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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Binge drinking - the Benedictine connection
By Claire Heald
BBC News

Half bottle of Buckfast
Made by monks, drunk by... ?
A sleepy community of Benedictine monks in south Devon is the latest, and perhaps most unlikely, target in the battle against binge drinking.

Alcopops come and go, but Buckfast wine is a perennial favourite among young drinkers keen to test their alcohol limit.

Now the tonic wine produced by the Benedictine monks of Buckfast Abbey, Devon, has fallen foul of law makers, who believe it has much to answer for.

Scottish health minister Andy Kerr is the latest politician north of the border to express concerns about the effects of the drink commonly known as Buckie - citing its link to binge drinking.

"There's something different about that drink," says Mr Kerr, calling it "seriously bad".

Caffeine content

Buckfast Tonic Wine originates from Roman Catholic monks - not a group traditionally associated with the drunken masses - and was first produced by them more than 100 years ago, using a recipe brought from France.

It is red wine-based, with a high caffeine content. Tellingly, the label on the bottle reads "the name tonic wine does not imply health giving or medicinal properties." It is sweet and viscous.

Rab C Nesbitt and a 'Buckfast' monk character
It had its own episode of Rab C Nesbitt

At 5 for a 750ml bottle, it is cheap but powerful - alcohol content is 15% - and considered a rite of passage by many an ambitious young drinker.

"It tended to precede a rather spectacular night, because it's horribly potent," recalls Paul, a former student at Manchester.

But it is the drink's prevalence in the so-called Buckfast Triangle - an area east of Glasgow between Airdrie, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld - that has raised concerns.

Local nicknames

It even spawned its own episode of the Scottish TV comedy Rab C Nesbitt and is known locally by several pet names: Buckie Baracas, a bottle of "what the hell are you looking at?", Wreck the Hoose Juice and Coatbridge Table Wine.

More seriously, there have been calls to have it sold in plastic bottles, because of the mess created by broken ones on the street, and, in court, it has been implicated, along with vodka, in one car crash death in Doune, north of Stirling.

Buckfast Abbey

David, a Glasgow pub manager, confesses to having enjoyed Buckfast in his formative drinking days, and perceives a strong social stigma linked to its abuse.

"There's a huge problem with it in the streets," he says. "Fifteen and sixteen-year-olds drink Buckfast and they'll have no qualms about tooting someone over the head. It all stems from boredom. They'll have two to three bottles and it's like lighting a touch-paper, they go wild."

Social scapegoat?

But the drinks industry, and Buckfast's maker, say it is being made a scapegoat for what is a wider social problem of alcohol abuse.

Spokesman for distributors J Chandler & Co (Buckfast) Ltd, Jim Wilson, points out that Buckfast trails other drinks, like whisky, in sales. It has only a half a per cent of the total alcohol market and does not feature in the top 100 brands.

Buckfast being held
Drinkers would only move on to something else, they say

Of its 30m annual turnover, 10% is sold in Lanarkshire and much exported to Spain, Australia, and the Caribbean - where its not blamed for a society's ills, says Mr Wilson. At the request of the monks, Buckfast is not advertised in areas perceived to have difficulties, no two-for-one or 20p off offers here.

Talks between the distributor and Mr Kerr have been slated for 30 October.

"The problem with anything alcoholic is if it's abused," says Mr Wilson. "Why target Buckfast? If your policies aren't working, and you're looking for a scapegoat, have a go."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

It's the being drunk that causes the problem with the neds, not how they get drunk. My friends and I have enjoyed Buckfast for many years and have never yet attacked anyone or damaged anything (deliberately) as a result of drinking "the Wine".
Colin Craig, Coatbridge, Scotland

Perhaps, instead of concentrating on one brand, the powers that be should concentrate on how these youngsters get hold of the drink in the first place.
Malcolm Scott, Livingston

I remember Rab C Nesbitt mentioning Buckfast a number of times. I always wondered what it was. Even my Aberdonian wife didn't know. Thanks for clearing that up.
Phil Rogers, Bournemouth, UK

Typical reaction by today's politicians, after all it's far easier to blame a bunch of monks than look at their own policies and find a genuine answer. When will the politicians admit that the current problem with alcohol does not have an instant fix - it's a long term project over many years. They need to make long term decisions now for the good of the nation, rather than only concentrating on what will look good at the next election.
David Priddy, Windsor, UK

Buckfast is demonised as the ned's drink of choice, but there is little reason for this. It is not advertised or price-promoted, if you want more alcoholic content for your money then there are a vast number of more cost effective ways to get extremely drunk. Isn't it about time we looked to the real cause of nedism - irresponsible parents - rather than place the blame on one product?
Owen Duffy, Glasgow, Scotland

The issue is not what the yobs choose to drink, but the problem this country has with binge drinking in general.
Beth Scofield, Ilminster, Somerset, UK

Ah, Buckie! Excellent when added to mashed up meringue and vanilla ice cream. Tried it as a kid in central Scotland, preferred other drinks because it was too sweet.
Eric, Chepstow, Wales

Having grown up in Scotland I remember Buckfast and will own up to drinking it probably a wee bit too often. Having moved down to London I see no difference in the "weapon of choice" for bored kids - Alcohol, no matter what form it is in, be it Buckfast or brandy. This is typical of narrow minded people not waking up to the bigger picture, children see drinking as a rite of passage and its time we tackled this, teenagers, parents and industry alike.
Rosie, London

Buckfast is well known here as being the blight on society. (Former MP) Helen Liddell campaigned against it for years and that was the catalyst for Airdrie to become one of the first places in Scotland to have a no drinking in public order known as "safer streets". Buckfast cannot be blamed for all of this, if it does disappear, something else will take its place. I am more worried about the heroin abuse that is spiralling out of control than the "tonic wine".
Graham, Airdrie

Alcohol abuse is not down to one simple drink or even one simple social problem. If as adults we tackle boredom and peer pressure in the youth we can deal with the problem of violence and delinquency. I'm 20 and I probably drink too much but if I can see this problem, surely the powers that be realise that it is not alcohol companies we should be dealing with.
Ian Buckley, Totnes, Devon

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