Georgy Zhukov was a hero of the Soviet Union, but he had an embarrassing secret. He was an addict. What made it worse was that his addiction, if known, would be especially shameful. Addiction to something as ordinary as alcohol would scarcely have raised an eyebrow. For Zhukov, it wasn’t vodka that preoccupied his waking thoughts. Coke was his problem.
If his addiction became known, it would mean the end of his glorious career and reputation. Fortunately, Zhukov found an unlikely ally in helping him to not only keep his secret but to supply him with the white stuff he so desperately craved. His supplier was none other than the President of the United States.
Zhukov became a national hero when he led the Soviet Union’s forces to victory at the Battle of Berlin in 1945. For this achievement, he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshall, given the honor of personally receiving the Nazi government’s instruments of surrender, and was made Commander of the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany.
It was at this time that Zhukov got his first taste of the highly addictive substance. It happened during a celebration, marking the end of the war in Europe. The person ultimately responsible for getting Zhukov addicted was none other than General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
You might think this was part of a nefarious plot on Eisenhower’s part to undermine an adversary. It was not. It must be remembered that the United States and the Soviet Union were allies at this moment in history.
Besides, Eisenhower was a user, too.
What? You didn’t know that the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe and future President of the United States was hooked on the same stuff? It’s true. Coke was freely available at all of Eisenhower’s celebrations.
Coca-Cola, that is.
Zhukov was hooked the moment he tasted the sugary, caffeinated soft drink. He had a big problem, though. The leadership of the USSR viewed Coke as a symbol of western capitalism, so it was banned. Zhukov was hooked, but he had no way to feed his addiction.
In desperation he turned to U.S. General Mark Clark. He confessed his embarrassing secret and asked if Clark could discretely inquire about the possibility of manufacturing Coke as a transparent liquid. He could have an office cluttered with vodka bottles without raising any concerns. By chance, could Coke be made to look like the less-offensive alcoholic drink?
Clark passed the request up the chain of command. It eventually landed on the desk of President Harry S. Truman. Truman reached out to James Farley, the chairman of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation. The answer came back that it was, indeed possible. Coke’s reddish-brown tint is the result of a caramel coloring additive that has negligible effect on the taste.
With great caution and planning reminiscent of the most clandestine espionage operation, Coca-Cola worked to produce a very special, limited edition soft drink. The Crown Cork and Seal Company in Brussels, Belgium, was tasked with producing clear bottles with straight edges, distinct from the curved Coca-Cola bottles. The bottles did not have identifying labels. Instead, they each had a distinctive white cap with a red star.
The soda, sans coloring, was as clear and transparent as vodka. When put inside the specially-designed bottles, that is exactly what it appeared to be. Thus was born Бесцветная кока-кола (Bestsvetnaya koka-kola) or “Colorless Coca-Cola.” Informally, it was known as “White Coke.”
Coca-Cola filled a cargo truck with 50 crates of White Coke. Because of the appearance of the product and the person to whom it was to be delivered, the truck zoomed across the border with scarcely a glance from customs officers.
Zhukov did not live to see the day when Coca-Cola would be freely available in his country. He died in 1974. Twenty-five years later, when the Berlin Wall fell, Coca-Cola distributed six cans of Coke to each East German citizen, hoping it would have the same effect as it did on Zhukov. It did. Coca-Cola quickly became the most-sold soft drink in the Soviet Union.
Zhukov was a man ahead of his time. In 1992, the Coca-Cola Company released Tab Clear, a transparent cola product. In 2018, Coca-Cola Clear became available in Japan. It has yet to catch on in the USA.