Aging locals in the Spanish town of Aielo de Malferit believe Coca-Cola was actually invented in a small, local factory which developed the formula that inspired the world’s best-selling soda.
“The grated kola nut and herbs blended with alcohol mature in a clay jug for a month,” explains Juan Micó, the current factory owner. “What happens then is a secret.”
And a very well-kept one. Because as Spiegel Online’s Fabian von Poser notes, the recipe for Micó’s liquor — called Nuez de Kola Coca — is allegedly the basis for Coca-Cola. The first version of Nuez de Kola Coca was invented more than 120 years ago by the founders of Micó’s factory.
The history of Aielo’s Fábrica de Licores dates back to 1880. The factory was founded by three entrepreneurs, Bautista Aparici, Ricardo Sanz and Enrique Ortiz. The three began manufacturing liquors.
One of the entrepreneurs, Aparici, traveled to trade fairs in Rome, Paris, London and Chicago. In 1885 he went to Philadelphia with a new beverage in his luggage called Kola Coca, made from the caffeine-rich fruit of African kola nut trees and the leaves of Peruvian coca plants, where he won an innovation prize.
Before he left, Aparici gave some American sales representatives a few samples. And low and behold, just one year later, US pharmacist John Pemberton made history when he invented Coca-Cola.
“It was easy to copy a beverage in those days,” Micó says. “Patents were only registered if a product proved successful.” Poser claims his predecessors only patented the Nuez de Kola Coca formula in Spain in 1903. But by then, Coca-Cola was already well on its way to iconic status in the US.
When Coca-Cola move into the Spanish market in the 1950s, Coca-Cola executives visited provincial Spain and acquired the rights to the name from Joaquin Juan Sanchis, who was then the owner of the factory.
The factory was allowed to go on producing Kola Coca, but only an alcoholic version, and Nuez de Kola Coca has been a liquor ever since.
“The deal is believed to have been worth 30,000 pesetas, but no one knows for sure, since records have been destroyed. It was definitely a lot of money,” says Micó.
But it was only a fraction of what it could have been. “If we had only a tiny percentage of its shares, we would be millionaires,” remarks Micó.
Now his business consists of a warn old factory, stone floor and a few dozen wooden barrels.
Micó says the business changed hands many times before he bought it in 1971. He began as an employee and advanced through the ranks to become sales manager. In those days, the company numbered nearly 40 employees, but only four remain today.
“The business has become difficult,” he says, now that overseas companies have cornered the market. Most traditional businesses have closed down, he explains, and these days his company is just a wholesaler.
While Coca-Cola continues to be one of the world’s richest corporations, Kola Coca’s days are numbered. Micó hopes to head the company for another five or six years. Then his son Jose Juan will take over.
Although today the liquor factory is basically just a hobby, Micó would like to keep the tradition alive so it doesn’t get lost forever, but he says he can no longer invest in it.
“After that, this chapter in history will probably come to an end once and for all,” says Micó.