Life in the Buckfast Triangle: drunk by noon, handcuffed by midnight
The Guardian, By Damian Barr
Buckfast, the high-caffeine alcoholic drink brewed by monks, has been linked once again with high crime levels in the west of Scotland. I grew up witnessing the damage it can do.
You won’t find the Buckfast Triangle on any official map of Scotland but it’s right there between Airdrie, Coatbridge and Bellshill. According to the BBC, Buckfast tonic wine was mentioned in almost 6,500 Strathclyde Police crime reports between 2010 and 2012. Now that’s brand recognition.
Buckie is what Tracy Meikle was drinking when she stabbed a woman to death, a crime she was jailed for last week. It’s the sickly sweet scent I remember on the breath of every angry man in my life before he raised his hand. It’s the poisonous green bottles smashed all over the streets of the estate I played on – the evil emeralds I picked out of my knees.
"It is a well-established fact that a substantial amount of offences are committed by persons under the influence of alcohol, whether that be in houses or on the street," said Chief Superintendent Nelson Telfer, police commander for Lanarkshire. "My officers are tasked on a daily basis with targeting the most violent offenders and problem locations."
I grew up in one of those houses on one of those streets – not even the worst house, not even the worst street.
Buckie is a dark brown "tonic wine" brewed by Benedictine monks in Devon. Their recipe is secret but basically it’s wine jacked up with chemicals and some of the condensed rage from 28 Days Later. Also known as "Wreck the Hoose Juice" and "Commotion Lotion", Buckie is only about 15% alcohol. But the alcohol content isn’t the problem. It’s not the strongest or (at about £7 a bottle) the cheapest. But it is the most lethal.
Each bottle contains around eight times the caffeine of a can of coke. Drop-for-drop, it has got more caffeine than Red Bull. It doesn’t get you drunk: it gets you high. Really high. The monks, who just bought a new roof for one of their idyllic abbey’s guest houses, have thoughtfully added this caution: "The name ‘tonic wine’ does not imply health-giving or medicinal properties." But in 1976 my pregnant mum was actually prescribed Buckie by her doctor. He told her: "It’ll build you up." Luckily for me, floating inside her at the time, she declined his advice.
The monks sell a sizeable chunk of their brew in the Buckfast Triangle, where whole communities disappear – Coatbridge alone, with its population of 40,000 people, is said to account for 10% of the drink’s sales. Growing up it was as familiar to me as Irn Bru. Every Wednesday morning, my uncle and his pals went straight from the post office, where they had cashed their benefit books, to "the wee shop" for a "carry out". Drunk by noon, wrecked by the time Neighbours started and, if the police bothered to answer my usual call, handcuffed by midnight.
Yes, people choose to drink it, but it is these particular grapes that make wrath.
The monks get a royalty for every bottle and last year made more than £6m. Their Abbot, David Charlesworth, claims to be upset by the Buckfast Triangle. "I don’t want Buckfast Abbey to be associated with broken bottles and drunks," he says. "But is the product bad? No."
That’s like Kalashnikov feeling sad about the way his rifles are used. It is unholy water.