Holiday Gift Guide, Part 3: Drink

Posted in marketplace (goods & services) by ashleyhannebrink on December 7, 2011

By Ashley Hannebrink

As we continue the holiday series, eighteenth-century inspired drink would provide a fitting accompaniment to Monday’s fantastic musical selection and yesterday’s feast. Cheers!

Berry Bros. & Rudd, 3 St James Street, London
Click on the image for a virtual tour at the company website

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1. A Bottle from Eighteenth-Century Tastemaker Berry Bros. & Rudd — It’s not quite going back in time, but a visit to London’s Berry Bros. & Rudd, the wine and spirit merchant relied on by King George III, might feel like it. Established in 1698 and still supplying the British Royal Family, the family-owned business prides itself on offering clients attentive service in addition to outstanding wines.

Experts at the St James shop suggest a Madeira or Port for the eighteenth-century enthusiast. The precursors to these fortified wines, such as Sack and Malaga, were particularly popular during the Georgian period as English and Scottish families flocked to destinations including Portugal and Madeira for business purposes. Importantly, these wines were forgiving in terms of preservation (through time and adverse conditions). At the shop’s blog, Simon Field describes “A Madeiran Adventure” (lots of information), and Simon Berry recommends a Malmsey 10-year-old Madeira, Broadbent Selection for the Christmas dinner:

Aged in oak casks for at least 10 years. A superb, full-bodied, wonderfully rich Madeira with a sweet, sumptous chocolate-like flavours and a concentrated bouquet. Best enjoyed with desserts, or on its own after a meal (£32.95).

And if a bottle (or two) won’t suffice, you might consider a wine luncheon in the
Napoleon Cellar.

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2. A Sip Down Gin Lane — For something a bit stronger, one might return to that infamous eighteenth-century tipple, gin.

An interesting option comes from Sipsmith (£27.49 for its dry gin). This London artisanal distillery crafts its spirits using the first copper still to launch in London since 1820, a feat that required negotiating regulations that themselves date to the eighteenth century, when (at least according to an ES Magazine article on the company from April 2011) “one in four London houses had its own distilling equipment.” While the Gin Act was designed to protect the public from small-scale operations selling adulterated versions of the beverage, today Sipsmith’s special legal dispensation allows for pure enjoyment. The BBC ran a story on the company when it opened in 2009 (available here via YouTube). And maybe best of all? the copper still is named Prudence.

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3. For an Unusual Cup, Try a Leather Mug from Williamsburg — The shop at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation offers several options: black or brown, pint or quart, small bottles, even a bucket that could be used for ice.

If it’s just too strange to drink from these containers, Courtney Barnes cleverly suggests they could be used to hold flowers, artists’ pencils, make-up brushes, or the like. From the Williamsburg Marketplace:

Leather mugs called jacks were in common use in England and her colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. They were “jacked” or coated in pitch to make them watertight. Light and durable, these mugs varied in sizes and shapes from pint or smaller to gallons. Some had a spout for pouring. Our one-pint mug is handcrafted of safe, vegetable-tanned leather lined with “brewer’s pitch.” Sealed with wax on the outside and pitch on the inside our jackware is safe for drinking cold beverages such as wine and ale. It’s ideal for historical reenactments and also makes a distinctive gift. Clean by rinsing with warm water (no soap) and drying with a soft cloth. Not for use with hot beverages or pure grain alcohol. Do not put in dishwasher or microwave.

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4. The Perfect Book for a Nightcap — Sarah Hand Meacham, Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 208 pages, ISBN: 9780801893124, $50.

From the publisher:

In this original examination of alcohol production in early America, Sarah Hand Meacham uncovers the crucial role women played in cidering and distilling in the colonial Chesapeake. Her fascinating story is one defined by gender, class, technology, and changing patterns of production. Alcohol was essential to colonial life; the region’s water was foul, milk was generally unavailable, and tea and coffee were far too expensive for all but the very wealthy. Colonists used alcohol to drink, in cooking, as a cleaning agent, in beauty products, and as medicine. Meacham finds that the distillation and brewing of alcohol for these purposes traditionally fell to women. Advice and recipes in such guidebooks as The Accomplisht Ladys Delight demonstrate that women were the main producers of alcohol until the middle of the 18th century. Men, mostly small planters, then supplanted women, using new and cheaper technologies to make the region’s cider, ale, and whiskey.

Meacham compares alcohol production in the Chesapeake with that in New England, the middle colonies, and Europe, finding the Chesapeake to be far more isolated than even the other American colonies. She explains how home brewers used new technologies, such as small alembic stills and inexpensive cider pressing machines, in their alcoholic enterprises. She links the importation of coffee and tea in America to the temperance movement, showing how the wealthy became concerned with alcohol consumption only after they found something less inebriating to drink. Taking a few pages from contemporary guidebooks, Every Home a Distillery includes samples of historic recipes and instructions on how to make alcoholic beverages. American historians will find this study both enlightening and surprising.

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