As the British crown prince for nearly six decades, Albert Edward, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, spent much of his life traveling the world as an official representative of the crown, from the United States and Canada to the Mediterranean and Middle East. Less officially, Bertie, as he was known by most, also snogged his way across several continents, amassing dozens of mistresses and shaping culture and fashion for the leisure class in Europe. He is also the probable inventor of, and certainly the inspiration behind, the Prince of Wales cocktail.
Though a bit of an obscurity today, the drink, which first appears in print in a 1901 biography of Bertie after he was crowned King Edward VII, was a success at the time of its creation. David Wondrich’s Imbibe relates that the prince was “credited” with the composition of the cocktail—a mixture of rye, pineapple, cherry liqueur and Champagne—and that it was quite popular at the private clubs frequented by the fashionable elites of the day. Bertie himself belonged to at least five different London gentlemen’s clubs, and was known to have a particular penchant for Champagne. He regularly carried it with him in a jug to sip at his leisure, and apparently ordered a bath filled with the stuff during visits to his private quarters in one of Paris’ most distinguished brothels. It’s no surprise, then, that the sparkling wine would make an appearance in his namesake cocktail.
Bertie’s sexual exploits were as legendary as his taste for Champagne. Also dubbed “Dirty Bertie” and “Edward the Caresser,” his very first scandal came when the 19-year-old prince visited Ireland on a school trip, and was caught smuggling actress Nellie Clifden into his tent. His subsequent mistresses included Jennie Churchill, eventual mother of Winston; acclaimed actress Sarah Bernhardt; and a series of Parisian courtesans. His official mistress for the final 13 years of his life was Alice Keppel, great-grandmother to Camilla Parker Bowles, the current queen consort.
By his later years, Albert had become rather portly as a result of frequent rich meals. This presented him with a bit of a challenge in certain departments, but not even the laws of physics were able to stop his insurmountable appetite. He commissioned a French cabinetmaker to create the “Siège d’Amour,” also known as the Sex Chair, to accommodate his expanded waistband as well as two women.
His eponymous cocktail is a perfect amalgam of his travels, his interests and the world he lived in. The drink itself originally comprised rye, pineapple, maraschino liqueur and bitters, plus sugar and Champagne, doubling as both an Improved Whiskey Cocktail and a royale. With the right combination of rye, bitters and bubbles, the drink can be a complex showcase of skill.
The Prince of Wales cocktail is also a great canvas for ingredient-swapping. In fact, variations of the drink have appeared in cocktail compilations for decades since it was first recorded. The How and When, a 1937 Chicago guide to spirits and cocktail recipes, substitutes gin for the rye and adds an egg white. Charles H. Baker’s 1951 The South American Gentleman’s Companion features gin, Cognac, lemon, egg white and pineapple juice. Madeira is another popular primary spirit; in fact, Mr. Boston’s version marries Madeira, brandy, triple sec, bitters and Champagne, omitting pineapple entirely.
Bertie would likely be unfazed, maybe even delighted, by the long life and many variants of the Prince of Wales. After 59 years as king-in-waiting, Albert Edward finally ascended the throne as King Edward VII and reigned for just over nine years, from 1901 to 1910. His lavish lifestyle was the eventual death of him: Decades of rich food and drink wreaked havoc on his stomach and heart. His final words, on being told that his favorite horse had just won a race, spoke for a life lived raucously and joyously: “Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad.”