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Bishop is one of the classic English hot punches or hot toddies that were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, most British taverns would have offered bishop to its customers, and it was particularly enjoyed during the Christmas season. Bishop derives its name from its purple color reminiscent of the uniform worn by bishops of the Anglican faith.
Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his dictionary, appears quite familiar with the drink. He defined it as “a cant word for a mixture of wine, oranges and sugar.” Actually, many forms of bishop would have been made with port, not red wine. This would have sweetened the drink cutting down on the amount of sugar needed. Bishop was also generally spiced with cloves, anise and cinnamon to provide an added kick.
Though traditionally served hot, which did reduce the alcohol content somewhat, some people enjoyed drinking cold bishop. In this way, it somewhat resembles sangria, a traditional mix of oranges, possibly other fruits, and red wine, popular in Spain and in many Latin American countries. However, sangria is typically not spiced.
Charles Dickens refers to bishop on numerous occasions in his work. Most notably, after Scrooge’s change of heart in A Christmas Carol he refers to a pleasant discussion he will have about raising Bob Cratchit’s salary and helping his family “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop.” Mention is also made of Bishop in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby and The Pickwick Papers. Some of the punches concocted by Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield are also quite reminiscent of bishop in their ingredients.
Bishop would have been served to all family members, as it was quite common for young people to share in alcoholic drinks. It may also have been comforting to drink bishop or other hot punches because houses were frequently quite cold, especially those belonging to the poor. Even ales were often heated or formed the basis for sweet and hot mixed drinks.