A purly punch on the nose

dickens cocktails

Happily once again we have been asked by our friends at the Dickens Museum to do a tasting, this time based around the contents of Dickens drinks cellar and forgotten Victorian cocktails. Lucky for us, Dickens had an 18 gallon cask of gin in his cellar (good man!) and was a prodigious and expert gin punch maker so we were confident there would be much to tickle our fancy in this collaboration. What we did not realise is just how interesting this journey would be, as Dickens novels and his own drinking habits illustrate the evolution of English drinking – as the late Georgian leisurely conviviality of the punch bowl made way for the Victorian efficiency of glass based cocktails.

Along the way we have perfected a fantastic purl. A drink mentioned in a number of Dickens novels and that in Victorian times was sold to labourers on the river. The ring of the purlmans bell would signal the availability of warm porter, gin and ginger. This was fertile ground, the vast array of craft porters, from smoked, London and coffee had us reaching for the many gins on our shelves until we hit on a winning pairing. A Dog’s nose is a hasty purl, being cold and wet like the proverbial!

Dickens was also an expert punch maker who  “brewed a bowl of punch, an accomplishment in which he stood pre-eminent” and some time with his correspondence reveals he was partial to gin punch, for which both he and his father had a singular reputation. This sets the bar quite high, however we were intrigued to discover that Dickens had a secret weapon – borage, and so we have riffed on his punch habits to perfect a most singular receipt.

Most interestingly of all is that Dickens was a cocktail drinker – he was introduced to American ‘sensation drinks’ on his reading tours of the USA in 1842 and 1867 where he was acquainted with the Gin-sling, Cock-tail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Rocky Mountain sneezer and the Eye-Opener – which he described as “rare drinks” and “meritorious drams”. Cocktails were originally anti-fogmatics, taken in the morning to preserve from the effects of the damp and unwholesome air. Dickens did write home that

“Did I tell you that my landlord made me a drink (brandy, rum, and snow the principal ingredients) called a “Rocky Mountain sneezer?” Or that the favourite drink before you get up is an “eye- opener”?

However we were heartened to discover this singular quote “Last night I was drinking gin-slings till daylight, with Buckstone of all people, who saw me looking at the Spanish dancers, and insisted on being convivial.” What can we say, Spain being the birth-place of the copa serve – all things are circles in circles, with a drop of Madame Geneva putting all thing in perspective.

Tickets for Dog’s Nose & Shandygaff: an evening of forgotten cocktails can be bought from the Dickens Museum. And look out for our new tasting event tasting event based on historic drinks.

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