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 ~ Twist

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Twist

This week’s word is exactly what it sounds like – a combination of two other drinks. Much to my disappointment, I could not find a specific recipe for this specific drink. I admit to hoping for a discovery of coffee + tea + some random addition like reduction of parsnip or “stir with the branch of an elderberry.”


So I’m left to an examination of the individual parts of the whole. And we’re on our own to mixing the following recipes.

Do let me know if you add parsnips.


A mixture of half tea and half coffee.


According to the Jane Austen Centre, by the time you take that first sip of tea, you should know it’s going to be perfect because you’ve planned it be so every step of the way. The instructions are extremely specific:

  1. Start with a preheated pot. This prevents the tea cooling too quickly. To warm, pour boiling water into the pot.
  2. Use freshly drawn, not reboiled water, for the tea. Bring this freshly drawn water to a rolling boil for approximately ten seconds. Remove kettle from heat. Don’t boil the water for too long as this will boil away the flavour-releasing oxygen.
  3. Pour out the water used to preheat the pot and add the freshly drawn, freshly boiled water. [emphasis mine]
  4. Wait until the water is just off the boil before pouring it onto the tea. This brings out the rich aroma and avoids scorching the tea.
  5. Start with three-fourths of a level teaspoon of loose tea for every six ounces of water.
  6. Steep for 3-5 minutes, according to taste. If possible, cover the teapot with a towel or tea cosy while steeping to retain heat.
  7. Place a strainer over each teacup before pouring tea. If you would like to add milk (milk, not cream) pour it in the cup before adding the hot tea as this will allow the milk to better blend with the tea without curdling.
  8. Sweeten as preferred or serve with a slice of lemon.

Still Life Tea Set by Jean-Étienne Liotard, circa 1781-1783, Getty Museum.


Coffee has a colorful history and has aroused passions in its consumers since it first passed lips and delighted palates. The first coffee beans reached Venice in 1615; the first coffee house opened there nearly 70 years later in 1683. A European obsession was born. When coffee and its houses began booming in London about thirty years later, they attracted intellectuals, artists, politicians, bankers, and merchants. They were known as “Penny Universities:” for a penny, you could pick up coffee as well as useful information on a variety of topics.

I have a fever…and the prescription is more coffee…

Telling Fortune in Coffee Grounds, 1790, Lewis Walpole Library.

Remember when Elizabeth was assigned coffee pot duty at Longbourn when the gentlemen returned (and Jane was in danger of making Bingley fall more in love with her than ever?), and Elizabeth longed to speak to Mr. Darcy and thank him for his service to her sister?

Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied everyone to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against herself for being so silly!
~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

She needed to be serving some of this bewitching brew:

Regency era coffee recipe courtesy Jane Austen Centre.

And just when I thought all was lost, and that potions and syrups thrown into coffee were a modern-day invention, archaeological scholars at the University of Cambridge made a historical coffeehouse find: Calf’s foot jelly and a tankard of ale.

Researchers have published details of the largest collection of artefacts from an early English coffeehouse ever discovered. Described as an 18th century equivalent of Starbucks, the finds nonetheless suggest that it may have been less like a café, and more like an inn.

Customers today may settle for a flat white and a cinnamon swirl, but at coffee shops 250 years ago, many also expected ale, wine, and possibly a spot of calf’s foot jelly, a new study has shown. (Read the rest of the article here)

So the next time you’re shouting out your order at the coffee counter, make sure to enunciate clearly between ‘half caff’ and ‘half calf,’ or you may get something completely different.

Some of the 500 objects, many in a very good state of preservation, including drinking vessels for tea, coffee and chocolate, serving dishes, and 38 teapots from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit find.


  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • For recipes at the Jane Austen Centre, head here for Tea and here for Coffee.
  • There is a great post over at Spitalfields Life featuring The Map Of The Coffee Houses. Definitely take some time to go over and check it out. In fact, Adam Dant has compiled an entire book of Maps of London and Beyond for your wish list. I know. I have a book addiction. But at least it’s an addiction for excellent books. Check out this map!

The Character of a Coffee House, map compiled by Adam Dant from Maps of London and Beyond by Adam Dant.