Saturday 6 November 2010

Clayton's Special Cocktail

Well, how could I resist? I stumbled across this one in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930).The recipe appears simply thus:

Claytons Special Cocktail
½ Bacardi Rum
¼ Kola Tonic
¼ Sirop-de-Citron
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

We all know what Bacardi is, but what exactly is Kola Tonic? Just an antiquated name for Coca Cola? Yes and no. There is a still, concentrated drink called “Kola Tonic” from the brand “Rose’s” in South Africa, which is not too surprising considering that the kola nut is African in origin. (This drink is also very high in caffeine, I gather.) But then I discovered a “Kola Tonic” made under the brand “Clayton’s”.This must surely be the stuff intended by the original recipe.

Apparently originally blended by the Clayton brothers in Battersea in 1880, the drink is now made, for the panting worldwide market, exclusively in Barbados. It is non-fizzy, non- alcoholic and intended, by and large, to be drunk diluted. I gather that in the 1970s and 1980s it was heavily marketed in Australia and New Zealand as a non-alcoholic choice in the pub,“the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”.

What does it taste like? It tastes like...what you imagine Coca Cola was probably intended to taste like. One sniff of the bottle and it obviously smells of Coke, but there is a more pronounced lime element and also a hint of creosote, but in a good way, flavours that aren’t alien to Coca Cola but were always submerged by the synthetic nature of the globally marketed drink.

Monin make a lemon syrup but I didn’t have one to hand so I made my own from sugar and water, added the grated zest of one lemon and left it for an hour before straining it.

The resulting cocktail tastes, I admit, a lot like a Bacardi and Coke—yet somehow more alive, more fruity and zesty. Given that it is 25% syrup, I predicted it would be very sweet, but it is no sweeter than a regular Bacardi and Coke. (It may be that commercial sirop de limon is less sweet.) Certainly neat Clayton’s Kola Tonic is actually rather bitter, making it a more versatile cocktail ingredient than Coca Cola.

I've seen Clayton’s Cola Tonic in selected Waitrose branches and you can buy it online from and the Kendrick Street Deli. Rose’s can be had from


  1. I do not recommend the Rose's Cola Tonic, it is very medicinal and artificial tasting. Might be good for a sore throat, but not for cocktails.