A year ago, I was picking my way through the icy streets of a snowbound London with two friends while a guide took us on a tour of sights associated with Charles Dickens. We were carried along on the warm glow from a Courvoisier punch at the start of our walk and the promise of a hot Courvoisier punch at the end. This year, the people at Maxxium UK, which distributes Courvoisier, have taken the idea one step further and conjured up two ghosts of Christmas past, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit from Dickens’s classic story, A Christmas Carol.
The walk starts off educationally enough outside Bow Street Magistrates Court in Covent Garden – now closed up and earmarked for conversion into a hotel. This court appeared regularly in Dickens’s writings from Oliver Twist to Barnaby Rudge although the current building dates back to only 1881. From here, our guide takes us on a whistlestop tour of Covent Garden via the Charles Dickens Coffee Shop which wasn’t a coffee shop in the novelist’s time but he did live and work upstairs. Down Tavistock Street and Drury Lane and on to Houghton Street and Clare Market – once home to butchers and greengrocers but now a base for the London School of Economics.At this point last year, we slid on to St Clement Danes Church, the Inns of Court and St Dunstan in the West, which is often regarded as the source of the bells that wake Scrooge up after his ghost-filled night in A Christmas Carol. But not this time. Out of nowhere pops a man in Victorian attire claiming to be a ghost called Bob. We follow him to The Old Curiosity Shop, which was a book binders in Dickens’s time but changed its name after the success of his best-seller, The Old Curiosity Shop, in 1841. The interior, previously a shop selling gifts and vintage shoes, has been transformed into a 19th-century room littered with Victoriana and flickering candles.
Here it emerges that Bob is the put-upon employee of A Christmas Carol, and we have come to visit Ebenezer Scrooge. The pair explain they are the spirits of Dickens’s characters who were summoned up when the novella was published in December 1843 but have remained unseen for years. The two actors throw themselves into this fanciful set-up, interacting with their audience and exploring the meaning of Christmas. The concept has been dreamed up by creative agency White Label UK, which devised last year’s original tour and has worked on other activities to support Courvoisier’s punch “Upgrade” campaign this summer.But the real star of the Courvoisier Dickens Punch Tour this year is the Smoking Bishop. This is the warm punch that features in the final scene of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge reconciles himself with Bob Cratchit: “I’ll raise your salary and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!” The book’s final illustration by John Leech shows Ebenezer and Bob enjoying some Smoking Bishop in front of a hot stove on Christmas Day (pictured).
Our modern-day Scrooge and Bob take their audience through each step of making a Smoking Bishop, getting someone to muddle orange and grapefruit skins with sugar syrup while someone else slices up some fruit. With a detailed recipe given out at the end, it not only shows consumers how to make a cognac-based punch but really drives home how mixable a spirit it is.
Courvoisier Smoking Bishop
140ml Courvoisier VS
275ml Red wine (light)
140ml Ruby port
50ml Sugar syrup
205ml Blood orange juice
140ml Pink grapefruit juice
4 Sticks of cinnamon
Place slices of orange and grapefruit skin into a bowl and muddle in the sugar syrup until they are well mixed together. Separately, put cloves into cut wheels of grapefruit and orange and place them into a pot on the stove. Add all the remaining wet ingredients into the pot except the cognac, nutmeg and muddled fruit skins. Bring to a simmer and add the skins, syrup and oils from the bowl. Leave for three to five minutes to infuse and the remove from the heat. Stir in the cognac and add the ground nutmeg on top. Serve in insulated glasses, mugs or cups with a cinnamon stick and slices of orange and grapefruit speared with cloves.
The inspiration for the original Courvoisier Dickens Punch Tour is the fact that, after his death, Dickens’s executors found 216 bottles marked “Pale Brandy F Courvoisier” in his drinks cellar at Gads Hill Place in London. As Dickens is often credited with establishing the modern idea of Christmas as a time for family, gifts and turkey, he and Courvoisier make for perfect Christmas companions.
The tours runs for two weeks from November 23 to December 2. Click here for details.