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Hot Dr. Pepper Recipe (Easy + Gourmet): The 1960s Treat, Modernized Slightly

Culture | December 6, 2019

Oatmeal is best when you've got a collection of berries, just the right amount of sugar, a little spice, and some citrus zest. Keep that in mind as you read these recipes. 

"Hot Dr Pepper" is a very weird-sounding, but very real marketing ploy that was used by the Dr Pepper company in the 1960s. The phenomenon started once TV ads had really found their footing and companies felt like they had a little more control over public consumption, because sodas were mostly a summer drink back then, and soda companies, of course, wanted to change that to be a year-round thing. 

Soda used to be a refreshing treat to be consumed mostly during the warm months, which meant that sales tanked during the winter, so Dr Pepper, the company, decided to start putting out commercials featuring celebrities, telling people to heat up Dr Pepper and drink it during "the winter months." 

This one TV spot stars a young Dick Clark (you kind of have to watch it).

A Brief History Of Why We're Even Talking About "Hot Dr Pepper" (With No Period In The Name, As A Style Choice Since The 1950s)

Source: Mentalfloss

At the turn of the 20th century, sodas, mostly invented by pharmacists, were gaining popularity, but Dr Pepper was in a class all its own, because it wasn't owned by Pepsi or Coke, still isn't, and actually was first nationally advertised as part of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, touting its unique, 23 flavor "pop." 

"23 flavors" is a whole lot of flavors, and since it came out originally in 1885, it pre-dates Coca-Cola by one year. 

So, the reason you need to know this little bit of background about the brand is because you have to know that sodas were originally meant as just added value point-of-sale purchases at pharmacies until they caught on, because this fact definitely affected the taste of soda, in general. 

Coca-Cola was originally sold as some kind of tonic, and Dr Pepper was originally sold as medicinal, telling people that it "aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality." Which probably just means it had caffeine, which makes you want to go to the bathroom, and also gives you energy. 

"Ew, it tastes like medicine," is the most common detractor answer I got when I told people I would be creating this how-to guide on Hot Dr Pepper, and I understand that concern, so in this recipe, we're going to try to squash that part of the taste, for the most part. 

Now, knowing that quick, brief history of Dr Pepper, "it doesn't taste enough like medicine" was very likely a problem that people were trying to solve at the time, since they were literally pharmacists, selling this stuff at pharmacies, as a kind of "tonic" or medicine; meaning that some sodas taste a little bit like medicine, because they technically, originally were meant to be. We want to mitigate that taste, but we don't want to lose the "essence" of Dr Pepper, and that's where this recipe for Hot Dr Pepper comes in. 


The point of this whole thing is to make the most delicious, full-bodied, comforting, holiday-feeling hot drink out of the entire idea of "Hot Dr Pepper." 


And since everything was a little bit of a mystery back then, lots of secrets from that era are still kept tightly hidden away even today. Both the original and working formulas for Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper are trade secrets to this day, and nobody knows exactly what's in them. 

So here's Groovy History's dive into making a "gourmet" version of the weird, seemingly-gross, but absolutely delicious "Hot Dr Pepper" drink from the 1960s. And we're also making a latté out of it, which you're going to hate that you love.

The 23 Flavors Of Dr Pepper, What We're Doing With Them, And Why:

These are all the ingredients we used in the "gourmet" recipe, not including that one clove.

The famous "23 flavors of Dr Pepper" are supposedly a secret locked away, in two halves, in two separate safely-guarded locations. On the official website's FAQ, this is how they answer the question "what are the 23 flavors of Dr Pepper?" or "what's in Dr Pepper?" 

"Q: What is the flavor of Dr Pepper supposed to be?"
"A: Dr Pepper is a unique blend of 23 flavors. The formula for Dr Pepper is proprietary information."

Aaand that's all we get. 

So, much like the exact flavor combination of Coca-Cola, about which there is an entire This American Life episode, which is where we make our assertions about "Cola" flavor below, the exact recipe for Dr Pepper will remain a mystery. But we got pretty darn close, by using a cross-section of the lists of the 23 flavors of Dr Pepper from thrillist, this very old website, and quora

It was a start. 

After choosing an intention ("make it taste less like medicine"), we were ready to pick ingredients that you can find at most major grocery stores, so that everyone can make this at home for their friends, families, and loved ones (and maybe spike it if they want). So here's our thinking on this, and our opinions on the 23 flavors we decided we would use...

The Flavors We've Decided Are In Dr Pepper, And Which Ones We're Accenting

(Almost forgot that one clove, so here it is, mostly alone.)

Amaretto - This would contribute to "medicinal" taste, so we are omitting this, and have plenty of berry accents as it is.

Almond - We have enough almond, because if you're not careful, almond will takeover an entire dish/drink very quickly and easily.

Blackberry - Blackberry juice or compote will do for this ingredient.

Black Licorice (or Star Anise) - We want to mitigate this, as it's the primary offender of the "medicinal" taste that we're fighting off here, without completely eliminating it. 

Carrot - This is savory, so we're staying away from it.

Clove - We are using a clove, as it contributes to the "holiday" taste of it.

Cherry - This isn't a flavor we want to eliminate, so we want to bring out the brighter accents of this with some cherry jam, to also mitigate the chemical-based cherry flavor as which tends to remind people of cough drops, and makes it "medicinal."

Caramel - we are already cooking down corn syrup, so we don't need to worry about this.

"Cola" - This ingredient itself contains a bunch of stuff that's already in Dr Pepper, and it's also technically, historically, and legally, inaccurate for it to be "Cola," so this internet rumor is pretty moot. But, some natural flavors that aren't in Dr Pepper already, that are in "Cola" are cinnamon and coriander, and those seem to make sense for the taste of Dr Pepper. Coriander (cilantro seeds) would add to the "medicinal" taste, so we're not using that, but we will bring the cinnamon out in the "Cola" people taste with some cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon. 

Ginger - Fresh, aromatic, and will cut through medicinal taste to bring it into a bright and natural accent.

Juniper - throw it in if you can find some. They're a wonderful seasonal treat, but not necessary. We want everyone to be able to make this recipe. 

Lemon - Classic and absolutely necessary, both zest and a freshly-cut slice in the cup when serving. The slice goes in first. 

Molasses - We used a mulberry molasses, to marry all the berry flavors together.

Nutmeg - Another fresh flavor to help the aromatic, increase the "holiday" flavor of it, and kill how medicinal it tastes.

Orange - Orange zest toward the end of simmering will brighten up the whole thing, and also works with cloves, because it's a key part of "Winter Spice." 

Prune - This will add a tart bitterness that would be redundant and too much tartness, given all the tart flavoring that the berries are doing. This confirms Dr Pepper's claim that there's no prune juice in it, giving them the benefit of the doubt, because we think Plum is a much more present flavor.

Plum - Plum juice or compote is, surprisingly, a huge part of the Dr Pepper flavor. 

Pepper - One crack to bring out all the spices. Also, I mean, c'mon, it's the name of the thing.

Root Beer/Sasparilla- We don't need more chemicals in this, or to cloud it with the flavors of another soda, so we're not using this. Also, people often don't like root beer because of the "medicinal" taste. It was, of course, also first mass-produced by a pharmacist.

Rum - Add if you want to make it dirty, but whiskey is much better for this recipe, in my opinion.

Raspberry - Raspberry compote or preserves. 

Tomato - This is savory, so we are omitting it. 

Vanilla - There's enough vanilla in the Dr Pepper to take care of this, and too much turns it into a vanilla drink, so we're not using this component. 

And Now, For The Actual Recipes...

If you go with the simplest recipe, the lemon should float up to the top.

Thanks for reading all that if you did, we are a history site after all (follow us on social media). Anyway, here are four recipes. The first three are bare bones and still very "homey" and "holidays," while not breaking the bank, and using staples you may already have in the pantry. Enjoy, and let me know if you try any of them and have any suggestions in the comments. I, for one, obviously, prefer the "Gourmet" latte recipe, but to each their own, and this shouldn't be cost or geographically-prohibitive, so for that we have 'em all. 

The Original Hot Dr Pepper Holiday Recipe:

Remember to put the lemon in first, and the slice doesn't have to be perfect, just not too thick. This is as thick as you should cut it.

This one is incredibly simple, quick, and easy if you're in a hurry.


Ingredients:

5 Cups of Dr Pepper

1 Sweet/Meyer Lemon Slice


Directions:

1. "Heat Dr Pepper or Diet Dr Pepper in a sauce-pan until it steams."

2. "Then pour it into a cup over a slice of lemon" 

3. "Then add a jigger of rum"


This recipe, if you really throw a fresh thin slice of a sweeter lemon (do yourself a favor and find sweet or meyer lemons), is really, really not bad. It's quite astoundingly fine. But it's not great, and we're here to achieve greatness. This following are our versions of the best recipe for sprucing up the fringe 1960s holiday drink, and an attempt at making a "gourmet" version of it.

It's a little thick, and definitely not a good cut, but it's a perfect amount of lemon.

Easy "Fancy" Hot Dr Pepper Recipe (4 Servings):

The cup gets nice and steamy

Ingredients:

"Liquid"

4 Cups of any kind of Dr Pepper (Diet, Regular, or Sugar Cane)

"Dry"

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon

1 Clove

1 Crack Of Black Pepper

1 Teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg

1 Teaspoon of Ginger (grated fresh, if you can, but ground will do too) 

1 Cinnamon Stick

"Compote"

1/2 Cup of any non-strawberry Berry or Grape Preserves or Natural Juice

"Muddling"

3 Raspberries

5 Blackberries

"Zesting"

Zest of 1/4 of a Sweet/Meyer Lemon

Zest of 1/2 of a Navel Orange

"Garnish/Finish"

1 Raspberry

1 Blackberry

1 Fresh, Thin Sweet/Meyer Lemon Slice

1 (reuse) Cinnamon Stick


Directions:

1. Use a small sauce pan and medium-high heat to bring the Dr Pepper up to a "steam," then reduce to medium-low heat to simmer.

2. Incorporate "Dry" ingredients, let simmer one minute, stir until mostly dissolved.

3. Incorporate the "Muddling" ingredients, muddle until they're mostly crushed, then stir.

4. Throw in the "Compote" (jam, jelly, preserves, compote, or whatever you have), stir.

5. Zest the citrus into the mixture, then let it simmer for three minutes.

6. Pour hot mixture over the Lemon Slice into a tumbler or other thick cup or mug that can handle the heat. Garnish with 1 Blackberry, 1 Raspberry, and that Cinnamon Stick. 

7. (Optional) Make it boozy with 2 oz of Bulleit or Jim Beam, no Jack Daniels, Jameson, or Black Velvet. Go fancier if you want, but stick to those. If you do add alcohol, you may also want to add 1 Tablespoon of Light Brown Sugar. 

Easy "Fancy" Hot Dr Pepper Latté Recipe (4 Servings): 

Unmixed, this is a very, very good morning latté drink.

Same as above, but add 1 cup of "original" or "unflavored" oat milk (or whatever your preferred milk-to-coffee ratio usually is. 

(Remember, this does have caffeine in it). 

Also, remember my point about the oatmeal? This is where that comes in, taste-wise. The drink should basically taste like a Christmas-y version of a hot, aromatic bowl of oatmeal in all in one warm, comforting, family-friendly drink. 


Why Oat Milk And Not Regular Milk, Cream, Or Even Other Plant-Based Milks?

This latté does require some non-dairy milk, because the casein in regular milk, half & half, and lighter creams will cause the dairy to curdle, and you don't want that. If you absolutely have to use dairy, make sure to use heavy cream, or you'll run into the White Russian problem of not having enough fat to keep the milk proteins from coagulating.

Half & Half usually has 10% fat, vs. the 1% and 2% milks we all drink, and heavy cream comes in at a whopping 40% fat, so that's your best bet when mixing dairy + citrus or alcohol, in general. Both alcohol and citrus are highly acidic, which is what makes the milk curdle, so to make everything easier on everybody, just use a non-dairy, neutral milk. Oat milk works best for this, but in a pinch, cashew can work.

NOTE: Lactaid milk will also curdle, as it's not so much about the lactase they put in Lactaid, which is an enzyme, or the lactose that Lactaid eliminates, which is a sugar, but the acidity of the milk proteins (casein) that causes it to curdle.

"Gourmet" Hot Dr Pepper Recipe (4 Servings):

A microplane is the best tool for grating the ginger and zesting absolutely anything.

This is the best Hot Dr Pepper recipe for my money, and we did a lot of experimenting. This is the recipe where we're using as many as the ingredients as we can to bring out every possible bright, relevant flavor of the real 23 flavors of Dr Pepper. Recipes like this are pretty rare, in that they involve what is probably way too many ingredients, but if you invest in making this, or have this lying around, you can always bring it to parties, because it'll hold, and all you have to do is heat it up. This version of the recipe is very, very well-balanced, and really quite good. I'd highly recommend you try it in latte form, unless you can't eat gluten, in which case, this is an amazing drink itself. Enjoy!


Ingredients:

"Liquid"

4 Cups of any kind of Dr Pepper

"Dry"

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon

1 Clove

1 Crack Of Black Pepper

1 Teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg

1 Teaspoon of Ginger (grated fresh, if you can, but ground will do too) 

1 Cinnamon Stick

"Compote"

1 Cup of Plum Juice or Compote

1/2 Cup of Blackberry Juice or Compote

2 Tablespoons of Apricot Preserves or Apricot Nectar

1 Tablespoon of Cherry Preserves or Natural Cherry Juice (not Marachino)

1 Tablespoon of Berry or Fruit Molasses (Pomegranate or Mulberry will work, we used Mulberry)

2 Teaspoons of Raspberry Preserves, Compote, or Natural Juice

"Muddling"

3 Raspberries

5 Blackberries

"Zest"

Zest of 1/4 of a Sweet/Meyer Lemon

Zest of 1/2 of a Navel Orange

"Garnish/Finish"

1 Raspberry

1 Blackberry

1 Fresh, Thin Sweet/Meyer Lemon Slice

1 Cinnamon Stick


Directions:

1. Use a small sauce pan and medium-high heat to bring the Dr Pepper up to a "steam," then reduce to medium-low heat to simmer.

2. Incorporate the rest of the "Liquid" ingredients, let simmer one minute.

3. Incorporate "Dry" ingredients, let simmer one minute, stir until mostly dissolved.

4. Incorporate the "Muddling" ingredients, then start muddling them down in the simmering mixture until they're crushed.

5. Throw in the "Compote" ingredients, break up the jelly, then let dissolve, and stir.

6. "Zest" the citrus into the mixture, let simmer for five minutes.

7. Pour hot mixture over the Lemon Slice into a tumbler or other thick cup or mug that can handle the heat. Garnish with 1 Blackberry, 1 Raspberry, and that Cinnamon Stick. 

8(Optional) Make it boozy with 2 oz of Bulleit or Jim Beam, no Jack Daniels, Jameson, or Black Velvet. Go fancier if you want, but stick to those. If you do add alcohol, you may also want to add 1 Tablespoon of Light Brown Sugar. 

When it's done incorporating, the liquid should look somewhat cloudy

These are the berries before you start muddling them.

Once you start muddling the berries, the carbonation should start cooking out faster.

Getting rid of that carbonation and smashing those berries.

Here's What The "Gourmet" Version Should Look Like Finished

Gourmet Hot Dr Pepper Latté Recipe (4 Servings): 

This is by far my favorite iteration of this recipe, and of this drink. Ingredients are, obviously, same as above, but add 1 cup of "original" or "unflavored" oat milk (or whatever your favorite latte ratio is).

It's Very Hot, And A Perfect Latté Consistency

And Finally, Once You Drink It, You Can Take The Leftover Sludge For A Bowl Of Oatmeal

Waste not, want not.

Look At That Beautiful Sludge (And Thanks For Reading)

And that's it. 

Serve it for your family, for your friends, bring it to holiday gatherings, or just enjoy alone with breakfast or lunch. If you want to play around with the ratios, please feel free, but these are the ones that most closely resemble Dr Pepper. Let me know what you end up with in the comments, and thanks so much for reading. 

For more of my food and opinions, if you really want to do that to yourself, follow me here

Note: We own the photos because I took them myself. Happy holidays!

Tags: 1960s | Christmas | Dr Pepper | Holidays | Recipes

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Brian Gilmore

Writer

Brian Gilmore has been writing about and studying everything the Internet loves since 2006 and you've probably accidentally read something he's written before, and if you haven't, you're already reading this bio, so that's a good start. He's a culture junkie ranging from Internet culture, to world history, to listening to way more podcasts than the average human being ever should. He's obsessed with the social catalysts that have caused some of the biggest movements of the last few hundred years, including everything from their effect on the pop culture of the time, to where they end up ideologically. The idea that generations have a beginning and an end is fascinating to him, and the fact that their lasting effects at any given point of their evolution can steer the direction of the entire world lead to some interesting questions, and answers, about our current culture at any given time. He also loves retrofuturism, phobias, and the fact that every pop culture icon has at least a few photos of them that make you feel like you might know them. History isn't a collection of stories as much as it is humanity trying its hardest to maintain a grasp on lessons we've learned before as a species, and that is just way too interesting to not look into a few hours a week. Oh and he used to collect Pez dispensers.