This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2017.
Train drinking is an intrinsic part of British life. Grabbing a pre-boarding can (or two) is a ritual of nights out, long cross-country journeys, and steeling yourself for Christmas back at your parents' house. You'll find groups of excitable suburban teens necking Kronenbourg on the 40-minute train ride into the city ahead of a Big Night Out. A solo traveller might sip a more discrete premixed cocktail in a can to pass the time. And come Friday night, commuters leaving towns and cities across the country will ransack M&S to ride out the week with a train tinny or mini Prosecco bottle.
Choosing the right drink for the journey, however, can be a tricky task. Wine might seem like a great idea after a stressful day but half an hour and a bout of mild motion sickness later, your head will be pounding. Lukewarm lager runs the risk hiccups and Pimm's in a tin can only induce a raging sugar high.
To help you settle on the perfect train drink, whether you're pre-gaming or making the long slog from London to Edinburgh, we invited Missy Flynn, bartender, previous co-owner of Rita's, and all-round booze expert, to London's Liverpool Street station to taste test the finest train-friendly drinks that Whistle Stop and Marks & Spencer had to offer.
"It's fairly portable but you have to store it upright because you don't want it to fall over in your bag and then spray out when you open it. It's deceptively classy from a distance with the white and gold, but unfortunately it does come with some connotations. It's quite satisfying to open though, like when you get to your seat, get it out, and it makes that nice loud crack and hiss.
There's not much to say on the taste. It tastes like my childhood. It tastes like the outside of every party and every club I went to from the age of 16 to 18. It's fine. It's just quite gassy. I would worry about the burp factor if you're on a long journey and necking a couple. It's probably best if you're sitting in the aisle on the train so you can turn and expel yourself. But it's probably not best for a busy journey if there are people standing in the aisle."
Gordons Gin and Schweppes Slimline Tonic
"A gin and tonic can is a classic. I have had many of these in my life already. In a weird way, I think it's become totally acceptable to drink these on a train. It's very discrete. I don't normally drink Slimline tonic, though. It's a bit like having a cake with no icing. You're there now, you may as well.
The problem with these is that you never just drink one. You always buy two because they usually come in a deal and you always drink them both. The danger is that because it's best served super chilled, you have to drink it quickly. If you neck it, you will invariably have another one in your pocket but when you get the next one out, you're going to look like a crazy person. Maybe drink one in the train toilet really quickly and then come back and pretend it's the same one.
It definitely sets you up for a night. You're not going somewhere chilled if you're drinking gin and tonic on a train. It's definitely full pre-loading vibes. It does have a smell that stays with you, though. You'll take that smell with you wherever you're going.
Everyone knows Gordons and everyone knows Schweppes. It's not that gnarly, you know what you're getting. I think it tastes exactly like a gin and tonic that you forgot about, the ice melted, and you went back and drank it—which is not a bad thing. I think getting the Gordons over an own-brand G and T shows you're discerning about your experience. A good packet of crisps would go very nicely. But I would worry about the crisps soaking up all the alcohol because there isn't loads of alcohol in there."
Marks & Spencer Mojito
"This one says it contains lime juice, mint flavouring, and two measures of white rum. It's two units and 8 percent ABV. That's automatically more bang for your buck than the gin and tonic. And it doesn't actually have that much bad stuff in terms of flavourings and colourings. There are a couple of thickeners and stabilisers but no colour, which is good.
Mojitos cheer you up. I think other people would be happy to see you drink this because it's tropical and fun as opposed to depressing and weird. It's equally as portable as the G and T and definitely has to be cold.
But it tastes horrible. It tastes like old mint tea and is super sweet. My teeth hurt after one sip. Maybe if you have a sweet tooth, you'll be fine. But with a real mojito, you want to churn up the mint and sugar. I feel like this doesn't do a mojito justice. It's like mint-flavoured rum soda. You'll probably feel quite sick after drinking it. I think the sugar will get to you before you get to the end of your journey. But you'd be super hyper and be up for a dance."
Intrepid Fox Wine to Go Shiraz
"I'm quite into this. I'm like that they've bothered to put what type of wine it is on the label because they could definitely get away with just putting red. It's a Shiraz from Spain, very reliable and easy to drink.
It's very full. If I was on the train and the train was moving around, I would worry about that. You probably aren't going to make many friends if you have an accident with this wine. I'm a bit scared about opening it towards me. Maybe you'll have to turn it around and open the seal towards someone else? You could also just open it a little bit and re-seal it … if you wanted to save it for later.
It tastes like a glass of wine in a shit pub which is fine when you're on a train. At least no one is going to mug you for it. I quite like it. It's not the smoothest but it's very fruity like a typical Shiraz. It's like blackberries and charcoal.
Although I do feel like I'm going to feel like hell in a minute. I actually think this is the kind of thing you drink on the way home from somewhere, not on the way there. You can probably take one out with you and then drink it on the journey home. Also, if you drink it on the way, you'll get red wine mouth.
I think you need to have a bit of food with it. Or read a book at the same time so you like more intellectual and less depressed. I'd always go for the red wine, though. Cheap white wine always tastes worse than cheap red wine."
Marks & Spencer Aperitivo Fizz
"Well, this bottle looks super classy. It's really portable but you'll have to drink from the bottle. It's described as a sparkling cocktail made with white wine and fragrant orange bitters. Although, it definitely looks like Tizer or Irn-Bru. It could pass as an Aperol Spritz but it's a bit too piss-coloured. It has that sweet, syrupy look to it.
The seal breaks straight away. You need nails to get into it. This would be the most annoying one to open on a train. I wonder if it's going to pop. Oh, it's just a twist cap. That's quite anti-climatic.
It tastes horrible. It's like someone melted a hundred jelly sweets in a bottle and then added Campari. It sounds classy if someone asks what you're drinking and you can say a sparkling cocktail with white wine and fragrant orange bitters. You'd probably get beaten up but it would sound good. But it sounds better than it is. And warm, it would be disgusting.
It contains E220, E202, and two colourings—E110 and E124. I did some research and there was a study by Southampton University where they classed the worst E numbers for ADHD as the Southampton Six. At least two of them are in here. The target market is a grown-up Lambrini girl. Someone who's graduated from Lambrini and looking for something else, shops in Marks and Spencer, and wants to get high off E numbers. I can't say much else.
But it might be good for a short journey. You know when you're leaving a party and going to another party and on the way, everyone falls asleep? If everyone had one of these, you'd be ready to go again. But if you got on a train, cracked open one of these, and then had an hour to go, you'd probably feel quite sick.
If you weigh up what it's going to do to your lipstick, your body, and your mental state, I don't think it's worth it. It makes the side of your face hurt."
All drinks were consumed responsibly.