Like most American indie-rock fans, my knowledge of “Buckie” was derived entirely from Ted Leo’s song “A Bottle of Buckie”, and was limited to knowing that a) it’s some kind of Scottish drink and b) it sounds like a romantic thing to look back having drunk with your significant other.
I was surprised, then, to stumble across an article in the international version of the New York Times about the scourge of Scotland that is, apparently, Buckfast Tonic Wine - a highly caffeinated sweet-wine drink that has been increasingly identified as a contributing factor (if not a cause) of many crimes.
In a survey last year of 172 prisoners at a young offenders’ institution, 43 percent of the 117 people who drank alcohol before committing their crimes said they had drunk Buckfast. In a study of litter in a typical housing project, 35 percent of the items identified were Buckfast bottles. And the police in the depressed industrial district of Strathclyde recently told a BBC program that the drink had been mentioned in 5,638 crime reports between 2006 and 2009 (the bottle was used as a weapon in 114 of them).
The report suggests that modern Scotland (and Ted Leo, apparently) has a distressingly low standard when it comes to alcoholic drinks. Buckie is 15% alcohol-by-volume - more than double that of Sparks, the now-banned US alcoholic energy drink, though the two have comparable caffeine levels. The taste of Buckie is described in the article as being like “a thick sweet wine - sherry, perhaps - fortified with cola.” I had Sparks once and it was unspeakably foul. I can only imagine what this stuff must taste like - battery acid, perhaps, or a container of yogurt that has been allowed to fester months past its expiration date.
(At this point in writing it occurs to me that I might very well be from the nation that gave the world Jäger bombs, and that I should perhaps revise my remarks about Scotland’s collective palate. However, while I couldn’t find specific information on the history of Jäger bombs, I think it’s safe to assume that the combination became popular first in Germany and then spread out from there. Also, the Wikipedia article on Jägermeister contains this line: “Contrary to an urban legend, it does not contain deer or elk blood.” Good?)
Second, I hope that articles likethis one help lay to rest the idea - articulated in print in innumerable places, and supported anecdotally by a number of conversations I’ve been involved in - that Europe as a whole has a somehow more enlightened attitude toward drinking than the United States does. Binge drinking is a problem everywhere. Alcoholism is a problem everywhere. And articles like this are why I find the letting-kids-drink-earlier argument for solving underage binge drinking thoroughly unconvincing.