Ever since Benedictine monks invented the stuff in 1927, Buckfast has been getting students, bums, undesirables, yuppies, miscreants and whoever else “f*cked fast” for years. Its heady combination of alcohol, caffeine, price and sweetness make it an ideal solution to many of life’s problems – whether your intention is a) getting your buzz on before a night out, or b) trying to rid the bottle of its ghastly liquid so as to turn it into a deadly weapon.
Buckfast Tonic Wine is produced at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, and was first made in 1890s by monks using a recipe brought over from France. Originally claimed to have medical qualities, it has now become synonymous with Scottish ‘ned’ culture and Irish students. It is a ‘fortified wine’, meaning it is based on wine with extra distilled proporties added to it. So what’s in it?
- Red wine, 14.8% alcohol
- Sodium Glycerophosphate Solution – absolutely no idea what this is
- Potassium Glycerophosphate Solution – again not a clue
- Disodium phosphate – a stabiliser and emulsifer, can also be used as a laxative
- Caffeine – and a whopping 385mg of it
- Sulphites – these appear naturally in most wines; they act as a preservative
What does this thrilling concoction do to you? Well according to a recent report by BBC Scotland, Buckfast was mentioned in the crime reports of 5,000 incidents in the country in the last 3 years, with the Buckfast bottle being used as a weapon in 114 of these. It also seemed to play a prominent role in a recent mini-riot in Galway. Is this behaviour any surprise? One specky English scientist claimed that each bottle contained 281mg of caffeine – the equivalent of up to 8 cans of coke. The Irish version of Buckfast actually contains more caffeine – I worked out by the same calculation (well my specky housemate did) that Irish buckie has the equivalent of ELEVEN cans. This lethal alcoholic/chemical/caffeine-charged cocktail can lead to varying amounts of aggressiveness and unpredictable behaviour amongst some drinkers. And a very recent email conversation with friends would seem to back this up:
I nearly killed my cousin with a wheel brace last time I drank a bottle. Got the wheel brace after breaking into an abandoned car. Great night though.
I know lots of people (all male) who won’t drink it because of the affect it has on them. One of them tried to throw a bottle of it at me before, and another used to go wandering on his own after drinking it. Dangerous stuff.
I would be the same [name removed!]. Other than becoming hyper active and demanding to wear other people’s clothes I’m generally fine.
Ahaha!! Ahh yes [name removed!] – you nearly had me convinced to give you all my clothes.
What with my wine blogging career not having reached the heights of eager suppliers offering me free wine to try out, I was forced to head down to my local off-licence to pick up a bottle. However I did not particularly enjoy the disdain and contempt shown to me when I was informed that they didn’t stock any. In the current climate retailers clearly need to embrace all customers, not turning them away feeling belittled. I made a couple of calls and eventually found it in Centra on Pearse Street. It was without doubt one of the more painful €11.49’s I’ve had to shell out in my life, but I was just happy to find it in the end. The nice man at the check-out did not denounce me as a thug or hooligan, instead wrapping the bottle in the customary brown bag, helping me hide my shame on the long walk home.
I apprehensively got out the glasses to taste the Buckfast. First observation was the handy screw cap stopper; so no excuses of cork taint affecting the wine. I poured what turned out to be a dull brown liquid, its legs sticking to the glass like a particularly clingy ex-girlfriend. It had pronounced sweet aromas of flat coke, soap, peachy honey and brown sugar, with subtle notes of Deep Heat. On the palate, it was disgustingly sweet, with low acidity and no tannins. Not a food wine then. The high alcohol burned the back of the throat, again the flat coke taste came out, or rather a brown Mr Freeze when you were young and it melted on you. I got the same stickiness on my hands and around my mouth! I also detected syrupy tinned fruit like pineapples or apricots. The finish was long, but again the sticky sweetness on my gums and teeth dominated.
I was happy to leave it at a few sips, any more and who knows, it may have caused me to return to the aforementioned liquor store and torch it.
Buckfast is available in off-licences located around Trinity College and served fresh in pitchers in the Bernard Shaw pub on Richmond Street. It is NOT available in Tesco and a few other “exclusive” off-licences in the Baggot Street area.