A Tale Of Two Drinks… From Charles Dickens
Image Credit: Scrooge pours Bob a drink of Smoking Bishop. From Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

CHARLES Dickens wasn’t a man to shy away from mentioning drink in his stories. His characters enjoyed a sip — especially of purl (warm porter, gin and ginger, with a little freshly grated nutmeg), to fortify themselves of a morning, or of punch (‘the yolk of a new-laid egg, beaten up…with a glass of sound sherry, nutmeg and powdered sugar’) — just as the author did in real life. Two of the libations he mentioned, however, have found greater literary fame than others. 

The Smoking Bishop — from A Christmas Carol

In a famous scene at the end of A Christmas Carol, the now-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge offers his long-suffering employee Bob a raise in his wages, a promise to help his family, and a bowl of “Smoking Bishop”. The Smoking Bishop was part of a class of “clerical drinks” or “ecclesiastics” — spiced, warm drinks named after ranks of the clergy (starting from the Beadle, all the way up to a Warden, Cardinal, Archbishop and Pope), that were meant as not-so-subtle jokes at the Catholic Church’s expense. (England being a Protestant country.) These names may also have been an allusion to the practice, at universities such as Oxford, of drinking spirits out of punch bowls that were shaped like a bishop’s mitre (the ceremonial, pointed hat).

The use of port to prepare a Smoking Bishop also had another historical implication. Bordeaux — or Claret, as the English called it — may have been the original choice, but Franco-English relations having reached a prickly moment at the time, high taxation made the buying of French goods untenable. Thus, the English looked to other parts of Europe… like Portugal, from where port wine became an important import for Britain. As a moneylender, Scrooge would have been able to afford a good port for his Smoking Bishop.

A very early recipe for the drink, in Apician Morsels; or, Tales of the Table, Kitchen, and Larder (1829), advises the reader to: 

“Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon; stick cloves in these incisions, and roast the said lemon by fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, mace, cloves, and allspice, and a race of ginger, into a saucepan, with half a pint of water; let it boil until it be reduced one half. 

Boil one bottle of port wine; burn a portion of the spirit out of it, by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan which contains it. Put the roasted lemons and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. 

Rub a few knobs of sugar on the rind of a lemon; put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon (not roasted) pour the wine upon it, sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it. Oranges, although not used in bishop, at Oxford are…sometimes introduced into that beverage.”

The Dog’s Nose — from The Pickwick Papers

So named seemingly because it is “wet and black” in appearance, the Dog’s Nose is a mix of gin, brown sugar (or treacle), and porter or stout. The drink is warmed by means of a “loggerhead”, a red-hot poker taken from the fireplace and dunked in the liquid. It could also be mulled in a conical metal vessel that was placed among the hot coals of the hearth. In modern times, a saucepan on the stove, or a cup set in the microwave, work just as well. 

It was first seen in The Pickwick Papers, and Dickens also mentioned it in Our Mutual Friend. A standard recipe for the drink would have been as follows: 

25 ml gin - 100 ml porter or stout - 10 ml dark treacle; with the gin and treacle combined in a tumbler, the porter or stout added, then the drink warmed to the desired temperature.