In preparation for the new episodes of Outlander on Sunday April 5, I have been re-watching the first eight episodes. For the uninitiated, Outlander is a television series based on the book of the same name by Diana Gabaldon. The story follows Claire Randall as she is transported through standing stones, from post-World War II Scotland in 1946 to pre-Culloden Scotland in 1743. While watching the show, it has occurred to me that Claire is a bit of a drinker and that alcohol shows up in every episode. As Diana Gabaldon has infused her books with a good dose of history, I am going to use the series to explore some historical aspects of wine, beer and spirits. You may also use this as a guide for beverage pairing with each episode.
The first episode, Sassenach, begins in post-World War II Scotland where Claire and her husband, Frank, are on a second honeymoon following their separation during the war. Claire had been at the front in her role of Army nurse, while Frank had been working in intelligence in London. Claire has a flashback to VE Day. As she learns of the end of the war, she is given a bottle of Champagne which she begins to drink with gusto. Although Champagne is often used to indicate sparkling wine in general, by the time Claire was enjoying her VE Day quaff, only wine produced in the specific geographical region of Champagne could be called Champagne. This rule had been established in 1919 when a series of laws were brought in to rebuild the wine industry after the decimation caused by World War I. Although we do not know exactly what Claire is drinking, we do know that the signing of the surrender was celebrated with 6 cases of the 1934 vintage of Pommery. This vintage is still available for CA$K 2100.00 plus taxes. There are other French sparkling wines that Claire may well be drinking. Most of these use the term Crémant. These wines are made by the same method as Champagne, but the grape varieties may be different. Some of these wines are Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bordeaux and Crémant de Bourgogne. At a fraction of the price of Champagne these would be good choices to pair with this episode.
Castle Leoch and The Way Out
I am going to look at these two episodes together as they share a common alcoholic theme. In Castle Leoch, Claire is seated at the head table besides the clan chieftain, Colum MacKenzie. Initially, they are drinking a pale white wine but later Colum serves his Rhenish. This wine has a pale pink colour similar to a Rosé. In determining what they are drinking it is important to find out more about Rhenish. Rhenish refers to wine from the Rhine area of what is now Germany. When we think of German wine we think of Reisling which is a white wine. I would suggest that they are drinking Spätburgunder which is the German name for Pinot Noir. It was known to be pale in the cooler climates of Germany. At that time it was also not common to have the juice in contact with the skin as long as today therefore we would also not expect a highly extracted red colour. If the juice does not remain in contact with the skins at all, it is even possible to get a white-coloured wine such as a Blanc de noir from Champagne. Spätburgunder was probably brought to the Rhine area by Cistercian monks in the Twelth century. The Benedictine and Cistercian orders of monks believed that it was important for the monks to do manual labour that would also allow the monasteries to support themselves. One such activity was winemaking. Two aspects of the monastic life had important influences in both viticulture and viniculture. Firstly, the monks were educated. This allowed them to make observations and experiment with which vineyards, varietals or techniques worked best. The different areas of Burgundy still reflect the observations that were made by the monks. Secondly they were mobile. Once a monastery reached a certain size, a certain number of monks would leave and establish a new monastery, taking with them their acquired knowledge. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries these monasteries spread from France to Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe and the British Isles. In The Way Out there are even ruins of a Benidictine monastery which features in the story, when Claire determines what type of poison was making a young boy ill.
Claire becomes quite taken with Colum’ s Rhenish and can be seen drinking it at the castle in The Way Out while attending a concert. Jamie is quite impressed with her ability to drink as much as she has and stil be standing.
To pair with these two episodes, I would choose a German Spätburgunder. It may well be labelled as a Pinot Noir. Failing that, one could go back to its roots and have a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Another alternative would be a Rosé made with Pinot Noir.
In this episode we see Claire trying to plan her escape. She devises a way to get away from Angus and Rupert who have been tasked with keeping an eye on her. She introduces them to Port which she has procured from Geilis Duncan. Her plan is to escape once they are intoxicated The history of Port dovetails nicely with the timeline of Outlander. Because of bad relations with France, the English started using Portugal as there source of wine. In 1703, the Treaty of Methulen decreased the duties on Portuguese wines to a third of the duties imposed on French wines.This increased the demand for Portuguese wines. To prevent the spoilage of wine while on the voyage from Portugal to England, it be came common to fortify the wine with a neutral spirit. Later the technique was changed to adding the neutral spirit to the wine before fermentation was completed. This led to a sweeter wine that we know today as Port. Since this practice was not widespread until the last half of the eighteenth century, it is likely that Claire’s Port was of the older style.
To pair with this episode there are many styles of Port to choose from but I would likely choose a Tawny Port.
In this episode Claire accompanies Dougal MacKenzie and the men of Castle Leoch as
they travel through the MacKenzie lands to collect the annual rent. At one point, Claire comes a cross a group of women who are engaged in a milling frolic. The women are walking the cloth which as a daylong process that tighten the weave and made the wool thicker. The used urine which was used to remove unwanted oils from the wool and also helped to set the colour of the dyes. During a break Claire is given a tumbler of a beverage that the women tell her is their secret.
Based on the size of the tumbler, Claire’s reaction to it and the goal of increased urine production, I would suggest that they were drinking a strong ale. Hops were not traditionally grown in Scotland, so other things such as heather were used as bittering agents. In 1710 after the Act of Union, hops were the only type of bIttering agent allowed due to the fact that there was a tax on hops. Since this village appears to be off the beaten track, it is still possible that heather was used as the ale was likely made away from the eyes of the excise men.
To pair with this episode I would suggest a heather ale or a strong Scottish ale.
The Garrison Commander
In this episode, Claire finds herself in a well appointed dining room with the British officers who are stationed in the area. The drink for this episode is Claret, which is the term the English used to refer to red Bordeaux. England has had a long love affair with Bordeaux. When Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Bordeaux region came under English control from 1154 to 1453. In 1713 there was peace between England and France and the trade in wine from Bordeaux flourished, Claret became the drink of the upper classes. It was a this time that wines started to be aged for longer times, The grapes that are included in red Bordeaux wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carménère.
For this episode try pairing with a Bordeaux wine. The choice need only be determined by your pocketbook.
For fans of the books, this was a long awaited episode which chronicles the wedding and subsequent wedding night of Claire Randall to Jamie Fraser. The drink of the this episode was definitely Whisky. Whisky is the anglicized word for Uisge Beatha which is Gaelic for water of life. It was originally distilled in monasteries in the late fifteenth century. After the decline of the monasteries distillation became an industry. Due to the taxation of whiskey production in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries many distilleries were forced underground. By 1777 there were eight licensed distilleries and over four hundred unlicensed distilleries.
So what type of Scotch does Claire drink? Since the story takes place in the Highlands, it is likely that is the type she would drink. Blending did not start until the end of the eighteenth century so she would be drinking what is now known as single malt.
To pair with this episode, try a single malt from the Highland region.
Both Sides Now
This episode does not have a single alcoholic theme. It starts back in the the twentieth century when the Inverness detective adds a swig of whisky to his tea. Later we find Claire and Jamie enjoying a picnic with a bottle which would likely be ale of some sort. Finally we see the return of Claret when Claire has been captured by Captain Randall. So for this episode the choice is yours.