So, having settled on October 18th for the brewday, I had to actually think about boring things like recipes and how, exactly, we were going to add fruit, spice, sack and dead bird to the resultant ferment.
Recreating the beer exactly as it would have existed a few centuries ago would be, if not impossible, beyond my capabilities here. The varieties of barley grown, how they were malted, the qualities and freshness of the hops, the yeast cultures used, receptacles for fermentation and maturation – all would be different to some degree. Not to mention variance over time and between regions. From reading old copies of the Protz/La Pensée CAMRA Homebrew Classics range won at various beer festivals in my youth and the ongoing excavations of Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell‘s blogs, I was happy to draw a line through “historically accurate” and instead list hopefully towards “vaguely traditional-feeling”.
So, back in March 2021 a friend threw a message my way asking if I was au fait with the works of Sir Kenelm Digby? Given that Richard (that’s my friend – I haven’t slipped into referring to myself in the third-person quite yet) likes himself a bit of pre-industrial history, weird folklore and the grotesque, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect him to follow this with, but it certainly wasn’t a request to try and brew a batch of, uh, “cock ale”. After a certain amount of to-and-fro to work out what he was on about, Wikipedia reassured me that it wasn’t just a practical joke. Admittedly, that the source book was called The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened did seem of a piece with the general innuendo.
As far as I could work out, cock ale was a strong ale fortified with dried fruit, spices, fortified wine and the obligatory cockerel. The latter was boiled well, then smushed up – bones and all – and added to the non-beer ingredients to soak, before the lot was pitched into the ale as it finished fermenting. Have a look, courtesy of the Gutenberg Project‘s copy:
So, here we are, December rolling into the last fortnight before Christmas rears its be-tinselled head. We (Miriam and I) thought we’d knock together a quick series of videos with pointers of nice things to drinks, from mocktails to whiskies. This is a little landing page to give all those crucially important links, so you can find whatever it is we’ve been elucidating/wittering about. All those precious details after the fold…
Due to a fraught couple of days, the end of my Saturday shift had left me rather more in need of decompression than normal. Good people and good beer were at the top of my list, so it was a relief that I just had to drag my weary bones down the road to Deptford and find myself at Villages‘ Taproom, who were hosting what promised to be a delightful beer celebration.
In my other professional life, I help manage a small craft beer bar in South East London (The Beer Shop London – no, I’m not sure SEO was at the front of their minds when setting up, either). I’ve been there on and off for years – the owners are great, the regulars are great and the ethos of ever-rotating beers and well-thought-out non-beers is something I’m proud to serve. As a bonus, just keeping on top of our offer acts as excellent research into what’s happening in beer.
We like to do a big knees-up a few times a year and, especially given the battering the last eighteen months of covid has given everyone, our annual August Bank Holiday do loomed large in the imagination. So, if you’re going to go big, where better to build it around than Belgium? You’ve got the history, the variety, the eccentricity and the quality, all rolled up into one delightful national package. Lots of back-and-forth ensued about which beers should be included, revisions based on the fact that, no, Westvleteren weren’t willing to send us a keg of 12, not even if we wore cassocks and fasted on a Friday. Anyhow, the upshot was, amongst an amazing haul of beers, we got our hands on a small number of some older vintages of the Straffe Hendrik Wild and Lee and Lauren (those lovely owners I mentioned) asked if I’d be interested in talking a select group through a vertical tasting?