I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I like the empire and all of its trappings, especially with the boozing and the wenching and more boozing. It gave us things like the gin and tonic – actually anything and tonic, IPAs, and naval strength spirits. The Victorian Era saw a whole proliferation of beer cocktails. Many of them made possible by the reach of both the commercial and colonial empire that reached its zenith during this time.
Spices and sugar from around the world, spirits and wines imported from all over Europe, and industrialization bringing luxuries into the reach of more and more people of all classes. Right in the middle of this era was Charles Dickens. He imbued many of his novels with wonderful descriptions of the indulgences at table and bottle, using them to help set the scene and illustrate the atmosphere.
If you were to carefully read all of his books you could collect all of the drinks and track them down and see what they were drinking. Thankfully, Dickens’s great grandson Cedric Dickens had done us the favour of collecting them for us in a book called “Drinking With Dickens.” It’s been fun going through it and picking out some beer cocktails from his great grandfathers’ era to play with. The first two to catch my eye were the Dog’s Nose and the Champagne Velvet.
The Dog’s Nose consists of Guinness, gin, brown sugar, and nutmeg. In the interests of research I was joined by Paul Clarke as we worked through various iterations with different gins, then with the sugar, then nutmeg, and with two different beers. We discovered that a hotter and more juniper forward gin went better in the drink. This would make sense as any gin being served in a tavern or public house at the time would have been of higher proof and less balanced. The gin really enhanced the iron qualities of Guinness but then was calmed down very much by the addition of sugar. Overall, though after the whole drink was assembled my favourite version consisted of a lighter-bodied ale, the hotter gin, and a really minimal amount of nutmeg, just enough to perfume the foam.
- 1 pint of Porter or Brown Ale (Guinness or Samuel Smith) – room temperature
- 2 oz gin (Gordon’s, Martin Miller Westbourne Strength, or Plymouth Naval Strength)
- 1 tablespoon brown or Demerara sugar
- Pinch of nutmeg (it was still really expensive)
- Combine all in a pint glass and dust with the nutmeg
The Champagne Velvet on the other hand was a bit of a more decadent drink. After all, if you wanted actual French champagne you’d need to pay the import duties though it was definitely much more posh and you’d be seen as being low-class or a cheapskate if you used a sparkling wine from elsewhere. A nice light drink for the morning the extra fizz was uplifting and helped to ease the your head after a long boozer. This definitely was a nice way to drink during the day. As you pour champagne you start to get an effect like a Ramos Gin Fizz, making a challenge to see how high you can take the head up.
- ½ pint Guinness
- ½ pint champagne