Saturday, 17 March 2012

Is Buckfast the modern day Absinthe?

The Victorian era has always been a time that has interested me and has warmed my imagination.  It was a time of great change and development for Great Britain – exciting times indeed.  One thing that did not change much from the Georgian period that preceded it is the peoples love for strong alcohol.   You could say that this still remains prominent in the 21st century.

The Victorian era is linked with strong images created by the literature both of the time and based on the time and some of the most famous ones – Jekyll and Hyde, Alice in Wonderland and Dorian Gray are full of images of potions and alcohol.  It has also been suggested that the authors were no doubt under the influence whilst writing the novels – talking cats that evaporate and putting your soul into a painting?  It is not something a completely sane mind would come up with.

...Or perhaps just from the mind of someone who is consuming something as potent as Laudanum.  Laudanum is an alcoholic herbal drink containing 10% powdered opium.  It contains almost all the opium components such as morphine and codeine.  It was cheaper than a bottle of wine and was not taxed as it was not categorised as an alcoholic beverage.  The addictiveness of it was not flagged up for a couple of years though.
It was often mixed with other drinks such as absinthe - you might recall seeing this in the Johnny Depp film From Hell.  You might just recall Johnny Depp in the bath.

Absinthe like laudanum is herbal and made mainly of wormwood.  It is primarily green in colour – although modern versions appear to be predominantly black and probably is not proper absinthe.
The first version of the drink consisted of alcohol, wormwood, aniseed, lemon balm and herbs but it was late modified by a Dr named Ordinaire (apparently this is his real name). In 1792 he concocted a formula of 8 plants, including wormwood, anise, hyssop and fennel, and used 136-proof alcohol, which became the traditional proof of real absinthe.

It is tradtionally mixed with sugar through the use of a special absinthe spoon – iced water is poured over the sugar cube and melts it into the drink.  The end result should be 1 part absinthe and ¾ water. The sugar can also be disolved through setting it alight through coating it in alcohol.

I have drank absinthe both modern and traditional varieties and it is certainly an acquired taste and it does not take very much of it to get you drunk and by drunk I mean passed out on the floor (or in the bath followed by the suitcase) drunk.
Which is not entirely surprising considering absinthe is associated with crazy behavior and hallucinating.  Van Gogh was a lover of absinthe and he cut his ear off. Shock rocker Marilyn Manson is also a fan of the green drink and has used it in his art work both as inspiration and sometimes as paint.

The big stain down the side of the painting that is absinthe. During painting he dipped his brush in the wrong glass and just went with it.
Not all popular drinks from this period are as peculiar though others such as gin but it does come with an certain controversary.  The start if the 18th century Gin (also known as Mothers Ruin) became very popular in Great Britain so much so that theres is a period called ‘The Gin Craze‘.  Pariliament passed five major acts to alter the consumption of gin due to the moral outlash it was causing.  Remember this period of time was one with high moral standards and expected lady like behavior it was not until later on this all changed. By 1743, the people of England were drinking 10 litres of gin annually per head of population.

Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London, over half were gin shops.  The term gin shops is still used today but in reference to pubs with bad reputations
When you compare some Victorian drinks to modern drinks they would be considered some kind of potion. However although witchcraft and the punishment of drowning had died down by the Victorian era you could still be charged with witchcraft - so no actual potions in the ways of drink mixing were used. 

But something that does relate closely to modern society is the governments work towards changing alcohol laws. There are talks going on at the moment about the pricing of alcohol and the contemplation of banning Buckfast Wine. 

 It would appear that Buckfast could be the modern day equivalent of the drinks I have mentioned.  It is after all a ‘tonic wine’ and laudanum was used for medicinal purposes and like absinthe and gin it has been blamed for anti-social behaviour.   So it looks like with this drink you would be more likely to get thrown in a prison cell and that sounds a little bit better than having your pockets filled with stones and thrown in a lake.

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