Friday, December 26, 2008

Pin It

Rock Out with Your Cock Ale

Trup: Nay, nay, no more sobrietie than will do us good; but that's all one. Look ye, Mr. Spruce, for your wine I don’t love it; and for your ale ye have not a drop in London worth drinking; that's the short on’t.

Spr: How Mr. Trupenny, not a drop worth drinking? Did you ever taste our cock-ale?

Trup: Cock-ale? no; what's that?


Spr: Why there you shew your ignorance. Look ye, sir, I lay ye five pound you shall say, ye never tasted the like in the country.


~ The Woman Turned Bully (1675)
Attributed to Aphra Behn

With a recent post on a 300-year-old drink called negus, I intended to reach back into the misty past of drinking history. Rick Stutz over at Kaiser Penguin has stretched just a bit further with a recipe for Cock Ale. Yeah, with a real cock. Well, a chicken, anyway. The farm-to-table crowd argues about just such semantics.

As an erstwhile homebrewer and incorrigible book hound, I know that recipe well. My thoroughly annotated college-era copy of Charlie Papazian’s old Complete Joy of Homebrewing and its infernally bad index is dog-eared from once-constant reference. Papazian lifted it from Edward Spencer who yoiked it from Eliza Smith whose The Complete Housewife was the first cookbook published in America. The recipe’s been around.

Until Rick’s post, though, I hadn’t known of anyone actually making it. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m leery of flesh in my cups—bacon-infused bourbon and whatnot—but anyone setting a mug of cock ale in front of me will soon be faced with an empty mug. By all reports from the 17th and 18th centuries, the stuff was eminently quaffable.

The inclusion of animals in beverages is an old, old practice (whole or parts, live or dead), but has faded almost entirely away. Brewers weren’t the only ones in on the game: When Smith’s book was printed, personal stills were already popular both in North America and England where, in fact, one of the duties of a responsible wife was managing the household still. Cock water was a natural. Also snail water, but we’ll let that one slide.

The practice may be on the ropes, but it hasn't faded entirely away. Del Maguey released, as part of its single-village bottlings of Mexican spirits, Pechuga, a triple-distilled mescal distilled with a chicken breast suspended in the still. The stuff is pricey when you can find it, but I admit I’m curious.

Until I score a bottle, I have this recipe, typical of the mid-18th century, from a handwritten household recipe book once in the collection of Chef Fritz Blank, but now at the University of Pennsylvania. Although I included it in Moonshine, it was primarily as an historical curiosity. Might have to rethink that after prodding from a Penguin…

Cock Water

Take a red Cock from ye Barn’s door, pull it, take out ye Intrals & break all ye Bones, have in readiness of Rosemary, hops and Broad Time each 1 handful, red Pimpernel 2 handfuls, Raisins of ye Sun ston’d half a pound, Dates pick’d and ston’d a qtr of a pound, Currans wash’d and rubb’d dry a pound, Canary sack 2 qts; first lay most of ye herbs in ye bottom of ye still, then put in ye Cock, lay the fruit all about it, put ye rest of ye herbs over it, & pour ye sack in by ye sides, cover and past it close, begin the fire betimes & keep a constant heat under it. You may draw somewhat above 3 pints of very good; mix and sweeten if with Sugar-Candy to yr Liking.

Goes well with:

10 comments:

Trid said...

I'm so making a batch of this.

...and yes, I'll share.

Matthew Rowley said...

Trid ~ there just may be in your neighborhood a tienda with the perfect gallina. I suggest more beers are in order as a prelude to Yard Bird Schnapps.

Max Watman said...

It's hard to say whether the Pechuga is worth the money -- it's a lot of money, after all, and I always have to run that "How many bottles of X could I buy instead of this?" equation -- but I will say this: It's really, really good. Whoppingly good. It's also macerated with almonds, I think.

Matthew Rowley said...

"Whoppingly good" is a very tempting recommendation. A buddy says he saw a bottle recently for $83. Now, I can buy some damn fine bourbon for that, but unless he's flat-out mistaken, that's a tempting price.

Jon the Longpaddle said...

Wow, this is fantastic research... I hadn't known there was such a history of meat brews. The "cock water," besides being a delightfully filthy pun, sounds a lot like wine-chicken mix I added to the wort when making the ale. What would you use for "Canary sack?" And do you have any idea on the original motivation for poultry-infused beverages?

My lust for that Pechuga is great... I'm hoping I can get my favorite L-store in Tucson to order me a not-too-expensive bottle...

I've also wondered about adding other meats to brews, but I haven't done any other experiments. There's the legend of the rats flavoring Guinness, of course, but as a hunter I'm interested in trying some strong-flavored venison, javelina, or bear and seeing what happens...

bjswift said...

The cock water *is* put through the still, correct? Sounds a bit stronger than water!

Matthew Rowley said...

Jon!

He of the cock ale. My hat's off to you, sir. I came back from Mexico yesterday and am just now catching up with emails. Re: filthy puns ~ I saw last week in Ocean Beach, California, an old liquor label for "Chicken Cock Whiskey." It was in great condition, but regrettably a cluttered design to begin with, so it didn't bear the asking price.

Tucson, eh? I get out that way on occasion. Headed to Phoenix in about two hours, but another times, let's see about a beer (with or without fleshy bits).

As for Canary sack: since sweetness seems to have partly defined it, I'd go with a sherry, maybe an oloroso. In his "A History and Description of Modern Wine" (1851), Cyrus Redding talks at length of Spanish wines and those of the Canary islands. Unfortunately, it's not as cheap as it once was, so my experimentation with is is limited.

Now, bear whiskey: that is an interesting notion. Talk about the hair of the bear that mauled you...

Matthew Rowley said...

BJ ~ re: "water"

Yes, the cock water IS put through a still. "Water" is this sense is an old, old term meaning "alcoholic spirit." The terms still kicks around, but it's not so common any longer, though, back in Kansas we had firewater.

Originally, written texts referred to "aqua vitae" or "water of life" for distillates. You may also see aqua mirabilis or other such terms. It came into English as "water" so we see old recipes for cinnamon water, eye water, scrofula water, snail water, etc. for all the alcoholic distillations and macerations of various substances. You see it in German, too: Goldwasser, Kirschwasser, etc. In Spanish, we have "agua" which leads to "agua ardiente, contracted to "aguardiente," a nebulous class of spirits or "strong/burning" waters that may or may not include moonshine depending on who you talk to. I don't speak Russian, but those who do affirm that "vodka" is a diminutive meaning "little water" (kinda like calling a guy named James "Jimmy").

Other than firewater (which, frankly, is more jokey than serious), about one of the only times you're likely to hear "water" for spirits in modern use is "cordial waters" — that is, alcoholic preparations that are purportedly tonic for one's heart ("cor" in Latin). We've mostly dropped the "water" part and refer to "cordials." Chances are if you hear that in conversation, however, rather than see in in print, the person you're talking to may also remember Hoover as president. It ain't dead, but it's headed that way.

Ron Cooper said...

in a '50's book in Spanish on Pulque written by a guy from Mexico City... he mentions pechuga de Jalisco = a baby goat breast put into the liquid during distillation. Our Pechuga hangs in the air of the still so vapors only pass by it on the way to condensation.

Matthew Rowley said...

Ron ~ Is that "El Maguey y el Pulque en los Codices Mexicanos?" It's on my check-it-out list for the library, but now my curiosity is redoubled. Do you recall the context—e.g., was the cabrito mash business as usual, or in preparation for a special event?

Bill Niman is pushing pastured goat flesh these days, so if there ever were a market for baby goat spirits (and I'm not necessarily saying there is), that time is now.