Tramp Wine. Bum booze. Eau d’Underpass. We’ve all had a go on it at some point, in one of its forms. Normally we stop our dalliances with hell-drinks like Buckfast and MD 20/20 in our mid-teens, when we knock the street corner drinking on the head and spend a few years getting lashed in our bedrooms. Failing that, we stick with these tried and trusted mind-erasers to the point that we end up living in a skip and having intense public arguments with ourselves about ghosts at three in the morning.
For Carouser contributor Ruari O’Toole, it’s time to once again slip the tiny bulletproof vest over the liver and descend into alcoholic perdition as he reminds himself of the horrors and delights of the tramp wine experience.
The German monastic brewing tradition gave us endless beery delights, like the liquid bread of Bocks and Doppelbocks. Most UK supermarkets sell at least one German beer, normally a Weissbier, brewed by an outfit that used to be ran by blokes in frocks.
A debt of thanks is owed to the tradition of British monastic brewery for taking the path less-trodden and producing Buckfast, a tonic wine reinforced with half of all the world’s caffeine that will make you stab your friends in arguments over what CD to put on.
Bucky explodes all over the mouth with a rant of blackberryish notes. It only tastes like chemical death for the first few mouthfuls and then starts to get pretty drinkable. Buckfast has a higher caffeine content than Red Bull so you know you’ll be quick as fucking lightning when you have an inevitable fight in the street with a neighbour shortly after finishing the bottle.
Mogen David 20/20 (you though it stood for Mad Dog? Don’t worry, so did everyone else) is sugary excess bled directly from an infected wound in the drinks industry. It’s the father of all alcopops, a mean father with a garden full of broken lawnmowers and a meth lab in the shed. MD 20/20 bottles look really weird on the shelves because they’re more often seen lying empty and partially smashed between railroad tracks, held together only by their sticky labels.
In this reporter’s neck of the woods at least 20/20 is quite hard to track down, but when it is found it is almost always in multiples, with several alleged “flavours” to choose from.
The Jubilee Orange flavour is like a chemical warhead to the tongue. It’s almost painful to taste. Remember how weird and alien alcohol first tastes when you’re a kid? Jubilee Orange MD 20/20 still tastes like this. It’s the strong and unmistakeable taste of This Is A Bad Idea And Can Only End Badly. The enamel of your teeth may sizzle a little after drinking this citrus bastard.
Scotsmac is the ideal drink for the degenerate who wants to look like an afficionado of fine Scotch whisky as they skull this weird whisky/wine mixer on their doorstep and shout at passing cats. You’ll find this in places like Morrison’s, seeking to trick people into thinking it’s a drink of wealth and taste, and not a saccharine nightmare. The label reads “based on an original recipe” which means exactly nothing. It’s the presentable face of bum wine. Look at the picture of the loch on the bottle. Fucking look at it.
Flat and vinegary, the sugary taste decays into bone dust and poisoned grain on the tongue and you need another glug just to wash it away. A good mouthful of it makes the throat pucker as the body demands to know what kind of liquid blasphemy is being dribbled down its tubes.
But there’s something scarily more-ish about Scotsmac, a oddly intriguing quality that makes the bottle seem to whisper to the drinker in dulcet and horny tones stuff about how he or she should totally have one more glass. Drink the neck of a bottle of Scotsmac and then walk away. If you’re not back in the kitchen pouring out another glass within five minutes then you’ll probably have sex dreams about it instead. It’s uncannily tempting and I hate myself for liking it.
“What’s the word?” “Thunderbird!”
Other words are “cirrhosis”, “psychosis” and “awful”. Thunderbird is an American tonic wine slushed out by, surprisingly enough, the Gallo family wineries (although their website doesn’t mention this). This black sheep of the Gallo clan will turn your lips purple in the short term and your teeth first black and then gone in the long term.
Thunderbird tastes exactly like losing your job to downsizing and your thumb to a gambling syndicate, and it’s unsuprising I couldn’t find a bottle of it to drink for you fine folks. It really is that bad.
So instead, introducing a challenger, a spunky Scouse contender hailing from a business park in Liverpool. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mansion House, a wine named after both mansions and houses and tasting like neither.
Bottles of fortified British wine Mansion House have the postcode of the manufacturers on the label. Not at the back, just above the barcode and barely visible, but writ large on the front. I have no idea why. For fan mail, perhaps?
“Dear Mansion House, you taste like the piss a bottle of Buckfast would produce if it drank petrol. You instantly make my mouth feel like a sugar factory that is about to catch fire. Taking a sniff from your uncapped neck is like plunging my head into a binbag full of rotten fruit.
“You are wonderful! I love your acrid aftertaste and the delightful way you cling to my teeth like acidic alien blood! Do you have a boyfriend?”
Mansion House is awful. It makes the tastebuds recoil and spasm against each other and I’m pretty sure my tongue wants to kill itself.
It brings sensory flashbacks to teenage years when everything liquid was fair game, providing it had an alcohol content. Everything up to and including your mate’s mother’s perfume. Mansion House is the desperation drink of desperation drinks. At no point does it really get drinkable, just put-uppable-with.
It tastes all of its £4 price tag and will fuck you up royally. The “drunk on Mansion House” experience is a sweaty threesome between you, intoxication and utter nausea. Nobody’s looking good on this sex tape and the Daily Star has zero interest in it.
In summary, nobody’s really looking great coming out of the whole tramp wine experience, and the battle between these liver-destroyers is a struggle for least awful. Mansion House loses this battle and comes in at the very bottom, as MD 20/20 kicks it in the balls, Scotsmac throws empty cans at it and Buckfast blows smoke rings and cracks its knuckles like a total badass.
It’s hard to pick a victor from the ones still standing, what with one tasting of diabetes, another packing a twitch-inducing caffeine payload that will probably give you nightmares if you ever manage to sleep, and the third doing that weird thing of rising eerily from a Scottish loch and whispering to you all sexy-like.
In fact, no. Fuck it, Buckfast wins. Take your shirt off and step outside.