A liquor called Bishop? What could that be?
Perhaps that quote from Boswell’s Life of Johnson stirs another literary memory:
“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”
But Bishop is old enough that Samuel Johnson himself defines it in his Dictionary as “a cant word for a mixture of wine, oranges, and sugar.”
Not just any wine, though, but port.
Johnson harangued upon the qualities of different liquors; and spoke with great contempt of claret, as so weak, that “a man would be drowned by it before it made him drunk.” He was persuaded to drink one glass of it, that he might judge, not from recollection, which might be dim, but from immediate sensation. He shook his head, and said, “Poor stuff! No, Sir, claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy.
A truly excellent recipe by Eric Felten is provided here. Traditionally, Bishop was flavored by a clove-studded roasted orange; Felten recommends the later Oxford tradition of instead using roasted lemons. And that is not the only possible variation, though I would refuse to drink a Smoking Cardinal, made with champagne. I prefer to drink my champagne chilled, thank you very much; I don’t really see how any flavors can be coaxed out of champagne by heating it.
Whatever the citrus, this is a classic hot punch recipe, not just for Christmas but for any bleak, grey, rainy day. In England this of course could mean a day in any month of the year. But on the eastern seaboard of North America, it seems to me that the perfect antidote to March is a bowl of Bishop.
However, when taking that medicine, remember Johnson’s dictum that “Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking.”