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Friday, December 2, 2011

Cock Ale


 There are many kinds of beer. Some beers are dark and rich, bitter and frothy. Others are light and sparkly. Still others are golden and mellow. Some are strongly reminiscent of the ingredients used to make them; hops, wheat, barley, malt. Nowadays one can find a cornucopia of beers, ales, stouts, bitters and lagers brewed by giant corporations and tiny independent breweries, but not many of them taste like chicken.

300 years ago, it was a different story — back then, people liked their beer to impart a strong flavor of mangy rooster. According to John Nott, this concoction is “good against a consumption, and to restore decayed nature.” It worked by encouraging phlegm, so that the afflicted could expectorate more productively and was very popular during the 17th century.

If this appeals to you because you are hacking up a lung with tuberculosis or your nature is decayed, here’s how to make it.

Gather up yourself a really old and irritable rooster and, avoiding scratches, push him into a vat of boiling water, just till he is dead, but not cooked too much. Flay him of his skin and feathers, then break off his feet and gut him. Take a large stone and smash him to bits to break all his bones. By this point he will be a bloody, greasy mess. Get a big canvas bag, and put into it the half-cooked, eviscerated bird, two quarts of fortified wine, three pounds of stoned raisins, some mace, and a few cloves. Leave it a while to ripen. After this, dump the entire bag into your giant vat containing ten gallons of ale. Leave this for a week to nine days to further develop its flavor, then bottle it up. Don’t drink it right away.

It is rumored to be the origin of the word “cocktail,” so next time you order one you might want to be reminded of that.

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1739
The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, John Nott, 1723


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