Debatable Brewers' Recipes: Horilka (a cordial)

(bottled 1/21/97)

Made by the Debatable Brewers

Documentation by Ellisif Flakkari; Recipe and Cordial by Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, Ellisif Flakkari, Leif Hjalmsson, and Barak Ben David (called "Red").

Cordials or liqueurs, in the modern sense, are very different from those apparently made during the late renaissance. While the typical modern cordial consists of fruit and sugar steeped in vodka or grain alcohol and then thickened to a syrup, the recipes we have from our period generally involve taking wine, doing stuff to it, and distilling it. This last step is, of course, not legal in the country in which we live, so we have had to make some compromises. Specifically, we took brandy, did stuff to it, and skipped the distillation. (Note: As most of the recipes we have are wine-based, we felt that brandy was more appropriate than the more-commonly-used vodka.)

The spices we used are based on those used in assorted renaissance recipes (mostly from Hugh Plat, 1609). Plat's basic spirit recipe mentions sweet wine, and he also describes mead brandy, so we used honey to sweeten our drink.

What We Did

We have adapted a recipe we learned from Thora Sharptooth, who adapted it from one that appeared in Compleat Anachronist #5. Our recipe is:

Simmer the spices in about 1.5 liters of water, covered, for about 20 minutes in a non-reactive pot. Mix honey and juice in a large container; add lemon peel (no pith) and squeeze in the juice. Strain the spices out of the water and add the water to the mix. After everything is thoroughly mixed, add the brandy, mix, and pour into two one-gallon glass jugs and cap. Let sit 2 months, shaking periodically for the first few weeks and then allowing a sediment to form.

After two months, siphon the liquid off of the dregs and bottle. Let sit at least 6 months before drinking (a year is better).

We began this horilka in November 1996 and racked and bottled in January 1997.

Related Recipes

Spices in wine that is then distilled, and apparently a fairly sweet drink:

Spirits of Spices -- 1609 (Delights for Ladies, Sir Hugh Plat)

Distill with a gentle heat either in Balmeo, or ashes, the strong and sweet water, wherewith you haue drawn oyle of cloues, mace, nutmegs, Iuniper, Rosemary, &c, after it hath stood one moneth close stopt, and so you shall purchase a most delicate Spirit of each of the said aromaticall bodies.

Another spiced distilled drink (a similar recipe appears in Martha Washington, c.1550-1625):

D. Steuens Aqua Composita -- 1609 [ibid.]

Take a gallon of Gascoin wine of Ginger, Gallingale, Cinamon, Nutmegs and grains, Aniseseeds, Fennell seeds, and Carroway seeds, of each a dram; of Sage, Mints, red Roses, Thyme, Pellitory, Rosmary, wild Thyme, Camomil, Lauender, of each a handfull: bray the spices small and bruise the herbs, letting them macerate 12 houres, stirring it now & then, then distil by a Limbecke of pewter [...description of distillation]

Cinnamon in brandy (i.e. not distilled after processing):

To make cinnamon water without distilling it -- c.1550-1625 (Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery)

Take one quart of brandy, & halfe a dram of oyle of cinnamon, & a pinte of water, & half[e] a pound of white sugar. boyle the water & sugar together, & mix the oyle & sugar together, tht is with a little of the sugar before you put it to the rest. then mix them alltogether, & set it by till it be cold, & then bottle it up.

According to Renfrow, recipes for apple cider and (non-grape) fruit wines date to c.1550-1625