Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And now for something a little more löwenbräu

Right off the bat, I have to point out to my European readers that the pun in my title only works with the American pronunciation of Löwenbräu, where it is usually said /loʊənbraʊ/. As with so much English and American humor, this is much too low-brow a jest to stand up to a stolid German pronunciation. If you haven’t already inferred this, I should warn you that the remainder of this post might even be more crude than this one. Once in a while I can’t resist a coarse pun. But if the low-brow was fair game for Chaucer and Shakespeare, let no one judge me ill for plucking an easy double entendre now and then.

Regular readers and friends know that I’m a tippler of some repute. I’ve written about beer and spirits before, but it’s been a while. High time for a potable post.

This is where beer snobbery meets the bizarre foods world. Not that the food I’m about to discuss is at all strange on its own, but together with beer? You be the judge, but let me whet your whistle with the most exclusive of beer styles — beer brewed with meat. Sound good? (Cue the gagging.)

I came across a tasty treat in the venerable tome, Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine, by William Carew Hazlitt (not that William Hazlitt; rather, his grandson) — cock ale. Yes, you read that right: cock ale. For audacious home-brewers, here’s the recipe:
To make Cock Ale: — Take ten gallons of ale, and a large cock, the older the better, parboil the cock, flea him, and stamp him in a stone mortar till his bones are broken, (you must craw and gut him when you flea him) put the cock into two quarts of sack [sherry], and put to it three pounds of raisins of the sun stoned, some blades of mace, and a few cloves; put all these into a canvas bag, and a little before you find the ale has done working, put the ale and bag together into a vessel; in a week or nine days’ time bottle it up, fill the bottles but just above the necks, and leave the same time to ripen as other ale. [1]
It sounds a bit like Dogfish Head’s Raison d’Être — with chicken bits floating in it. Notice there was no mention of straining or filtering the ale. And I don’t think parboiling would cut it with the FDA, do you? Mmmm, salmonella! :)

So that’s cock ale. The name sounds so dirty. As does another beer brewed with meat: oyster porter. Another relic of the 19th century. Yes, this is English porter brewed with oyster meat, or sometimes ground up oyster shells. Yum. Oysters, of course, and more specifically prairie oysters, are a euphemism in America for fried bull testicles. Goodness gracious, I can’t imagine going into the local organic market and telling the clerk I want cock and oysters! Oh, Shakespeare, come to my rescue: “I warrant / it had upon it brow, a bumpe as big as a young Cockrels / stone? A perilous knock, and it cryed bitterly.” [2]

Even worse — and believe me, I know I’m pushing my luck here — in the parlance of Hazlitt’s time, a cask of this ale could be referred to as “cock in a butt”. A butt is a cask for storing wine or ale, the source of the word butler. Jeeves, what have you been up to?! (Rest assured, I am properly ashamed of myself for this.)

Hazlitt’s cockbook — er, excuse me — cookbook is full of interesting tidbits like this. Just peruse the index, and before long, everything starts sounding dirty. A sampling of some of the more fetishistic-sounding dishes: Forced meat (p. 191), Jumbals (p. 128), Spread-eagle pudding (p. 114), White grease (p. 58), and what has to be my personal favorite: Rear-supper (p. 239, 242). God, I hope you are laughing at this 

Anyway, there you go: cock ale and oyster porter. Knock back a few of those, and I daresay the clothes are coming off. Just pray you don’t remember anything the next morning.

[1] William Carew Hazlitt. Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine. London: Elliot Stock, 1886, p. 152.

[2] Romeo and Juliet, I.iii.


  1. If that's an old enough recipe, it may use the obsolete sense of parboil, direct from French, given as OED3 sense 3:

    3. trans. To boil thoroughly. Obs.

    1611 R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues, Pourbouiller, to parboile throughly.

    a1655 T. T. de Mayerne Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus (1658) v. 2 Take the Hare and par-boyl him, then take all the flesh from the bone.

    And from a somewhat different lexicographer anent the pronunciation of foreign words:

    LEONINE, adj. Unlike a menagerie lion. Leonine verses are those in which a word in the middle of a line rhymes with a word at the end, as in this famous passage from Bella Peeler Silcox:

    The electric light invades the dunnest deep of Hades.
    Cries Pluto, 'twixt his snores: "O tempora! O mores!"

    It should be explained that Mrs. Silcox does not undertake to teach pronunciation of the Greek and Latin tongues. Leonine verses are so called in honor of a poet named Leo, whom prosodists appear to find a pleasure in believing to have been the first to discover that a rhyming couplet could be run into a single line.

         —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

  2. 1)Put a cork in it! ;)P
    2)Great "Friends" reference.
    3)I liked that we both made reference to "Romeo & Juliet" last night (and "Friends" as well), but to different ends.
    4)Methinks you need a chaperone.
    5)Very funny post, but you know just how much it made me hurl!

  3. There's no reference to straining the ale, no, but since all the, er, flavourings are in a bag, presumably it's more of an infusion effect, and one would just lift out the bag before tapping the vessel. (Which also sounds rude.) And then, hopefully, throw it away!

  4. At least you said tidbits (ahem)

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone! :)