Modern Drink (well, modernish)
Remind you of anyone?
For me, it’s James Bond and his famous vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
Bond drinks booze
Bond drinks a lot. He’s never seen to be the worse for wear, though.
Interesting, don’t you think?
In fact, his martini recipe (in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale) is quite something and not mainly vodka, either: 3 measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken till very cold and served with a long strip of lemon peel (rather than olives). He does say he only ever has one. Just as well, I’d say 😉 That’s most of a man’s weekly alcohol allowance right there in one glass.
Bond also has a remarkable palate for wines, often identifying a vintage from a single sip. How he does that when he smokes about 60 a day is difficult to say…
Would readers believe in a character that did all those things in any other story but a James Bond? It would take some very clever writing but maybe you can do it?
Bond drinks coffee
I do vividly remember one drink-related film scene in Istanbul that doesn’t involve alcohol. Bond (Sean Connery) is ordering breakfast from room service. No friendly preliminaries. Just a curt order: “Yoghurt, green figs, coffee, very black.”
Why do I remember that?
Because of how much it said about the character. His coffee—very black—makes a real statement. Very strong, almost certainly drunk without sugar. And no milky adulterations. Were the screen writers aiming to show a macho man through what he chose to drink and how he ordered it? Looks like it to me.
That’s enough of James Bond’s drinking habits, I think…
Like James Bond, Regency men drank a lot. But their range of drinks was more limited than ours. Wines came from Europe and were mostly from established wine-producing countries with which England had long-standing ties. So Portugal provided fortified wines: port and Madeira. There was also sherry from Spain.
Table wines tended to be French claret (from Bordeaux) and Burgundy, or German hock, a term used for pretty much any German white wine, plus occasional Tokay from Hungary. And there was champagne, too, of course. Oodles of it.
Some readers, I understand, think that brandy is an effeminate drink and real heroes would drink whisky. Um, no. Not in the Regency period, they wouldn’t. For a couple of good reasons.
First, whisky at that period was usually a raw, colourless and incredibly potent (undiluted) spirit. It wasn’t aged in oak into the smooth drink that whisky is now. So it would be a bit like drinking industrial alcohol. Not the drink of a gentleman at all.
Second, most of the distilling was illegal since whisky was very highly taxed. The makers called it “moonshine” because their illicit stills ran at night when the excisemen (of whom Robert Burns was one) were less likely to detect it.
The Scotch whisky industry, as we know it, didn’t really begin until after the Regency, with the Excise Act of 1823, when the British government started to issue licences for distilleries. The first licensed distillery, from 1824, now produces The Glenlivet, a Speyside malt.
Did drink have to be alcohol?
Well, no, but…
Water was unlikely to be safe to drink, especially if you were living in areas where wells or rivers might be contaminated. I remember being surprised, the first time I read Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, that Mary Challoner insists on drinking water in France instead of alcohol. Even a few decades ago, travellers repeated the warning to drink only bottled water in France, because the tap water wasn’t safe. Perhaps not true, but widely accepted. And Devil’s Cub takes place in the eighteenth century!
Still, Mary’s insistence on water shows her strength of character. She will not allow Vidal’s overwhelming charisma to intimidate her (unlike most of the other women he knows).
In eighteenth century England (and earlier), most people drank small ale or small beer, rather than water. It was alcoholic, but only just, usually 1% ABV or less. Crucially, the water was boiled to brew beer so it was safe to drink. Everyone, including children, drank it and many households brewed their own. Even places like Eton College did so.
In the Regency period, tea was an expensive luxury and highly taxed. As tea became cheaper and more widely available in the later nineteenth century, it replaced small beer as the standard drink. Like beer, tea had the advantage of being made from boiled, therefore safe, water.
Remember Mr Beaumaris’s grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Wigan, in Arabella, who says, forthrightly, “Maudling one’s inside with tea never did any good to anyone yet, and never will.” But then the old lady was born in a different era, “had never been known to waste politeness on anyone, and was scathingly contemptuous of everything modern”. She takes exception to being given a mere half-glass of wine by Mr Beaumaris who has to admit, “I dare say you can drink me under the table…”
Fabulous. And the Dowager’s character shows clearly in her attitude to both wine and tea, don’t you think?
Regency food and characters?
Sadly, I’ve run out of space so I’ll be rambling on about food and characters in a future blog.