Bootleg Soda: Soda Fountain Formulas

Another entry in our series of excerpts from Bootleg Soda, our book of soda syrup recipes, which also includes more than 50 old timey soda fountain drink formulas, and a bit about the history of soda fountains. 

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas. 

Just $2.99 on Kindle

Now and then you come to a town or a neighborhood that still has a really good old-fashioned soda fountain (or, more often, an ice ream parlor, though they generally have sofa fountains attached). There’s the Brown Cow in Forest Park, IL, Margie’s Candies in Chicago… we think of soda fountains as a bygone relic of another era, but there really are plenty of places left where you can still order a cherry phosphate. 

But what if you went in and asked for a Midnight on the Midway? Or an Odd Fellows’ Special?

If you’ve made some of the other recipes in the book and found yourself with a lot of leftover odds and ends of bits of syrup, you have two options. One is to make up a good glass of what kids in our town called Suicide (old time soda fountains called it a Don’t Care, and we call it an Out of Order). Another is to mix them up more carefully into some of these old fashioned drinks that we found in old-timey soda fountain guides!

Old soda fountains served a LOT of things that you probably don’t see much anymore, even at the best of the modern soda fountains. Drinks with a raw egg mixed in - such egg phosphate and the egg-and-almond Pike’s Peak - were very common in the early 20th century (see our whole section on them in Bootleg Soda). Hot sodas with flavors like beef and clam also used to come up a lot - it was basically a glass of carbonated soup. 

These recipes for special drinks are modified somewhat for ingredients you can’t find anymore, but are about as authentic as we could make them, so you, too can whip them up for the little whippersnappers who are waiting on the Wells Fargo Wagon!  Most of these came from issues of The Spatula and The Dispenser’s Formulary from 1900-1920.  If it wasn’t already in the syrups, add a dash of citric acid to any to make them closer to proper “phosphates” (substituting for the phosphate acid used at the time).  
Most of them are just mixed together and then added to carbonated water, unless otherwise noted.  Serve them at your next party and make sure your friends know that a vote for Roosevelt is a vote for progress!

A few of the 50+ formulas in the book: 

Princeton McAlpin
1 part orange syrup
1 part raspberry syrup
1 part grape JUICE
1 spoonful of crushed pineapple
1/2 slice orange
2 cherries

(Serve with spoon and straws)

Taft Phosphate:
2 parts blood orange juice
1 parts raspberry base/juice
1 parts of grape juice
1 part orange juice
Dash of citric acid
(Mix juices together then make a syrup out of them with 1 part sugar to 1 part juice, then be like Taft in 1909 and wish you were a supreme court justice instead of president).

Baseball Special
2 parts raspberry syrup
2 parts strawberry syrup
2 parts heavy cream
1 part pineapple syrup
1 part cream soda (vanilla) syrup
3 dashes of orange bitters

August Special Rickey
2 parts grape juice
1 part vanilla syrup
1 part pineapple syrup
Lime juice
Shaved ice

Brunswick Cooler
1 part lemon syrup
1 part cherry syrup
1 part orange syrup

Rex Phosphate (aka The 20th Century Phosphate)
2 part orange syrup
1 part pineapple syrup
1 part strawberry syrup
Citric acid
(Unlike most recipes, this one actually called for adding caffeine. Not as big a deal in an era when you could also probably legally ask the soda clerk to add some cocaine to your drink!)

See 50+ fountain formulas, plus more than a hundred syrup recipes in 

Bootleg Soda: Ecto Surge

Another excerpt from Bootleg Soda: A Smart Aleck's Guide. Also known as: "What happened when we got one of those SodaStream things at HQ and didn't like the syrups you could buy for it." We're putting up excerpts here all week!

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas.

Just $2.99 on Kindle

Every year, the city of Chicago dyes the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. The whole river looks as though it’s flowing with Ecto Cooler, or Surge Soda, two long-lost green drinks whose flavor was sort of tangerine-like (though you can bet that neither ever had anything close to a tangerine in the recipe). 

Alas, poor Slimer. I knew him, Egon. A fellow of infinite tanginess...

You can use pretty much the same recipe to recreate both of those drinks, and there are lots of different recipes online. However, no two people seem to remember the flavors of these drinks in exactly the same way (even if you found a fresh can of the stuff it probably wouldn’t taste QUITE like you remember), so here’s a recipe for each that can easily be adapted a bit to your taste. It may not be quite authentic (it’ll never be quite right to us unless it’s served out of one of those big tin 56oz Hi-C cans that that you needed to poke holes in), but it’s a good approximation of what we remember:

Basic Cooler-style Drink:
3/4ths of a packet of Lemon Lime Kool-Aid mix
3 heaping tablespoons of Tang drink mix
3/4ths cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1/4th cup orange juice.

Mix all together and stir, and you’ve got yourself a bright green Ecto-type drink! You use a bit less sugar than you normally would when making Kool Aid, because there’s already sugar in the Tang mix. Taste a spoonful to see if it’s quite what you remember, and you can add small amounts of more Tang, orange juice, or Lemon Lime powder to adjust.  Our first attempt tasted a bit too strong and actually had to be watered down a bit to hit the “sweet spot.”

Take one cup of of the cooler base, adding a hint more tang powder or orange juice, and boil with 1 cup of sugar to make a syrup that looks and tastes similar to the long-lost green pop. Mix 1 part syrup with 4-8 parts carbonated water. 

We can help you resurrect a few other old favorites in Bootleg Soda!  Check back on Monday for some old time soda fountain formulas!

Bootleg Soda: Plum Soda

Another excerpt from Bootleg Soda: A Smart Aleck's Guide. Also known as: "What happened when we got one of those SodaStream things at HQ and didn't like the syrups you could buy for it." We're putting up excerpts all week!

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas.

Just $2.99 on Kindle

All right. Now that we’ve made a simple fruit soda with juice, let’s move on to one made out of fresh fruit. Which is also very easy, most of the time. 

Plum soda is a simple-to-make concoction that’s a great introductory “fresh” soda to try making yourself - you’ll pick up some of the basic skills of making a fruit-based syrup, and you’ll discover a flavor of soda you’ve probably never tried before. A good one, too! You don’t see much of anything plum-flavored in the world, but one sip of a plum soda and you’ll wonder why. It’s sort of a grape-like flavor, so what you get here is a sort of “fresher” tasting version of standard grape soda.

1 cup of chopped fresh plum
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup of water

Chop up some fresh, crisp plums - about three small ones will get you to a cup’s worth - into small chunks (about 8 chunks per plum). Measure out a cup of the chunks and put them in a saucepan with the cup of water. Heat to boiling, then lower heat simmer, covered, for twenty minutes, uncovering to muddle (mash) the plums about halfway through. A potato masher works well for this, but you can also use a meat tenderizer, the butt end of an ice cream scoop, or anything, really. 

Once it’s done simmering, the water will have taken on the flavor of the fruit. Now it’s time to strain out the chunks and pulp. Our favorite way to strain is through the aeropress coffee maker (web link). It strains out the chunks and pulp while pushing through even more of the flavor, and it’s easy to clean up. You can save some of the pulp to use as garnish if you like; some people like real fruit floating in their soda more than others. 

Measure out the liquid “base” you’ve created (it’ll be about a cup) and put it into a saucepan. Add in the sugar - roughly 1.5 parts sugar to 1 part of the liquid (most of the time we use a 2:1 ratio to get it thick and strong enough, but in some cases it just made things too sweet). Heat to boiling while stirring to dissolve sugar, then immediately remove from heat and cool.

Mix one part of the syrup to 4-8 parts carbonated water. If you don’t use all off the base for the syrup, you can also simmer it with more spices to make a Professor Plum Spice Soda, the recipe for which is in Bootleg Soda.

Bootleg Soda: Cranberry Orange Original

Another excerpt from Bootleg Soda: A Smart Aleck's Guide, the cookbook that resulted from our attempt to make better, more interesting flavors of soda syrups to use with the SodaStream at HQ. We're printing excerpts here all week!

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas.

Just $2.99 on Kindle

Nothing makes cranberries pop like a bit of orange peel. If you order a hot turkey sandwich at a diner and the cranberry sauce it comes with doesn’t have any orange zest in it, march right back to the kitchen and ask the manager what kind of fool they take you for. Don’t bug the server - it isn’t their fault - but restaurant managers exist solely to take your abuse and apologize for their poor decisions. The chefs, who probably cry themselves to sleep for being forced to serve a cranberry sauce they know is an inferior product, will cheer as you body-slam the manager for daring to insult your taste buds. “Go home and rethink your life,” you should say. “Think about the decisions you made that brought you to this lowly place.” 

Now, normally, we think that anyone who is rude to restaurant staff ought to be forced to spend a few years working customer service in some hick town where they usually settle disputes with knives and spitting matches until they realize that the customer is NOT always right. But even we have our limits. If you pay for a dish with cranberry sauce and they haven’t used orange zest (and hopefully whole berries), then it’s a good sign that the manager is part of some vast conspiracy to overthrow the government because they hate freedom.

The more care you put into cranberry orange soda, the better it’ll be. Sure, you can just mix up some 100% cranberry juice and some orange juice, and it’ll be good, but the zest is really where it’s at, so we recommend making a proper base with fresh cranberries and orange zest.


1 cup of fresh cranberries
1 heaping tablespoon of orange zest
1 cup of water
1-2 teaspoons of freshly-squeezed orange juice.
2 cups of sugar
Optional: a tiny dash of citric acid


Add cranberries and zest to water and bring to a boil, simmer for 20 minutes, mashing the cranberries down with a potato masher about halfway through (be careful - they may spurt out how liquid!) Strain, and add orange juice (from the orange you just zested) into the remaining liquid

Mix one part of the liquid with with 2 parts sugar; boiling to dissolve sugar. Cool; mix one part syrup with 4-8 parts carbonated water. Garnish with an orange slice!

Come back tomorrow for a syrup made from fresh fruit, of which there are dozens of recipes in Bootleg Soda!

Bootleg Soda: Celery DeLorean

Another excerpt from Bootleg Soda: A Smart Aleck's Guide, the results of our attempts to make better, more interesting soda syrups to use with our soda stream (and become experts on soda fountain history while we were at it).

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas.

Just $2.99 on Kindle

Celery Soda is more common that you might think - there’s probably some in the kosher section of your local supermarket, under the name of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda. It may sound weird, but it’s delicious! People who see you drinking it will think it’s some sort of health food, but it’s really a very good soda in the general vein of ginger ale.

Dr. Brown’s version is labelled as a “celery soda with other natural flavors.”  Well, Doc Brown….where we’re going, we don’t need other natural flavors! A soda made from plain celery seed and sugar is not only delicious, it also turned out to taste very similar to a Dr. Brown’s, at least to our palettes. 

1 cup water
1 tablespoon celery seed (NOT celery salt. Seriously. You’ll only make that mistake once). 
1.5 cups sugar

Bring to water and celery seed to a boil, then simmer, covered, for twenty minutes. Strain out seeds. 

Mix in 1.5 cups sugar for every 1 cup of remaining liquid. Boil to dissolve sugars, then cool. Use one part syrup to 4-8 parts carbonated water. 

Here’s a vintage label for Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic, published in American Bottler accompanied by the harsh phrase “You Must Not Use These Labels!”

 “Bootlegging” was actually a bit problem in the old days of soda fountains; people were always worried that competitors would use their labels to sell inferior beverages, and Coca Cola considered just any beverage with the words “cola” in it to be a copyright infringement, even one called Celery Cola. Interesting to see how they promised that the celery compound would cure what ailed ya - the label reads “A Pure Beverage for the Nerves. Strengthens the Appetite and Aids the Digestion.”

Bootleg Soda: Pumpkin Cream Soda

So, we got one of those SodaStream machines at HQ. We liked being able to carbonate our own water, but we didn't much like the syrups you could buy for it. So we started making our own! Now, several hundred huge kitchen messes later, we've released a new Smart Aleck's Guide called Bootleg Soda! It's a collection of more than 100 recipes for homemade soda syrups, including basics like orange and cola, as well as nifty ones like pumpkin root beer, peach habanero, chai cola, cucumber pineapple, and the delicious celery delorean. Also included are 50+ formulas for old-timey soda fountain drinks like the centura phosphate, the kiss me flip, and more, with tons of history, commentary, vintage illustrations (many featuring stupid historical hats) and a guide to old time soda jerk slang.

We'll put up a new excerpt here every day this week, starting with....

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas.

Just $2.99 on Kindle

Pumpkin Vanilla is a flavor you see a lot in candles down at Bath and Body Works, so why not make it into a soda? Hey, why not make everything that makes a good candle into a soda? Why aren’t we making “Twilight Woods” or “Island Path” sodas? Why not “Moonlit Path” or “Fresh Linen?”

Well, there’s always volume two. For now, though, a vanilla pumpkin syrup actually made for a delicious soda that we highly recommend. Smoother and sweeter than the regular pumpkin spice soda, which is also tasty. 

Pumpkin flavors in drinks and pastries and room scents are getting more and more popular these days, but a great many pumpkin products aren’t using any real pumpkin at all - lots of them just use cinnamon and clove flavors and call it “pumpkin.” This syrup is for real! You can leave the pumpkin out and just use cinnamon and cloves if you like, and the results will actually have a familiar “pumpkin” taste, but you can taste the difference when you use a bit of the real thing.

1 cup water
3 teaspoons canned pumpkin
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups of sugar

Mix together all ingredients except the sugar into in a saucepan and boil, stirring well to dissolve the pumpkin. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for twenty minutes. Enjoy the aroma. Think of Halloweens past. Try to remember the name of that Halloween cartoon where the characters are all in monochrome and a witch turns kids into real werewolves and ghosts (it was Witch’s Night Out). Add a bit more spice if you want, and if you want to use whole cloves, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks, you do it, brother. 

Strain the liquid. Even if you’re using ground spices, you’ve got to strain this one or you’ll get a sort of chalky syrup. 

Measure out the remaining liquid and put it into a clean saucepan, then mix in two parts sugar to one part of the liquid (ie, if you have one cup of liquid, add two cups of sugar). Dissolve sugar by bringing the liquid to a boil while stirring. Remove from heat as soon as it starts to boil, then  let it cool into syrup.  Mix one part syrup with 4-8 parts carbonated water, garnish with candy corn zest.

(note: We also ended up doing a Twilight Woods flavor. Get the recipe in The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda)

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Based on our hit Playground Jungle blog, the history of songs like "Miss Suzy Had a Steamboat" and "Abe Lincoln Was a Good Old Man" will blow your mind! Find out how a song about making a violin from a dead body evolved over the centuries into a song about befouling your overalls. With an index, active table of contents, and more.  2.99 on kindle


Specially-priced standalone!

Whether you’re a Shakespeare newbie or a scholar who just enjoys cracking jokes about Harold Bloom, our Shakespeare series is just as informative and hilarious as their acclaimed SMART ALECK’S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY (Random House 2009).   This is everything you need to take over the class in one short (42,000 word) book - without resorting to using drawings of Shakespeare wearing sunglasses or rewriting Hamlet to make it sound like the instructions to an NES skateboarding game from 1991! Only 99 cents on Kindle.


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Romeo and Juliet, with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, jokes about stupid hats in the illustrations, an in-depth history of the play, where to find the hidden swear word, movie version guide, and more! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Julius Caesar with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, a script for a play about peer pressure starring Brutus (who is easily prey to such things), Rome 101, Roman and Latin words to know, ancient Roman graffiti (much of which is about poo), tangents about the Muppets, and more! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Macbeth with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, notes on witches, the fascinating history of the play, speculation on how much of the original might be missing from the modern text, a review of the play from 1610, a guide to film versions, and more! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Hamlet with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, notes on what the heck is wrong with Hamlet, the quarto/folio controversy, film version guide, a hardboiled detective story, tangents about Muppets and Star Wars, and lots of pictures that show Hamlet's stocking-covered butt. Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle

The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the guides to Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth, all in one huge, specially-priced volume! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. Over 260,000 words.
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"Speeding along on humor, Daily Show-style,…the irreverent, often laugh-out-loud approach should win over reluctant readers."
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Illinois Reads!

Just received the following note at HQ:

   Congratulations!  Under the auspices of the Illinois Reading Council, a brand new literacy program, ILLINOIS READS , a yearly state-wide project to promote reading for all Illinois citizens, will be instituted next year, and your book  "Smart-Aleck's Guide to American History", has been chosen as one of the books for the inaugural program.  The thirty-six titles chosen, from birth to adult, will be introduced into classrooms, public health facilities, public and school libraries, and bookstores.  The website,, will allow adults and students (above age 13) to post book reviews, book trailers, art work, and discussions about the books.  We hope we can link to your website, as well as offering additional activities to accompany your book.

                The program will be formally launched on March 13, 2013 at the Illinois Reading Conference in Springfield, Illinois.

We here at the Smart Aleck Staff are thrilled! Thanks for all the support we've had in recent years - and keep watching for our new Hamlet guide soon!

What else should we do? We've had to put guides on the backburner lately, since the boss has been so busy with Chicago history books - this fall alone he's under contract for one about the mobsters, one about general Chicago history, one about the silent film business here, and one about Chicago ghosts. Maybe a Smart Aleck's Guide to Al Capone? A Smart Aleck's Guide to Ghost Stories?   

Coming Soon from the Smart Aleck Staff!

Lots of things are happening with the staff. The long-promised Hamlet guide should materialize before the end of 2012, and September will see the release of the new Smart Aleck's Guide to Halloween Specials. This will be a special low-priced ebook with reviews of practically every Halloween TV special ever produced, taken from Adam's long-running , which is being revamped as a Smart Aleck's Guide site this year! That book will be up as soon as the cover is ready.

Adam will also have three new "e-singles" out from Llewellyn Press on October 1st, each dealing with his own long-running night job as a historian and ghost hunter in Chicago. Of particular note will be Inside the Murder Castle, which will detail his investigation of the basement below the post office that was built over the infamous "murder castle" of serial killer H.H. Holmes. It looks as thought his may be the only investigation that ever takes place there! Adam is sort of setting himself up as the smart aleck of the ghost biz these days; over the course of the book he spends a great deal of time cracking wise and debunking myths.

Come November, Adam will have another book out that isn't exactly a Smart Aleck's Guide, but almost might as well be: Globe Press will be publishing a Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks from Chicago History, in which Adam courageously bad-mouths Al Capone, John Dillinger, Marshall Field, Big Bill Thompson, "Bathhouse John" Coughlin, and several other people who are too dead to fight back.

Lord Buckley's Hipster Edition of Marc Antony's Funeral Oration

We here at the Smart Aleck's Guide normally try to refrain from re-writing Shakespeare into modern slang - it's usually a cheap trick to "bring The Bard down to your level" and demeans us both. And, anyway, our attempts at "modern" slang usually just make things sound like you're reading the instructional manual to a skateboard-themed video game from 1990 (we were very gnarly in 1990).

But sometimes someone DOES rewrite Shakespeare just for laughs, and the results are fantastic. Case in point: Lord Buckley, his royal hipness, rewriting Marc Antony's speech from Caesar. "Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin' daddies: knock me your lobes. I come to lay Caesar out, not to hip you to him..."

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