How to test a historic recipe (without falling foul of Safe Search), part 3

(Part 1 here, part 2 here)

So, when I said back in February that part 3 was going to follow soon, what I meant was “it’ll sit in my drafts pile for months and months until I’m belatedly spurred into action”. But still, better late than never? Herein follows how the beer tasted, what we’d change up and whether or not you can tell if there’s chicken in it.

With the bottling done before the end of October, I’d hoped we’d have given the beer enough time to condition properly for Christmas, so there wasn’t really anything to do but wait. Waiting, however, is dull, so we decided that we’d take a bottle along for a walk at the end of November, when we’d arranged to wander the Ashford Hangers.

In the meantime, I saw a write-up by Dr Christina Wade at Braciatrix in Boak & Bailey’s invaluable weekly News, Nuggets and Longreads roundup. Interestingly, Dr Wade had come at the problem from a different angle. By infusing an off-the-shelf beer with the significant elements of the recipe, she was able to quickly get an idea of what the style might have tasted like. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could approach it any way other than “brew it all from scratch, whilst worrying about the lack of authentic 17th century ingredients”, so cool to see a rather more practical mindset at work.

Anyhow, we assembled on an unbelievably warm day in late November, struggled up and around what turn out to be quite steep hills and then, after having paused a moment to take in The Poet’s Stone, cracked open an early tester.

It was… fine? The body was fairly light, bitterness a little rough, carbonation underdeveloped, and still a bit green. However, there was no obvious sign of infection, the sherry, dried fruit and spices were all present and correct. Basically, it tasted exactly like you’d expect from a beer that needed time.

Richard, very nobly, gave us the odd update on the batch’s progress over Christmas as he tested a few more bottles, but we weren’t able to meet up again until late January.

This was a rather more successful appraisal, as the beer had hit its stride. Especially given the fairly limited brewing setup, I was pretty pleased with what we’d made. Pouring a copper-y shade, with a fairly loose, off-white head and decent carbonation, you immediately got a good nose of the spices, with a bit of richness courtesy of the sherry and dried fruits.

It was lighter-bodied than I’d expected, where we’d aimed for something richer. While the hopping wasn’t too out-of-whack, both the flavour and bittering additions were further into the foreground than intended.

The fruit and spices came through well without overbearing, which was a great relief, given spices’ ability to overwhelm a beer.

Of the chicken, I couldn’t detect anything, though there was discussion as to whether it provided a subtle savoury background note.

It had poured extremely bright, with the yeast obligingly tight at the bottom of the bottle. Even having used a well-behaved strain of yeast, I did wonder if the dead bird’s real contribution was to act as a kind of fining. Perhaps the bird’s long boiling made some gelatine available during the steeping?

Still, it gave us food for thought as to what we’d change for a mooted second batch. Regarding the brewday itself, we should be able to use a Grainfather next time, which will allow for far finer control of the process and generally make life simpler. It also means we can brew a full ten, or even a twenty-litre, batch for negligible extra effort.

Given that first batch’s light body, we’d want a fairly hot mash to lock some body into the beer. I’m of two minds about altering the grist, but throwing in some more speciality malts to lean a bit darker and fuller is on the cards. Feedback was to push towards a richer sipping ale, so I’ll have to bear that in mind.

While I think I’m on the right track using traditional English hops like Fuggles or Golding, I’ll definitely reduce the quantities. This isn’t meant to be hop-led, and the consensus was that the bitterness was too pronounced. Lastly, the yeast – given this is a spiced ale, there’s a temptation to accentuate that with something Belgian, but if that aspect was already in balance, why risk it? Sticking with S-04 it is.

The flavourings were largely successful, so not much needs tweaking on this front. The spicing was where we wanted it, as was the contribution of the dried fruit. In deference to Richard and Nick’s strong preferences, we’ll switch from a supermarket own-brand Amontillado sherry to a supermarket own-brand Cream sherry. I couldn’t see it, but they were convinced the sherry imparted some bitterness. Richard should be able to produce a mature cockerel, living out in the sticks as he does, and it will be interesting to see if a tough old bird adds any more character.

All being well, we’ll brew again in September, and hope for a spell of mild weather to keep the fermentation on track. I may even report back on the results, if I can get my act together.

So, as to the impetus for getting this written up and posted? Well, I mistakenly grabbed my last bottle of the first batch, only realising my error once I’d started pouring. It still tasted pretty good, even with another six months age and in a ridiculous heatwave, so that at least was a positive.


  1. I’m pleased to see your results were similar to ours with clarity and taste. We went for the oldest, gamiest bird we could find and had a noticeable back taste as a result.


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