What Is Smoking Bishop?

…we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!

—    Ebeneezer Scrooge



Years ago, when I was in the fortunate (and rare) position of having two acting roles on offer, an actor friend said to me, “Rebecca, everybody should do A Christmas Carol at least once.” And so it was that I accepted Mrs. Cratchit – a role I played for three holiday seasons with Children’s Theater of Madison.

One of my favorite things about that experience was re-reading the original Dickens novella every year before rehearsals began. It was a wonderful way to get back in touch with the story and characters – and make some new discoveries (which is how actors keep old roles fresh). In reading, one thing that always mystified me was the passage above. What in the world was smoking bishop?

Then, a couple years ago, some friends decided to have a Christmas Adam party. (Christmas Adam is December 23. Get it? Adam before Eve.) Since I never go to someone’s home empty handed, I decided smoking bishop would be my contribution to the party.

Smoking bishop is basically hot sangria. Apparently, back in Dickensian times, wines were known by clerical ranks. “Bishop” was claret (or Bordeaux), “Archbishop” was Champagne and “Pope” was Burgundy. So smoking bishop would be a hot drink made with claret. I googled and found a recipe. Hey! There’s orange and grapefruit juice in this – it’s good for you!

Thinking it would be nice to source the wine and port locally, I picked up a couple bottles of red wine (Ruby Nouveau) and a bottle of port from Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. I procured the oranges and grapefruit, and baked, studded, steeped and juiced them. Have you ever tried juicing a soggy, clove-studded orange? Here’s a tip: pull the cloves out first and wear an apron. Cloves are sharp. Wine-soaked oranges are slippery.


Scrooge and Cratchit discussed the future of Tiny Tim over their Christmas bowl. Trust me – you can solve all the problems of the world after a mug or two of this stuff. Or at least, make the holidays a little warmer and merrier. Cheers, dears!


Photos courtesy of: Children’s Theatre of Madison.



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