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