I often refer to myself as an “almost-native” Texan or Austinite. I love this distinction because we moved here when I was less than a year old, and I still live here. In fact, I’ve only spent a little over a year away from Austin. (Grad school in London, so sue me.) And as a good Texan, I have a certain affinity for Dr. Pepper. I never sported the “I’m a Pepper!” gear, but I always welcome a cold glass of the stuff on a steamy summer day. Now as a proud amateur mixologist, I’ve noticed a few great cocktails that feature Coke. Yes, Coca-Cola, the American classic. But I thought it was time to put DP to the test and see if there were some Dr Pepper cocktails worth their salt.
So this is my taste test, my formal and official test drive of Dr. Pepper as a cocktail ingredient. I’ve narrowed it down to the three classic drinks that I believe feature Coke the strongest so we can see how DP fares in a similar state. Up first, a Spanish cocktail classic that has seen a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently as Mexican Coke and cane sugar has staked its claim in the zeitgeist: Kalimotxo (or, Calimocho if you are soooo white.)
For the first of our Dr Pepper cocktails, we venture a little outside of the traditional liquor-based drinks and head over to Spain. Yes, this is a wine-based drink that I still consider a cocktail because it has multiple ingredients, at least one of which is alcoholic, and is served over ice. (Sure! Those are my requirements. Deal with it.)
I chose to mix DP here with Cupcake Red Velvet blend. Is it fancy? Nope. But several recipes I found distinctly called out using a “cheap red wine” so I feel like this fits the bill. It’s also not so cheap *coughcoughBAREFOOTcough* that it will wreck my body. I went about 50/50 Dr Pepper to red wine, poured over ice and with a lemon slice.
The results? Stinkin’ delicious!! Like, wtf I can’t even believe how good it is. I was immediately Snapping about this ridiculous tasty drink. The fruitiness of the wine is spiced up by the complexity (lol) of the soda, and the overall taste is not nearly as sweet as you’d expect. It’s not a huge difference from the same recipe with Coke, but there is definitely an extra zip thanks to the Doctor. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll switch back to Coke for this one!
Given that this is maybe a little trashy, I recommend it for Sunday happy hour after a highly productive weekend, when you just want to drink a beer in the shower but feel like classing it up just a tiny bit more than that. You are drinking wine on ice, but at least it’s not something that would fit in a koozie!
Dr. Pepper & Mr. Daniels
Okay, so this is my snarky name for a Jack & Coke. But how much cooler does this drink sound?! I would 100% be more likely to order a Dr. Pepper & Mr. Daniels than a Jack & Coke, even if it is more formal. But that’s not what you care about (although you should.) Onto how it tastes.
(Oh yeah, and I was out of my good friend JD so I used Wild Turkey. SO SUE ME. It’s still a whiskey and Coke except a whiskey and DP get over yourself. Also, fun fact: I was gifted this bottle of Wild Turkey after doing a good job at work. Marketing people are actually NOT the worst in the world! Especially when they reward people with whiskey!!)
This one is… a little less successful? The burn of the whiskey doesn’t play quite as nicely as the red wine when it comes to blending with Dr Pepper’s zing. Is it tasty? Sure. But it doesn’t quench my “cocktail” thirst, despite how pretty it is. My brain is swirling with ideas on how to make this totally rock, like boiling down the DP into a syrup and using it in a meatier whiskey cocktail. But in comparison to a classic Jack & Coke, this falls short.
That said, it might be a contextual beverage! Some dranks are just better with food and/or in the right moment. Try this puppy out with a burger and fries after mowing the lawn; see if maybe teamwork makes the dream work.
El Doctor Libre
I toyed with the idea of going straight rum & Coke for this one. Then I noodled on the difference between a regular rum & Coke and a Cuba Libre and I had to follow my heart. See, a Cuba Libre is about 1.5 million times better than a rum and Coke, even if the latter is more famous. Something about adding the actual lime JUICE (not just a wedge for garnish, get out of here) really changes the dynamic of the drink and brings it extra life.
Quick note about the rum I used: Angostura White Oak rum, which is from Trinidad & Tobago and one of my favorite “budget” rums. Flor de Cana is my go to mixing rum when I want something darker, but the white oak offering from Angostura is damn hard to beat at under $15 for 750 ml. It’s very respectable in daiquiris, mai tais, and even just on the rocks if you’re feeling that. It’s nutty, smooth, and tastes like clean white sugar with a hint of “cane.” Give it a try next time you need to add a white rum to your bar.
BACK TO IT. Given my affinity for the ol’ Cuba Libre, I had high expectations for my version, the El Doctor Libre. AND RIGHTFULLY SO! You guys, this is so, so good. It’s complicated and bubbly, with bittersweet notes reminiscent of chocolate and molasses. Ripe fruit somehow comes through on the finish, no doubt helped along by that precious lime juice. It’s just incredible and you should go make one immediately. My recipe, for what it’s worth, follows:
A Cuba Libre, Texas-style, starring Dr. Pepper. Don't you dare forget the lime juice!
- 2 oz light rum
- 4 oz Dr Pepper
- 1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
Build all ingredients in a highball glass filled with ice.
Garnish with lime wedge.
And the winner is…
Yeah, the winner is anyone who makes a damn El Doctor Libre. Nah, tbh they were all pretty tasty and I’d recommend giving any of these Dr Pepper cocktails a shot. It’s the Texan thing to do!