My heart gladdens at the sight of the frosted purple glass bottle of Highclere Castle Gin, and I’m certain my personal cocktail hero, Sir Winston Churchill, would have had exactly the same reaction. While researching my newly released hardcover gift book, Churchill: A Drinking Life, Champagne, Cognac, and Cocktails, my co-author Roxanne Langer and I set out to learn what we could discover about what Churchill liked to drink and where, and with whom he enjoyed raising a glass. Very quickly we learned that Churchill was a frequent guest at Highclere Castle, coming to hunt with the grandfather of the current Lord Carnarvon and ending a long hunt relaxing with a cocktail in his favorite chair at Highclere. Riding his mount through the familiar landscape he would have breathed in some of the same aromatic essences that are used when distilling the gin and he would have nodded in approval over the inclusion of the oats, as he himself was a dedicated racehorse owner later in life.
There is no disputing that Winston Churchill was fond of an adult beverage or two throughout the course of his working day but it is important to note that these were merely “throat moisteners,” very weak drinks that did not interfere with his remarkable leadership ability or his oratory talents. As he once famously noted,” I’ve taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
Everywhere we looked — whether combing through the diaries and memoirs of the many people who worked closely with him during the war, or hunting up vintage magazine and newspaper articles — the cocktails were pretty much on every page. Roxanne is a sommelier, and was able to reach out to industry sources like the longtime London wine and spirits merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd and uncover fresh Churchill anecdotes. Seems that in all these years no one else had ever asked …
When the world was closed to most travel during the pandemic the ability to travel vicariously from California to England by watching Downton Abbey episodes over and over, reveling in the gorgeous interiors and lush grounds of Highclere Castle was truly a godsend. Can you imagine sitting down to research and write an entire book about the world famous British Prime Minister from my desk in California? A well-deserved gin martini greeted me at the end of each writing day, helping me to further get into the Churchillian mood.
It is interesting to note that in some ways Churchill’s own storied family history is tied directly to the story of gin. His famed ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, began his climb into the aristocracy due to his closeness to William III, known as the Gin King. A Dutch prince who became the King of England in 1689, one of his first official acts was to liberalize the rules surrounding the distillation of gin.
Ready for a cocktail yourself, are you? Here is a quick recipe snippet from the pages of Churchill: A Drinking Life and don’t forget to get your bottle of Highclere Castle Gin
The Gin & Tonic
What could be more traditionally British than a gin and tonic? The origins of that quintessential drink go back to the days when one was advised to swill quinine in order to ward off malaria in places like India and Malaya. Quinine was soon added to tonic, and gin was soon added to the tonic, and there you go. All strictly for medicinal purposes, of course. As Churchill himself once said, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
- 1 ½ oz Highclere Castle Gin
- Artisanal tonic water
- Lime wedge
Fill a glass with ice, then add the gin and top off with tonic water. Garnish with a lime wedge. What could be simpler? And all, of course, in the interest of keeping malaria at bay…
It truly was a pleasure to research and write this book. It was like having a cocktail with a side of history. Pair our book with that tall frosted blue bottle of Highclere Castle Gin and you’ve got the perfect gift for history buffs, cocktail fans, or maybe… just a treat for yourself. As Churchill once said to a young government minister who seemed reluctant to refill his glass, “Go ahead, have another, I won’t tell.”