Homemade buckfast and what were we drinking in 1895?

Homemade Buckfast and what we what we were drinking in 1895

A bottle of Heroin
Heroin, it’s where I draw the line

Somehow the image of Victorians has been distorted, children not speaking until they are spoken too, everyone wearing black and an overall, compliant population. This could not be any further from the truth; the more you peer into the world of over a century ago the murkier and dirtier it seems. Chemists sold Heroin and Cocaine over the counter and there were 80,000 sex workers in London which is one to every 35 inhabitants. Really, rather grim if you ponder about it. It was with that backdrop that our first drink was created. 

Buckfast – created in 1895

The monks of Buckfast abbey first sold in small quantities with the slogan “Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood“. Buckfast somehow found its way up to Scotland and in Strathclyde from 2006-2009 it was mentioned in three crime reports (on average) every day. The potent mix of 15% fortified wine and 281mg of caffeine which is the equivalent to five cups of tea.

I would love to include a homebrew recipe for some, but alas I can’t find anything. Here is the closest thing I can think of that might work, my version of Backfast.

How to make your own Homemade Buckfast

Day One

  1. Put equal parts lovage and sage, thyme and a very small piece (0.5cm) of liquorice root in a small mason jar or jam jar and top 100ml brandy. Leave for three days.
  2. Bucky has a red wine base so – 1 bottle of 12% cheap Spanish* red wine . Leave the wine open for three nights so that it oxygenates and this will give your wine a raisin taste.  You can also push in small head of dried lavender flowers as these will infuse into the wine.

*traditionally Spanish wine was used in Buckfast but you could use any if you can’t get Spanish. Just don’t waste a decent bottle.

Day three

  1. Strain the herbal brandy and pour into to your wine. To fortify a 750ml bottle of wine and bring the level up to 15% you’ll need around 100ml brandy.
  2. Boil Cola. Given that Bucky has a taste of Cola, the easiest way to get the sweetness and the high level of caffeine into the tonic wine will be to boil down about 3 litres of cola until it is a syrup. Stir in your wine vigorously. You will need to continue to boil the wine to ensure you get at much of the gloop into the wine.
  3. Allow to cool then decant.
  4. Drink and start a fight.

And there you have it homemade Buckfast! Well, the “wine” won’t taste exactly like buckfast, it might even taste better. But it will have the same effect I suggest if you do make it then do it once as an experiment and go easy on it.


Buckfast might have been invented in 1895 but the popular drink of choice during that time was Laudanum. Essentially, it’s opium infused in alcohol. Doctors of the age would prescribe it for illnesses including toothache, gout, rheumatic pain and melancholy.

The tonic was flavoured with cinnamon or saffron although a tastier sounding variant called Battley’s Drops was also available which contained a mix of opium, sherry, alcohol, slaked lime and distilled water.

Of course Laudanum was soon found to be highly addictive and is now a controlled substance. Although, it did take it’s time to be outlawed and despite knowing it’s dangers it was still legal in the UK right up until 1920.

Cheers opened or did it?

I couldn’t mention 1895 without mentioning Cheers. As a child in the 1980’s I’d look at the Cheers sign that was shown every ad break and read est 1895 and wonder if they would celebrate 100 years of the bar. Thing was it wasn’t first opened in 1895, it was actually opened in 1889. The date was changed by Carla who wanted the bar to fit with her Numerological superstition.