Georgian & Regency Drinks

As Christmas draws near I find myself sitting at my family’s old kitchen table with my sister-in-law enjoying my first port. At the point at which my neck connects with my chest there is a warm feeling where the port has left a little residue in my throat. It turns out I rather like port.

I have been told I am enjoying a smooth, easy-drinking traditional port (which encompasses all the full-bodied flavour of red wine which I like so much), and which is particularly ‘leggy’, meaning that when you tip the glass from side-to-side the liquid leaves dark red viscous drips down the glass’ side. It’s all very rich and delicious.port_wine

I also tried a tawny port, without the deep red colouring it instead is more translucent with a brown shade. Earlier I was enjoying a draft cider at the pub after a carvery for my sister’s birthday. Before that a bottled ‘fruit-shoot’ cider that a child could drink without wrinkling their nose – not that I condone children drinking mind.

As I was chatting to my sister-in-law over this port, I said that it was a pleasure to be drinking a beverage which would have been drunk in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It made me think of all the drinks we read about character’s reading and how a very few of them have been tasted by myself though I force them down my character’s throats regularly. In the end, it has inspired a little research so I thought I would jot down some of my notes from my readings:

1. Port

A great article in the Guardian which describes Port as the drink of choice in the Georgian period and Samuel Johnson as saying, “All the decent people in Lichfield got drunk every night and were not the worse thought of…” But of course, can you blame them when alcohol was the reasonable alternative to poor quality drinking water? Or perhaps some went farther over the line than others…I’ll let you decide on that.

Port wine is a fortified wine which means that during its production process either grape spirit or brandy is added. Generally, it is a sweet wine thanks to the brandy or grape spirit being added before the end of fermentation ensuring the sweetness of the grape is retained, often referred to as a dessert wine, which is part of the reason it was often drunk after dinner.

Produced in northern Portugal in the Duoro valley the region was officially demarcated in 1756 funnily enough – making it a particularly Georgian drink.


2. Claret

Ah, Claret, mentioned numerous times in M.M. Bennetts’ second novel Of Honest Fame, thanks to it’s being the favoured drink of one enigmatic Jesaudon.

I understand that Claret, from the 1700s onwards, referred to a dark red Bordeaux wine. It was often a richer and more expensive Bordeaux.

3. Bordeaux

Bordeaux wine is any wine whose grapes are grown and whose liquid is fermented in the Bordeaux region of France. It is often drunk in the modern day, and the name in modern parlance is used interchangeably with claret, though in the Georgian period there would have been a demarcation between the two, no doubt largely based upon the expense the wine incurred, seeing Claret as the finer of the two.


4. Ratafia

This is a classically feminine drink which is constantly mentioned in Georgette Heyer’s fabulous Regency romances, often being partaken of by the heroine.

Fermented from fruits, making it a sweet wine or liqueur depending upon the process, it is a sweet syrupy beverage and was served at Almack’s. These leads us to the conclusion that it was considered a proper and conservative beverage due to its being offered at that exclusive assembly rooms in London.

5. Madeira

Another fortified wine, Madeira takes it’s name from the Mediterranean island of the same name. This wine is created by heating and re-heating the wine bringing out the sweeter flavours of caramel, hazelnut and sugar.

According to Wine Folly, this heating and cooling was mimicked after seafarers realised that the ships passing from Madeira through the tropics, cooling and heating the barrels, deepened the flavour of the wine.


6. Gin

Ah, gin, those lovely G & T’s on a hot summer’s day are a far cry from William Hogarth’s gin lane. A cheap alcohol, it was often consu-

Hogarth’s Gin Lane c.1751

med by the poor and considered a depraved drink compared to beer as the latter was respectably British. This is depicted in Hogarth’s contrasting engravings of Gin Lane and Beer Street contrasting depravity and chaos with order and productivity.


Gin is derived from juniper berries and as it was originally allowed to be produced without a license was cheaper than other imported drinks until the 1751 Gin Act brought it under heavier regulation.

7. Ale

Hogarth’s Beer Street c.1751

I don’t have a lot to say about this drink apart from that it had its origins in the Middle Ages, unlike beer it is not made from hops, and was often drunk with breakfast.
8. And for those of you not that into alcoholic beverages, Joseph Priestly invented fizzy drinks in 1772 so you would just have had to wait another 100 years for Coca Cola’s appearance in 1892!


So there you have it, by no means an exhaustive list, but nonetheless a helpful one when understanding exactly what that favourite character of yours is swigging down.



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