutions as much for economy as for health.
Other brews were not necessarily so weak. Spruce beer, flavored with leaves of the spruce fir, was known to sailors in the Baltic from at least the sixteenth century, and Canadian Indians taught Jacques Cartier to use it against scurvy at much the same time. In New Zealand in 1773, the explorer Captain James Cook brewed spruce beer and reckoned it a useful defense against the same disease. Unlike most small ales and small beers, which continued to be brewed as and when required rather than being bottled for trading, spruce beer made the transition to the commercial market for prepacked soft drinks, and “spruce beer manufacturer” was to be found as an entry in the London trade directories of the early nineteenth century. And whatever its earlier strength may have been, spruce beer was excluded by the Licensing Act of 1872 from its definition of intoxicating liquor.
Ginger beer and ginger ale are products of the commercial era, but their acceptability, no doubt, owed much to the tradition of small beers and herbal brewing, which continued in the production of hop bitters and the like.
Cordials and Other Domestic Drinks
As small beers derived from the arts of brewing, so cordials owed their origins to the secrets of distillation. Heavily sweetened and highly flavored so that they might even be diluted with water before drinking, cordials would vary in alcohol content according to the recipe of their maker, often a well-to-do country housewife, whose object—partly pleasurable, partly medicinal, but at all times designed to tempt the palate—was summed up in Shakespeare’s phrase, “a taste as sweet as any cordial comfort” (Winter’s Tale 5.3.77).
Homemade cordials survived well into the era of commercial soft drinks, and as late as 1856, George Dodd in The Food of London described them as “more frequently the handiwork of some Lady Bountiful, some housewife more than ordinarily clever in domestic economy, than of manufacturers who prepare them for sale” (Dodd 1856: 498). Nonetheless, by then, cordials were also available from commercial manufacturers in both alcoholic and nonalcoholic varieties, the latter being popular as temperance drinks, and they continued in essence-based peppermint, ginger, and clove cordials, the thought of their medicinal origins having for the most part faded.
Among other drinks from the domestic sickroom was barley water, an infusion of pearl barley and water dating from late medieval times, which Thomas Fuller in the seventeenth century described as “an invention which found out itself, with little more than the bare joining the ingredients together” (Fuller 1662: 366). For sixteenth-century invalids there was “water imperial,” apparently containing sugar and cream of tartar and flavored with lemons, as well as “manays cryste,” a sweetened cordial flavored with rosewater, violets, or cinnamon.
In view of the heavy Arab influence on Italian Renaissance cuisine, lemonade may have originated with the Arabs. But in any event, sixteenth-century Italians seem to have been the first Europeans to enjoy this beverage made from freshly squeezed lemons, sweetened with sugar or honey, and diluted with water to make a still, soft drink that could be prepared, sold, and consumed on the premises. Its popularity spread to France and gradually to the rest of Europe, until by the eighteenth century, lemonade of this sort was available from the inns of Scotland to the Turkish baths of Constantinople. In France, lemonade was sold by the itinerant limonadier, who stored the drink in a tank carried on his back. In 1676 the limonadiers of Paris were formed into a company and granted a patent or monopoly by the government, continuing to sell their drink in this way until at least the end of the following century. During the eighteenth century, lemonade was also valued by the medical profession, and Erasmus Darwin recommended it, among other things, for the relief of kidney stones and gout and in cases of scarlet fever.
Orange juice was first introduced into mid–seventeenth-century England; Samuel Pepys in the 1660s noted with approval this drink that was new to him.A little later, orangeade was also to be found, often containing oranges too bitter to be eaten fresh. Orgeat, a cooling drink flavored with almonds and orange flower water, became a favorite of the patrons of eighteenth-century London refreshment houses and pleasure gardens.
Lemons and Scurvy
In the eighteenth century and earlier, citrus juices were among many articles of diet used in attempts to find a cure for scurvy, a disease which only in the twentieth century was discovered to result from a dietary deficiency of vitamin C. Scurvy particularly affected sailors on extended voyages of discovery with few opportunities for revictualing with fresh foods. Until its cause was known, any cure could only be found by empirical tests. Beer brewed from the spruce fir was considered effacicious. Unsuccessful, however, was malt, although it too had its advocates for a time.
Lemon juice was favored by the early Spanish explorers as an antiscorbutic, and Dutch and English voyagers also included it in their ships’ stores, although it was more likely to find a place among the medicines than as a regular article of diet. In the mid–eighteenth century, James Lind conducted and published the results of experiments at sea. His 1753A treatise on the scurvy showed that sailors treated with lemon juice recovered from scurvy, whereas other sailors given other substances did not. But further practical tests were less conclusive, almost certainly because of the loss of vitamin C during the preparation and storage of the juice.
For instance, Captain Cook on his voyages to the Pacific was supplied with lemon juice as a concentrated syrup, with most of the vitamin C unwittingly boiled out in the preparation. Not surprisingly, he was unenthusiastic about the efficacy of citrus juices, even though Joseph Banks, the botanist on the voyage with Cook, successfully dosed himself with lemon juice against what appeared to be the onset of scurvy. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the British Admiralty Board introduced lemon juice into the seaman’s diet, where it was usually preserved by mixing with rum. In the mid–nineteenth century, lemon juice was largely replaced on British ships with West Indian lime juice. Botanical differences between lemons and limes were little appreciated at that time, and in fact, lime juice, with its lower levels of vitamin C, was less suited to the purpose (Carpenter 1986).
Artificial Mineral Waters
In 1772, Dr. Joseph Priestley’s Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (fixed air being his name for carbon dioxide gas) also excited the interest of those seeking a reliable antiscorbutic. Priestley was by no means the first scientist to interest himself in the possibility of artificially reproducing the properties of natural mineral waters.As Sir John Pringle put it when Priestley received the gold medal of the Royal Society in 1773:
Having learned from Dr. Black that this fixed or mephitic air could in great abundance be procured from chalk by means of diluted spirits of vitriol; from Dr. Macbride that this fluid was of a considerable antiseptic nature; from Mr. Cavendish that it could in a large quantity be absorbed in water; and from Dr. Brownrigg that it was this very air which gave the briskness and chief virtues of the Spa and Pyrmont waters; Dr. Priestley … conceived that common water impregnated with this fluid alone, might be useful in medicine, particularly for sailors on long voyages, for curing or preventing the sea scurvy (Pringle 1774: 15).
Intellectual curiosity, rather than commercial advantage, seems to have prompted the early scientists to find ways of extracting and analyzing the salts from natural mineral waters and reconstituting them in their laboratories. Much the same spirit led Priestley to show how water might be artificially carbonated on a commercial scale, and although carbonated water proved no cure for scurvy, Priestley’s invention was soon adapted to the commercial production of artificial mineral waters.
Despite the traditional widespread suspicion of water because of its close connection with disease, natural waters were nonetheless valued so long as they either contained mineral salts found in practice to be healthful or were drawn from an exceptionally pure and reliable source. Such waters, however, had to be highly regarded indeed, in light of the high cost of transporting them, usually in heavy glass bottles, over any but short distances. During the reign of George II, Henry Eyre of London was not only importing from the Low Countries the mineral waters of Spa and dealing in various native waters, but he was also ensuring that all bottles were appropriately sealed to protect his customers from spurious imitations.
Provided the artificial waters carefully replicated the chemical composition of their natural counterparts—which analytical techniques enabled them to do—the economic advantage of manufacture close to the consumer was obvious.As Priestley himself put it: “I can make better than you import; and what cost you five shillings, will not cost me a penny” (Rutt 1831, 1: 177). At much the same time, Torbern Bergman of Uppsala, Sweden, was also experimenting with equipment for the production of artificial mineral waters, and within the next decade, Dr. John Mervyn Nooth was demonstrating to the Royal Society in London a glass apparatus for the production of small quantities of carbonated water.
The first known manufacturer of artificial mineral waters bottled for sale was Thomas Henry, a Manchester apothecary who, by the end of the 1770s, had modified Nooth’s apparatus in order to produce artificial Pyrmont and Seltzer waters, as well as to imitate an earlier preparation known as “Bewley’s Mephitic Julep,” all of which were intended for medicinal purposes rather than for refreshment. Indeed, Henry recommended drinking with the julep “a draught of lemonade, or water acidulated with vinegar or weak spirits of vitriol, by which means the fixed air will be extricated in the stomach” (Henry 1781: 29).This suggestion reflected earlier advice on taking the natural waters; there was no hint, as yet, that flavorings might be added to the waters themselves.
J. H. de Magellan, claiming that Nooth’s apparatus took several hours to impregnate water, published (1777) his own method for producing, in a few minutes, artificial versions of “the best Mineral Waters of Pyrmont, Spa, Seltzer, Seydschutz, Aix-la-Chapelle etc.” (Magellan 1777: Title), as well as appropriate recipes for doing so. At the same time, he mentioned that he had sent copies of Priestley’s pamphlet to different parts of Europe and that a French translation had appeared soon afterward. In 1787, mineral waters were also said to have been manufactured on a commercial scale in Germany.
It was, however, Jacob Schweppe who took up a theoretical suggestion of Priestley’s that the use of a “condensing engine” or pressure pump would allow a greater volume of gas to be absorbed in the water than was otherwise possible. Schweppe, German born and a citizen of Geneva by adoption, pioneered the manufacture of artificial mineral waters in that city before setting up business in London in 1792. Producing Seltzer water, Spa water, Pyrmont water, and acidulous Rochelle salt water on something approaching a factory scale, Schweppe also offered a less specific line of aerated alkaline water, soon known as acidulous soda water, which he sold in three strengths—single, double, and triple—according to the amount of soda present, the double being “generally used.”
The success of such ventures depended not merely on carbonating the water but on retaining the gas in the liquid until the consumer opened the container, and this in turn depended on the careful corking and sealing of all bottles, which Henry had stressed at the very outset of commercial manufacture. For Schweppe, who was supplying sometimes over long distances, the problem was a real one. As a postscript to a repeat order of 1805: A Birmingham customer complained that many of the bottles from his last order were nearly empty when they arrived because of bad corking.
To prevent the corks from drying out, Schweppe recommended that the bottles be laid on their sides in a cool place or even better kept covered with water—no easy task on a carrier’s wagon! Schweppe also made an allowance on empty bottles returned, a custom often retained thereafter in a trade where the bottle represented a significant proportion of the total cost of the product.
Schweppe’s partner in Geneva, Nicolas Paul, also made his way to England and operated commercially in London from 1802, having been in business in Paris for a while en route. Like Schweppe, Paul used the process known as the Geneva system or Geneva apparatus, but although he apparently achieved even higher levels of carbonation than Schweppe, the additional gas was, no doubt, largely lost in the pouring out.
By then, soda water had reached Dublin, where it was recommended by Dr. Robert Percival, Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College. Indeed, at one time it was claimed that a Dublin firm had invented soda water, but the product would seem conclusively to have originated with Schweppe. Nonetheless, its early success in Britain, like that of the other artificial waters, was undoubtedly medicinal; in fact, between 1804 and 1833, soda water was subject to stamp duty under the Medicine Tax. The first known manufacturer of soda water in the United States was Benjamin Silliman, operating in New Haven in 1807, and the first United States patent for manufacturing artificial mineral water was issued two years later.
Attempts to match spa waters artificially probably reached their apogee in the 1820s, when Dr. F. A. Struve, of Dresden, opened a range of artificial spas at Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Brighton, supplying careful imitations of the Carlsbad, Ems, Kissingen, Marienbad, Pyrmont, Seltzer, and Spa waters to invalids and a wider public without the necessity of their traveling to the original waters’ respective sources.
Elegant and Refreshing Beverages
Gradually, however, the new drinks began to be promoted for refreshment rather than for their specifically medicinal properties. In 1819, an advertisement in the London Morning Chronicle described as “elegant and refreshing” the ginger beer and soda water available from one of the new metropolitan makers, and it was by the brewing of ginger beer that the industry expanded from the soda waters, on the one hand, to the sweetened, fruit-flavored drinks of later manufacturers on the other hand.
In Elizabethan times, Arthur Barlowe’s “The discovery of Virginia” had referred to the American Indians drinking water “sodden [i.e. boiled] with ginger in it, and black cinnamon, and some times sassafras, and divers other wholesome and medicinable herbs and trees” (Barlowe 1589). A subsequent early American drink was “switchell,” a mixture of molasses, vinegar, and ginger. But no reference has been found to ginger beer as such before the first decade of the nineteenth century. After it was first marketed in England, however, its popularity grew swiftly. Perhaps, as Leigh Hunt wrote at the time, because it was found to have “all the pleasantness and usefulness of soda-water without striking cold upon one” (Hunt 1862), ginger beer soon became a staple commodity of even the most modest refreshment stall.
The commercial origins of flavored, sweetened carbonated waters remain more obscure. As early as 1784, Karl Wilhelm Scheele, the Swedish chemist, had produced, from lemon juice, a crystalline substance that he called citric acid. One old trade historian claimed to have seen a manuscript reference to citric acid powder (or concrete acid of lemons, as it was also known) dated 1819, and a recipe for lemonade made with citric acid dated shortly thereafter. Lemonade “syrup” was known at about the same time, and all of these substances may well have been used for making lemonade in the home, employing a variant of Nooth’s apparatus later known to the Victorians as the “gazogene” or “seltzogene.” Despite such speculation, however, the first positive reference in England to commercially produced effervescent lemonade dates from no earlier than 1833. Such lemonades would have been flavored with citric acid and essential oil of lemon mixed with a sugar syrup, topped up with water, and impregnated with carbon dioxide gas derived in the factory from the action of sulfuric acid on whiting or other forms of chalk. Only at the end of the century did carbon dioxide gas come to be supplied to the soft-drink factory by a specialist manufacturer.
At London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, lemonade, ginger beer, spruce beer, seltzer water (by now a generic name), and soda water were among the refreshments available to visitors, alcoholic drinks not being countenanced on the premises. A million bottles of aerated beverages were sold there, according to one contemporary estimate, and the success of the show and of the soft drinks reflected the slowly increasing leisure and spending power of those able to attend, two vital factors in the growth of the industry, not only in Britain but elsewhere in the developed world.
At fairs and race meetings, London costermongers sold lemonade and ginger beer, which they made at home in stone barrels. At the street markets of the mid–nineteenth century, according to Henry Mayhew (1851), soft drinks were available to refresh those shoppers “who have a penny to spare rather than those who have a penny to dine upon.” Besides lemonade, raspberryade, and ginger beer, the street markets offered “Persian sherbet, and some highly coloured beverages which have no specific name, but are introduced to the public as ‘cooling’ drinks; hot elder cordial or wine; peppermint water.” Sherbets had been available since at least the seventeenth century as cool fruit drinks originating from Turkey and the East, but later the name became attached to drinks made from effervescent powders containing bicarbonate of soda, tartaric acid or cream of tartar, sugar, and flavorings. As to the drinks with “no specific name,” perhaps it is as well that their composition remains a mystery. In the street markets, Mayhew also noted that “some sellers dispensed ginger beer in plain glass bottles which was drank straight from the bottle after the cork obviatry the necessity of a glass.”
In France the development of the industry seems to have been slower, with pharmacists holding a monopoly on what remained a localized trade, until their grip was challenged and weakened during the Orleanist years of the 1830s and 1940s. From France, too, at that time, came the soda siphon for dispensing carbonated soft drinks.
The pharmacists of the United States also became adept at producing artificial mineral waters, and as they discovered that the installation of soda fountains brought customers to their retail drugstores, they were encouraged to experiment with an ever wider range of flavored drinks by the mid–nineteenth century. Soda fountains were also taken up in Europe, where, for example, Germany had its Trinkhallen and France its buvettes à eaux gazeuses. An innovation of the American soda fountains was the addition of sweet cream to many of their products, and the popularity of ice-cream soda, as a vanilla-flavored drink, spread overseas as the century progressed.
Other drinks originating as soda fountain beverages included sarsaparilla, originally a medicinal flavoring derived from plants of the smilax species. Curiously, by the time sarsaparilla had become established among the bottled drinks, its flavor had come to be derived from a blend of oil of wintergreen, sassafras, anise, orange, and sometimes licorice. According to Charles Sulz in 1888, sarsaparilla itself was seldom included among the ingredients of what was by then a staple beverage of the American industry, but when it was, the bottler advertised its presence as proof of the superiority of his product over those of his competitors. Root beer was another blend of root, herb, and fruit flavors originating at the American soda fountain but later widely bottled. Sarsaparilla root beer, too, was available in the America of the 1880s. It also contained sassafras, a flavoring derived from the sassafras tree of the eastern seaboard.
Freed from its exclusively medicinal limitations, soda water was found useful in diluting wines and spirits. Lord Byron called for hock and soda water after a drinking bout, and gin and soda water was said to be a favorite tipple of the fast set in the English hunting shires of the 1830s. Brandy and soda later became the drink for gentlemen, and manufactured seltzer and lithia waters were also available as mixers. As soda water became increasingly used as a mixer, many makers gradually reduced its soda content until, eventually, they were applying the name to simple carbonated water. The more scrupulous manufacturer sold such a product as “table water,” and if his soda water retained a significant soda content, he was quick to advertise the fact.
Natural spa and spring waters, too, were used as mixers. Even in England, the natural waters of continental Europe were still imported despite local imitations. One London supplier in the 1860s offered not only German, French, and Belgian waters but others from Austro-Hungary and the United States.
The first English soft drink developed specifically as a mixer appears to have been tonic water, which began as a palatable means of ingesting the quinine prescribed for sufferers of malaria contracted in the tropics. In 1858 its inventor, Erasmus Bond, patented it as an “Improved Aerated Liquid,” soon known as Indian or quinine tonic water.
Ginger ale seems to have originated a little later, once a method was devised for producing the clear extract of ginger, which distinguished the product from the cloudy ginger beers.A British trade paper of 1876 described the drink as a thing unknown only a few years previously. By then, however, it had become a favorite of the British market and was exported in significant quantities, particularly to America, and principally by the soft-drink firms of Belfast. Indeed, by the turn of the century a trade advertisement was asking: “What go-ahead Mineral Water Maker is there who has not at one time or another longed for the day to come when he would be able to turn out a Ginger Ale equal to the world-famous Belfast Ginger Ales?”
Ginger ale, unadulterated, also took its place among the temperance beverages of Britain and the United States as the powerful social and religious forces moving against the consumption of alcohol gathered momentum on both sides of the Atlantic in the second half of the nineteenth century. Soft-drink manufacturers, serving licensed and temperance outlets alike, generally maintained a diplomatic neutrality in the fierce battles over the drink trade, at the same time expressing occasional ironic amusement at the reformers’ description of their nonalcoholic favorites by reference to the names of the very drinks they sought to defeat.
Hop ales, hop beers, dandelion stout:All these and more endeavored to provide alternatives to the workingman’s beer, whereas football stout and football punch aimed to attract young men from the sports field. One winter punch was advertised as “the best non-alcoholic substitute for brandy,” but in what respect was unspecified. Many such nonalcoholic beverages were fermented, but as one turn-of-the-century writer cryptically noted, “some of them are not fermented and others are not non-alcoholic.” Uproar occasionally ensued when analysis revealed that a temperance drink contained as much, if not more, alcohol than the product it sought to supersede.
Further up the market, a full range of nonalcoholic champagnes—sweetened, flavored, carbonated drinks, usually of high quality—resembled champagne in their presentation but not their origins, while nonalcoholic fruit wines, drunk as such or diluted, imitated the syrupy consistency of liqueurs. The American soda fountain, too, flourished under the temperance movement, offering an ever-greater selection of flavors and blends of flavors.This vast increase in choice was the result not only of demand but of the growth of specialist essence houses that supplied the soft-drink industry with flavorings and with careful advice on how best to use them. As a result, essences even came to be used in the manufacture of ginger beer, but the result, although of more uniform consistency, was generally held to lack a certain something of the brewed original.
By then, however, much of the ginger beer available in England was of poor quality, hence this lament from the 1880s:”‘Times were’ when ginger beer was ginger beer, as the name implies; but now ’tis generally something quite different” (Good 1880). The writer, Joseph Goold (1880), went on to deplore the widely varying standards by which the drink was being made, in most of which ginger was “conspicuous by its absence,” the product having become too often simply another sort of lemonade.
It was also toward the end of the nineteenth century that saccharin became available as an alternative sweetener to sugar in soft drinks. Discovered in 1879, the intensely sweet coal-tar derivative was patented for commercial manufacture in 1885, and early enthusiasts predicted a great future for it in soft-drink manufacture. In practice, although it became a particularly useful sweetener of drinks for diabetics (and later for low-calorie or diet drinks), when it was used in standard products critics considered its no match for the “body” or the palatability given by sugar, which over the years had come to be specially refined for soft-drink manufacture.
The use of lime juice as an antiscorbutic for British seamen has already been noted and the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 made its provision on shipboard a legal requirement. Until then the method of preserving lime juice had been in a mixture with 15 percent alcohol, but in that year, Lauchlan Rose, a lime and lemon merchant of Leith in Scotland, patented a means of preserving the juice without alcohol. Noting the method of preserving light wines by burning sulfur candles in the casks, Rose prepared a sulfur dioxide solution by passing the gas from burning sulfur through water. When this solution was added to fruit juice, it prevented fermentation and other defects to which unpreserved juices were liable when stored, and Rose marketed the result as lime juice cordial. On shore, the temperance movement and the mixer trade soon found additional uses for the new product.
In the late nineteenth century, squash came onto the market, originally as a still, cloudy, ready-to-drink, juice-based product. In the early twentieth century, John Dixon, an Australian manufacturer, began to put up concentrated fruit drinks, and concentrated lemon squash was introduced into Britain just before World War I. After the war, orange squash followed, then pineapple and grapefruit. Of these, orange and lemon squash proved the most popular.
The origins of barley water as a product of the kitchen have been noted in the section “Cordials and Other Domestic Drinks.”The Victorians valued barley water as a drink for the sickroom and also as a temperance beverage, but it was still made at home from commercially available patent barley and, by then, often sweetened and flavored with lemon peel. It was not until the 1930s that bottled lemon barley water was successfully marketed as a concentrated soft drink to which the consumer merely added water. Orange barley water was introduced soon after.
In the 1950s, comminuted citrus drinks were introduced among the concentrates and swiftly rivaled squash in popularity. They were sold as whole fruit drinks, their flavor derived not from the juice alone but also from the natural oils extracted from the peel as the whole fruit was broken down by the process of comminution to provide the base for the drink. Thus, fruit juice became an increasingly important ingredient in soft-drink manufacture. Citrus juices were extensively used: principally orange juice from the United States, Israel, and later Brazil, among other sources, but also lemon juice, traditionally from Italy (or, more specifically, Sicily), and lime and grapefruit juices. Among the temperate fruits, apple juice provided a basis for nonalcoholic ciders.
By the 1890s, an unfermented drink made from cranberry juice was being sold on the streets of St. Petersburg, but this may have been freshly expressed and unpreserved. In England, from the 1930s forward, concentrated black-currant juice drinks exploited the vitamin C available from indigenous sources. Fruit juices, as such, began to be packed for retail sale once ways were found of applying the principles of pasteurization to their preservation. Dr.Thomas B. Welch of New Jersey was said to have set the stage for American fruit-juice processing in this way when, as early as 1869, he began producing an unfermented sacramental wine from grape juice. But it was not until the 1930s that technical advances enabled prepacked fruit juices, including tomato juice, to be retailed on a large scale. Beginning in the 1940s, concentrated and, then, frozen juices also became available.
The citrus juices, especially orange juice, supplied a growing world market during the twentieth century, particularly once the importance of vitamin C in the diet became appreciated. Pineapple from Hawaii, and later from the Philippines, led the rest of the tropical juices in popularity. Apple, pear, and grape were significant among temperate juices consumed as such, and those fruits yielding a more pulpy juice were marketed as fruit nectars. Originally sold in glass bottles or metal cans, fruit juices are now more frequently packed in aseptic cartons, which have also been used for fruit-juice drinks in many countries of the world.
The Coming of the Colas
Amid the plethora of proprietary and patent medicines of the late nineteenth century were tonics of all sorts: These were drinks often containing phosphate and claiming to improve the nervous system and combat lassitude. As soft drinks were themselves taken for refreshment, many of these tonics, designed for a similar purpose, came to be classed under the same heading, and some of the flavors they used were also to be found in drinks designed simply to refresh.
In late Victorian Britain, kola or kaola was a popular soft drink, its essential flavor having been derived from the African kola or cola nut.The nut was known to pharmacists as a source of caffeine, and kola champagne was advertised in London as a tonic and nerve stimulant.Also available was kola tonic, the kola ingredient of which was boldly advertised as “this wonderful food,” containing “more nutrient and more capacity for sustaining life than any other natural or prepared article” (Harrod’s 1895 Catalogue 1972).
Another tonic on the market was coca wine, its stimulant properties derived from the leaves of the coca shrub, which the natives of Peru and Bolivia had long been accustomed to chew as a stimulant, and of which cocaine was a derivative. It was an interest in coca wine that led Dr.J.S. Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1886 to combine the coca and the cola in formulating his Coca-Cola, which he, too, marketed as a brain tonic.This is not to say that these were the only flavorings. Like many speciality drinks, then as now, its formulation was a unique blend of flavors closely guarded by successive proprietors.
The word cola itself remained generic, and as its popularity increased, so other proprietary cola-based drinks, such as Pepsi-Cola, incorporated it in their brand names. Indeed, it became an objective of the leading brands to distance themselves from their rivals by trademark registration and, if necessary, by litigation. Pemberton and his immediate successors sold their product as a syrup for the soda fountain, which was then still the major outlet for the products of the American soft-drink industry. Only later were the proprietors somewhat grudgingly persuaded to permit others to carbonate and bottle the beverage ready-to-drink.
The licensing of other manufacturers to produce a soft drink from concentrated syrup sold to them by the owner of the brand name set a pattern for the franchising system, which came not only to dominate the twentieth-century American soft-drink industry but, eventually, to promote such brands internationally. Nor was the franchise system confined to colas. The heavy cost of transporting water-based soft drinks in glass bottles was clear from the outset of the commercial industry. There were obvious advantages in carrying a concentrated flavoring rather than the finished product over long distances, provided the proprietor could establish and enforce his standards of quality control on the local bottler so as to maintain the consistency of the consumer’s drink and, thus, the product’s reputation. Furthermore, a national brand could be advertised much more extensively than a local product, the cost of such advertising being recouped as part of the charge made to the bottler for the concentrate supplied. The franchise system, therefore, offered an attractive option to any owner of a drink or range of drinks, whether in America or elsewhere, looking for a way to expand.
Thus, the Canada Dry Corporation of Toronto established its ginger ale and other products in the United States during the years of prohibition and thereafter in additional markets overseas. Seven-Up, an American lemon-and-lime carbonated drink, was similarly marketed, and the promoters of speciality drinks like Dr. Pepper, a cherry soda that began as a fountain syrup, used the same means to extend their sales of ready-to-drink products at home and abroad.
Franchisers of one brand could also become franchisees of another. In Britain, for example, the old-established firm of Schweppes not only sold its products via associated companies overseas but also linked with the Coca-Cola Corporation to form the production company of Coca-Cola and Schweppes Bottlers in the United Kingdom. But the international success of the franchise system presupposed the existence of a worldwide network of local soft-drink manufacturers available to take it up.
The countries of Europe and North America that had seen the earliest growth of the carbonated soft-drink industry included those nations with the keenest interest in overseas trade.Thus, the techniques of soft-drink manufacture spread overseas along already established trade routes. In an age of imperialism, colonies tended to import from the parent country the machinery, packaging, and many of the ingredients necessary for soft-drink manufacture until such time as they might develop indigenous industries for supplying such essentials. The supply houses of the United States, increasingly important during the nineteenth century, were similarly adept at exporting to local bottlers in countries with which other American merchants were already engaged in general trade.
The success of soft-drink manufacture in different countries depended on a variety of factors: a degree of general sophistication in the country concerned, the competition of other drinks within it, the level of income of its citizens, and their social attitudes to alcoholic and other drinks—even a hot, dry climate was known to encourage soft-drink sales!
The trading nations not only developed existing overseas markets but also fostered new ones. Japan, opened to the world in the second half of the nineteenth century, saw small-scale bottling of carbonated soft drinks by the 1890s, with British techniques, and indeed British equipment, predominating in the early years. After World War II, American franchised soft drinks came onto the Japanese market. Influenced, but by no means dominated, by international trends, Japanese soft-drink manufacturers became adept at introducing new types of drinks and packaging into an increasingly dynamic and sophisticated market.
By the time franchisers began to look overseas, there was—at least in the most promising countries for development—no lack of local bottlers available to take up the franchises. And although international brands competed with local products, they could also stimulate the growth of the local soft-drink market by promoting greater consumption. In some areas where local manufacture was less advanced, the importation of soft drinks could encourage a local industry to develop. For example, many Muslim countries of the Near and Middle East relied initially on a high proportion of imported drinks to meet the demands of a hot climate, a youthful population, and the religious restrictions on—or outright prohibition of—alcoholic drinks. Then, as wealth and demand grew, a sophisticated indigenous industry developed.
Despite the spread of international brands, patterns of soft-drink consumption still varied considerably from country to country, as idiosyncrasies of national palate and social custom determined the way in which a country’s total drink market was split among competing beverages. For example, in the Russian states, herbal beverages found a substantial market, with mint, nettle, coriander, and marjoram among the flavorings used. Equally, if not more, popular in Russia was kvass, a low-alcohol drink made from stale bread or cereals by the incomplete fermentation of alcohol and lactic acid. It remains to be seen what effect the international brands now being franchised in Russia will have on these traditional flavor preferences.
The Growing Market
Many soft drinks have been seen to owe their origins to notions of a healthy diet current at the time they first appeared, and many continued to remain popular by appealing especially to young people. But in the later twentieth century, other soft drinks were developed that reflected the desire for a healthful diet while also appealing to older people who might hitherto have thought they had outgrown the soft drinks of their youth. Low-calorie soft drinks, designed specifically for weight-conscious adults, arrived in the 1960s.These products used a new artificial sweetener, cyclamate, which blended successfully with saccharin to make a more palatable product. When, later in the decade, cyclamate was banned in many countries, saccharin-only low-calorie drinks proved less acceptable. But with the introduction of new intense sweeteners in the 1980s, the low-calorie market once again expanded.
Natural mineral waters retained their popularity over the years in many countries of continental Europe, but in the final quarter of the twentieth century, vigorous promotion, spearheaded by the Perrier brand, revived dormant markets elsewhere and developed new ones for both carbonated and still waters. Flavored, but still unsweetened, variants of such natural waters further extended their newfound popularity.
A belief in the healthful properties of natural products—and its obverse, a distaste for additives—led to the development of so-called new-age drinks, which are clear and lightly carbonated, with unusual fruit and herbal flavorings, either singly or in combination. They have no added coloring, no salt, no caffeine, and little or no added sugar. For a quite different health market, isotonic or sports drinks were produced, high in sucrose (or sometimes maltose) and designed to quickly replace the body fluids and salts excreted in vigorous exercise.
Alternative refreshment was also increasingly sought in iced tea, a water-based drink, often flavored with soft fruits and, sometimes, with herbs. In these ways the soft-drink industry has continued to innovate and expand in the 200 years of its commercial existence.
Soft Drink Packaging
A history of soft drinks—and certainly of carbonated soft drinks—could scarcely be considered complete without mention of its containers and closures, for if a carbonated soft drink is to be consumed as its manufacturer intended, it must be packed in a container capable of withstanding the pressure of the gas within and sealed with a closure that is not only effective when in place but also readily responsive to the purchaser’s efforts to open it. That these several requirements are obvious does not make them necessarily compatible!
The effective sealing of bottles presented problems from the very outset of commercial manufacture. For this purpose, bottles and jars of stoneware or of stout glass were stoppered with corks that needed to be tight or, better still, wired on to the container. Drinks subject to secondary fermentation, such as brewed ginger beer, were especially likely to burst the cork (hence ginger pop) and traditionally came to be packaged in stoneware containers.
Some early glass bottles were oval ended at the base so that they had to be stored on their sides, thus keeping the corks moist and expanded for better sealing. The bottles themselves were usually returnable when empty and were embossed with the bottler’s name to promote their safe return.The inconvenience to the customer of the oval-ended bottles—they were sometimes called drunken bottles precisely because they could not stand up—led to their gradual replacement by those with a conventional flat base. These came into use around 1870 but at first were still intended to be stored on their sides.
Early manufacturers despatched their goods in strong wicker baskets, but wooden crates strengthened with wire came to be preferred, particularly once the flat-bottomed bottles arrived. But the modest price of the drinks, relative to their total weight when bottled and crated, made transportation costs an increasingly significant proportion of the whole trading operation.Although the convenience of a flat-base bottle was undoubted, its implications for the drying out of the cork soon led to improvements in bottle sealing.
Beginning in the 1870s, returnable internal screw stoppers became available, made first of hard woods and later of ebonite. Another successful invention of the time was Hiram Codd’s bottle with the round glass “marble” stopper in the neck, which the pressure of carbonation kept sealed against the bottle mouth. In the last decade of the century, William Painter’s crown cork came to be used for sealing the smaller returnable bottles for mixer drinks. The effectiveness of all the new seals was much improved when fully automatic bottle production superseded hand-blown glass during the first years of the twentieth century.
The internal screw stopper could be opened manually by a sufficiently strong wrist.The Codd’s bottle, too, could be opened manually by depressing the marble in the neck, but wooden openers were available to supply any extra force needed. For the crown cork, a bottle opener was necessary and the closure was discarded after use. Returnable bottles and closures had also to be thoroughly washed before reuse, and the inspection of Codd’s bottles and stoneware jars after cleaning could cause particular problems for the bottler.
Returnable glass bottles in sizes seldom greater than a quart dominated the industry during the first half of the twentieth century and beyond. They usually bore paper labels, although some had their labeling information permanently embossed or fired onto the container. In the latter half of the century, packaging diversified considerably. Lighter, standardized returnable glass bottles no longer needed to bear their owners’ embossed names but consequently became less distinguishable from the throwaway containers of most other bottled goods.
From the 1960s on, often in response to changes in retailing—in particular the growth of supermarkets—carbonated soft drinks were also packed in nonre-turnable glass and in steel or, later, aluminum cans. The first cans required special openers, but the ring-pull end was later introduced for manual opening.
In the 1980s, soft-drink bottlers began to make blow-molded plastic containers of polyethylene terephthalate (abbreviated to PET) in sizes larger than the traditional capacities of glass bottles. Even for returnable bottles, the nonreturnable aluminum cap, rolled on to the external screw thread of the bottle neck, gained ground rapidly in the 1960s. Later, resealable closures became commonplace, particularly as bottle capacities increased.
As the second half of the century progressed, draft soft-drink equipment was more frequently introduced into catering establishments. Draft soft drinks were produced either by the premix method, whereby the drinks were carbonated and packed at the manufacturing plant and then taken to the retail outlet to be connected to the dispensing equipment on site, or by the postmix method, whereby the ingredients of the drink were loaded separately into the dispensing equipment, itself designed to mix them with water in preset proportions for dispensing as a finished, ready-to-drink beverage. By midcentury, coin-operated automatic vending machines also sold prepacked soft drinks, and there, too, in the years that followed, new versions were developed that dispensed carbonated drinks into cups by means of either the pre- or post-mix method.
Laminated cartons were developed for the packaging of fruit juices and were also used for still soft drinks. This diversification of packaging was also significant in stimulating the growth of the industry in the late twentieth century by ensuring the availability of soft drinks in an ever-increasing number of retail outlets, so that they may now be said to be among the most widely sold manufactured products in the world.