The Basics Tips & Tricks

Bring the Old-Time Soda Fountain to Life at Home

Floats, egg creams, rickeys, malts and shakes.

These dreamy elixirs call to mind visions of checkered tile floors and crisp-shirted soda jerks behind marble counters at the soda fountains that thrived throughout the early 1900s. While ice cream–laden floats and shakes remain stalwarts in today’s drinking culture, their fellow soda shop brethren, the pleasantly tart phosphate, very nearly fell into extinction.

Once a familiar sight on fountain menus, the phosphate may have drifted out of the spotlight due to its primary ingredient. Acid phosphate is phosphoric acid that has been buffered or partially neutralized by mineral salts like calcium, magnesium and potassium to help maintain a safe level of acidity. Originally touted as a health tonic when it was developed in the 1860s, acid phosphate soon became a shelf-stable substitute for fresh citrus juices that were difficult to find outside of major cities at that time.

No need to lament that shocking lack of lemon juice. Acid phosphate actually delivers the same sour pucker as citrus without the sweet, fruit-flavored side effects. That means that a few dashes of acid phosphate can give a drink a tart, refreshing quality while also enhancing its overall flavor thanks to the built-in salt content. Win-win.

The best news? Acid phosphate has made a resurgence in recent years as a clever cocktail ingredient, which means the old-timey phosphates of yesteryear are now yours to rediscover in all their invigorating (and non-alcoholic) glory. Grab a bottle and start shaking the retro soda fountain star into three classic phosphate recipes. One’s designed for the faithful sweet tooth, another to quell a pesky case of hiccups and a third for anyone in need of a perky yet caffeine-free afternoon boost.

You might call the chocolate phosphate a spunky cousin to the egg cream. Use the same iconic Fox’s chocolate syrup as the base, but swap the milk for a slip of acid phosphate and discover why this simple recipe was one of the most beloved soda fountain drinks of its time.

Chocolate Phosphate

Glass: Highball or milkshake glass

Garnish: Square of chocolate

Add acid phosphate and chocolate syrup to a tall glass. Stir vigorously while pouring seltzer over top. Fill the glass with ice to finish and serve with a straw.

Don’t underestimate the power of this drink’s seemingly humble ingredients. In its heyday, the Angostura phosphate was a trusted hangover remedy. Think about it: Herb-based bitters were a common cure for everything from hiccups to dysentery, acid phosphate lent a tart, refreshing quality to any drink it touched and seltzer was the go-to tonic featured in the vast percentage of a soda fountain’s arsenal. Plus, this particular phosphate benefited from the addition of a lemon gum syrup, a sugar syrup thickened with gum arabic, and in this case, lashed with fresh lemon juice. That brightly flavored gum syrup lent a silky quality to the finished drink, which made downing a full teaspoon of Angostura bitters all the more appealing.

Angostura Phosphate

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon Acid phosphate
  • 1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
  • 1 oz Gum syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Fresh lemon juice
  • 8 oz Seltzer

Glass: Highball or milkshake glass

Garnish: Lemon wheel

Add all ingredients to a tall glass except for the seltzer. Stir while pouring seltzer over top. Fill the glass with ice to finish and serve with a straw.

Likely named for its use of orgeat, the sweet almond syrup that fortifies tiki cocktails like the Mai Tai and Scorpion, this thirst-quencher has no actual ties to Japan. The association was likely a nod to the Japanese Cocktail, another recipe featuring orgeat that was named by Jerry Thomas himself. He created the cocktail for a Japanese translator who frequented his bar during a diplomatic mission to New York in 1860—and the name stuck.

Monikers aside, this phosphate was a classic soda fountain find at one time, bearing an inspired blend of creamy orgeat, grape juice, bitters and the familiar tang of acid phosphate.

Japanese Thirst Killer Phosphate

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon Acid phosphate
  • 1 oz Orgeat
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4 oz Grape juice
  • Seltzer

Glass: Highball or milkshake glass

Garnish: Pineapple wedge

Add first three ingredients to a tall glass over crushed ice. Add grape juice and fill to the top with seltzer. Stir briefly and serve with a straw.