Wine has long played a role in religion. There are dozens of Judeo-Christian rituals centered around the enticing beverage. One of these rituals is Catholic Mass, which is what provided Benedictine monks with incentive to become winemakers in the first place. But they didn’t become your average humble vintners. In Medieval Europe, Benedictine monks were actually the biggest wine producers around, and their success continues today at Buckfast Abbey, where the monks make a popular, fortified wine aptly dubbed Buckfast Tonic Wine. This all may seem fine and normal, monks making wine, that is, until the hooligans get involved.
When you picture a bunch of monks making wine, what do you imagine? I see tranquility, quiet, solemn leave pruning. But while I can’t attest to what the winemaking scene looks like, if you walked upon a scene of people drinking Buckfast Tonic Wine, the tone might be a little…different from what we imagine.
First, a little background. Buckfast Abbey first starting making their potent tonic wine in the late 1800’s. Like many boozy products, it was originally sold as a medicine. Its tagline read: “Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood.” When the Abbey stopped selling the wine directly in 1927, retailers picked up the challenge. Today, Buckfast is sold in the UK and Ireland, where the fortified wine is popular amongst students and the working class. Sounds good so far, right?
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Well, it turns out Buckfast is more like Four Loko than sacramental wine. Claims of the drink’s caffeine content differ, but some researchers verify that a 750 ml bottle is drop for drop more caffeinated than a RedBull. Combine that with a fairly high abv of 15%, and tons of sugar, you have a wine primed for a raucous time.
In fact, in Scotland, Buckfast is associated with crime and “ned” culture – ned is basically Scottish vernacular for lout, or hooligan. Neds love Buckfast, known lovingly as Buckie, but Buckie apparently does not love neds. In January 2010, a BBC investigation claimed that Buckfast had been mentioned in 5,638 crime reports in Strathclyde from 2006-2009. That averages out to about 3 crimes a day, something the police and politicians aren’t happy about. In fact, in December 2013, Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil called for the monks to stop making it. The Strathclyde Police were even marking bottles so they could trace where underage consumers were buying the wine (Buckfast and their distributor complained, and the case was later settled).
Why do neds love buckie? While the answer is hard to pinpoint, you might look to the relatively cheap price, the sweet taste, and, well, the drink’s ability to get a person obliterated quickly. Some enthusiasts even say it’s a Scottish tradition.
That tradition is lucky for the Buckfast monks. Despite their vows of asceticism, Buckie pulls in millions of dollars a year, enough to buy them new robes, prayer books, and I’m guessing a whole lot more.
Header Image via Skin-ubx/Flickr