Making cocktails with Buckfast

Words: Shamim de Brún

We all drink cocktails and, since lockdown, more and more people have been branching out into making their own. It’s pretty standard these days to have a go-to whether you’re into martinis, old fashioneds, or negronis.

But what makes a cocktail a cocktail? A few things—mainly spirits, water, sugar, and bitters.
Mostly though, it’s balance. The most palette-pleasing cocktails in the world have a harmonious ratio of boozy, bitter, and sweet. At home you’re not restricted by a bartender’s curated list. You can play with your core ingredients, by subbing one spirit for another whole new drinks can be created. Ultimately, you can make a cocktail with anything. So this begs the question, why not diverge? Why not experiment with an unlikely candidate? Why not… Buckfast?

Buckfast was originally made by monks, like wine and Belgian beer. However, Buckfast is a completely unique drink. What makes it particularly interesting is that it’s neither wine nor brandy but it’s kinda made like both. Buckfast is verjuice or grape juice that’s been fortified. To make brandy you fortify wine. To make wine you ferment verjuice. Fortifying is when you add spirit to something to increase the alcohol content. The word itself means to make something stronger.

Buckfast is a drink usually consumed by itself but actually has some interesting potential as a cocktail ingredient. The bucky brings its own blend of sweet caffeinated alcohol to the table and unseats expectations by actually making some pretty sweet beverages. Having gotten consumed by this experiment, you can find the fruits of our investigations below. Here are 5 Buckfast cocktails to try at home:


The Buckfast Fizz

A fizz is always a party pleaser. There’s something about bubbles that feels decadent. This is a hill I will die on. The traditional fizz is a cocktail celebrity. It’s been name-dropped in movies and books since it was first featured in a newspaper in 1867.

A Buckfast Fizz is a popper. A great one to dive into when you’re hosting. It’s got a combination of fresh and sweet flavours with the caffeine kick to keep the party roaring. All you really need is to bash all the ingredients in a jug and keep a bottle of bubbles nearby to top up your glass after you pour. It says to use crushed ice and fruit but if you get a bag of mixed berry frozen fruits you can get that ice-cold freshness and maintain the flavour. No need to worry about it watering down.

Top tip is to mash up the mint at the bottom of the jug a lá mojito to infuse the batch more effectively. While this isn’t one of those drinks you need to burn orange peels to garnish, an aul slice of strawberry on the rim of a flute glass wouldn’t go amiss.


The Devon Punch

Punch, often thought of as British, is actually an Indian tradition picked up by the East India Company and modified. The name punch sounds like a dig but the conjecture is that it’s actually a mangled version of the Hindu word for five, in reference to the traditional amount of ingredients.

The Devon Punch is a homage to this and the monks who created Buckfast. It will be a hell of a Christmas cocktail. It tastes a bit like a Christmas cake with a Werther’s original kind of finish.

The ingredients can look a bit intimidating. Tea in a cocktail? Cinnamon syrup? Odd? Certainly. But the upside is that these are all things you have in your kitchen. Tea adds a touch of bitter flavouring to cocktails without being as strong as bitters themselves. Make yourself a cuppa, forget the milk and leave it cool. Sorted. Cinnamon syrup is an easy make. It’s equal parts sugar and warm water with a pinch of cinnamon or a dash if you’re into that.

This is one of those cocktails that you assemble and then stir with a really long spoon. A straw will do if you haven’t got a bar spoon hiding in your cutlery drawer. Put it together in a massive mixing bowl for a soirée and watch the night dance away.


The Buckfast Negroni

Originally Italian, a Negroni is considered an aperitivo. Or a before-dinner cocktail. The negroni was popularised by director extraordinaire Orson Wells and it replaced the gimlet as the most popular gin-based cocktail in America.

All negroni drinkers know this is a cocktail to watch. Like a martini, this is made up of nothing but alcohol. It is a boozy cocktail for the ages.

Often considered a bartender’s cocktail, the negroni tastes like cherry and citrus fruits, but with puckering bitter notes. Using Buckfast softens the bitter notes and emboldens the cherry flavours.

Traditionally made with vermouth, using Buckfast actually makes this cocktail way more accessible. Unless you’re habitually shopping in an upscale wine shop, vermouth is a bit of an ask to track down. Grabbing a Buckfast means you can enjoy what The Guardian called “2021 cocktail of the year” without much hassle.

Kai, a Michelin bibbed gourmand restaurant in Galway, offers Buckfast Negronis on their steadfast cocktail menu. If you’re lucky enough to get a reservation it’s well worth a try.


The Abbey Sour

The sour has always been viewed as a winter classic. Originating on ships it made it to the mainland in the 1800s.

The recipe for the Sour has evolved like a well-nurtured Charmander. It’s the base for many creatively named modern cocktails like the Boston Sour, the New York Sour, Amaretto Sour. Now we have the Abbey sour.

The Abbey sour combines scotch and Buckfast. Straightforward scotch sours can be a little overpowering. Here, the toffee and smokey notes combine to give a boozy smores effect. Generally, sours are fussy cocktails to make because the shake is paramount to foaming the egg white. The frothy egg white percolates through the whole drink giving it a creamy viscosity. While it is possible to make it without the egg it won’t resemble what one thinks of as a sour.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a decent sieve with your cocktail shaker then get out the pasta strainer or you’ll have sharp bits of ice floating in it. Not ideal.


The Perfect Serve

Perfection. That’s what it is. Not highly recommended. Or surprisingly slurp-worthy. Actual perfection.

The perfect serve is a considered drink. It implies serving Buckfast at its peak. This drink has had people bickering over it tweaking glassware, ice, ingredients, pour, garnish and who knows what else. All so you don’t have to. You can sip back and enjoy.

Because Buckfast has this silky viscosity full of cherry sweetness, the citrusy freshness of the grapefruit will bounce off it well. The sweet and sour maraschino cherry notes meshing in your glass deftly brings the drink together. The finish is long and moreish.

Realistically there’s no need to be looking for a carton of grapefruit juice to make this. One grapefruit is the size of 2 oranges with as much juice. You can pick one up for about 35c and hand squeeze it for enough juice to make 4 or 5 perfect serves.

Bitters are a fun little thing to have around. They liven up everything from ginger beer to old fashioneds. They never go off so once you buy them they’ll last ages. Easily available from most independent offers and Google tells me SuperValu has hopped on the train too.

What’s great about the perfect serve is it’s another pour, stir, drink cocktail. Which is often key for making cocktails at home.

Elsewhere on Char: 5 incredible Irish-made advent calendars

Please drink Buckfast responsibly.

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