Wine & Food

    What to drink during the Rugby World Cup

    25 September 2019

    Two fundamental tenets keep the Thinking Drinkers honest of a weekday. The first? We are monogamous in our use of fonts. Calibri (Body); formal but ready to party. And the second? Try not to drink anything alcoholic before midday.

    Unless, that is, circumstances are such that you really must. One is the Departures Lounge in Airports where lining-up pints of cooking lagers at 7am seems to be some kind of national pastime.

    Another, of course, is the forthcoming Rugby World Cup. Hosted in Japan, where the time difference means all games will be kicking-off before noon here – and some as early as 5.45am, it raises the inevitable prospect of early-morning elbow-bending.

    Before we get into this, let’s just make one thing extremely clear – in normal circumstances, drinking alcohol in the morning is all kinds of wrong. Historically, even pirates would obey the nautical tradition of waiting for the sun to show above the yardarm (around 11am) before reaching for the rum.

    But just like a lot of the rules regarding the ruck, watching rugby with a skinny latte or a gentle cup of Rooibos is, quite frankly, incomprehensible. Equally, just because rugby players willingly sip their team-mate’s vomit through a sweaty jockstrap while standing on a pub stool (“Down in One You Zulu Warrior” etc….), doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

    No, one’s approach to breakfast time beverages should be more measured than its evening equivalent. It must be gentler on both mind and body and with moderation very much front and centre – more of a line-out style pick-me-up than a spine-shattering put-me-down.

    In his book “Everyday Drinking”, Kingsley Amis, the philandering philopote and bar-stool philosopher, recommends the “Paul Fussell’s Milk Punch” (one part brandy, one part bourbon, four parts milk, plus nutmeg and frozen milk cubes). It is, he says, ‘to be drunk immediately on rising, in lieu of eating breakfast”.

    We suggest, in the most strongest terms, that you ignore Kingsley’s advice, eschew these extreme anti-fogmatics and opt for drinks that won’t hit you like a rampaging 25-stone prop-forward.

    The Bloody Mary

    The classic breakfast drink is, of course, the Bloody Mary. The tomato juice, rich in lycopene and antioxidants, should be thick like the thighs of England’s Manu Tuilagi; we like the vodka to have a citrus edge (Ketel One Citroenis great) to deliver the all-important hair of the dog. And then there’s that spicy splendor of Worcestershire sauce and infamous fiery Tabasco, with a pinch of pepper and a splash of lemon juice.

    Created at Harry’s New York Bar, Paris in 1920, no other cocktail has been open to such wanton adulteration and interpretation. Recently, at Elliot’s 27 – a superb restaurant and supper club in Edinburgh – we were freed from a rather fragile state by a bloody marvelous Bloody Mary made using fermented heritage tomatoes that had been bubbling away in jars all summer.

    In lieu of vodka, they served Escubac– a spicy, citrusy, juniper-free botanical spirit infused with raisins, vanilla and saffron – from Sweetdram, an Edinburgh-based distiller doing lovely stuff.

    The beauty of the Bloody Mary is that you can muck about with it.  Want something hot? Then add a few more dashes of Tabasco. Tired of er….tomatoes? Then twist with Carrot, Pear and Apple or Pomegranate juice. You can even swap vodka for a reposado tequila and you’ve got a Bloody Maria or, as we like to do, introduce the herby and spicy Horseradish & Rosemary Gin from Portobello Distilleryfor a superb stimulating eye-opener.

    Caffè Corretto

    In Italy, and parts of the Mediterranean, early mornings are enlivened with a ‘caffè corretto’, an espresso spruced up with a shot of sambuca, brandy or, more often than not, grappa. Irish coffees made with Irish Whiskey, meanwhile, provide a similar pep – try this single grain whiskey aged in both bourbon and sherry casks from the Glendalough distillery, part owned by former Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll..

    Coffee-like in flavour, rich in iron and smooth in texture, Guinness has for some long been as the breakfast beer of choice – and thanks to its long-running affiliation with rugby, it’s an obvious choice.

    Breakfast Beers

    A better one for breakfast, however, is a superb stout from Big Drop Brewing created using coffee, cocoa nibs and vanilla – and is only 0.5% which means you’re free to operate heavy machinery later in the day.

    Zippier in character, balanced in its bitterness with much more finesse than most ‘fruit’ beers is the Stiegl Radler Grapefruit, a bracing shandy from Austria with an ABV of 2%. It’s lovely stuff, like a grapefruit juice…. just better.

    After some early morning sausage action? Then be like a Bavarian, pop open some pretzels and serve them up with a Weissbier – a combination they like to call, rather snappily, weißwurstfrühstück. Our favoured Weissbier is the iconic Schneider Weisse, a zesty and zippy bottle-conditioned wheat beer bursting with fruity banana and bubblegum flavours. It’s also excellent with Eggs Benedict or, if you’re proper posh, Eggs Royale.


    Grande 75, made with rustic bitter oranges and a blend of fins bois and bons bois cognacs

    Which brings us seamlessly onto the “Royale” style of drink – synonymous with the increasingly popular “Bottomless Brunch” and simply meaning an existing rink lengthened with sparkling wine.

    The Kir Royale is the most famous example  – Chambord liqueur topped up with champagne in a flute glass – but there’s a British version too, using White Heron’s British Cassis that is phenomenally fruity and uses winemaking techniques to squeeze as much flavour out of the blackcurrant fruit as possible.

    Rather than a boring old Bucks Fizz, we prefer the Royale-style “Grande 75” – using Grand Marnier, the iconic French liqueur made with rustic bitter oranges and a blend of fins bois and bons bois cognacs sourced from more than 400 growers in the south-west of France – the heart of French rugby.

    It’s simply 50ml of Grand Marnier and 25ml lemon juice shaken over ice, strained into a coupette glass and topped up with Champagne (Master of Wine Sam Caporn put us onto the enormously good value Veuve Monsigny Brut NV from Aldi at £12.49).

    Now, if your cliched cauliflower-eared, flat-nosed rugby fan feels a tad uneasy and emasculated holding a coupette of bubbles during the anthems, refuel his testosterone levels with the fact that this drink is a twist on the “French 75”, named after a massive artillery field gun used in the first World War – making it the most manliest of Champagne cocktails.

    Morning Wine

    Australian Shiraz from Fork & Spoon

    If you’re looking for a red wine to accompany your bacon sarnie, then you’re in luck – we’ve got three of them. Aldi are doing a chunky Shiraz from Australia called Fork & Spoon . This is a muscular, rich wine that can scrum down with the sweet brown sauce.

    Another is the Wine Society’s Te Mata Estate Vineyards Hawke’s Bay Gamay Noir 2018 from New Zealand, the current World Cup holders. It’s a lighter luncheon red made with Gamay, which is the same grape as Beaujolais and we recommend you serve it chilled.

    Alternatively, Majestic is doing this lovely Lambrusco made from Grasparossa grapes– a sweeter, off-dry gently sparkling red at the slightly lower 10.5% ABV. Meanwhile, for the hipster favourite of smashed avocado on sourdough, Majestic’s Definition Gruner Veltliner will do the trick.

    Japanese Whisky

    Nikka whisky from the barrel

    Given Japan is the host, it would be remiss not to make a Mizwari – a classic Japanese whisky serve consisting simply of whisky cut with mineral water to a ratio of 1:4 – and served over ice.

    For fidelity to style, Nikka from the Barrel is a big yet beautifully balanced blend while, keeping it closer to home, we love the Singleton from Dufftown 12 year-old – an easy-going single malt aged in both American and European oak casks that is superb with a drop of water over ice. That’s how Churchill liked it in the morning.

    Whatever you choose to serve during the Rugby World Cup, don’t be a daft drinker and please do follow our “Drink Less, Drink Better” motto. It’s worth noting that in Japanese culture there are several types of drinker – and you don’t want to be the wrong one.

    Happy drinker is called Warai-Jogo; sad drinker is Naki Jogo; a so-called nasty drunk is described as “Neji-Jogo”; and one to especially watch when drinking before noon is sleepy drunk …. known as “Wakemeupbeforeyoujogo”.


    The Thinking Drinkers are award-wining drinks experts Ben McFarland & Tom Sandham. They are performing their acclaimed comedy show “Heroes of Hooch”, which includes five complimentary drinks, on a Nationwide tour. You can buy tickets by clicking here