Let’s begin with this little gem of a tag line.
“Cockta: You will never forget your first.”
Are you through snickering? In Slovenia, Cockta is actually pronounced (Coke-taa), because when the soft drink was created in 1953, that’s who they wanted to emulate. The story (or fiction, who knows) goes that in 1952 when Ivan Deu, the director of Solvenija, Inc. came back from a trip to America, he had a bottle of Coca-Cola in his suitcase. Faster than you can say “It’s the real thing” he ordered his people to go make that, only better.
So, a chemical engineer by the name of Emerik Zelinka, now the father of Cockta, concocted a drink using herbs, mainly rosehip, and a bunch of others used mainly for combating the common cold, kind of like Moxie!
Cockta seems like such a confusing beverage, but fitting for a country that at the time really didn’t know what to make of itself. Slovenia’s history reads like a Russian novel, full of confounding characters. The Roman Empire. Frankish Empire. Holy Romans. Republic of Venice. Hapsburg Dynasty. First French Empire. After being trounced, annexed and occupied during the war by Germany, Italy and Hungry, the tiny little confused nation finally emerged as its own republic within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Man, they had no idea which way was up when Ivan got off that plane. That coke in his briefcase must have been like a Capitalist beacon. “We may have no national identity,” Ivan must have thought, “but damn-it, we can all get behind coming home after a long day of being confused to a refreshing, cool, soda.!”
So off they went. Trouble was, even back in 1953 Emerik and his lab team, understood that Coke was bad for you. What to do? First they co-opted the Coca-Cola name. One original name was actually Cockta-Cockta. Second, they hired a bunch of architecture students (true, they did this) to develop a marketing campaign to promote the drink. Think about that – 1950s Yugoslavia architecture students sitting around a soviet-style table (likely made of concrete) with about three typefaces, a bunch of beer bottles and “Mother Yugoslavia is Proud of you Comrade” posters to work with.
Well, like any good young rebellious young men of the time, they decided to steal American marketing ideas of the era. And that meant cars and women! Yup, go to the company’s website to watch some of the amazing commercials filmed. Aside from the dialogue which appears dubbed by 70-year-old chain-smoking Slavic grandmas (you know what that sounds like!), the commercials might as well be part of a Beach Boys promotion. Take a look here: http://www.cockta.eu/en/#
So, with the shadow of Coca-Cola behind the brilliant marketing aimed straight at the young Slavs reading American Beat poetry and growing goatees, all Emerik had to do was, you know, make a drink. He was a chemical engineer so he got right down to it. First, no caffeine. I’m not sure if Emerik even understood that American cola had caffeine or maybe Emerik couldn’t get his hands on any. But whatever. Second, no phosphoric acid. Why? Again, the chemical engineer in Emerik understood that phosphoric acid was used as a rust remover and why in heaven’s name Americans were ingesting rust remover was beyond him.
So, the drink had to fizz. Carbonic acid. Check.
It had to be sweet. Caramelized sugar. Check.
It needed to be healthy. Vitamin C. Check.
Then, apparently, Emerik looked around his lab and noticed a box of rosehips laying there, that perhaps the gardener had snipped. Rosehips! Check! Oh what the hell, thought Emerik, let’s just toss in a bunch of these other herbs laying around in this wheelbarrow and see what happens.
Well, it worked. Cockta is the Cola of choice of most of the southern part of Europe that Americans never travel to: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, they can’t get enough of the stuff.
And recently, they introduced plastic containers, they have lime flavor and now a lite version as well.
In a head to head with a standard 8oz. can of Coke, Cockta does pretty well.
Coke: 150 calories. Cockta: 110
Coke: 28 g sugar. Cockta: 25
Cockta is higher in sodium, but not by much. Plus, no acid!
Tastewise, ummm, we imagine Cockta taking some time to get used to. We live in New England, but we didn’t grow up here. And we remember the first time we tasted Moxie. Yeah… there are New Englanders who will literally fight you if you disparage Moxie. To us, Moxie tastes like carbonated cough syrup.
And while Cockta certainly beat Moxie hands down, it still left you feeling vaguely like having electrodes taped to your tongue. Maybe it’s the rosehips, or who knows what other herbs. But a few minutes after finishing a bottle, the aftertaste was fairly sharp. The Vitamin C and sugar did provide a sweetness that you don’t find in traditional sodas, but that sweetness seems at war with the medicinal taste – like Flintstones vitamins which really don’t taste like candy.
Meenakshi was reminded of, in her words, a cross between RC Cola, Dr. Pepper and cough drops. She suggested Cockta might taste good as a mixer in vodka. (Ironically, as an aside, Cockta is used as a mixer in Slov bars!)
As a hike snack, the 8oz bottle was convenient and light, and if we were able to find a way to keep it cold, would be a fine after hike thirst quencher. But despite the absolutely wonderful history and marketing of Cockta, we’re going to pass. Unless we have the flu.
Cockta: You never forget the first one. True that!