Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bottom's Up!

Daily life on an 18th Century ship was a hard and cruel existence for the everyday sailor, not that they weren't grateful to have a job and hope of prize money. They did receive room (be it a hammock) and board (perhaps a wooden plate of old salted meat and a hardtack biscuit), but the work never stopped, in fair or foul weather. An occasional reward of an extra ration of grog was greatly appreciated, though worked very hard for.

By contrast, the Captain, though he was responsible for every soul on board and the ship's well-being, did enjoy a small but significant amount of comfort and privacy by comparison. The captain's cabin was a sanctuary, or holy-of-holies of sorts, where he might enjoy a lovely meal (the catch of the day or the gift of saddle of beef or leg of lamb, perhaps, from a friend or ally) as prepared by his steward/cook, shared with his officers or guests of his choice.

There was a great degree of formality in these dining events, including the placement of guests, not speaking unless spoken to, the courses and ordered served, china and crystal used, toasts made in certain order determined even by the day of the week. Remember, the toast for Wives and Sweethearts - May they never meet! (Saturday); Our Ships at Sea (Monday). The Captain hoped for a congenial group, where tales of glory might be regaled, battles discussed, over a glass of after-dinner brandy or other appropriate wines or spirits.

Ah! And here comes the point of today's blog! The Ship's Decanter! A thing of true beauty AND utility!
It's shape, certainly, gives it weight and stability against the rolling sea. It's function - to decant the sediment collected at the bottom of the wine bottle, the wine being poured out from its original bottle into a new, clean vessel, leaving the sediment behind. A process done carefully, and slowly, allowing only the best and clearest part of the wine to be collected for use at table. The beauty, of course, is in the wonderfully cut-crystal work that reflects and refracts the light, allowing glorious rainbows of sunlight to spill into the room.

The one at left is a classic, indeed, by Waterford (the Lismore pattern). Below are various other antique examples, and then there is the wonderful decanter box below, mahogany with two glasses included (1700's). The bottles have gold etching, too! I have also included a modern one. It's shape is interesting, but it's pitiful in comparison to the beautiful and ornate workmanship of one's from a different age.

Today, we still enjoy these wonderful decanters, but with the added knowledge and inevitable precausions taken, because Crystal contains LEAD, and alcohol tends to leach out the lead into the wine or spirits! The longer left in the decanter, the more lead is absorbed into the wine. The higher the content of alcohol with its greater acidity, the more lead!

It is recommended that wine or spirits be placed in decanters for the evening, then put back in their original glass bottle, or better yet, totally consumed, with congenial toasts, like "To Ourselves!" (appropriate for Wednesdays!)


  1. Ooo cool now I want one :)

    My butler source says, "always strain the wine through a clean, white hankie [into the decanter]." No kidding.

  2. I will keep that in mind. I have a couple lovely ones. Maybe I should use them for morning orange juice as well!