Where else but in Cincinnati can you get a great malt at a gas station convenience store? I’m talking, of course, about any of the 200 locations of UDF, United Dairy Farmers. As the warm weather is finally upon us, our minds turn to cooler thoughts like ice cream. I’ve always taken for granted the ready availability of a UDF malt. UDF has only been around since 1943, when the Lindner’s decided to undercut all the milk delivery businesses in town, by selling direct. But Cincinnati soda fountains served ice cream shakes and phosphates from about the 1880s onward.
Malt is basically a powder made up of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated whole milk. It was the original energy drink. Early in its origin story, malt was used as a health food for infants and invalids. English pharmacist James Horlick had developed this formula, and in 1873 started a company in Chicago with his brother, William, to sell their malted baby food. In 1883 they earned a patent for a malt formula fortified with dried milk.
Horlick, the inventor of malted milk powder.
It quickly found another market. Explorers appreciated its lightweight and stable qualities, as well as its high caloric content, and made it their provision of choice, on their treks around the world. Horlick’s even sponsored the Byrd expedition in Antartica.
Plain malted drinks without ice cream, like Carnation and Ovaltine are still around. Horlick’s original malt is still popular in India, where because of religious reasons, the drink is made from Buffalo milk instead of cow’s milk.
But how did the malt take the form that we see at UDF and other malt shops? Malted milk was a natural for the soda fountain. It was not only nonalcoholic but healthy. In 1922, Ivan “Pop” Coulson, a Walgreens employee, wanted to improve their chocolate malt beverage. Ivan was a soda fountain guru who was always experimenting with fountain concoctions. The original Walgreens recipe was milk, chocolate syrup, and a spoonful of malt powder. Coulson, with the addition of one ingredient – ice cream – would invent a form of the malt that would stand the test of time -the malted milkshake.
Americans loved the taste and turned a health food into a pleasure food, as it would later do with peanut butter and granola. And now, we have that brilliant soda jerk Ivan Coulson to thank for our delicious malts.