Every once in a while it’s good to let your hair down, go out on a limb and try something new.
Which is why I brewed this interesting and unusual historic beer.
I’m not a fan of adding strange ingredients to beer for the sake of it.
That’s not to say I’m against testing and experimentation. On the contrary. If an unusual ingredient improves flavour or smell, great.
Otherwise I prefer plain old ordinary, well made, home brew.
The topic is novelty beers.
Home Brewing Novelty Beers
I while ago I read a home brewing book from the 1970s:
It’s a fascinating read that reveals how much home brewing has changed since then.
As well as practical brewing information, the book includes many beer recipes. I’ve been looking for an excuse to brew one of them.
The beer I chose, taken from the Mock Beers chapter, is the one I’d be most unlikely to try without the novelty beer factor:
In a 100-year-old book on brewing we came across the following recipe for a fearsome brew, “Cock Ale”.
“Take 10 gallons of ale and a large cock, the older the better; parboil the cock, flay him, and stamp him in a stone mortar until his bones are broken… put to it five pounds of raisins of the sun, stoned; some blades of mace, and a few cloves…”
Astonishingly, it made an excellent ale, nourishing and strong-flavoured, of the “barley wine” type; well worth trying.
There are several versions of the original recipe, but Berry presents his own.
This is what I followed, only changing it slightly to use pale ale malt instead of malt extract.
Although a novelty now, this was apparently a common drink in the past. It’s even claimed that cock ale could have morphed into cocktail.
A tasting verdict is right at the end, but first here are the brew notes. Try at your own risk…
Cock Ale Recipe
4.5 litres/1 gallon
Pale Ale: 0.5 kg/1.1lb
Brown Sugar: 0.25kg/0.55lb
Mash Target Temperature
Fuggles (4.3%): 20g/0.7 oz for 60 mins
Fuggles (4.5%): 8g/0.3 oz for 5 mins
Chicken leg, roasted for half an hour until golden
Raisins 200g/7 oz
Ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon
Assumes 70% efficiency
Not wanting to make too much, I used this beer as a test for my new mini-brew set-up (I’ll write more about this in the future).
The boil was vigorous, and is where I added the brown sugar.
When it came to the chicken, hygiene was of course an issue.
The parboiling of the original recipe sounded a bit on the raw side to me. Instead I opted to roast the meat in the oven, for longer than I normally would if eating it.
Not only would this “sanitise” the chicken, I hoped it would develop some brown, caramel flavours and add to the beer in a meaningful, taste-driven way.
Soaking the meat along with the spices in white wine gives an extra layer of protection.
I submerged the fruit in boiling water for twenty minutes, to sterilise as best I could and to help the flavours get out.
I baulked at including ground bones, so just included the meat and a little browned skin.
All the savoury items went into the wort after primary fermentation had died down.
Usually I don’t manage to brew in time for the Session, but this month I just about made it.
Really it’s too soon to be drinking the beer (it’s to be matured for a month), but I couldn’t resist opening a bottle for an early tasting.
It poured with no head whatsoever. I would say that’s because it’s not had enough conditioning time in the bottle, if it weren’t for the highly sparkling tonic water texture.
Apart from the colour, it looks similar to some sparkling ciders: cloudy and bubbly.
To taste, the malt and hops are barely noticeable. There’s a strong clove flavour, and the chicken’s surprisingly present.
Above all though, you notice the raisins. The smell is completely dominated by them and the taste is almost as strong. It’s amazing how powerful they are.
It’s the savoury flavours that stand out, probably because the underlying beer is too puny to compete.
It’s not an unpleasant drink, but it’s not a particularly pleasant one either.
I’ll give it another taste in a month, but I’m pretty sure this beer is best appreciated for it’s novelty value.