WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cock Ale

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cock Ale

This week’s term is quite possibly a little bit of everything that you think it is.

Cock Ale

A provocative drink.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Cock Ale was a 17th Century drink flavored with fruit, spices, and the boiled meat of a cockerel or rooster.

You read that correctly: the boiled meat of a cockerel or rooster.

Screaming Rooster for Chicken Lovers, by Tina Lavoie, 1899

What would lead one to add the humble rooster to the humble ale? Just as there is today, there has always been the drive to keep drinks relevant and competitive. A new drink in town – coffee – was taking coin from the public houses, and barkeeps and brewers were stumped. But it seems as the popularity of coffee grew, certain parts of the male anatomy, perhaps, did not.

In The Women’s Petition Against Coffee, 1674, the authors bemoaned the unhappy and unwholesome effect coffee was rendering on their homes.

The Women’s Petition Against Coffee, 1674

“For can any woman of sense or spirit endure with patience,” they wrote, “that when…she approaches the nuptial bed, expecting a man that … should answer the vigour of her flames, she on the contrary should only meet a bedful of bones, and hug a meager useless corpse?”

It’s theorized that brewers seized on the opportunity to create a drink with aphrodisiac properties, one that would rectify the deleterious effects of “that unhappy berry,” coffee.

Of course, this could all be a load of claptrap.

The so-called “Women’s Petition” was rumored to have been written purely as satire, or even by those loyal to the crown in an attempt to destroy coffeehouses, which were seen as sites that fomented unrest by promoting political discussion and free-thinking.

Regardless of who or what brought it about, Cock Ale was most definitely in existence, brewed, and consumed.

The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, by Kenelm Digby, 1669

Receipt for Cock Ale (its first printed recipe)

Take eight Gallons of Ale; take a Cock and boil him well; then take four pounds of Raisins of the Sun well stoned, two or three Nutmegs, three or four flakes of Mace, half a pound of Dates; beat these all in a Mortar, and put to them two quarts of the best Sack; and when the Ale hath done working, put these in, and stop it close six or seven days, and then bottle it, and a month after you may drink it. (From The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, by Kenelm Digby, 1669)

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Three Threads

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Three Threads

So it’s Election Day Eve in the United States. Yes, I totally made up the name for today, but it should be a thing.

We’re all going to need a drink.

Three Threads

Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer.

If that doesn’t sound terribly palatable, consider that it is a slang term, a cant term used by the lower classes – the thieves – so likely the name tasted better on the tongue than the product. But drink was drink, and sometimes the cheaper, the better.

What’s interesting about this Word of the Week is its rumored ties to the origins of Porter and Ale. What by definition above sounds cheap and suspect, folklore myth romanticizes.

Sometime in the 1720s-1730s, one Ralph Harwood allegedly decided to brew a drink that blended ale, strong beer (double beer), and leftover (stale) beer into one cask. His new drink was said to feature the best characteristics of its three ingredients, so the story goes that its popularity grew enormous in London. It was an idealized story told often without any evidence to support it: the perfect apocryphal tale.

The Picture of London, by John Feltham, 1802

John Feltham, in The Picture of London, 1802, first wrote of Three Threads. His words were subsequently reprinted, word-for-word, in myriad and diverse publications thereafter: Arithmetical Questions, On a New Plan, by William Butler, 1811; Rural Sports, by William Barker Daniel, 1813; An Encyclopeaeaedia of Domestic Economy, by Thomas Webster, 1815; The Vintner’s, Brewer’s, Spirit Merchant’s, and Licensed Victualler’s Guide, by A Practical Man, 1826; et. al.

From The London Magazine, Volume 5, 1826:

The controversy surrounding Three Threads seems not to be in its existence, then, but in its ties to the development of Porter. There’s no evidence of a recipe for the quantities mixed, no evidence that three separate casks of beers and ale were used, and no evidence Three Threads wasn’t delivered from brewers to publicans pre-made.

So a bit of a modern-day unsolved mystery/bar trivia/”that there’s fighting words” amongst true ale aficionados.

We all need to stop, take a breath, grab and pint, and sing a song: an ode to Beer, Beer, Beer.