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Post Port, Bordeaux and the RAF
Created by John Eipper on 09/21/17 7:48 AM

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Port, Bordeaux and the RAF (David Duggan, USA, 09/21/17 7:48 am)

The glasses (and color) don't look right for port. More probably a Bordeaux.

JE comments:  I suspected the same after posting my comment.  But for an RAF pilot to drink French wine doesn't sound right.  In 1940 the Luftwaffe had air supremacy over the vineyards.

Now if only the wine had aged half as well as these three gentlemen...

Judge for yourself below.  A question for RAF veterans Michael Sullivan and John Heelan:  what is the preferred potable of an RAF pilot?

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  • RAF Potables...and the Madeira Roll (Michael Sullivan, USA 09/22/17 3:21 AM)

    The essential question:  Was it Port or Madeira?

    When I was with the RAF we had a formal Mess Night each month, where all the officers from the three squadrons on the base would meet at the Mess for a formal meal and to bid farewell to the officers who were being transferred off the base to a new command.

    Different wines were served throughout the meal depending on which course it was, but Madeira was provided for after the meal when the "smoking lamp" was lit and each squadron's Commanding Officer would introduce his officer being transferred out who was sitting next to him at the head table. As the CO would speak about his officer, the Mess members would start clapping. Continued clapping required the officer to stand on his chair and more clapping required that he stand on the head table top! That's where the Madeira came in, as it was about to get festive, RAF-style!

    The Madeira purchased by the Mess must have been the cheapest you could find, as the Brits used to say, "It's bloody awful, unfit to drink!" Many members of the Mess would hold back their dinner roll and not eat them so they could dip them in the Madeira and throw it at the chap standing on the head table! It was very sporting, as the President of the Mess would only fine you if you missed your target! Fines by the President of the Mess went on from the time you entered the Mess till the Mess was adjourned to reform and join together in the anteroom for "games"! Fines were for infractions of Mess rules.  Some were valid, but most were bogus but in good fun! The money collected from the fines was then put on the bar to be consumed by all during the "games" or later!

    After my first Mess Night where I almost had my $700 formal Marine evening dress uniform ripped off my body, I would bring in a set of utilities and change before entering the anteroom for "games." The RAF Mess members weren't worried about destroying their uniform as the only difference for them was they wore the same inexpensive "fuzzy britches," is what I called them, to work, and for the Mess Night they'd put on a white shirt and a black bow tie vice the blue shirt and long black tie they wore to work. So it didn't matter if a sleeve got ripped off, as it could be replaced inexpensively.

    As you probably surmised, I truly loved those Mess Nights and the "games" we played in the anteroom. After I returned from England I started that tradition of roll tossing at a few post-exercise celebration meals. We weren't in formal dress and usually we were in civilian clothes or flight suits as it was held in a hotel off base and we had no Madeira but plenty of rolls. Most rolls ended up getting soaked in coffee, ice tea or water! No way would we waste good beer on that nonsense!

    Boys will be boys, and you never have to grow up because as you get older the toys just keep getting faster! I hope the military keeps their time-honored traditions, but in these times austerity and political correctness it will be hard as we now have on most bases "all hands clubs" vice individual Officers, Staff Non-Commissioned Officers and Enlisted Clubs, and they're being very poorly patronized.

    JE comments:  Flying Madeira Rolls give new meaning to the term Mess Night!  The true beneficiary of this mayhem:  the dry cleaners.  "Have some Madeira, my Dear...Incoming!"

    Another priceless vignette from Michael Sullivan.  Had I been the enemy, I know when I would have launched the invasion:  on Mess Night.

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  • Bordeaux, Port, and the English (David Duggan, USA 09/22/17 3:45 AM)
    Bordeaux was controlled by the English for more than 200 years during the late Middle Ages (Eleanor of Aquitaine and all that). The last battle of the 100 Years' War was at Castillon-sur-Dordogne in the Gascony region (of which Bordeaux was the capital), in 1453, when John Talbot's English forces were defeated, not too far from St. Emilion, where I was a year ago.

    Chateau Talbot, one of the 4th-growth Bordeaux vintages, was John Talbot's historical manse (he was also the Earl of Shrewsbury).  A bottle sells for around $60-120, depending on vintage. In fact it was the British negociants who brought Bordeaux wine to the knowledge of the rest of the world after the Napoleonic wars, and the trophy for winning the British Open golf tournament (or just The Open to the cognoscenti) is known as the Claret Jug, claret being another name for Bordeaux.

    I think the RAF fighter pilots would have understood that and not settled for a glass of port, an inferior beverage from a middling European country which once was ruled from Brazil.

    JE comments:  A word in defense of Port?  It was a particular British favorite from the 18th century, after the Methuen Treaty (1703) established the still-unbroken alliance between Britain and Portugal.  After Methuen, wine from the treacherous French became downright unpatriotic.

    A fortified brew, Port also ships better on long and hot sea voyages, unlike finicky French reds.

    Some Wikipedia fun-facts:  always pass Port to the left (Port to port), and to inspire your neighbor to hand over the bottle, you ask her or him, "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich"?  If the reply is in the negative, you add:  "He's a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the Port." 

    'Nuf said.

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  • RAF Potables (John Heelan, -UK 09/22/17 4:34 AM)
    In my RAF experience--Beer. Navy--Pink gin for officers, rum tots for ratings. A naval gunner on a carrier commented that after a heavy drinking night, Fleet Air Arm (i.e. RN) pilots enjoyed "Oxygen Breakfasts" in their cockpits to alleviate their hangovers. Later when lunching in RN wardrooms, one was lucky (or abstemious to the disgust of the sailors present) to exit without a stagger!

    JE comments: Pilots during the Great War were famous for having a bottle or two of champagne before a mission.  Evidently, courage was preferred over precision.

    Did pilots still imbibe 'n' fly during WWII?  The Royal Navy's time-honored rum ration was abolished in 1970.

    And John...pink gin?

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    • Pink Gin Explained (John Heelan, -UK 09/23/17 5:07 AM)
      Pink gin = gin and Angostura Bitters.

      Later in life I chanced upon another use of Angostura in a refreshing drink prepared by barmen at our golf club they called a "Gunner," comprising a pint of ginger beer, topped with lemonade with a dash of said bitters.

      JE comments: Separated by a common beverage! I do know that lemonade is different on each side of the Atlantic. In the UK, it is fizzy and akin to the US 7 Up or Sprite.  American lemonade contains just lemon juice, sugar, and water--no carbonation. 

      Is ginger beer the same as the Yank ginger ale?  Both are non-alcoholic.  How much gunning can you do if your drink packs no punch?

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      • (Nasty) Potables: Ginger Jake and "Jake Leg"; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 09/24/17 1:56 PM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        On the barroom front, John Heelan (Sept. 23) has made a libational nod toward
        ginger beer, perhaps providing the moment for our liquor cabinet to be expanded
        a bit, into the darker flow of "ginger jake."

        In the early 1930s a physician in the American heartland, specifically Oklahoma City,
        pinpointed four separate cases of what had until then been only a growing suspicion:
        An insidious new neurological epidemic had arisen, damaging the spinal cord with
        multiple effects, one being in flexion of the foot, causing a strange, springing gait,
        along with worse paralysis. The epidemic seemed to select for lower-income males,
        and was concentrated across the American South. Thousands were stricken.

        Since the start of national Prohibition in 1920, it had been widely known that a
        certain brand of patent medicine, still obtainable legally, had an astronomical alcohol
        content. The stuff had a pretty raw taste, but this could be cut by mixing it with
        something sweet like Coca-Cola. Drugstores began doing a land-office business
        in Coke combos, sometimes providing a side room for mixing. The brand name
        of the miracle medicine was "Jamaica Ginger." In street lore it became a fixture,
        known as Ginger Jake. Or, simply, Jake.

        For years, few seemed to learn that the firm cranking out the Jake medicine, located
        in Boston, was run by two former bootleggers. But they eventually got creative. Toward
        the end of the 1920s the two sorcerers sought to juggle the awful taste and the kick,
        and experimented with additives. The one they settled on turned out to be a plasticizing
        agent. Only slowly did the results become apparent, as in the stumbling gait, soon giving
        another vocabulary term to street lore: If you were a Jake drinker your tastes might be
        easily discerned, for you ran the risk of getting Jake Leg.

        The two Boston alchemists were caught, receiving slap-on-the-wrist fines or jail terms.
        Tens of thousands of sufferers of Jake Leg were beyond fixing. There were lawsuits.
        In 1933 Prohibition ended. By 1935 the Jake epidemic seemed to be over.

        In the ancient journey of trying to jump-start the neurology, here was one more odd hop.

        Gary Moore

        JE comments:  "Been drinkin' this Jake 'til now I can't walk."  Thus sang Jake Walk Papa in 1933.  Give it a click:


        We all knew that Coca-Cola originally contained cocaine.  But what about 7 Up?  Its original recipe called for lithium.  Perfect for quenching the bipolar thirst!

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