Pour some Texas into your holiday cocktails with this iconic beverage
Anyone wanting to turn a party or celebration this holiday season into a true Texas affair should go to the doctor.
Actually, that’s go to the Dr (no period here). And it isn’t for your health, mental or otherwise.
We’re talking Dr Pepper. It’s a one true Texas drink, born in Waco almost 140 years ago and, while no longer owned by Texans, it’s still based in the Lone Star state.
Of course, insisting this creative masterpiece of Texas ingenuity be included at any celebration is one thing. What to actually do with it is another.
While loved by many worldwide, Dr Pepper at the cocktail bar has been kind of like a milk-drinker in the local saloon. It has never quite fit in. Its sweetness has a lot of people thinking it would overpower a lot of subtle alcohols. The makers of Dr Pepper also never really promoted it as a mixer.
The very name also hints of something medicinal.
The carbonated drink, whose recipe is a closely guarded secret, was created in the early 1880s by a pharmacist in Waco named Charles Alderton. Alderton worked at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store. He tested it on the store’s owner, Wade Morrison, who not only liked it, he eventually gained ownership of the formula. It was first served and sold in 1885 at the drug store’s fountain, and then, in 1904 made its debut to the world at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, informally known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, at the same time as the hamburger, the ice cream cone and the hot dog. It was offered as a new kind of soda pop that contained 23 different flavors.
Because this is Texas and Dr Pepper began here, it’s well worth noting that Coca-Cola was first served and sold commercially in 1886, a year after Dr Pepper.
The origin of the name of the drink is lost in time. When it was first being sold at the drug store, people would just ask for a “Waco.” It was Morrison who named it Dr. Pepper (with a period). Some theories have it that Morrison, who had lived in Virginia, named it after a Dr. Charles Pepper in Rural Retreat, Virginia, whose daughter was once a romantic interest. But the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute in Waco has proved most of those false. There were more theories, including that the name simply made the drink sound like it was healthy.
As for that period after Dr, it appeared and disappeared from time to time until finally disappearing once and for all in the 1950s.
History has long held that anything worth drinking is worth making a cocktail out of. That’s true of Dr Pepper, but really only within the past 50 or so years has anyone tried to promote the soft drink as something to mix with alcohol. One of the earlier ones was a holiday drink called, imaginatively, Hot Dr Pepper. It was heated Dr Pepper served in mug with a twist of lemon and a jigger of rum.
The long romance of rum and Coke openly suggested the possibility that Dr Pepper might have a little dalliance with rum as well, and sure enough, there are any number of cocktails using the two.
That’s been the case with San Leon’s Railean Distillers, which has its own signature cocktail on the bar menu called The Dr Railean. It’s made with spiced rum, a little grenadine, Blue Curacao and Dr Pepper.
“We have a lot of regulars who would come in and have a Dr Pepper mixed with rum, so we decided we should come up with something,” said James Bradshaw, Railean’s bar manager. “I’m a big Dr Pepper drinker myself, so I like the idea of coming up with cocktails using it.”
The biggest problem is not so much the sweetness, but the complexity of the 23 different flavors, he said.
“It has so many flavors, it’s hard to find the right things to mix with it.”
Bradshaw has experimented with both rums and bourbons with success for the most part.
“I did try mixing white rum, bitters, Dr Pepper and a little ginger ale for one drink,” he said. “That one didn’t work. It was just bad.”
One drink called Candy calls for a tall glass, ice, 12 ounces of Dr Pepper, 1 ¼ ounces Bacardi 151 Proof Rum and ¾ ounce Amaretto. Perfect for this time of year is Christmas in a Cup, a cocktail using one part spiced rum, two parts Dr Pepper and one part Aftershock. Aftershock is a rather potent 80-proof liqueur produced in Canada by Jim Beam, but distributed in the United States. What makes its addition to this cocktail special is that it comes in a choice of flavors, like cranberry, spicy apple, citrus or cinnamon.
Once Dr Pepper got the taste for liquor, however, there were new worlds beyond rum to be conquered. Oddly, or maybe not so much, in the past several years, various bars, especially in the South, have been coming up with Dr Pepper cocktails using vodka, Scotch, gin and bourbon, among others.
The Cake Doctor, for one, pairs Dr Pepper with UV Cake Vodka for a slightly sweet, cake-like flavor with a little kick. Think of a well-doused fruit cake. Another cocktail, Spice and Ice, is made with one part Absolut Citron, one part Goldschläger and two parts Dr Pepper over ice.
The truth is, this iconic Texas soft drink might at last be finding a place at the cocktail bar it has never had before. At the very least, anyone arriving at a Texas holiday party this year should demand there be a Dr in the house.
THE DR RAILEAN
Created by James Bradshaw, bar manager at Railean Distillers, San Leon
1½ ounces Railean Spiced Rum
Splash Blue Curacao
3-4 ounces Dr Pepper
Fill a cocktail glass with ice, add Railean Spiced Rum, grenadine and Blue Curacao. Top with the Dr Pepper and stir.