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  • JASNA Wisconsin

Cocktails with Katie & Jane

This is a copy of a session given by JASNA-Wisconsin member Katie Marks on August 23, 2020. Enjoy!


Alcohol was extremely common at this time because it was actually safer than water. This is because there was no garbage collection or water management or sanitation. People would throw their food and human waste into the streets, which would make its way into the ground, rivers and water sources — causing epidemics of diseases like cholera.

Therefore, should a person at that time want the greatest chance of surviving, they mostly imbibed liquids that were fermented, with the alcohol killing bacteria, or boiled, with the temperature killing the bacteria (in the case of Regent’s Punch, it’s both!). Even kids drank things like small beers and mulled wines!


Working Class Booze: Ale, Beer, Gin

If they could afford beer or ale, they would drink that. Otherwise, gin — or “blue ruin” — was the cheap drink of choice as it was inexpensive to produce. Gin encompasses a wide variety of flavors and styles, but the common ingredient is juniper berries.

Beer is made by fermenting malt and barley (and hops) with yeast. “Beer” and “ale” were both popular, and I’m still not quite sure how they were distinguished back then, but what I gather is that ale is fermented barley and malt with NO hops, whereas beer has hops added. In modern times, “beer” is a general term for “ales” and “lagers” and these are distinguished by the type of yeast.

In Austen’s England, the beers were primarily brewed with ale yeast as lager yeast is more temperamental and ferments at a cooler temperature. Interestingly, beer was often brewed in the home, and it was often the women who did the brewing!

Developments in the beer world include:

  • Development of the India Pale Ale in 1700s (popularized in 1830s-40s)

  • Progressive taxation based on strength of beer in 1700s: table, small, strong

  • 1830 Brewhouse Act allowed anyone to brew and sell beer/ale/cider from Public Houses

References in Austen: Austen quips about small beer in a letter from September 18, 1796:

I am very glad that the idea of returning with Frank occurred to me; for as to Henry's coming into Kent again, the time of its taking place is so very uncertain that I should be waiting for dead men's shoes. I had once determined to go with Frank to-morrow and take my chance, etc., but they dissuaded me from so rash a step as I really think on consideration it would have been; for if the Pearsons were not at home, I should inevitably fall a sacrifice to the arts of some fat woman who would make me drunk with small beer.


Spruce Beer

Spruce beer is similar to root beer, but it contains hops and molasses, and is fermented, so is of course alcoholic. It was also used on ships to prevent scurvy.

References in Austen: Austen mentions brewing spruce beer in a letter to Cassandra on December 9, 1808:

"But all this," as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, "is flight and fancy, and nonsense, for my master has his great casks to mind and I have my little children." It is you, however, in this instance, that have the little children, and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again; but my meaning really is, that I am extremely foolish in writing all this unnecessary stuff when I have so many matters to write about that my paper will hardly hold it all. Little matters they are, to be sure, but highly important.

Spruce beer is mentioned in Emma:

“This was really his [Mr. Elton’s],” said Harriet.—“Do not you remember one morning?—no, I dare say you do not. But one morning—I forget exactly the day—but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book; it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down; but when he took out his pencil, there was so little lead that he soon cut it all away, and it would not do, so you lent him another, and this was left upon the table as good for nothing. But I kept my eye on it; and, as soon as I dared, caught it up, and never parted with it again from that moment.”
“I do remember it,” cried Emma; “I perfectly remember it.—Talking about spruce-beer.—Oh! yes—Mr. Knightley and I both saying we liked it, and Mr. Elton's seeming resolved to learn to like it too. I perfectly remember it.—Stop; Mr. Knightley was standing just here, was not he? I have an idea he was standing just here.”
“No—he [Frank Churchill] should not eat. He was not hungry; it would only make him hotter.”
In two minutes, however, he relented in his own favour; and muttering something about spruce-beer, walked off. Emma returned all her attention to her father, saying in secret—
“I am glad I have done being in love with him. I should not like a man who is so soon discomposed by a hot morning. Harriet's sweet easy temper will not mind it.”



Wines / Fortified Wines

I believe we are all familiar with wine in general, and a fortified wine is a wine to which a distilled spirit (usually brandy) is added for longer preservation.

Wine: of course, is made from fermented grape juice, though Austen mentions orange wine, which back then was fermented orange juice and sugar. References in Austen:

I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error. – Letter to Cassandra, Nov. 20, 1800
The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine. – Letter to Cassandra, June 30, 1808
We began pease on Sunday, but our gatherings are very small, not at all like the gathering in the "Lady of the Lake." Yesterday I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe; had you been at home, this would have been a pleasure lost. There are more gooseberries and fewer currants than I thought at first. We must buy currants for our wine. — June 6, 1811

Claret: in specific, this is a French pale red wine from the Bordeaux region. References in Austen:

Henry desires Edward may know that he has[194] just bought three dozen of claret for him (cheap), and ordered it to be sent down to Chawton. — May 24, 1813

Sherry (suitable for ladies): a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near Jerez, Spain (fortification happens after fermentation)

Port (typically men only): a fortified wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal, typically a sweet red wine but can be others (fortification happens during fermentation, which stops it, producing a sweeter wine). References in Austen:

Henry is not quite well. His stomach is rather deranged. You must keep him in rhubarb, and give him plenty of port and water. He caught his cold farther back than I told you,—before he got to Matlock, somewhere in his journey from the North; but the ill effects of that I hope are nearly gone. — September 16, 1813

Madeira: a fortified wine made on the Madeira Islands. References in Austen:

I find time in the midst of port and Madeira to think of the fourteen bottles of mead very often. – Letter to Cassandra, Oct. 26, 1813

Mead: made by fermenting honey with water (maybe with the addition of other ingredients). References in Austen:

We hear now that there is to be no honey this year. Bad news for us. We must husband our present stock of mead, and I am sorry to perceive that our twenty gallons is very nearly out. I cannot comprehend how the fourteen gallons could last so long. – Letter to Cassandra, Sep. 8, 1816

Brandy: a liquor made by distilling wine and storing it in casks. References in Austen:

I hope it will come by the wagon to-morrow; it is certainly what we want, and I long to know what it is like, and as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present, I will not have any regret. We have considerable dealings with the wagons at present: a hamper of port and brandy from Southampton is now in the kitchen. – Letter to Cassandra, Jun. 6, 1811

Sources & Recipes:


Alcoholic Refreshments

I’ve categorized the below into drinks that were served at balls/parties and for guests, though many were also used amongst family in the home as well.


  • Ratafia: denotes almost any alcoholic or flavored water, could be made in several ways – distilled or with an infusion of fruits and spices. Ratafia’s alcoholic base would have consisted of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape.

  • Orgeat: made with almond extract, sugar, and orange flower water; added as a flavoring to punch, hot chocolate, coffee, sparking water, or cocktails.

  • Regent’s Punch: a lemon, tea, and champagne punch

  • Mulled wine: heated wine with added spices

  • Negus: A type of mulled wine, similar to the sangria of today


  • Orgeat Lemonade: A non-alcoholic orgeat lemonade would have consisted of orgeat syrup, lemonade, and soda water, and might well have been the sort of drink served at an Assembly.

  • Orgeat:;

  • Lemonade:

  • Regent’s Punch:

  • Ratafia:

  • Negus:;




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