Monks seem to have a bit of a thing for making booze (Dom Perignon, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Averna, Trappist beer etc.) and it seemed to me that we should recognise their noble dedication with a cocktail in their honour. At the same time I felt it was time for a new Scotch based drink. But which Scotch? Given the brief it was quite clear – there can be only one…
I was quietly pleased with my early experiments until I realised I had simply reinvented the venerable Bobby Burns (2oz Scotch, 1oz Italian vermouth, two dashes of Benedictine) but with Buckfast tonic wine instead of vermouth. Nuts. However it was a blessing in disguise as I quickly found another monky liqueur that made for an even tastier accent component. It doesn’t get much monkier that green Chartreuse; made by Carthusian monks in France since 1737 and based on an even older (1605) recipe. It’s not cheap but you never need very much of it so it lasts for ages* but more to the point you’re gonna need some for making Last Words anyway. Yet, amazingly, the Chartreuse isn’t even the most bonkers ingredient in the Monky Business – that prize goes to the:
Buckfast tonic wine.
Those unfamiliar with this peculiar ingredient are going to need a bit of a primer here and as unlikely as much of the following may sound let me assure you I am not making this shizzle up. Buckfast is a fortified wine based on an ancient French recipe made by Benedictine monks (and under their licence) in southern England since 1890. At 15% and with additions including caffeine and vanillin it is somewhat comparable to an Italian vermouth. So far, so normal…
The thing is Buckfast has a bit of a bad rep due to its ubiquity with a certain underclass in central Scotland** where it goes by such alternative names as “Wreck the Hoose Juice”, “Coatbridge Table Wine”, “Cumbernauld Rocket Fuel”, “Holy Water”, “Commotion Lotion”, “The Devil’s Calpol” or more often just plain old “Bucky”. If you didn’t get the hint from those nicknames let’s just say Buckfast has a strong association with petty crime and anti-social behaviour, particularly in the housing estates in an area between Glasgow and Edinburgh which is known as the Buckfast Triangle. Don’t just take my word for it: according to Wikipedia, “A survey at a Scottish young offenders’ institution showed of the 117 people who drank alcohol before committing their crimes, 43 per cent said they had drunk Buckfast. In another study of litter around a typical council estate in Scotland, 35 per cent of the items identified as rubbish were Buckfast bottles.” Despite many a campaign to reign in the Holy Water the monks – safely out of the splash zone down in southern England – have remained unrepentant with a sort of “we only designed the bomb, we didn’t drop it!” attitude.
But don’t worry, we’re not a bunch of neds who are going to be necking four bottles of Bucky and breaking into a petrol station, we’re just after an ounce for its vermouthy properties, monkish credentials and maybe just a tiny whiff of its notoriety. If you’re wondering exactly where to find a bottle (or can) of “Loopy Juice” the unofficial Buckfast fan website has a handy app for that. Failing that just use some regular sweet vermouth but be assured we will be making use of the “Lurgan Champagne” again before too long…
20z / 60ml Monkey Shoulder Scotch whisky (or similar).
1oz / 30ml Buckfast tonic wine.***
0.25oz / 7.5ml Green Chartreuse.
2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail coupé. No garnish.
Toast monks: makin’ ra swally since forever man.
*Which is handy because it’s one of the few liqueurs that continues to improve with age in the bottle.
**and to a lesser extent in parts of Ireland. The Irish (brown bottle) version of Buckfast is 14.8% ABV and lacks the vanilla flavour but has even more caffeine.
***If unavailable use an Italian vermouth, Carpano Antica probably being the closest match.