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Victorian Era Beverages, Cocktails and Drinks

The arrival of the Victorian era in England in the mid-19th century ushered in a low-key rehabilitation of Gin’s reputation. The harsh, sweetened “Old Tom” styles of Gin of the early 1700s slowly gave way to a new cleaner style called Dry Gin.

This style of Gin became identified with the city of London to the extent that the term “London Dry” Gin became a generic term for the style, regardless of where it was actually produced.

Behind the Bar’ by John Henry Henshall
Behind the Bar’ by John Henry Henshall

Victorian Era Beverages-Wines,Gin and Sherry

Port, Madeira, and sherry were heavy, “fortified” wines, that is to say, bolstered with brandy (or some other heavy liquor). Port derived its name from the port city of Oporto in Portugal.

Madeira was named for an island of Portugal, and Malaga for an island of Spain; malmsey was originally a Greek fortified wine, but its production has moved to Madeira. Marsala was of Sicilian origin and used in the dish veal marsala. These drinks were a regular part of the Victorian man’s beverage consumption.

Victorian drink cartoon
The Bottle – Drink is Brought out at Dinner Source: http://www.jantoo.com/cartoons/keywords/victorian-society

Madeira is particularly noted as a dessert wine but is often used as an aperitif or after dinner drink, while the port is only for after dinner, and historically only for men.

Drinks for ladies

Genteel middle-class ladies sipped their sloe Gin (Gin flavored with sloe berries) while consulting Mrs. Beetons Book of Household Management (a wildly popular Victorian cross between the Joy of Cooking and Martha Stewart lifestyle books) for Gin-based mixed drink recipes.

Drinks of military officers

The British military, particularly the officer corps, became a hotbed of Gin consumption. Hundreds of Gin-based mixed drinks were invented and the mastery of their making was considered part of a young officer’s training. Check out Appetizers in Victorian times.. Check out Appetizers in Victorian times..

The best known of these cocktails, the Gin and Tonic, was created as a way for Englishmen in tropical colonies to take their daily dose of quinine, a very bitter medicine used to ward off malaria. Modern tonic water still contains quinine, though as a flavoring rather than a medicine.

The recipe for a gin sling is found in a cookbook, which shows the acceptability of gin in middle-class households by the mid-Victorian era:


1 wineglassful of gin,
2 slices of lemon,
3 lumps of sugar,
4 ice (or iced-water)

'Ginger Beer & Raspberryade' drinks packaging Victorian era
‘Ginger Beer & Raspberryade’ drinks packaging Victorian era

Lamb’s wool is the name of a traditional Irish drink made from apples, spices and milk. It was a popular beverage from the 16th century through the Victorian era and was served on holy days. The drink was also popular in England and Scotland and was served in the fall when apples were in season. Lamb’s wool gets its name from the frothy foam on top that resembles a lamb’s coat.

When Charles Dickens made his first trip to America in 1842, he made certain to partake of one of the greatest American inventions: the cocktail. While visiting Boston, he said the bar is a large room with a stone floor, and people stand there and smoke, and lounge about, all the evening dropping in and out as the humor takes them. There too the stranger is initiated into the mysteries of Gin-sling, Cocktail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle, and other rare drinks.

Being expensive, tea and coffee were also drinks of the rich.