George IV becomes King


George IV was the last of the Georgian Kings and acted as Prince Regent from 1811 until the death of his father, George III, in 1820. It is from this time when England was ruled by the Prince Regent that the term Regency Era arises. On June 19, 1821 King George IV was crowned. Read more about this event and George’s somewhat checkered life at the following links.

© 2015 C Hudson

The Origins of Mayfair, Grosvenor Square, and Other Upscale London Neighborhoods.

Grosvenor Square c. 1730

Grosvenor Square, London c. 1730


This week, I ran across a blog post that drove home that the Real Estate maxim of “Location, Location, Location” is not anything new.  Take a look at this blog article about how its location, west of most of the City of London, led to development of these Ritzy neighborhoods.

How Prevailing Winds Made Mayfair


© 2016 – Chuck Hudson


Tarts, Pasties, and other Georgian Delights



Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
(Traditional English Nursery Rhyme)

After all the posts on social media, I expect that most of my readers are aware of International Pi Day, which occurred on March 14 — or 3/14. This annual observance celebrates the mathematical constant of pi. While often abbreviated as 3.14, pi has an infinite number of digits beyond the decimal point, starting with 3.141592653.

Last year’s Pi Day was a special one to celebrate since it was 3/14/15, matching perfectly the first numbers past the decimal point of pi. Last year, hardcore math fans even started celebrating the day at exactly 9:26 a.m. and 53 seconds. This year, math enthusiasts celebrated what they are calling “Rounded Pi Day” since rounding pi to the ten-thousandth (that is four numbers past the decimal point) comes out to 3.1416, matching this year’s date — March 14, 2016.

So, what does all this have to do with the Georgian Era? Certainly, the Georgian Era had its share of mathematicians, but pi was a well-established value long before the Hanoverians came to power in England. Around 150 AD, Greek-Roman scientist Ptolemy, in his Almagest, gave a value for π of 3.1416, which he may have obtained from Archimedes or from Apollonius of Perga (Boyer, 1968). What all this talk of pi did do,however, was to get me thinking of another type of pi – pye or pie – a sweet or savory filling encased in a pastry crust! Continue reading

“Loyalist Man” and Loyalist Studies

Those of my readers who know me personally, are aware of my penchant for “Loyalist Studies” and setting the record straight on those American colonists who chose to support the British in our war for independence.  Bonnie Huskins recently published an interesting article on rethinking loyalists that bears a read and some consideration.  Please take a few minutes to take a look at this article that proposes reframe our thinking about these folks.



Beverages in the Georgian Era – Part 3

Welcome back to our “survey” of the Beverages of the Georgian Era in the English-speaking world.  In Part 1 of this series we looked at non-alcoholic beverages.  Then, in Part 2, we looked at brewed and fermented drinks.  Today, we are going to look at the distilled spirits common to England and her colonies, their origins, and when during the era they are proper.

Distilled Spirits


Before Europeans planted sugar cane in the Caribbean, before the “Gin craze” hit London, people drank Arrack.  Yet today, in a world dominated by Vodka, Gin, Rum, Brandy, and Whisky – one might ask; where is the Arrack?  Outside of Europe and the Americas, Arrack (in its various forms) remains one of the most widely imbibed strong spirits.  In central and Southern China, Arrack is a distillate of fermented rice, and in Egypt, it is largely from dates.  In Mongolia, it refers to a distillate from fermented milk, and in Sri Lanka, it is a distillate of the fermented sap of the coconut flower.  In other small tropical countries, it is a product of the sap of the Palmetto or Palmyra trees.  Do not confuse this alcohol with Arak, a Middle Eastern drink made from raisins; Arak has a flavor like anise, similar to the Greek ouzo.

The Arrack most familiar to English-speaking people of the Georgian era, however, came from the islands of what is today Indonesia and was often known as “Batavia Arrack” in reference to the former name of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.  Batavia Arrack was the “Rum” of Indonesia, because, like Rum, it was distilled from sugarcane using pot stills.  To start the fermentation, local fermented red rice, combined with local yeast to give a unique flavor and smell of the distillate.  Then, the brewers added sugarcane syrup to the mash.  This mixture, after further fermentation in Teak tubs, distilled to about 70% ABV.

Batavia, the Center of Dutch Trade in Indonesia

Batavia, the Center of Dutch Trade in Indonesia

The Dutch East India Company, in 1619, laid claim to the island of Java (one of the islands of modern Indonesia) and renamed the capital city Batavia.  The trade of Batavia Arrack dates as far back as the early 17th century.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) found Arrack a lucrative complement to the spice trade that had brought them east, and soon Arrack found passage with these merchants to Amsterdam.  The Dutch found very willing consumers throughout Europe, especially in Britain and Sweden.

Arrack was immensely popular, during the early 1700s in London and then later in the American colonies, initially in New York and Virginia and then spreading throughout.  More than Rums, Gins or other spirits, the Batavia Arrack had the effect of elevating the aromatics of the spices and citrus notes, making it, although higher priced, the preferred spirit of tavern-goers whose preferred drink at the time was punch.

A testament to its popularity is a 1737 illustration of a satirically proposed monument to notorious Covent Garden coffee-house owner Tom King featured casks of Arrack and Brandy, but no Gin.  Arrack was the drink of those who could afford better than the basics.

Illustration of a Fictional Monument to Tom King c 1739 by William Hogarth

Fictional Monument to Tom King c 1739 by William Hogarth

Even in America, the “land that Rum built,” even from the early days there was real Arrack Punch.  In 1728, when Colonel William Byrd struck out deep into the wilderness to survey the Virginia-Carolina border, he found that Colonel Harvey Harrison did “spoil us for Woodsmen” by serving “Rack-Punch” to Col Byrd’s party. (Wondrich, 2010)

Considering mercantilist trade policies dictated that Arrack be shipped from the East Indies to England before it could be trans-shipped to America, where it then had to be carried, often by wagon teams, into the backcountry, you can imagine what it cost.  Even in the more settled parts of the country, it was expensive.  In 1736, when Virginian William Randolph bought a twenty-four hundred acre tract of Crown land that included a parcel his friend Peter Jefferson had his eye on, he agreed to sell Jefferson two hundred acres of it for fifty pounds, and another two hundred in return for, “Weatherborne’s biggest bowl of arrack punch to him delivered.” (Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc, 2016)

By the opening decades of the nineteenth century, though, Arrack had begun to lose its popularity, both in America and in England, as the public taste moved from the communal punch bowl to individualized drinks.  It continued to hang on in some quarters as George Augustus Frederick, the Prince of Wales and future Prince Regent, was quite fond of Arrack-based punch.  London’s United Services Club, founded in 1816 after England eliminated the threats of the French Revolution and then Napoleon, brought together senior officers of the army and navy.  The extreme conservativeness of the club’s Punch mirrored its general outlook on life.

United Service Punch

Dissolve, in two pints of hot tea, three-quarters of a pound of loaf-sugar, having previously rubbed off, with a portion of the sugar, the peel of four lemons; then add the juice of eight lemons and a pint of arrack.
(Wondrich, 2010)

So, why did such a popular spirit vanish?  The first blow was taxation.  By the early 1800s, protectionist import taxes, levied in Europe against spirits imported from the east, gave an enormous advantage to Caribbean and American Rum producers.  The British East India Company even went so far as to ban the transport of Arrack on its ships, except for consumption on board.  As a result, Rum production grew exponentially, while Arrack production gradually faded.


In ancient Greece and Rome, people used Brandy as both an antiseptic and an anesthetic, and there are accounts of Arab alchemists in the 7th and 8th centuries experimenting with distilling grapes and other fruits to create medicinal spirits.  Their knowledge and techniques quickly spread beyond Islam’s borders, as shown by the production of  grape Brandy appearing in Spain and Ireland (via missionary monks) by the end of the 8th century.

It was in the 17th century, however, that Brandy became recognized throughout the world.  The word itself derives from the Dutch “brandewijn” (burnt wine), which is how the Dutch traders who introduced the drink to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain described wine that had been burnt or boiled to distill it.  The process seems to have evolved somewhat by accident to save space in the ship’s hold.  The traders boiled the wines to reduce their volume by evaporation and then, upon arrival at their destination, reconstituted them with water.  Eventually, someone observed that some wines benefited from this process.

Depending upon the region and the fruit, Brandy falls into four main categories: Fruit Brandies, American Brandies, Armagnac, and Cognac.  All Brandies made by fermenting fruit other than grapes are known as Fruit Brandy.  Fruit Brandies are clear, generally 80 to 90 proof, and distilled directly from the fruit itself.  Fruit Brandies, except those made from berries, are distilled from fruit wines and one should not confuse these with fruit-flavored Brandy, which is grape Brandy flavored with the extract of another fruit.  Since berries tend to lack enough sugar to make a wine with enough alcohol for proper distillation, they are soaked in high-proof spirit to extract their flavor and aroma.  This extract is then distilled once at a low proof.  Brandy made from apples is well known in Spain and France and is traditionally not placed in casks.  It is therefore traditionally clear.  Calvados, the Apple Brandy from the Normandy region of Northwestern France, is probably the best known of this type.  Eau-de-vie (water of life) is a term that refers to spirits in general and specifically to colorless fruit Brandy from the Alsace region of France.  Fruit Brandies are made from many fruits, including pears, apples, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries and they are generally served chilled or over ice.

Engraving of an 18th Century Distillery

Engraving of an 18th Century Distillery

Cognac is the best-known Brandy in the world, a benchmark with which to judge most other Brandies.  The Cognac region is located on the west-central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux.  This region is further subdivided into six growing zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Bois Ordinaires, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois.  The first of these regions produces the best Cognac and this designation often appears on bottle labels.  Cognac labeled Fine Champagne is a blend of Petite and Grand Champagnes.  The primary grapes used in making Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Columbard.  These grapes produce wines that are thin, tart, and low in alcohol; poor qualities for table wines, but oddly enough, perfect for making Brandy.  The producers then double distill this wine in pot stills before aging it in oaken casks to become Cognac.  All Cognac begins in new oak to mellow its taste and impart their golden color.  Those batches chosen for long-term aging are, after a few years, transferred to “seasoned” casks.  Armagnac is like Cognac with the greatest difference being the method of distillation – the use of column stills and not pot stills.  Armagnac is generally aged longer than Cognac with its best years between the teens to mid-twenties.  Anything over thirty years is considered overly aged.

American Brandies

So, where was American Brandy first made?  Remember, Brandy can be made from grapes as well from other fruits and each of these has its own starting point.  By most accounts, Brandy made from grapes originated in the west in what is today the wine country of California.  Many historians believe that Spanish missionaries and Mexican colonists expanding up the California coast brought the spirit distillation process to North America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Most American Brandy is distilled in California by individual firms.  This Brandy tends to be lighter and smoother than European Brandy.

The origins of American favorites like Peach Brandy from the South and Apple Brandy from the North, and eventually the Midwestern US; favorites for drinking, cooking, medicine, and trade, have different origins.  Expanding upon the European traditions of fruit spirits such as Eau de Vie and Calvados, European immigrants and second-generation colonists set up stills to take advantage of the plentiful and diverse fruits that thrived in North America.  In fact, Apple Brandy, known as Apple Jack, was the first spirit distilled in colonial America.  In 1780, Robert Laird established America’s first commercial distillery, for the production of Apple Jack, at Colt’s Neck, NJ next to the Colts Neck Inn

Photo of the Historic Marker for the Colt's Neck Inn.

Historic Marker for the Colt’s Neck Inn.

The colonists in the thirteen British colonies enjoyed both grape and fruit Brandy and so looked to both domestic and imported sources.  With frequent travel abroad, and especially to France, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both became lovers of products of French vineyards.  Jefferson tried and tried to cultivate varieties of French grapes at Monticello but, like more than a century of Virginia settlers before him, he was unsuccessful.  One of Jefferson’s passions was wine, and so, even on his deathbed, his doctors struggled to give him Brandy weak enough for his tastes yet strong enough for effect.

Franklin, who held no such qualms about the taste or strength of Brandy, used it for making punch.  While serving as Postmaster for the Colonies in the 1760’s, Franklin stayed with his friend James Bowdoin of Massachusetts.  Ever the considerate guest, Franklin left Bowdoin a note with his recipe for Milk Punch.  Milk Punch is a cold beverage somewhat akin to a posset, a hot drink of milk curdled with wine or ale, often spiced.  In each case, the alcohol and added acid curdle the milk.  What follows is Benjamin Franklin’s recipe.

To make Milk Punch

Take 6 quarts of Brandy, and the Rinds of 44 Lemons pared very thin;
Steep the Rinds in the Brandy 24 hours; then strain it off.
Put to it 4 Quarts of Water, 4 large Nutmegs grated,
2 quarts of Lemon Juice, 2 pound of double refined Sugar.
When the Sugar is dissolv’d, boil 3 Quarts of Milk and put to the rest
hot as you take it off the Fire, and stir it about.
Let it stand two Hours; then run it thro’ a Jelly-bag till it is clear;
then bottle it off.

While at Valley Forge, George Washington complained of the indignity that officers only had “stinking whiskey” unless a traveling friend or French officer visited.  Once he became President, the government reimbursed his household expenses and so they are now public record.  Among receipts in the State Library of New York is the household bill for £6, 6 shillings for Brandy, ranking it up there with beer, Madeira, claret, and champagne in the top consumables.


In over-crowded, slum-ridden Georgian London, Gin was the opiate of the people.  For a few pennies, London’s poor could find an escape from cold and hunger.  Where did this scourge originate and how did it come to be one of the most popular distilled beverages of the poor in 18th century England?

The first confirmed production of Gin (jenever or genever) is the early 17th century in Holland, although some claim production before this in Italy. (, 2016)  Gin was originally produced by distilling malt wine (moutwijn in Dutch) to 50% ABV.  Because the resulting spirit was not palatable due to the lack of refined distilling techniques (only the pot still was available), distillers added herbs to mask the flavor.  Produced as a medicine, apothecary shops sold it to treat stomach complaints, gout, and gallstones.

The warming properties of Gin gave British troops, fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years’ War, ‘Dutch Courage’ during the long campaigns in the damp weather.  Upon returning to England, they brought the taste for it back home.  Distillation, already taking place in a small way in England, now began on a greater scale, although the quality was very often questionable.  Nevertheless, the new drink, because of its low cost, became a firm favorite with the poor.

The Worshipful Company of Distillers, chartered by King Charles I in 1638, had the sole right to distill spirits in London and Westminster and up to twenty-one miles beyond.  They worked to improve both the quality of gin and its reputation – it helped English agriculture by using surplus corn and barley.  Then, when King William III, better known as William of Orange, came to the English throne in 1689, he enacted a series of laws actively encouraging distillation of spirits in England.  Under these new laws, anyone could now distill by simply posting a notice in public and waiting ten days.  Gin became so popular that sometimes city workers received it as part of their wages.  Before long, the daily volume of Gin sold exceeded that of the more expensive beer and ale. (Defoe, A brief case of the distillers: and of the distilling trade in England, 1726)

In 1729, in trying to control the plague that the “gin craze” was becoming, and to realize income for the government, new laws introduced the requirement for a £20 excise license to manufacture Gin and a duty of two shillings per gallon.  In addition, retailers now required a license to sell Gin.  The effect of this was to suppress the production and sale of good Gin, while consumption of bad spirits continued to rise.  By 1730, London had over 7,000 shops that sold only spirits.  Daniel Defoe wrote of “the prodigious number of shopkeepers whose business is wholly and solely the “selling of spirits,” and in some areas, spirits were sold, on average, from one private house in four. (Defoe, 1728)

The increasing abuse of alcohol by the poor continued and became a major problem.  Tobias Smollett, the 18th century Scottish novelist, wrote, “In these dismal caverns (‘strong water shops’) they (the poor) lay until they recovered some of their faculties and then they had recourse to this same mischievous potion.” (Smollett, 1825)  Lord Hervey declared, “Drunkenness of the common people was universal, the whole town of London swarmed with drunken people from morning till night.” (Hervey, 1848)  William Hogarth in his ‘Gin Lane’, an engraving of about this period, portrays a scene of idleness, vice, and misery, leading to madness and death.

Gin Lane - an engraving by William Hogarth

Gin Lane – an engraving by William Hogarth

The government attempted to tackle the problem in 1736 by introducing the Gin Act, which made Gin prohibitively expensive.  A license to retail Gin cost £50 and duty was raised five-fold to £1 per gallon with the smallest quantity you could buy retail being two gallons.  The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and Dr. Samuel Johnson opposed the Act.  They considered it unenforceable, since it went against the will of the common people, and they were right.  Riots broke out and the law was widely and openly broken.  At the time the Gin Act was enacted, distillers in London were producing about 11 million gallons of Gin; over 20 times the 1690 figure.  This works out to about 14 gallons of Gin for each adult male in London at the time.  During the six years after the introduction of the Gin Act, only two distillers took out licenses while over the same period, production rose by almost fifty per cent. (, 2016)

In 1742, the Gin Act, was finally officially acknowledged as unenforceable and repealed. A new policy, which distillers helped to draft, was introduced to replace it.  This policy included reasonably high prices, reasonable excise duties and licensed retailers under supervision of magistrates.  Because of these changes, the more respectable firms embarked on the business of distilling and retailing Gin and it became the drink of high quality that we know today.  Many companies established themselves as well-to-do manufacturers, often becoming patrons for major enterprises.  One such enterprise was the attempt to discover the North West Passage 1829-33: the attempt failed, but the expedition did show the true position of the North Magnetic Pole.  (Royal Museums Greenwich, 2016)


Rum is an alcoholic beverage produced by distilling fermented sugarcane juice or molasses,  and the waste products of sugar-making.  Many historians believe that fermented drinks, produced from sugarcane juice originated either in ancient India or in China and spread from there.  One example of such an early drink is Brum, produced by the Malay people and dating back thousands of years.  One of the first European encounters with a Rum-like drink was in the 14th Century when Marco Polo reported encountering a “very good wine made from sugar” in what is now Iran. (Polo, 1845)

The first modern Rum, distilled from sugarcane by-products, was produced in the Caribbean in the early to mid 17th century when slaves found they could ferment molasses into an alcoholic beverage and then distill it to remove its impurities.  The British island of Barbados and the French island of Martinique seem to be the most likely birthplaces of Rum making.  However, in the decade of the 1620s, we find evidence of Rum production in Brazil.  Archeologists found a liquid identified as Rum in a tin bottle recovered from the wreck of the Swedish warship Vasa, which sank in 1628. (, 2013)  Regardless of the origins of distilling this beverage, by the late 1600s, thousands of sugar works dotted the island landscapes of the Caribbean and nearly every plantation employed a copper pot still to make alcohol from the fermented skimming of sugar production and molasses.

Photograph of an 18th Century Copper Pot Still

18th Century Copper Pot Still

In 1655, Admiral William Penn of the British fleet, the father of the founder of Pennsylvania, captured Jamaica from the Spanish and authorized the locally made sugar-cane spirit to replace the official beer ration for the Caribbean squadron.  When he sailed from Jamaica, he found that Rum had the advantage of remaining sweet in the cask for very much longer than water or beer.  It was not until 1731, however, that the Navy Board were persuaded to make the official daily ration, one pint of wine or half a pint of Rum, to be issued neat (at 80% ABV.) in two equal amounts daily.  Every ‘rating’ would be entitled to the ration each day, plus a gallon of beer if he wanted it.  It was a right and a prized privilege that shielded him from the squalor and brutality of life in the Royal Navy.

In 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon claimed, ‘the vice of drunkenness is but too visibly increasing in our mariners’ and secured the change of ration to a quart of water to a half pint of Rum.  Tradition holds that, because of the unusual grogram material of his naval cloak, he was known as ‘Old Grog’.  Hence, when the lower strength ration was enforced, sailors referred to it as ‘Grog’.  Tradition also says that Vernon suggested adding limes and sugar to make the drink more palatable, which led to grog mixed with lime juice being known as ‘limey’, and that Americans calling British people ‘limeys’ derives from this.

A portrait of "Old Grog" Admiral Vernon of the Royal Navy

“Old Grog” Admiral Vernon of the Royal Navy

Following Rum’s “development” in the Caribbean, the drink’s popularity spread to Colonial North America.  In order to support the demand for the drink, the first Rum distillery in the British colonies of North America was set up in 1664 on present-day Staten Island.  Three years later, Boston, Massachusetts opened a distillery as well. (Blue, 2004)  New England became a distilling center due to the technical, metalworking, cooperage skills and abundant lumber and the manufacture of Rum quickly became early Colonial New England’s largest and most prosperous industry.  Rhode Island Rum even joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe for a time. (Blue, 2004)  Estimates of Rum consumption in the American colonies before the American Revolutionary War had every man, woman, or child drinking an average of three (3) imperial gallons of Rum each year. (Tannahill, 1973)

The popularity of Rum continued after the American Revolution, with George Washington ordering a hogshead of the finest aged Barbados Rum for his 1789 inauguration party. (Frost, 2005)  As time went on, Rum started to play an important role in the American political system as candidates attempted to influence the outcome of an election through their generosity with Rum.  Soon, people would attend election rallies and speeches to see which candidate appeared more generous and vote accordingly.  In addition, voters expected the candidate to drink with them to show he was independent and truly a man of the people.  Eventually the restrictions on sugar imports from the British islands of the Caribbean, combined with development of American Whisky, led to a decline in the drink’s popularity in North America.

Portrait of Governor William Bligh

Governor William Bligh

While Rum production was extremely important to the Caribbean islands and the American colonies, they were not the only ones producing Rum.  In colonial Australia, Rum was prized both as a drink and, because of a lack of currency, as a form of payment.  Because of this practice, people in Australia became associated with drunkenness in the eyes of their British upper class colonial governors.  In 1806, to remedy their dependence on Rum, the new Governor of New South Wales attempted to ban the use of Rum as currency.  For this, the Governor, William Bligh, (yes, the same Bligh who had captained HMS Bounty during its infamous mutiny), was placed under arrest in his house by the militia, and the mutineers maintained control of the colony for the next four years. (Clarke, 2002)

Whisky (or Whiskey)

Whisky or Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash.  Various grains (which may be malted), including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat, are used for different varieties of Whisky.  Whiskey is typically aged in wooden casks made of charred white oak.

The spelling ‘Whiskey’ is common in Ireland and the United States while ‘Whisky’ is the general usage in every other Whisky producing country in the world.  In the US, the usage has not always been consistent.  From the late eighteenth century until introduction of newspaper style guides in the mid-twentieth century, American writers used both spellings interchangeably.  Since the 1960s, American writers have increasingly used Whiskey as the accepted spelling for aged grain spirits made in the US and Whisky for aged grain spirits made outside the US. (Zandona, 2016)  Some prominent American brands, such as George Dickel, Maker’s Mark, and Old Forester (all made by different companies), use the Whisky spelling on their labels, and the ‘Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits’, the legal regulations for spirit in the US, uses the ‘Whisky’ spelling throughout. (United States Government, 2016)

There are two main “types” of Whisky; Malt Whisky, primarily made from malted barley, and Grain Whisky, made from any type of grain.  Although not necessarily true during the Late Georgian era, today, distillers designate alt and grain Whisky in several ways.

  • Single Malt Whisky is Whisky from a single distillery made from a mash that uses only one particular malted grain. Unless the distiller describes the Whisky as single-cask, it has Whisky from many casks, and different years, so the blender can achieve a taste recognizable as typical of the distillery.
  • Blended Malt Whisky is a mixture of Single Malt Whiskies from different distilleries. If a Whisky is labelled “pure malt” or just “malt,” it is almost certainly a blended Malt Whisky, formerly called a “vatted malt” Whisky.
  • Blended Whisky is made from a mixture of different types of Whisky. A blend may contain Whisky from many distilleries.
  • Cask Strength (also known as barrel proof) Whiskies are rare, and usually distillers bottle only the very best Whiskies in this way. They are bottled from the cask undiluted or only lightly diluted.
  • Single Cask (also known as single barrel) Whiskies come from an individual cask, and often the distillers label the bottles with specific barrel and bottle numbers. The taste of these Whiskies may vary substantially from cask to cask.

Scotch Whisky

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch Whisky evolved from a Scottish drink called “uisge beatha,” which means “water of life.” (The Scotch Whisky Association, 2012)  The earliest record of distillation in Scotland occurred as long ago as 1494, as documented in the Exchequer Rolls, which were records of royal income and expenditure.  They record “eight bolls of malt given to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae” over the previous year. (Exchequer of Scotland, 1494-95, p. Vol. 10 Page 487)  This would be enough for 1,500 bottles, which suggests a well-established distilling tradition by the late 15th century.

Taxation of Scotch Whisky production, beginning in 1644, caused a rise in illicit Whisky distilling in the country.  By around 1780, there were about 8 legal distilleries and 400 illegal ones.  In 1823, Parliament eased restrictions on licensed distilleries with the ‘Excise Act’, while at the same time making it harder for the illegal stills to operate, thereby ushering in the modern era of Scotch production.  Originally, all Scotch Whisky was made from malted barley however, commercial distilleries began introducing Whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. (MacLean, 2009)

English Whisky

England, like Scotland, had a history of producing single malt Whisky.  However, the production of English single malt Whisky ceased around 1905.  Until the late 19th century, there were distillers operating in London, Liverpool, and Bristol that included:

  • Bristol Distillery (founded in the 17th century) — produced grain Whisky which was “sent to Scotland and Ireland to make a Blended Scotch and Irish Whisky, for whisky purpose it was specially adapted, and stood in high favor“.
  • Vauxhall Distillery in Liverpool (founded in 1781) — produced grain Whisky
  • Bank Hall Distillery in Liverpool (founded 1790) — produced grain and malt Whisky (Barnard, 1887)

Irish Whisky

Irish Whisky claims to be one of the earliest distilled drinks in Europe, arising around the 12th century.  Many believe that Irish monks brought the technique of distilling perfumes back to Ireland from their travels to the Mediterranean countries around 1000 A.D.  The Irish modified this technique to get a drinkable spirit.  The first official record of Whisky production in Ireland was in 1405.  Production continued, in an unregulated state, until the Crown enacted a statute in the late 16th century introducing a vice-regal license for the manufacture of Whisky.  The Old Bushmills Distillery claims to be the oldest surviving licensed distillery in the world, claiming a heritage to a license from James I in 1608, although production of Whisky did not begin at Bushmills until the company’s establishment in 1784.

Whisky in America

Rye Whisky

Whisky making in Virginia began about 1620, when colonist George Thorpe figured out he could distill a mash of Indian corn.  “Wee have found a waie to make soe good drink of Indian corne I have divers times refused to drinke good stronge English beare and chose to drinke that,” he wrote to his cousin in England, John Smith of Nibley.  Despite George Thorpe’s efforts, since maize grew better than barley, distillers used corn, rye or both.  Whisky, however, did not catch on in America until the eighteenth century. (Theobald, 2008)

Before the American Revolution, Rum was the drink of choice in the American colonies since it was cheap, plentiful, and distilled in the northern colonies using molasses from the British colonies in the Caribbean.  Because of this, Whisky seldom shows up on tavern price lists before the Revolutionary War.  Any frontier farmer who raised more grain than he could eat or feed to his livestock could distill Whisky at home and many did just that.  If he did not own a still, he found a neighbor who did, and gave him some of the Whisky as payment.  A bushel of corn made about three gallons and was worth more in liquid form.  Rye and corn became the preferred grains of colonial Whisky makers, with rye the main ingredient.

A photo of the restored Rye Whisky distillery at George Washington's Mount Vernon

The restored Rye Whisky distillery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England Rum distillers converted to Whisky.  Whisky was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain unlike Rum, wine, Gin, Madeira, Brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and subject to taxation.  Rye Whisky was the prevalent Whisky of the northeastern states, especially Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Pittsburgh was the center of Rye Whisky production in the late 1700s and early 1800s and by 1808, Allegheny County farmers were selling one half barrel for each man, woman and child in the country.  Rye Whisky largely disappeared after Prohibition.

Whisky would soon create one of America’s first Constitutional crises.  Faced with Revolutionary War debts, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton moved in 1791 to tax domestically produced spirits.  Distillers demanded repeal, saying the levy, an excise, fell disproportionately on the poor.  Moreover, they were “apprehensive that this excise will by degrees be extended to other articles of consumption, until everything we eat, drink, or wear be, as in England and other European countries, subjected to heavy duties and the obnoxious inspection of a host of officers.” (Gallatin, 1792)

A group calling themselves the ‘whisky boys’ went on a rampage, burning tax collectors’ homes, tarring and feathering excise officers, and destroying property of any who complied with the tax.  Thousands of whisky boys marched on, and occupied, Pittsburgh.  Reluctantly, President George Washington called out the militia and the rebellion collapsed.  The government captured, convicted of treason, and sentenced to death a few rebels; however, President Washington pardoned them.

History books have long presented a sympathetic picture of the whisky boys, saying that their livelihoods depended on the sale of spirits to consumers on the other side of the Appalachians.  “Supposedly,” writes historian Andrew Barr, “it was impractical for the backwoodsmen to haul bulky consignments of grain over the mountains,” so they turned it into more easily transported Whisky.  “This was a myth created by their descendants.  There is no evidence of backwoods whiskey being sold in eastern Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. . . . The backwoodsmen drank it all themselves.” (Theobald, 2008)


Bourbon Whisky is a type of barrel-aged American Whisky primarily made from corn.  The process of making Whisky from corn developed later in the eighteenth century in the backwoods area of Virginia known as Bourbon County.  Organized in 1785, this region included 34 of today’s counties in Kentucky.  These Kentucky farmers began making Whisky exclusively with corn, instead of rye, in 1789.  What made this “new” Whisky distinctive was aging.  The distillers discovered that charring the inside of oak barrels, and aging their Whisky in them, gave their matured Whiskey a superior flavor and dark, rich color.  The first use of the term “Bourbon” for this Whisky has been traced to the 1820s, and the term became consistently used in Kentucky in the 1870s. (Kiniry, 2013)  Thus, the term is not generally an proper term for Whisky during most of the Georgian Era.

While our “survey,” conducted in the last few posts, of Georgian Era beverages in the English-speaking world  has been far from comprehensive, I believe that we have touched on the major types and examples of these beverages; both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  There are hundreds of books, in print and out, covering most of the beverages we discussed but this series should give the reader an idea of what is right for the period.

If you have a favorite period beverage that you believe we missed, either in this article, or in Part 1 or Part 2, please share it with us in the comments section and I will take a look into it.  You never know, your comment might be the inspiration for a future article here on this blog!

© 2015 Chuck Hudson

Works Cited

Barnard, A. (1887). The whisky distilleries of the United Kingdom. London.

Blue, A. D. (2004). The Complete Book of Spirits. New York: Harper Collins.

Clarke, F. G. (2002). The History of Australia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Defoe, D. (1726). A brief case of the distillers: and of the distilling trade in England. London: T. Warner.

Defoe, D. (1728). The Compleat English Tradesman, Vol II. London: Charles Rivington.

Exchequer of Scotland. (1494-95). Exchequer Roles of Scotland. Scotland.

Frost, D. (2005, January 06). Rum makers distill unsavory history into fresh products. San Francisco Chronicle.

Gallatin, A. (1792). Petition against the Excise Tax By Inhabitants of Western Pennsylvania. Retrieved from (2016, February 03). Gin History, Development & Origin. Retrieved from Gin and Vodka:

Hervey, Lord John. (1848). Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second, Vol. 2. London

Kiniry, L. (2013, June 13). Where Bourbon Really Got Its Name and More Tips on America’s Native Spirit. Retrieved from

MacLean, C. e. (2009). World Whiskey: A Nation-by-Nation Guide to the Best. London: DK Publishing.

Polo, M. M. (1845). The Travels of Marco Polo. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. (2013). The Excavation. Retrieved from “From wreck to state of the art” The Royal Warship Vasa 1628:

Royal Museums Greenwich. (2016, March 3). John and James Clarke Ross North-West Passage expedition 1829–33. Retrieved from Royal Museums Greenwich:

Smollett, G. T. (1825). The History of England from the Revolution in 1688, to the Death of George the Second. London: Jones & Company.

Tannahill, R. (1973). Food in History. New York: Stein and Day.

The Scotch Whisky Association. (2012, May 31). History of Scotch Whisky. Retrieved from Scotch Whisky Association:

Theobald, M. M. (2008, Summer). When Whisky Was the King of Drink. Retrieved from

Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. (2016, January 07). Shadwell. Retrieved from Thomas Jefferson” Monticello:

United States Government. (2016, February 15). CFR, Title 27, Section 5.22 – The standards of identity. Retrieved from United States Government Printing Office:

Wondrich, D. (2010). Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. New York: Penguin Group.

Zandona, E. (2016, 02 15). WHISKEY VS WHISKY: USE IN BOOKS. Retrieved from EZdrinking:


Beverages in the Georgian Era – Part 2

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In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at some of the non-alcoholic beverages that the English-speaking world consumed during the Georgian Era.  Here in Part 2, we are now going to take a look at some of the brewed and fermented alcoholic beverages consumed in England and her colonies.  One problem with trying to look at alcoholic beverages consumed by the English in this period is that we are covering over 100 years (1714 – 1830).  During that time many drinks went in and out of fashion, some of them almost lost to history.  Another issue, when talking about ale and wine, is there are so many local variations that it would be impossible to cover them all.  For this reason, I have chosen to take a more “general” approach to this article, discussing specific types, regions of origin, and only those whose popularity lasted throughout a significant part of the era.

Brewed and Fermented Beverages


First, what is cider?  In the UK it is understood (and legally defined) to be a beverage made “wholly or partly from the fermented juice of apples”.  Similar words – cidre, sidra – exist in France and Spain.  In Germany and Switzerland, since they did not make cider there, there is no specific word and thus they use the term ‘Apfelwein’ (Apple wine) instead.  In the USA and Canada, ‘cider’ commonly refers to a cloudy but unfermented ‘natural’ apple juice, unless qualified by the term ‘hard cider’ to denote that the natural juice is fermented.

Although many assume that the Norman Conquest was responsible for introducing cider to England, some researchers now believe it to have been in England long before that.  However, it is true to say that, the Normans had the most positive effect on the history of cider making.  Northern France was renowned for the volume and quality of its orchards and vineyards, as indeed was Southern England, but owing to climatic changes these areas became less suitable for the growing of grapes.  Gradually cider began to replace wine.  As a result, cider’s popularity grew steadily, it became the drink of the people, and production spread rapidly.  By 1300, there were references to cider production in the counties now known as Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Kent, Norfolk, Somerset, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex and other counties as far north as Yorkshire.

A traditional stone apple crusher, the start of the cider making process. The wheel was turned by a horse

A traditional stone apple crusher, the start of the cider making process. The wheel was turned by a horse

English farms produced Cider in substantial quantities; every farm would have a few cider apple trees as well as cooking and dessert apple trees in the orchard, and it became customary in the 18th Century to pay part of a farm laborer’s wage in cider.  A typical allowance on a farm would be 3 – 4 pints per day.  Laborers were rated by the amount they drank and one comment was that a 2-gallon a day man was worth the extra he drank!  In the western counties of England, a farm worker might receive as much as one-fifth of his wage in cider. (National Association of Cider Makers. Ltd., 2015)

Cider drinking was widely supposed to promote longevity as this chorus from a Devonshire cider drinking song shows:

I were brought up on cider
And I be a hundred and two
But still that be ‘nuthin when you come to think
Me father and mother be still in the pink
And they were brought up on cider
Of the rare old Tavistock brew
And me Granfer drinks quarts
For he’s one of the sports
That were brought up on cider too. (Breverton, 2015)

Other traditions are associated with cider, most notably the Wassail. Farmers and farm workers would salute the apple trees in a ceremony known as wassailing.  Wassail or Wass Hal means “Be Thou of Good Health.”  The time of the wassail varied from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night.  Participants carried jugs of cider into the orchards, drank a health to the trees and next year’s anticipated crop, then poured cider around the tree roots.  As a thanksgiving to the spirit of the apple tree, farmers placed small pieces of wheat flour cake, dipped in cider, in the forks of the trees.  During the wassailing, participants created a great deal of noise by banging pots and pans

To give an idea of the quantities of cider produced and consumed in England, by the end of the 18th century, Worcestershire County alone shipped about 1.1 million gallons of cider a year throughout England.

America’s love affair with hard cider stretches back to the first English settlers.  Upon finding only inedible crab apples upon arrival, the colonists quickly requested apple seeds from England and began cultivating orchards.  While apple trees had little trouble taking to the New England soil, it was trickier to cultivate the barley and other grains required for producing beer.  Therefore, cider became the beverage of choice on the early American dinner table.  Even the children drank Ciderkin, sometimes called water-cider, a weaker alcoholic drink made from soaking apple pomace in water.  Stagecoach and Tavern Days, written by Alice Morse Earle, describes a 16th Century New Hampshire settler proudly recounting “he made one barrel of cider, one barrel of water-cider, and one barrel of charming good drink” from his first apple crop of eight bushels. (Earle, 1900)

By the turn of the eighteenth century, New England was producing over 300,000 gallons of cider a year and, by mid-century, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year.  John Adams supposedly drank a tankard of cider every morning to settle his stomach.

Perry is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears, similar to the way cider is made from apples.  It has been common for centuries in England, particularly in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Worcestershire.  It is also made in France, especially Normandy and Anjou.

The earliest known reference to fermented alcoholic drinks being made from pears is found in the works of the Roman writer Pliny, but Perry making seems to have become well established in what is today France after the collapse of the Roman empire.  References to Perry making in England do not appear before the Norman Conquest.  In the medieval period, France retained its association with pear growing, and the English imported most of the pears consumed from France. (Grafton, 2015)  By the sixteenth and seventeenth century, however, Perry making was well established in the west of England, where the climate and soil was especially suitable for pear cultivation; it was found that Perry pears grew well in conditions where cider apple trees would not.

Perry may have grown in popularity after the English Civil War, when the large numbers of soldiers billeted in the region became acquainted with it.  Perry drinking reached a zenith of popularity during the eighteenth century, when intermittent conflicts with France made the importing of wine difficult.

Although there seems to have been some interest in Perry in the United States today, it does not seem that it ever caught on as a drink in Colonial or Federal America.


Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewers’ yeast.  Ale typically has bittering agent(s) to balance the sweetness of the malt and to act as a preservative.  Originally, Ale was “bittered” with gruit, a mixture of herbs (sometimes spices) which was boiled in the wort before fermentation.  Later, hops replaced the gruit blend in common usage as the sole bittering agent.  Compared to lager yeasts, ale yeast ferments more quickly, and often produces a sweeter, fuller-bodied and fruitier taste.  Ale, along with bread, was an important source of nutrition, particularly small beer, also known as table beer or mild beer, which was highly nutritious, contained just enough alcohol to act as a preservative, and provided hydration without intoxicating effects.  Almost everyone, including children consumed small beer daily, with higher-alcohol ales served for recreational purposes.

Types of Ale in the Georgian Era

Brown ale is a style of beer with a dark amber or brown color. The term was first used by London brewers in the late 17th century to describe their products, such as mild ale, though the term had a rather different meaning than it does today. (Sutula, 1999)  18th Century brown ales were lightly hopped and brewed from 100% brown malt. (Anonymous, The London and Country Brewer, 1737)  These beers died out around 1800 as brewers moved away from using brown malt as a base. Pale malt, being cheaper because of its higher yield, was used as a base for all beers, including Porter and Stout. Today’s familiar Newcastle Brown Ale  was developed and first marketed in 1927, probably as a nostalgic “tip of the hat” to the Brown Ales of the past.

Old ale was strong beer traditionally kept for about a year, gaining sharp, acetic flavors as it aged.  One variety from the mid-18th century was October ale, a pale well-hopped brew popular among the landed classes, who brewed it domestically.  Once brewed, it was intended to cellar for as much as two years.

Pale ale or Bitter was a term used for beers made from malt dried with coke.  Brewers began using Coke for roasting malt in 1642, but it was not until around 1703 that the term pale ale first appears.  The pale ales of the early 18th century were lightly hopped and quite different from today’s pale ales.  India Pale ale, as we think of it today, did not exist during most of the Georgian era.  By 1784, advertisements were appearing in the Calcutta Gazette for “light and excellent” pale ale.  Among the first brewers known to export beer to India was the Bow Brewery, on the Middlesex-Essex border.  Bow Brewery beers became popular among East India Company traders in the late 18th century because of the brewery’s location and their liberal 18-month line of credit.  Ships transported Bow Brewery’s beers to India, among them their October Ale.  This Ale especially benefited from the conditions of the voyage and was highly regarded among English consumers in India.

Early IPA, such as Burton brewers’ and Hodgson’s, was only slightly higher in alcohol than most beer brewed in his day and would not have been considered a strong ale; however, the Ale was well-fermented, leaving behind few residual sugars, and strongly hopped.  The common story that early IPAs were stronger than other Ales of the time, however, is a myth. (Foster, 1999)  While brewers formulated IPAs to survive long voyages by sea better than other styles of the time, porter was also shipped to India successfully.  Demand for the export style of pale ale, known as India pale ale, developed in England around 1840 and India pale ale became a popular product in England

Porter is a dark style of beer developed in London from well-hopped beers made from brown malt.  The name was first recorded as early as 1721, and it seems to be a more-aged development of the brown ales already made in London. (Cornell, 2011)  Prior to 1700, London brewers sent out their beer very young and the publican or a dealer carried out any ageing.  Porter was the first beer to be aged at the brewery and distributed in a condition fit to be drunk immediately.  It was the first beer that could be made on any large scale, and the London porter brewers, such as Whitbread, Truman, Parsons and Thrale, achieved great success financially.  Early London porters were strong beers by modern standards, around 6.6% Alcohol By Volume (ABV).

Scotch ale denotes a malty, strong ale amber-to-dark red in coloration. The malt may be slightly caramelized to impart toffee notes; generally, Scottish beers tend to be rather sweeter, darker and less hoppy than English ones.  The classic styles are Light, Heavy and Export, dating back to 19th century method of invoicing beers according to their strength.

Brewing Ale 18th-century style. © 2014 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Brewing Ale 18th Century style. © 2014 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Stout is a dark beer made using roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast. Stouts were traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters, typically 7% or 8% ABV, produced by a brewery.  The first known use of the word stout for beer was in a document dated 1677 found in the Egerton Manuscript, the sense being that a stout beer was a strong beer not a dark beer. (Lewis, 1998)  The name porter was first used in 1721 to describe a dark brown beer made with roasted malts. (Cornell, 2011)  Because of the huge popularity of porters, brewers made them in a variety of strengths.  The beers with higher specific gravity were called “stout porters,” so the history and development of stout and porter are intertwined, and the term stout has since become firmly associated with dark beer, and not just strong beer.

Lager, the style of beer, that is today increasingly popular in England, America and elsewhere, was not made or sold in the UK or America during the Georgian era.  The defining feature of lager beer is its maturation in cold storage, it is also distinguished by the use of bottom-fermenting lager yeast although top-fermenting yeast can be used to make some types of lager beer.  Until the 19th century, the German word “Lagerbier” referred to all types of bottom-fermented, cool-conditioned beer, in normal strengths.  According to many accounts, during the early nineteenth century, a new type of yeast emerged in Bavaria called Lager Beer Yeast.  This yeast was active at the bottom of the fermenter and worked at cooler temperatures.  The resulting beer, aged in caves or cellars, emerged with a much different character than ale.  It was cleaner tasting and the flavor was not as “rough” as the warm fermented ales.  Bavarian brewers began brewing with this yeast and their beer became popular with the Bavarian public.  In England, pubs began offering continental lager in the late 19th century, but they remained a small part of the market for many decades.

In 1840, a Bavarian Brewmaster named John Wagner, risked punishment by removing the coveted lager yeast from Bavaria and brought it to America where he intended to start a new life and a new way of brewing in America.  He brewed the nation’s first lager beer in Philadelphia on St. John Street, near Poplar in a “home brewery,” a small structure behind the house with a cellar for aging the beer.  He produced batches of eight thirty-one gallon barrels, on a scale similar to that of brew pubs of today. (Master Brewer’s Association of the Americas, 2015)

Spruce Beer

Spruce beer is a beverage flavored with the buds, needles, or essence of spruce trees.  Using evergreen needles to create beverages originated with the Indigenous people of North America who used the drink as a cure for scurvy during the winter months when fresh fruits were not available.  It may have been brewed in Scandinavia before European contact with the Americas, but French and British explorers were ignorant of its use as a treatment for scurvy when they arrived in North America.

The British Royal Navy later picked up this method of treating scurvy, using evergreen-needle beverages, (Barton & Castle, 1837) and spruce was regularly added to ship-brewed beer during eighteenth century explorations of the West Coast of North America and the wider Pacific, including New Zealand. (Cook & King, 1784)   Jane Austen, who had two brothers in the Royal Navy, refers to spruce beer in Chapter 40 of Emma.

In America, Spruce Beer was such an part of life that, in 1797, American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, the first American cookbook ever printed contained a recipe for making Spruce Beer:

Take four ounces of hops, let them boil half an hour in one gallon of water, strain the hop water, then add 16 gallons of warm water, two gallons of molasses, eight ounces of essence of spruce, dissolved in one quart of water, put it in a clean cask, then shake it well together, add half a pint of emptins, then let it stand and work one week, if very warm weather less time will do, when it is drawn off to bottle, add one spoonful of molasses to every bottle.

Ginger Beer

Solidly establishing a date for when English-speaking people began making Ginger Beer is not easy.  While there is a 1722 reference to brewing beer with ginger instead of hops, I do not really accept this as a reference to making Ginger Beer since hops are used as a bittering agent, rather than a flavoring agent in beers.  Throughout history, and even today, brewers have added all sorts of spices, plants, roots, etc. to their beers to give unique flavors.

From the evidence that I was able to gather, Ginger Beer seems to appear around the end of the 18th Century as shown by a reference to “Ginger Beer carts” on the streets of London in the 1799 edition of Old Humphrey’s Walks in London. (Anonymous, Old Humphrey’s Walks in London, 1799)  The earliest recipe that I could find for Ginger Beer comes from the Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review in 1810:

Boil one ounce of ginger, bruised or grated, and the find of one lemon, in one gallon of water; then add the juice of the lemon, and one pound of lump sugar, and the white of one egg; give it a boil, scum it, and strain it, and pour off the clear liquor; let it stand 24 hours; then put it in a barrel, but not bung it tight; in 6 days, bottle it; and in 14 days, it will be fit for drinking.

Birch Beer

Alcoholic birch beer, where the birch sap is fermented, has been known since at least the seventeenth century.  The following recipe is from 1676:

To every Gallon whereof, add a pound of refined Sugar, and boil it about a quarter or half an hour; then set it to cool, and add a very little Yest to it, and it will ferment, and thereby purge itself from that little dross the Liquor and Sugar can yield: then put it in a Barrel, and add thereto a small proportion of Cinnamon and Mace bruised, about half an ounce of both to ten Gallons; then stop it very close, and about a month after bottle it; and in a few days you will have a most delicate brisk Wine of a flavor like unto Rhenish. Its Spirits are so volatile, that they are apt to break the Bottles, unless placed in a Refrigeratory, and when poured out, it gives a white head in the Glass. This Liquor is not of long duration, unless preserved very cool. Ale brewed of this Juice or Sap, is esteem’d very wholesome.

Birch beer seems to have been most popular in America, particularly New England, New York, and Pennsylvania where brewers used Black Birch sap, birch twigs, and honey.


Wine is old, ancient; and consumed throughout recorded history.  Yet wine as we know it today is relatively new.  In most ancient wine making cultures wine was something mystifying, a drink that came into being through a magical transformation, complete with bubbles, heat, and an invisible vapor that could make one dizzy.  The ancient Greek author of the Cypria stated; “The Gods made wine as the best thing for mortal man to scatter cares.” (Evelyn-White, 2015)  To today’s palates, many ancient wines would taste unpleasant due to oxidation of some of the wine to vinegar.  Ancient vintners adulterated their wines with honey, salt, pepper, spices, and innumerable herbs and oils – anything to cover the taste of acrid juice.

When ready for consumption, these wines were usually diluted, with the proportions of water to wine leaning heavily toward the former.  Plutarch recommended, as a general rule, using two to three parts water to one part of wine, a recommendation for improving the water as much as the wine.  Thus, wine, full of additives, continued to be added to water to “sanitize” it for at least a thousand years.

Samuel Pepys by Sir Godfrey Kneller 1689

Samuel Pepys by Sir Godfrey Kneller 1689

The birth of the cult of fine wine in England can be dated precisely.  On April 10 1663, Samuel Pepys, diarist and man-about-London, noted that he had enjoyed “a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.” (Pepys & (ed), 1893)

What he drank at the Royall Oak Tavern in the heart of London is now called Château Haut Brion.  The Royall Oak was one of many such establishments that had sprung up after the return from exile of King Charles II three years earlier and which offered such new delicacies as tea, coffee and classy wines.  The hedonistic atmosphere of the Restoration was responsible for the introduction not only of “Ho Bryan” and the other great wines of Bordeaux, but also of port from the Douro Valley in Portugal, the sparkling wines of Champagne and the brandy from a little town called Cognac, north of Bordeaux. (The Economist, 2009)

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the various “varietals” of wine that we are familiar with today (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc.) did not really exist.  In the English-speaking world, wince tended to be identified by country of origin, or in some cases lumped together by color.  While there were probably as many regional wines then, as there are today, from the English perspective, there were just a few “groupings.

Claret: Claret derives from the French “clairet”, a now uncommon dark rosé, which was the most common wine exported from Bordeaux until the 18th century.  The name was anglicized to “claret” because of its widespread consumption in England during the 12th–15th centuries.  In the 18th century, drinking claret helped the rich to distinguish themselves from England’s port-sodden landowning class.

When Britain made peace with France in 1713, claret became more accessible and the wine trade flourished.  Claret was pricey but rich Londoners, who were also by then big spenders on theatres, spas and music, consumed conspicuous quantities. Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, used navy ships to smuggle his favorite wines from France.  The most expensive one he bought was old burgundy, but that—as now—was available only in tiny quantities.  So he relied largely on claret, buying four hogsheads of 24 dozen bottles of Margaux and one hogshead of Lafite every three months.  Claret remained primarily for the prosperous well into the 19th century.

Although I have been unable to find the exact characteristics of the Claret wines of the 18th and early 19th centuries, it is likely that they were made from Cabernet Sauvignon, created at some point in the 17th century when French wine growers crossed Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.  Other possible grape varieties include Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc grapes, as these were all existent in the region in our era.

White Wine: Imports of white wine into England seem to have come primarily from two sources Burgundy and Western Germany.  As early as the autumn of 1403, some merchants of Bordeaux had loaded a barge with 79 tuns of white wine from La Rochelle to take to Weymouth and sell there and at Melcombe.  This import trade in European white wines continued but the levels fluctuated depending on political and military relations between England and the Continent.  The types of white wine imported would include Bourgogne (Chablis and Chardonnay grapes), and Rhenish wine (primarily Riesling and Sylvaner grapes) and some Italian wines.

Champagne: The people of the Champagne region were envious of the reputation of the wines made by their Burgundian neighbors to the south and sought to produce wines of equal acclaim.  However, the northerly climate of the region gave the Champenois a unique set of challenges in making red wine.  At the far extremes of sustainable viticulture, the grapes would struggle to ripen fully and often would have bracing levels of acidity and low sugar levels.  The wines would be lighter bodied and thinner than the Burgundy wines they were seeking to outdo.

The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, in 1531.  They achieved this by bottling the wine before the first fermentation had ended.  The pressure in the bottle led it to be called “the devil’s wine” (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded or corks popped.

Jean François de Troy's 1735 painting Le Déjeuner d'Huîtres (The Oyster Luncheon) is the first known depiction of Champagne in painting

Jean François de Troy’s 1735 painting Le Déjeuner d’Huîtres (The Oyster Luncheon) is the first known depiction of Champagne in painting

Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented adding sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that he invented Champagne.  Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, where he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise, in 1662.  Merret’s discoveries coincided also with English glass-makers’ technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength.

In the 19th century Champagne was noticeably sweeter than the Champagnes of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage before exporting it to London.

Spanish Wines: were exported and traded throughout the Roman Empire.  The two largest wine-producing regions at the time were Terraconensis (modern-day Tarragona) in the north and Baetica (modern-day Andalucía) in the south.  During this period, more Spanish wine was exported into Gaul than Italian wine, with amphorae being found in ruins of Roman settlements in Normandy, the Loire Valley, Brittany, Provence, and Bordeaux.  Additionally, Roman soldiers guarding border settlements in Britain and Germania also received Spanish wine as a part of their provisions.  Following the decline of the Roman Empire, various barbaric tribes including the Suebi, and the Visigoths invaded Spain.  Finally, the Moors conquered large portions of Spain during the early 8th century AD.

The Spanish Reconquista, and ejection of the Moors, reopened the possibility of exporting Spanish wine.  Bilbao emerged as a large trading port; introducing Spanish wines to the English wine markets in Bristol, London, and Southampton.  The quality of some of these exported Spanish wines appears to have been high.  The full-bodied and high alcohol in most Spanish wines made them favored blending partners for the “weaker” wines from the cooler climate regions of France and Germany though there were laws that explicitly outlawed this practice.  The 17th & 18th centuries saw periods of popularity for various Spanish wines-specifically Sherry (known in Britain as “sack”), Malaga, and Rioja wine.

Portuguese Wine: exports to England increased rapidly after the Methuen Treaty in 1703, which favored sales of English cloth in Portugal in exchange for low tariffs on Portuguese wines.  As a result, the Portuguese began making a variety of wines for export.  By the mid-eighteenth century, however, quality of Portuguese wines had begun to decline and so had the exports.  There had been widespread planting, sometimes in unsuitable places, and various tricks were used to disguise the inadequacy of the wines (blending with wines from Spain, coloring with elderberry juice, etc.).

To curb the influence of the British wine merchants, and support the Portuguese growers, Portuguese first minister Sebastião José de Carvalho (later to be the Marquis of Pombal) introduced new laws, authorized specific vineyards for Port production, and had the elderberry trees ripped out  For the same reason, black cherry trees were ordered to be ripped out in Madeira.  Meanwhile, in other parts of Portugal, he ordered vines to be uprooted from low-lying wetlands in favor of grain, which was in short supply, and was in any case a more appropriate crop for such land. In 1758, he created the first Portuguese wine-producing region, in the Douro Valley.

The early 19th century brought threats of invasion from Spain, and three real invasions by the French, repelled by the combined forces of the Portuguese and British.  The enthusiasm of returning British troops for the wines they had enjoyed boosted Portuguese wine sales in Britain yet again.

Fortified Wines

Although in English society, Ale and Cider were the drink of the laborer/working class and wine the drink of the wealthy, for the middle class landowners, shopkeepers, and others with some money the drink of choice was often fortified wines.

Fortified wine is a wine to which the producer has added a distilled spirit, usually brandy.  The original reason for fortifying wine was to keep it, since ethanol is a natural antiseptic.  Even though other preservation methods now exist, fortification continues to be used because the process can add distinct flavors to the finished product.  When added to wine before the fermentation process is complete, the alcohol in the distilled beverage kills the yeast and leaves residual sugar behind.  The result is a wine that is both sweeter and stronger, normally containing about 20% alcohol by volume (ABV).  For drier fortified wine styles, such as sherry, the alcohol is added shortly before the end of the fermentation or just afterwards.


In the 1300s, Henry the Navigator brought the Moscatel and Malvasia grapes to the newly discovered island of Madeira from the Greek island of Crete, establishing wine growing there.  Over the ensuing centuries, the viniculture of the Islands continued to improve and the sailors, who made the islands a regular port of call to supply themselves before beginning the trek to the New World, provided a ready market for their products.

The interior of Madeira around Curral das Freiras showing the vineyards inter-spaced throughout the town.

The interior of Madeira around Curral das Freiras showing the vineyards inter-spaced throughout the town.

The 18th century was the “golden age” for Madeira.  The wine’s popularity extended from the American colonies and Brazil in the New World to Great Britain, Russia, and Northern Africa.  The American colonies, in particular, were enthusiastic customers, consuming as much as a quarter of all wine produced on the island each year.  Madeira was an important wine in the history of the United States of America.  No wine-quality grapes grew in the 13 colonies, so imports were needed, and there was a great focus on Madeira.

One of the major events on the road to the American Revolution, in which Madeira played a key role, was the British seizure of John Hancock’s sloop the Liberty on May 9, 1768.  The British seized Hancock’s boat after he had unloaded a cargo of 25 pipes (3,150 gallons) of Madeira, and a dispute arose over import duties.  The seizure of the Liberty caused riots to erupt among the people of Boston.

Madeira was also a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, and it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.  George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams are also said to have appreciated the qualities of Madeira.  In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin mentions the wine.  On one occasion, Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, of the great quantities of Madeira he consumed while a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress.  Chief Justice John Marshall, as well as his cohorts on the early U.S. Supreme Court, was also known to appreciate Madeira.

One other event of note is the use of a bottle of Madeira by Captain James Server in 1797 to christen the USS Constitution.

The earliest examples of Madeira were unfortified and had the habit of spoiling at sea.  However, following the example of Port, a small amount of distilled alcohol made from cane sugar was added to stabilize the wine by boosting the alcohol content (the modern process of fortification using brandy did not become widespread until the 18th century).  The Dutch East India Company became a regular customer, picking up large casks of wine known as “pipes” for their voyages to India.

The intense heat and constant movement of the ships had a transforming effect on the wine, something discovered by Madeira producers when one shipment was returned to the island after a long trip.  Customers seemed to prefer the taste of this style of wine, and Madeira labeled as vinho da roda (wines that have made a round trip) became very popular.  Madeira producers found that aging the wine on long sea voyages was very costly, so began to develop methods on the island to produce the same aged and heated style.  They began storing the wines on trestles at the winery or in special rooms known as estufas, where the heat of the island sun would age the wine.

Exposure to extreme temperature and oxygen accounts for Madeira’s stability; an opened bottle will survive unharmed for a long time, up to a year.  Properly sealed in bottles, it is one of the longest-lasting wines; Madeiras have been known to survive over 150 years in excellent condition.  Before artificial refrigeration, Madeira was prized in areas where it was impractical to build wine cellars (as in parts of the southern United States) because, unlike many other fine wines, it could survive being stored over hot summers without significant damage.


Port wine (also known as Vinho do Porto, Porto, and usually simply port) is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal.  Port wine is typically richer, sweeter, heavier, and possesses a higher alcohol content than unfortified wines.  This is caused by the addition of distilled grape spirits (aguardente similar to brandy) to fortify the wine and halt fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol and results in a wine that is usually 19 to 23% alcohol.

Contrary to popular belief, British sailors did not create Port by spiking the wine with brandy to avoid spoilage during the long voyage north.  More accurately, British importers recognized that a smooth, already fortified wine that would appeal to English palates would coincidentally survive the trip to London.  In 1678, a Liverpool wine merchant sent two new representatives to Viana do Castelo, north of Oporto, to learn the wine trade.  While on a vacation in the Douro, the two gentlemen visited the Abbot of Lamego, who treated them to a “very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth” wine,” which had been fortified with a distilled spirit. The two Englishmen were so pleased with the product that they purchased the Abbot’s entire lot and shipped it home. (Stevenson, 2007)  Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, which allowed merchants to import it at a low duty, while war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.

The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of many port shippers: Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Gould, Graham, Osborne, Offley, Sandeman, Taylor, and Warre being among the best known.


Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain.  The word “Sherry” is an anglicisation of Xeres (Jerez).  Sherry was also known as Sack, from the Spanish saca, meaning “extraction” from the solera process; a method for aging liquids such as wine, beer, vinegar, and brandy, by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages, with the average age gradually increasing as the process continues over many years.

In 1264, Alfonso X of Castile re-took the city from the Moors.  From this point on, the production of Sherry and its export throughout Europe increased significantly.  By the end of the 16th century, Sherry had a reputation in Europe as the world’s finest wine.  Christopher Columbus brought Sherry on his voyage to the New World and when Ferdinand Magellan prepared to sail around the world in 1519, he spent more on Sherry than on weapons.

Casks of Sherry aging in the traditional method

Casks of Sherry aging in the traditional method

Sherry became very popular in Great Britain, especially after Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in 1587.  At that time, Cadiz was one of the most important Spanish seaports, and Spain was preparing an armada there to invade England.  Among the spoils Drake brought back after destroying the fleet were 2,900 barrels of Sherry that waiting to be loaded aboard the Spanish ships. (Johnson, 2005)

Types of Sherry include:

  • Fino – is the driest and palest of the traditional varieties of Sherry. The wine is aged in barrels under a cap of flor yeast to prevent contact with the air.  (15-17% ABV)
  • Manzanilla – is an especially light variety of Fino Sherry. (15-17% ABV)
  • Manzanilla Pasado is a Manzanilla that has undergone extended aging or partially oxidized, giving a richer, nuttier flavor. (15-17% ABV)
  • Amontillado – is a variety of Sherry that is first aged under flor but then exposed to oxygen, producing a sherry that is darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso. (16-17% ABV)
  • Oloroso – is a variety of Sherry aged oxidatively for a longer time than a Fino or Amontillado, producing a darker and richer wine. (17-22% ABV)

Once bottled, Sherry does not generally benefit from further aging and therefore usually consumed immediately, though the Sherries aged oxidatively may be stored for years without noticeable loss in flavor.  Bottles should be stored upright to reduce the wine’s exposed surface area.  As with other wines, Sherry should be stored in a cool, dark place.


Marsala is a wine, dry or sweet, produced in the region surrounding the Italian city of Marsala in Sicily.

The most creditable version of the introduction of Marsala fortified wine to the English palate is that of the English trader John Woodhouse from Liverpool.  In 1760, he visited Marsala, the seaport in western Sicily.  Realizing that the terrain and climate were comparable to those of Spain and Portugal, he decided he might be able to make wines similar to Sherry or Port there.  He found the local Marsala wine made using a process called in perpetuum, which was similar to the solera system used to produce Sherry, and aged in oak barrels for several years.  Woodhouse established a company there in Sicily, began making wine, and in 1772 shipped some six hundred gallons of Marsala wine to England, where it was a great success.  Marsala became popular in England as inexpensive substitutes for Sherry and Port.

Legend has it that Admiral Nelson stopped in Marsala and “victuallized” his fleet with strong Marsala wine before his great battle with the French fleet at Trafalgar, believing it an excellent cheap substitute for their usual rum.  As a result, Marsala became a popular wine in Regency and Victorian England. (Hailman, 2006)  While this is certainly a charming, legend, it is unlikely to be true and may even be an early example of “marketing hype”.  Before the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s fleet had been in the Atlantic, not the Mediterranean, and before that in England so it is almost impossible that Nelson could have stopped in Marsala to stock up his fleet for the battle.

In Part 3 we will finish up our survey of Georgian beverages by taking a look at distilled spirits that were popular in the era.

© 2015 Chuck Hudson



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All Dressed Up, With Everywhere To Go: Plimoth Plantation and the Future of Public History

Taylor Stoermer, who has been quite critical of the path being taken by Colonial Williamsburg away from teaching history toward entertainment, shows that he can do more than just criticize. In his most recent piece, which I am reblogging, he points to how another large, well-known living history site is achieving success by “doubling down” on their commitment to teach history rather than just entertain.

Perhaps the Board and leadership of Colonial Williamsburg would do well to study the path that Plimoth Plantation has chosen.

The History Doctor

A month or so ago, a friend of mine and I sat on the front porch of Concord’s Colonial Inn, our regular place of refreshment, and talked about the reasons behind the steady decline of large, recreated public history sites like Historic Deerfield, Old Sturbridge Village, and Colonial Williamsburg. A pioneering public historian who established the program at the College of William & Mary that educated many of their former leaders, he posited that the age of such sites as viable heritage attractions was simply over. Whatever success they once enjoyed was part of post-World War II trends in tourism that have disappeared with the passing of the generations that followed them. Economic downturns and poor management have contributed to the general drop in visitation for many of the sites–even the precipitous collapse of at least one of them as a legitimate non-profit heritage institution–but, all things considered, they are part of an era in the history of…

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