A Novel, Savoury Beer From The Past

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.

novelty beer cock ale

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 Session

However, this month’s Session (beer blogs writing about a shared theme), organised by Tiffany from 99 Pours, provides the perfect opportunity to do something different.

The topic is novelty beers.

Home Brewing Novelty Beers

I while ago I read a home brewing book from the 1970s:

home brewed beers and stouts

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

Recipe Volume
4.5 litres/1 gallon

Pale Ale: 0.5 kg/1.1lb
Brown Sugar: 0.25kg/0.55lb

Mash Time
60 mins

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
Cloves x2
Raisins 200g/7 oz
Ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon

Danstar Windsor Dry Yeast, pitched straight from a bottle of stout

Assumes 70% efficiency

Brew Notes

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).

novelty beer cock ale mash

The boil was vigorous, and is where I added the brown sugar.novelty beer cock ale boil

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.

novelty beer cock ale soak

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.

novelty beer cock ale

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.

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  1. I can’t help but chuckle at this – what a brilliant idea. A great deal of experimentation and perhaps, risk taking? I never would’ve guessed to brew with chicken, but this is pretty great.

    Well done! I’m curious to see how things turn out after more again.

    I’m curious – could the lack of foam have to do with oils from the chicken? I recall reading about head retention being an issue with beers brewed with sweets or nuts that give off some kind of oil in the heating/sanitizing process.

    • John

      Hi Bryan, I was concerned about the risk and was very cautious. I’ll be even more so when I try it again in a month!

      Thanks for the suggestion about the missing foam.

      I’d suspected that the raisins might have had something to do with it (because wine doesn’t have foam either). But now you mention it, it makes sense for it to be the chicken which is, after all, full of oil.

      It would make a good topic for further investigation.

  2. Hmm… Cock Ale. Not something I am going to try to brew, but I enjoyed reading about it.

    • John

      Thanks Sheppy!

      It’s unlikely I’ll brew it again but it was fun to try once.

  3. Sounds like lunch. ;-)

    Very curious for a follow-up post on Cock Ale once fermentation is complete.

    And thank you for participating in The Session #68.

    • John

      I’m also interested to see how it ends up. Whether it’s tasty or not.

      Thanks for organising it!

  4. Your commitment to the Session is impressive. Although, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m slightly disappointed you didn’t crush a whole chicken.

    Nice post!

    • John


      Yes, sorry, I realise I slightly watered down the concept. I’m sure I’ll pay for it with lack of flavour.