Hippocras

Since the topic came up in a conversation. I thought I might talk about Hippocras. I make up batches of my hippocras spice blend and give it to people as holiday gifts. I think it’s a nice warming winter beverage which is is beneficial to the cardiovascular system and the digestive system.

Hippocras is Middle English name for an aromatic wine derived from the Old French word ypocras. This is likely named after the Latin vinum Hippocratum — a spiced wine strained through a Hippocratic sleeve. This was a cloth bag hung and used as a strainer to remove all fine particulates as in the picture below.

The first few times I had this it was made with a sweet desert wine to which they add cupsful of sugar. As I am not a sugar person. I didn’t care about making Hippocras for a very long time after that. One day I was reading through the English Texts Society’s printing of Harleian MS 4011 The Boke of Nurture (1465) in which John Russell shared that when making ypocras you should use a “red wyne” that is “whote [hot] and drye to taste, fele, & see.”

That was a game changer for me. I experimented with several versions before I settled on my favorite. The one I settled on adapting is from a 1559 English translation of Konrad Gesner’s Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri.

I think it’s worth noting that Gesner wrote about many types of aromatic wines as medicinal preparations which were said to be beneficial to people with cardiac problems, weak stomachs, or “defaultes” of the lungs. The one I chose kind of lets you pick and choose your corrigents as the situation warrants.

The inner barkes of Cinnamon. vi drammes: halfe an ounce of white Ginger hoole, Nutmegges elect .ii. drammes, Cloues, graines of paradice, of ether a dram: Cardamomum, Pep∣per, Calamus Aromaticus, Coriander prepared, of euery one a scrupull, mixte them and beate them somewhat groose. Eight poundes of wine, clari∣fied honye .xxvi. ounces, mixte all, and strayne [ xxx] them accordinge to Arte. Some clarifye theese spiced wines with Almond milke.”

I generally use galangal instead of ginger. It’s the most common ingredient in the receipts for “Cardiacall” persons. It’s a similar flavor profile to ginger and has similar antioxidant actions in terms of neuroprotection, without being quite so dry which I prefer for elders. You could also use hard cider or cider instead of wine. I also rarely add sugar, even to the wine. So feel free to add the amount of sugar that is to your liking.

The last sentence speaks to the process of clarifying a beverage that was wildly popular in the Early Modern period. It is similar to the way I use egg whites for fining wine. Cooks Illustrated wrote a great article about it several years ago, so I am not going to duplicate efforts on that topic.

Hippocras

Adapted from Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri

Ingredients

  • 12 grams Cinnamon (2.5 tsp)
  • 4 grams of dried Galangal or Ginger (1 tsp)
  • 4 grams of nutmeg (1 tsp)
  • 4 grams of grains of paradise or cloves (1 tsp) (I use both)
  • 2 grams of dried coriander, dried calamus, or cardamom (1/2 tsp)
  • 3 liters of wine ( Two of the magnum bottles)
  • 750 mL sugar or clarified honey ( 3 cups)

Directions

  1. If you are starting out with powders, you just mix the herbs together. I have to grind my herbs into a coarse powder to get started because I don’t keep powdered herbs around. I think that the coarse powder works better, and herbs definitely stay fresh longer if you don’t powder them.
  2. Once the ingredients have been ground to your liking you stir them into the wine. You could tie the mixture up in a small bit of butter muslin or cheese cloth, or seal it in one of those press and seal teabags. I will say that I think you get better flavor from the first method, but the second method is easier especially if you start with powders.
  3. The phrase “according to Arte” needs some explanation here. Traditionally this mixture is stirred into the cold wine, the wine is slowly warmed and then strained through a muslin bag. You want to use very low heat so that all your aromatics don’t steam off. Some recipes for Hippocras mentioned setting it near a warm fire in an earthen jug, rather than sitting it on the heat.
  4. I think the easiest way to do this without cooking the ingredients too much is to put it in a crockpot that has one of the keep warm settings.
  5. How long you allow the spices to infuse, is a matter of taste. I like to let mine warm for a couple of hours.
  6. Add the honey or sugar to the mixture, stir until dissolved, and serve.

Making Dry Wine and Mead

I had a question from someone who stumbled across my plum hibiscus wine post and they asked me if it was sweet or dry? I can tell you it would be highly unlikely that I ever post a sweet recipe.

There is a general misconception out there that in the past that wines and meads were all sickening sweet, but it’s just not the case. Medieval texts mention red, white and “swete” wines. White wine was far more common than people think. In fact most vinegar was made from batches of white wine that had gone off. I only use white wine vinegar when making oxymel. Apple cider vinegar just doesn’t seem to have quite the same properties.

When we first starting going to SCA events people were making some pretty sweet meads and wines. They were mostly along the lines of a dessert wine or those Amana wines, which I honestly kind of hate.  I’d rather not drink at all than choke down sugar. I rarely drink soda and I don’t add sugar to tea or coffee, either.

Anyway, the question led me to believe the sender thought how much sugar you put in determines how sweet the wine is. That’s not the whole story. The amount of sugar you put in determines how strong your wine becomes. Sweetness pretty much depends on how attenuative your yeast is.

Attenuation refers to the amount of sugar a particular strain of yeast is able to consume  and also takes into consideration how much alcohol the organisms can tolerate. Yeasts consume the sugar in a solution, and through the process of digestion turn that it into CO2, ethanol, and flavor compounds. The process is self-limiting in an enclosed system because the yeasts die off when the concentration of alcohol in the wine reaches a certain percentage.

So if you put the same amount of sugar in a solution with a yeast that can tolerate up 20% alcohol, there will be less sugar left in the solution than if you you use a yeast that can only tolerate 14%. Most modern wine makers end up back sweetening their wine.

Making Mead

You see a lot of people recommending champagne yeast for making mead. I like doing it because it adds a bit of sparkly, but honey plus champagne yeast can be too much of a good combination as honey is fully fermentable and champagne yeast can tolerate high alcohol levels. So your final product will be strong and dry, but stripped of any flavors.

You can add sugar, which is less fermentable, to the primary ferment to try to address this, but I think the best plan is to to just go for broke in the primary ferment and make a strong, dry mead. The Lalvin EC 1118 or the Red Star Premier Blanc are both good for that. Then you can add a little more honey, juice, or spices to the secondary ferment, so you don’t lose your flavours or aromatics.

Wine Yeasts

My historian friends think that  during the Middle Ages it was unlikely that most brewing yeasts were able to consume as much sugar before die-off as they can today.   They believe that even though modern brewers and winemakers are using strains of yeast that have been around since the Middle Ages, the strains are probably producing more alcohol due to hundreds of years of people selectively choosing yeasts for saving based on their attenuation.

I don’t know what I think about that. If you look through medieval wine recipes, it seems like they mostly made really dry wines and sweetened them according to taste.

While it is true that medieval brewers and vintners would not have had the luxury of going out and purchasing different types of yeast, they they would have known the qualities of the yeasts they used. So I will end this by telling you about some of the yeasts I have worked with.

Lalvin Yeasts

EC-1118  – I’ve seen this recommended as the stock winemakers yeast and I couldn’t disagree more. I read somewhere that it has the finesse of a battering ram and it’s true. It is a highly attenuative yeast and it can strip away all of your flavors, if you aren’t careful . It is rated at 18% tolerance but will readily go to 20% or higher if you are using a staggered nutrient (SNA) plan.

It tolerates a temperature range anywhere from 50-95 so it’s nice if you don’t’ have AC or good climate control in your brewing area.  This is the yeast to use if you are going all in on your primary ferment or if you have a stuck fermentation. Chances are it is going to eat up all of your sugar and you are going to have to backsweeten. Alcohol Tolerance 18-20%

71B-1122 –  This yeast can is can metabolize malic acid turning it into ethanol. This is nice because it mellows the acidic bite of wines or melomels made with acidic fruits. This is what I use for fruit wines. Alcohol Tolerance 14%

D47  – I don’t love this yeast for mead. While it is nice for dry white wines, it is nitrogen needy and you stay on top of adding nutrient and energizer. Alcohol Tolerance 14%

KIV-1116 – This is good for ciders and light fruits, because it is a competitive yeast which means it will fight off any wild yeasts. It holds the fruit flavor longer than most, and produces a nice floral ester flavor. It’s a good yeast to use for fermenting at lower temperatures and can unstick a fermentation stalled due to cold.  Alcohol Tolerance 18%

Red Star Yeasts

Premier Blanc (Champagne Yeast) – This a strain of Saccharomyces bayanus that has high alcohol tolerance and handles free sulfur dioxide. It can be used for melomels, whites, reds, and fruit juices that don’t have a high acidity. If you are making a melomel from a highly acidic fruit, I would use the Lalvin 71B-1122.

Cuvee Yeast This is Red Star’s answer to EC-1118, so I don’t bother with it, but it works a lot the same way.