Originally conceived as a joke, this ale was Baroness Aneleda’s idea. In early February, Aneleda posted a message on Facebook asking our group of brewers what projects they might be considering or working on. Her post included a link to the Cock-Ale Recipe from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened, 1677 on godecookery.com. I read through it and decided it didn’t sound that complicated and thought it might be surprisingly good, or at least not disgusting. I mean, would Digby really put his good name on something awful? I resolved to try brewing it. Only a short time later did I learn that we would be hosting a Brewers’ University. Perfect!
The original recipe is:
To make Cock-Ale.
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.
Redacting this recipe is fairly straight forward. For ale, I used Lord Tofi Kerthjalfadsson (Paul Placeway) redaction of the Elizabeth de Burgh Household recipe (circa 1335) in Judith Bennett's book, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England (1996). His work is well documented and includes several trials. I have used his most successful recipe. I boiled a 2 lb 3 oz., free-range, organic chicken from Sunnyside Farm, Linneus, Maine in the ale wort until it reached an internal temperature of 165° Farirenheit, which took about 30 min. I continued the boil for another 30 min.
The ale fermented vigorously for several days.
I racked it and added the additional ingredients. For Sack I used a 750 ml bottle of semi-sweet, organic mead from Shalom Orchard Winery in downeast Maine. I use ½ a lb of raisins, ¼ lb dates, 1 nutmeg, and a food processor. The mead/spice mixture sat for a few days before racking the ale.
I added the mead solution, and as much as I could pressed through a sieve, to the racked ale. The ale continued to ferment for several more days before bottling.
The ale ingredients are:
•8 lbs., Crips two-row (UK)pale malt
•1 1/3 lbs., additional malt, roasted 30 min. at 225 ° F followed by 30 min. at 300 ° F.
•3 lbs., rolled oats
•5 gal., water
•1 pkt, Danstar brand Nottingham ale yeast
•1 pkt, Danstar brand Windsor ale yeast
Original Gravity: 1.092
Final Gravity: 1.030
ABV: 8% + amount from the mead
Timeline: Brewed ale on March 4.
Racked &added additional ingredients March 8.
Bottled March 11.
At 8+ % ABV, this qualifies as a strong ale. My theory is that unhopped ales could achieve longer shelf life with higher alcohol content. The label art work is by comic book artist, Bob Raymond, who I gladly trade computer support for.
Since 2011, I made this recipe a couple more times; once with a "cock" (rooster) and once without a chicken. I've learned a lot over the years and have several theories and tweaks I'd to make.