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How Much Did Winston Churchill Drink?

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

You have probably heard this famous Winston Churchill anecdote. 

In 1946, Bessie Braddock, a member of parliament, said to Churchill, "Winston, you are drunk!" 

Churchill replied, “Bessie, my dear, yes I am (or words to that effect) but you are ugly. Tomorrow, I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Perhaps apocryphal. His daughter, Mary Soames, doubted the story, saying her father wouldn't say such a thing to a lady. Others have said that he was tired at the moment, sober, but irritable.

The Darkest Hour

How Much Did Winston Churchill Drink?

(Winston Churchill Portrait known as "The Roaring Lion," Dec 1941)

In the movie, The Darkest Hour, Churchill is having his weekly lunch with the King, when Great Britain is facing its bleakest time in history. As a server pours the Prime Minister another glass of champagne, King George VI asks:

"How do you manage to drink during the day?

Churchill replies, "Practice"

It is said it all started in 1899, when the future Prime Minister was 25 years and was covering the Boer war for a the Morning Post.

For his journey, he took 36 bottle of wine, 18 bottles of 10-year old scotch, and 6 bottles of brandy.

He observed: The water was not fit to drink. To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learnt to like it.”

As Prime Minister, he would have brandy and champagne for lunch and dinner, and throughout the day he would always have a glass of whisky by his side. It wasn't neat -- aka it wasn't straight. He'd water it down quite a bit, so it was more like whisky-flavored water, at least at breakfast. His private secretary said he would start his day with a "whisky mouthwash."

Here's is the scotch highball -- the  whisky that accompanied him throughout the day (featured in the first part of the video). He preferred Johnny Walker Red:

Churchill and Prohibition in the USA

When Churchill came to America for speaking engagements, he had been hit by a car. that was traveling about 30 miles per hour, dragging him. He suffered bruising on his chest, a sprained shoulder, and abrasions on his face.

Naturally, he would thus need a doctor's note when he came to America; a prescription for alcohol during the time of prohibition. It read:

"This is to certify that the post-accident convalescence of the Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times. The quantity is naturally indefinite but the minimum requirements would be 250 cubic centimeters." 

Churchill doctor's prescription for alcohol during Prohibition

(Churchill doctor's prescription for alcohol during Prohibition in America)

Two hundred thirty cubic centimeters would be about eight ounces of medicinal spirits, although the needed quantity was indefinite -- naturally..

Later, during World War II when the Prime Minister came to visit President Franklin Roosevelt,  FDR's staff called the visits, which wore on into the night, "Churchill Hours," as the leaders of the free world partook.

Did Churchill like bourbon?

Turning to our favorite whiskey, the question needs to be asked whether the British statesman liked bourbon. Bourbon was President Harry Truman's preferred drink. He used to have a shot in the morning to "get the engines running," and he and his wife Bess often enjoyed old-fashioneds in the evening. It is said they preferred the cocktail very strong.

We do have an answer, or at least an anecdote. As we've written, Churchill usually drank Johnny Walker Red, a scotch, which is currently the largest distributed brand of blended scotch whisky in the world.

Clark Clifford, an aide to Truman, told the story that in 1946, on a train headed to Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill was to give his "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College, the President offered Churchill a whiskey. The former Prime Minister reportedly took a sip and said:

“My dear Harry, this is very good, but it’s not whisky, it’s bourbon.” 

A quick search was made on the train to find some scotch, but there wasn't any.  The train stopped along the way, where someone got out and acquired some scotch.

Whiskey or whisky?

You'll notice that throughout this article we have used different spelling for the brown liquor. It is because bourbon is spelled "whiskey" (along with other American whiskeys like rye), and scotch is spelled "whisky." Canadian and Japanese also refer to their spirits as whisky; whereas the Irish say whiskey. The differences have to do with the origins and translations of the words from Scottish and Irish Gaelic. The plurals are: whiskeys and whiskies.

Nevertheless, poetic license is sometimes taken in the world of whisk(e)y: Maker's Mark calls its bourbon "whisky."

Sir Winston's on the Queen Mary

The majestic RMS Queen Mary, that sailed the North Atlantic from 1936 to 1967, and served the allies during World War II is now berthed at Long Beach, California. There is Sir Winston's restaurant, a fine dining establishment on the ship with beef wellington on the menu. You might be interested to know that the drink menu includes an old fashioned and a "Scallywag," described as "Maker's Mark 46 bourbon, maple syrup, brûlée orange slice, (and) angostura bitters.

We wonder what Sir Winston would have thought of that!

A long life

His scotch and other drinks never seemed to slow him down and he lived to 90 years old, passing away in 1965. The "Roaring Lion" was given a state funeral, which had been planned as early as 1953, under the code name "Operation Hope Not."

He is one of eight people who have been granted honorary United States citizenship. 

In his biography of the man, Roy Jenkins wrote: "with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, his tenacity and his persistent ability (to be) larger than life, as the greatest ever (occupant of) 10 Downing Street."

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