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The Ghost of Christmas Past – The drinks that time forgot

What were we drinking at Christmas in the Past? See if you recognise any of the forgotten favourites below . . .

Dubbonet - The Queen Mother's favourite1950s

After the end of World War II rationing continued until 1954. Wine was an upper class drink and the nation enjoyed Beers, Stouts, Pale Ale and Cider. The ladies enjoyed Port & Lemon. Sweet and alcoholic, this was made with Port and a dash of lemon juice – it’s still enjoyed today. Sweet Sherry was popular and Harveys Bristol Cream was a top seller.

Dubonnet was popular in the 50s, the Queen Mother used to like a Gin & Dubonnet cocktail.

The Queen also enjoys Dubonnet – in 2009 The Queen’s love of Dubonnet had staff at Lord’s cricket ground frantically searching for a bottle ahead of her attendance at the Second Ashes Test. Dubonnet was created in 1846 by the Parisian chemist/wine merchant, Joseph Dubonnet, as a means to make quinine more palatable for the soldiers battling malaria in North Africa, Dubonnet’s mix of fortified wine, a proprietary blend of herbs, spices and peels, and the medicinal quinine is a recipe that has earned it legendary status.

Drambuie - another Royal favourite
Drambuie – another Royal favourite

Drambuie was the first liqueur to be allowed in the cellars of the House of Lords in 1916.

A year later Buckingham Palace ordered a case for its cellars. From that point on Drambue gained favour during the 50s despite production being interrupted by two World Wars. Drambuie is a liqueur made from scotch whisky, honey, herbs and spices. According to legend the drink was created for Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The Prince gave the recipe to his loyal clan chief, John MacKinnon, and the MacKinnons produced Drambuie until William Grant & Sons bought the brand in 2014.

The Snowball - still popular today!
The Snowball – still popular today!

The Snowball was invented at some point in the 1950s and its popularity peaked in the 70s.

The Snowball dropped out of fashion but thanks to Nigella Lawson (and more than a few avid fans) the Snowball has become fashionable again. It’s a mixture of Advocaat and Lemonade with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, garnished with a maraschino cherry. It’s sold commercially in small bottles but is easy to make at home.

Babycham - made with pears
Babycham – made with pears

Babycham was invented in the 1940s by the Showering brothers in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

Babycham is a sparkling drink made from pear juice and was first bottled commercially in 1953. This was the start of a successful journey for the little drink. It became one of the largest selling alcoholic drinks enjoyed by women and was the first alcoholic product to be advertised on British TV.

Heineken - probably the first Lager in the UK!
Heineken – probably the first Lager in the UK!


The 1960s saw a boom in the British economy; this was the decade when we saw the spread of Indian restaurants and the first Lager take off. Heineken signed a deal with the English brewers Whitbread which enabled them to produce Lager at their brewery in Luton. The rest is history!

Wine drinking still remained a minority activity in the 60s but with the rise of the ‘dinner party’ more middle class families were serving it at their dining tables.

Blue Nun, Italian Chianti in straw flasks and Mateus Rose were the wines of choice. Empty bottles of Mateus Rose and Chianti were used as ‘chique’ candle holders!

Blue Nun is a German Liebfraumilch and between the 1950s and 1980s was probably the largest international wine brand. After World War II Blue Nun was so fashionable it sold for the same price as a Bordeaux Second Growth Grand Cru Classe!

Chianti bottle being used as a candlestick
Chianti bottle being used as a candlestick

Mateus Rose was created in Portugal in 1942 and production began at the end of the Second World War. It reached the height of fashion in the 70s and by the late 1980s Mateus accounted for over 40% of Portugals table wine exports and world wide sales were 3.25 million cases a year. As with most boom or bust situations the over exposure lead to Mateus falling from grace but it is fast picking up as a ‘retro wine’.

Sherry parties also took off at this time and although the preference for sweet Sherry remained dominant posher parties included Dry styles such as Amontillado and Fino.

Cinzano - Bianco with lemonade was a very popular choice in the 70s
Cinzano – Bianco with lemonade was a very popular choice in the 70s


The 1970s saw the rise of Campari, Cinzano and Martini & Rossi as fashionable drinks. They are all Italian Vermouths – fortified wines with combinations of herbs dating back to the late 1750s.

Cinzano came in the form of sweet white Cinzano Bianco and Extra Dry, Martini in the form of sweet, amber coloured Rosso. Both were mixed with lemonade. Campari was more bitter (often likened to cough syrup) and was drunk with soda.

Pony - the little drink now long forgotten
Pony – the little drink now long forgotten

The ‘little drink with the big kick’ took off in the 70s. This was Pony. Pony performed the trick of putting sweet cream sherry into a small bottle. Cherry B was a similar product that contained cherry brandy in a little bottle.

For those of us old enough to remember it Lambrusco was the Lambrini of the 70s and early 80s – it was cheap, cheerful and quaffable. Lambrusco back then came in a sparkling, sweet red and white and to my mind was the fore runner of the alcopop – but that’s a matter of personal opinion and another story.

Beaujolais Nouveau was also fashionable. Each year the new Beaujolais is released on the third Thursday in November, and not earlier, by decree of the French Government. In the 70s just after midnight on the given day a race began to ship the wine out all around the world as quickly as possible. It generated stunts and excitable headlines. There were car or balloon races, even elephant and rickshaw races, to bring the first bottles to Paris, Britain, Belgium and Germany.

Tabboo & Mirage - exotic drinks with tropical flavours
Tabboo & Mirage – exotic drinks with tropical flavours


With yuppie culture taking off in the 80s Champagne consumption rocketed. Prior to this date Champagne had been only drunk on special occasions. Top class Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe also enjoyed a boom and wine investment became ‘cool’. Bordeaux’s 1982 vintage was dubbed as ‘legendary’ by critic Robert Parker, causing its value to go through the roof. Having 100-point scales and a host of new wine publications, collectors could now make well informed decisions on what to buy, a trend that has continued to this day.

Exotic cocktails and drinks were the ‘in thing’ during the 80s – this was the era of fruit flavoured spirits Taboo and Mirage and the Blue Hawaii.

The movie popularised Chardonnay
The movie popularised Chardonnay


Sales of Chardonnay boomed in the 90s, in part due to the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. Unlike todays crisp Chardonnays these were heavier styles; aged in oak barrels with vanilla and butter like flavours. A backlash occurred in later in the decade when people tired of the style and the phrase ‘ABC – Anything But Chardonnay’ was coined.

Our tastes became sweeter and Alcopops arrived in the 90s with brands such as Hooch, Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer filling supermarket shelves. Sales of Lambrini, a Perry (pear) drink boomed, as did strong, white Cider such as White Lightening.

We also saw sales grow in wines from around the world – red Zinfandel from the USA, sparkling Cava from Spain and Chenin Blanc from South Africa.

This movie knocked Merlot off its pedestal
This movie knocked Merlot off its pedestal

The Noughties

The Millenium has seen Sauvignon Blanc take over from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir battle Merlot (thanks to the film Sideways) the rise of Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. It’s seen Bordeaux break the bank thanks to the Chinese bubble in wine investment and Burgundy rise to the fore. Italian wines have stepped up to the mark and we are now used to seeing quality Argentian Malbecs, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Spanish Riojas etc.

Our tastes have expanded to encompass all quarters of the globe and wines made from far flung grapes.

Thanks to the internet we can explore wine and its countries of origin, share our likes and dislikes and make wonderful new discoveries. The horizons are endless.

When we look back in the future I wonder what drinks we will consider to be nostalgic? Or what drinks from the past we will have brought back?

Merry Christmas!

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