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Cheap & Wholesome Claret

It seems only right to start this new blog for The Copper Pot by having a drink to wish it luck. After all, any respectable Georgian dinner party would feature a lengthy round of toasts.

This is an intriguing recipe that I found in my copy of ‘English 18th century brewing & wine-making’. Annoyingly this book doesn't provide any sources for its collection of recipes, so I had to search around to find an origin for it. After quite a bit of searching, the earliest published version of this recipe actually only dates back to 1831, in ‘Mackenzie's five thousand receipts’, obviously making it a 19th century recipe. I am however including it here amongst the Georgian recipes as it is an entertaining idea to fake a wine, and it also nicely reflects the drinking habits of the 18th century, with their love of claret and many other wines such as port, Malaga, Lisbon, sack and mountain wines. One has to remember that England was frequently at war with France during this period, and so access to real claret may have been limited, hence the abundance of ‘Iberian’ wines in the above list. It is perfectly reasonable to imagine that 18th century houses were producing ‘cheap & wholesome claret’ alongside all the other home-brewed concoctions.

To make cheap and wholesome claret.

Take a quart of fine draft Devonshire cider, and an equal quantity of good port. Mix them, and shake them. Bottle them, and let them stand for a month. The best judge will not be able to distinguish them from good Bordeaux.

I tried this recipe a few months ago, and after waiting for the prescribed month the resulting ‘claret’ had a really interesting and pleasant taste... of a strange mixture of port and cider! The bottle has since sat on a shelf for the last five months (so a total of six months) and the taste has changed and matured quite a lot. I wouldn’t say that it exactly tasted like a good Bordeaux, but I certainly won’t throw it out as being undrinkable! It is sweet and very slightly syrupy, but rather nice.

The inevitable problem or weakness in this experiment was obtaining an authentic ‘good port’ and a ‘fine draft Devonshire cider’. From memory I used a relatively cheap port and a normal dry cider, so I think that there is more room for experimentation!

When I get the chance to come back to this recipe I'll try to replicate the ingredients a little more accurately, but in the meantime it provides a really interesting accompaniment to any Georgian dinner. If you get the chance to try it out, let me know how it works.


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