Thursday 5 April 2012

Wine + Whisky – Queen Victoria's Tipple

I am so bored that in desperation I re-open my copy of Kingsley Amis's Everyday Drinking ('The New York Times bestseller, it says on the front) and look for something to stimulate my jaded sensibilities. Kingsley Amis (unlike me and PK) was an acknowledged drink expert (whisky in particular) and pretty much a functioning alcoholic in everyday life - quite apart from being a well-known novelist, biographer and critic. The pieces which make up Everyday Drinking were originally written between 1971 and 1984, and if nothing else, give you a snapshot of upper-middle-class boozing habits forty years ago.

That said, Amis's idea of a well-stocked drinks cabinet, even allowing for the intercessions of time, sounds a bit of an acid trip. Apart from the mainstays of gin, whisky, vodka etc., he recommends keeping: An orange liqueur; A cherry liqueur; Benedictine; Crème de Menthe; Crème de Cacao; Orange bitters; A bottle of sugar syrup; a selection of French and Italian Vermouths. Christopher Hitchens reckoned Amis 'A very slight cocktail bore', which might account for this terrible catalogue, but there you go: the Seventies were both stickier and more brightly-coloured than the newsreels suggest.

On the other hand, he's bang on in his attitude to wine writers. He quotes an anonymous contemporary wine critic who was unwise enough to write: 'Rather a jumbly, untidy sort of wine, with fruitiness shooting off one way, firmness another and body pushing about underneath. It will be as comfortable and comforting as the 1961 Nuits-St-Georges once it has pulled its ends in and settled down.' According to Amis, this kind of stuff 'Receives a deeper and more educated contempt from real wine-drinkers than from the average man in the pub', but I'm not sure that time hasn't overtaken him and that, in this age of plenty, we're not all meant to be equally stupendously opinionated by-the-yard wine blowhards.

But on the other other hand, he has got this fantastic section on fatal-sounding drinks. I did mention this before, but now I am jaded enough to want to do something more than just mention it. Some of the drinks he describes are sensible enough (Dry Martini; Manhattan), but others are plainly stupid. The Kingers, (named for Kingsley Amis), contains montilla ('a lightly fortified wine from Spain'), orange juice and Angostura bitters. Queen Victoria's Tipple is simply ½ a tumbler of red wine + Scotch. The Tigne Rose is equal tots of gin, whisky, rum, vodka and brandy, and that's it. Evelyn Waugh's Noonday Reviver is a (hefty) shot of gin, ½ a pint of bottled Guinness, topped up with ginger beer. 

It's the stupid ones that sound so appealing. And the one that appeals most is Queen Victoria's Tipple, a) because it's incredibly simple, b) because I have the ingredients to hand. Slight snag: it's only half past ten in the morning. How much Scotch to put in? Amis recommends 'Stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler'. He also adds, 'Worth trying once.'

I get a really small Duralex tumbler, throw in some Brancott Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir that someone brought with them to the house and which has been sitting around, half-drunk, for a couple of days, and then rather less than half as much again of Tesco's finest Special Reserve Scotch whisky. I stare at it, then forget that it's there and about three minutes later absently take a swig. Deadly mistake. It has a taste somewhere between thin gravy, treacle and a three-day-old bonfire, with a real chesty punch, like being hit in the sternum with a bag of sand. It actually makes my eyes water, and two sips later I am numb enough to have surgery. It is kind of fantastic, but it is not a drink. Queen Victoria was violently opposed to abstinence from alcohol, regarding it as a 'Pernicious heresy'. Gladstone was appalled by this particular mixture, which was apparently her preferred dinner-table beverage. For once, he was right. The Old Queen, like Kingsley Amis, must have been shitfaced, most of the time.



  1. Ah, they were made of much sterner stuff than we are, the Victorians. Perhaps she didn't leave the wine hanging around for a couple of days? Or drank from a thimble? Then again, in novel after novel you read of whole bottles of Madeira. I think it was fortitude. We could all do with more of that these days.

  2. Really Good Post!!

    Through the Cognac Forum I came in contact with Don Henny, collector of everything about Baron Otard Cognac.

  3. Very cool post. Makes me want to start drinking!


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