In honor of the New Year, I thought I'd talk a bit about liquor and spirits in Regency England--or, more precisely, what I've learned the hard way. First...a confession. There's a glaring anachronism in my debut book, Unlaced (and I'm sure there are plenty more; this one, however, was brought to my attention by a reader on a message board who declared it a 'wall-banger' error as far as she was concerned--egregious enough for her put down the book then and there and not finish it!).
What is it, you ask?! I had my hero, in 1817 England, drinking whisky at White's! Honestly, it never even occured to me to research what liquor and spirits would be available in Regency England--I knew whisky had been around since long before then, and wrongly assumed that it was fair game. Turns out, after 1707, whisky--produced in Scotland at clandestine stills such as the one pictured above--would have had to have been smuggled into England illegally, and therefore not likely served at a public establishment like White's (though I'm sure it was in many a gentleman's home, particularly those who also owned property in Scotland). It wasn't until the Excise Law was passed in 1824 that whisky became 'legal' again in England. An interesting 'history' of whisky can be found here.
Which led me to wonder, just what liquor and spirits *were* available to our Regency gentlemen? What *did* they drink at their clubs? The answer is...I'm still not entirely sure. Brandy, imported from France, for one. There were several wine and brandy merchants on Piccadilly Street alone during the Georgian era (the Walkers at Number 18, Peter Darlot at Number 45, among others). Additionally, men imbibed wine, claret, and fortified wines (i.e. bolstered with brandy or another heavy liquor) such as port (an after-dinner drink, historically only for men), sherry, and Madeira (generally a dessert wine). Gin was certainly available, but seems to be more of a staple with the lower classes or gentlemen in financial straits. A mulled wine called Negus (cinnamon/cloves/nutmeg/fruit peel added to a mug of wine/sherry/Madeira and heated) is frequently mentioned as a refreshment at Almack's (along with Orgeat, an orange or orange/almond flavored cordial, and Ratafia, an almond flavored cordial), though a Regency gentleman might have turned up his nose at such insipid drinks. A gentleman who took his meals at the Eating Room at his club might be offered malt liquor, cider, or spruce beer (a dark molasses beer flavored with spruce) to accompany his meal.
So, there you have it...at least all that I've been able to discern! I must say, I'm very sad that my poor hero couldn't have whisky at White's--it just seems so much more 'manly' than the alternatives, doesn't it?!