Photo: LeNell Smothers
Spices and herbs have been used for centuries in beer and wine, just to flavor it up and oftentimes to cover up the off flavors of the beverage. Herbs and spices were thought to be good for the health. They frequently served as a bit of a preservative, as well.
Hippocras was a popular celebratory drink for weddings and christenings and other such feasts. It was regularly served after dinner with sweet goodies and brought to the table unheated. Oriental spices were quite expensive so this drink was often associated with having the cash flow for such luxury and nobility.
I won't bore you with the plethora of references and recipes I've collected over many years since I first learned of Hippocras. Instead, I will share with you my introduction to this drink by writers and cocktail historians Anastatia Miller and Jared Brown of Mixellany.
A few years ago, they shared with me a sip of their modern adaptation of a recipe from the 14th century, and I've been hooked on Hippocras ever since.
3 bottles red table wine
6 ounces sugar
3-4 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground galingale
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Warm the wine and dissolve the sugar into it. Add the spices and simmer on very low heat for 10-15 minutes. Strain several times to remove the spice grounds. Let cool, bottle and cap until ready to serve.
Alabama-born LeNell Smothers defines herself first and foremost as a bartender, but she's been called many things -- most recently, the head mixtress at Casa Cóctel. She's owned her own whiskey label, called Red Hook Rye, and has been recognized by her home state as an honorary Colonel. Other interests include gin, sin and men.