The list of history’s great drinkers is long and admirable. Peter the Great drank to an inhuman capacity and without him, it’s unlikely that Russia would have emerged as the world power it became. Ulysses S. Grant was rarely sober, and was key to the defeat of the Confederacy. Dorothy Parker’s dark and constant inebriation were well documented and inspired some of her best quips and commentary. Clearly (don’t argue), drinking a lot makes you good at stuff. And no one provides a better example of this than Winston Churchill.
Throughout his career, Churchill managed a daring escape from a Boer prison camp, wrote 72 volumes, led as Prime Minister of Britain for nine years, and oh yeah, he defeated Hitler (albeit, with a little help). And he did all of it while drinking. His uncompromising bravery, brilliance, and impressive BAC make him my ultimate drunk role model.
Rather than review his many accomplishments, let’s delve into Churchill’s drinking regimen and the beverages that made his greatness possible.
What Did Churchill Drink?
Churchill was very particular about what he drank, and every occasion had a precise alcohol accompaniment. This is self care I can get behind.
Champagne was one of Churchill’s staple beverages (he’s said to have drunk 42,000 bottles during his lifetime). He claimed it was one of life’s essentials: “We live very simply—but with all the essentials of life well understood and provided for—hot baths, cold Champagne, new peas and old brandy.”
His favorite was Pol Roger. Luckily for us, they’ve acknowledged his loyalty to their brand by creating a Churchill bottle you can still purchase to this day.
It wasn’t until Churchill’s trip to India in the late 19th century that he acquired a taste for whiskey: “The water was not fit to drink. To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learnt to like it.” Once over this hurdle, he rarely went without his “Churchill mouthwash.” This was made by coating the bottom of a glass with Johnnie Walker Red and then filling it with soda. Contrary to popular belief, he liked it quite weak and was known to get upset if someone made it too strong.
Churchill rarely went without an after-dinner brandy. Some of his favorites were Hine, l’Hertier de Jean Fremi-court, and Prunier (he also allegedly drank some Armenian Ararat courtesy of Stalin).
While these days vermouth is experiencing a renaissance, in Churchill’s time it was looked on with extreme suspicion. He was so against its unwelcome presence in his martinis that he requested that the vermouth be left across the room and merely glanced at (or alternatively vermouth could be replaced with a bow in the direction of France). Considering FDR‘s very different martini recipe it’s a miracle they ever became allies.
Claret and Port
Churchill’s Drinking Schedule
Arguably, the most impressive thing about Churchill’s drinking isn’t what he drank. It’s the amount. I’m always tempted to copy his regimen, but honestly I think escaping a Boer prison might be less painful than the hangover I’d get from drinking like Winston. Here’s his schedule:
Morning: Churchill wasn’t afraid to start early: “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”
However, saying he didn’t want to have strong drink before breakfast didn’t mean he had NO drinks before breakfast. He was known to request that the White House Chief Butler put a “tumbler of sherry in my room before breakfast.” After breakfast, Churchill drank his first “Mouthwash” which he’d continue to refill throughout the day.
Lunch: You know how tired you feel after day-drinking champagne at brunch? Churchill drank an entire bottle of Pol Roger every day at lunch. It’s no wonder he was a big fan of afternoon naps.
Afternoon: In addition to his “Mouthwash,” Churchill would drink “buckets of claret and soda” between meals.
Dinner: After his afternoon nap, Churchill would polish off another bottle of Pol Roger at dinner. Unsurprisingly, this habit became costly: the 2015 equivalent of his champagne spending would be $62,000 a year.
After Dinner: Port and brandy were the primary staples of his after-dinner drinking and they were often accompanied by cigars. Not a bad way to end the day.
How Did Churchill Accomplish Anything While This Drunk?
Despite the bonkers quantity of alcohol he consumed, Churchill rarely got drunk. In fact, he was said, “to have the utmost contempt for people who get drunk.” While he was often accused of being inebriated (like in this famous anecdote), according to those who knew him well, these accusations were unfounded. Perhaps he understood the nature of his drinking best: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
A Churchill-Inspired Cocktail: The Chartwell
-.5 oz Graham’s Port syrup
-1 oz Hine Cognac
-Fill to the brim with Pol Roger