Back in the mid-1800s, a chemist called Angelo Mariani created Vin Mariani, a cocaine-infused wine – and it was loved by Presidents and Popes alike.
The Andean coca leaf had been used by Indigenous Aymara people for thousands of years. To isolate the substance, users had to chew the leaves, which of course limited the amount of cocaine that the user could extract.
Enter Angelo Mariani, a French Chemist who wanted to create an easier extraction process – and he did so with wine. He invented a potent tonic that was a mixture of Bordeaux wine spiked with six milligrams of coca leaf per ounce, along with a splash of brandy and sugar to make it even more tempting to the consumer. Two glasses of this drink would have contained less than 50 milligrams of cocaine.
Mariani marketed this beverage as a general cure-all, energy booster, aperitif, digestif, and safe for children as long as the daily recommended adult dosage was halved. He called this beverage Vin Mariani.
He rented a shop and people flocked to his place to sample the wares, and it was so successful that he decided to explore the overseas market.
The biggest problem with this drink was not that it contained cocaine, but rather it contained too little. When Mariani tried to export the drink overseas, he had to up the percentage of cocaine from 6 milligrams to 7.2 milligrams per ounce, as in America they were used to coca drinks having more of a kick.
Everyone loved this product, and Mariani had many followers – including Thomas Edison, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, and Pope Leo XIII.
In fact, Pope Leo XIII loved it so much that he awarded Mariani a self-invented “Vatican gold medal" award and allowed him the free use of his image in any advertising. He also carried a personal hipflask of the stuff to “fortify himself in the moments when prayer was insufficient”. Pope Leo XIII wasn’t the only Pope to love this beverage, Pope Pius X also was a drinker.
Of course, with popularity comes people who want to imitate it. Introducing Colonel John Pemberton a chemist and a doctor, who became addicted to morphine when trying to alleviate his suffering from Civil War battlefield injuries. He created his dupe of the Vin Mariani and called it Pemberton’s French Coca Wine.
Due to the 1886 Atlanta and Fulton County prohibition ordinances, Pemberton had to change the recipe slightly. No, not getting rid of the cocaine – but in fact getting rid of the wine to make it non-alcoholic. He swapped out the wine with carbonated water and et voilà, Coca-cola was born. It wasn’t until around 1903 that the cocaine was removed, however, the coca leaf is still used and we got the recipe that we see today.
But what about Vin Mariani today?
In 1914, Mariani died and took the secrets of the wine with him to the grave. Well… until Babco Europe decided to revive the drink, using documents from the late 1800s and advanced pharmacopeia techniques. This now allows the public (in certain countries) to once again drink this beverage.