Buckfast Tonic Wine

The Rule Of St. Benedict espouses the virtues of obedience, moderation, and humility among its followers. Buckfast Tonic Wine, originally produced by the Benedictine monks who follow these tenets, allegedly promotes civil disobedience, violence, and insolence among its imbibers. Hopefully the Benedictine monks of Buckfast Abbey—who haven’t distributed the wine since 1927, but are still credited with its production on the label—have as great an appreciation for irony as they do obedience. 

Buckfast has become so notorious in its native Great Britain—particularly Scotland, where it’s closely associated with the working-class “Ned” culture—that lawmakers are currently bandying about a bill that would restrict its sale. This is the second time Scotland has proposed such action against “Buckie” in the past five years, and is likely spurred by a recent BBC investigation that links Buckfast to violent crime. According to the BBC, Buckfast is mentioned in crime reports from the Strathclyde Police three times a day; one of those, on average, is a violent crime. The Buckfast bottle was also frequently used as a weapon in these crimes. Sound farfetched? Here’s a delightfully accented video from BBC Scotland about the Buckie scourge. 

Whether the relationship between Buckfast and violence is causal or just associative, its reputation—evidenced by colorful nicknames like “Wreck The Hoose Juice,” “Commotion Lotion,” and “Liquid Speed”—was more than enough to pique The A.V. Club’s curiosity. How could an innocuous bottle of red wine incite so much violence? Wine is supposed to make you sleepy and agreeable, right? Well, not when you pump it full of caffeine, it’s not! This is “fortified” wine, in this case bolstered by the equivalent of eight cans of soda in one 750-milliliter bottle. Combine that with its slightly higher alcohol content (15 percent ABV), and it’s conceivable that Buckfast could be a potent rage cocktail. Just as conceivable: Its sugary-sweet taste and low price point make it the ideal starter booze for young drinkers, who might be more prone to the hooliganism and “anti-social behavior” that Buckfast has been blamed for. 

Now granted, we’re not a particularly aggressive breed here at The A.V. Club: Our eyes and physiques have been weakened by our computer-tethered lifestyle, and a steady diet of sad-bastard indie rock and mumblecore movies has rendered our spirits flaccid and beige-colored. So perhaps we’re not the best subjects to evaluate Buckfast’s rage-inducing properties. But we do have a lot of experience with curious booze confections, so if anything, we can accurately measure whether Buckfast is any worse than other abominations like Chocovine and bacon vodka. (Spoiler alert: It’s not, but just barely.)

Taste: You know how when opened red wine is left out in a warm area for a few days, it turns the brownish-red color of old blood? That’s the color of Buckfast fresh out of the bottle. Also contributing to its unappetizing appearance: a decidedly syrupy consistency, more on par with flat cola than wine. Put it this way: Usually we would feel a little trashy drinking wine out paper cups instead of proper glassware, but in this case, even pouring it into a sipping vessel, no matter how humble, seemed like overkill. Buckfast is clearly meant to be guzzled straight out of the bottle, preferably inside a paper bag so as not to offend with its ugly label and sludgy looks.  

Office Reactions:

  • “This looks exactly like Coke in the cup. But it smells like rubbing alcohol. Possibly with a cigarette butt in it.”
  • “Man, that smells harsh, like it's going to melt the inside of my sinuses if I try to drink it. I feel like doing crimes already just in order to escape it.”
  • “This shit is terrible, even by the low standards of booze that gets you drunk quickly.”
  • “It smells like cough syrup, looks like flat Coke, and tastes like anise (or, to play on words, an anus).”
  • “Is it supposed to be chilled? Maybe that would help, but I guess this kind of booze isn’t supposed to taste good.”
  • “I’m too old and too employed to be drinking this shit.”
  • “I can’t decide what it tastes like, except that it tastes like awful. Paint thinner, maybe? The thesis is that people drink this voluntarily?”
  • “I’m assuming this is what prison wine tastes like. It’s really fruity, as though the fruit hasn't entirely fermented and there's just ordinary grape juice in there, but it also has a very sour taste. Like an unsweetened prune juice and rubbing alcohol cocktail.”
  • “Perfect blend between Mad Dog 20/20 + Red Dog + Rage.”
  • “If you really wanted to be a violent British youth, you would snort this.”
  • “Tastes like a more revolting Manishevitz with a hint of once fizzy, but now flat rage. And a little bit like the syrup that hangs out around prunes.”
  • “Fifteen minutes later I have the sudden urge to bludgeon something British.”
  • “I wish I had a more refined palette so I could express the taste more accurately. I wouldn’t have known it was carbonated if you guys didn’t point it out. Was thick but a bit sweet. Made me feel nice and warm inside. As a matter of fact, I think I’m addicted. I may need a few more sips to evaluate further.”

Where to get it: If you’re in Britain, apparently you can’t get away from it. Here in the U.S., you’ll have to get more creative to get your hands on some rageahol: We put out a call via Twitter to help us obtain a bottle, and we were answered by a kind British reader/commenter named Andrew, a.k.a. Epiktistes. All hail Epiktistes!

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