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Medieval Hypocras at Hattonchâtel

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Hypocras was the most popular drink at parties and banquets in the Middle Ages. See how we made a gallon of it in Hattonchatel castle in France using the original spices they used back then. 

Meet Dan Agerskov, the cousin of the owner of Hattonchâtel castle in Lorraine, who lived in the castle for a year. Dan and his wife prepared some authentic medieval dishes under my direction. Today we made hypocras.

1 bottle of tannin-rich red wine (75cl / 3 cups)
125gr (3 oz) sugar
2 grains black Pepper
1 sticks cinammon
2 pod green cardamom
1 cloves
1 cloves long pepper (piper longum)
0.5 teaspoon ground galangal
0.5 teaspoon ground dried ginger
1 teaspoon Guinea grains (aframomum melegueta)
1 clean cotton towel or T-shirt

You need strong-bodied, woody, tannin-rich red wine from a place where there is a lot of sun. The night before we tried with some local red wine from a fearless local producer who is the only one to try and make red wine in Lorraine. It just doesn't work, the wine was tart and when we added the sugar all that remained was a watery, sickly sweet shadow of a soft drink. We had to throw everything away and we bought some Californinan Shiraz instead.

Pour the wine into a jar or decanter or salad bowl or another container you can put a tight lid on and place in the fridge later.

Add the sugar

Grind the spices in a mortar. You can also use a bit more spices and leave them whole to avoid any small spice particles remaining in the wine.

Pour into the pot...


... and smell.

Mix with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Cover and leave in a cool place until the next day. If you are really in a hurry, just use more spice and leave for at least 2 hours.

Next page see the filtration, tasting and serving.

The next day we need to taste the hypocras. Dan was quite happy to do it...

... soon joined by his wife Hanne. A bit sweet or too much spice? Add some more wine. Not sweet enough? Just add sugar.

Pour the wine through a clean cotton or towel. You must use a towel as no sieve will be fine enough to keep all of the spice dust out. The original, 14th century recipe says Passe your wyne throu a Socke nine tymes untille clear.

Remove the cloth ...

... and get a few drops into a glass.

A day's work is rewarded. The wine tastes much better than the original, with a spicy fragrance and velvety, port-like body. An ideal drink to get a party started, really, with the sugar hiding the real alcoholic content so that people get their social barriers down soon in the party, then eliminate the alcohol with the food and drive back safely.

My hypocras was served to an assortment of local big enchiladas, including the all-powerful Préfet de la Meuse (brown jacket), the personal envoy of the French Minister of the Interior in the Meuse Département. For American readers, imagine each of your fifty states being 10 times smaller and the governor would be appointed by the President to verify that the State applies the law correctly. That, in essence, would be a French Préfet.

Hubert Cremel, hunter emeritus and our boar roaster is having a sip of my hypocras. The Préfet left without even looking at my boar, he complained later. More for us!, I consoled him.

This is the first article of seven of my adventures in Hattonchâtel - see the main article for more about what's coming next...

Hattonchâtel castle is in the medieval village of Hattonchatel near Verdun in North-East France. Call them up at Ritz Resorts to organize your wedding there or just spend the night.



What does it taste like?  Please describe.
Another great article btw.
The faces of Dan are great!. Is he barely refraining from smiling in the first one?

I had thought Hypocras was going to be a hot beverage. Surprising to find it is a cold one.

Many thanks for the post, and indeed I look forward to the others, specially the goose-feather deseeded currants and manger-blanc, which sent me into a frenzy of reading. We have a "Manjar Blanco" here in chile but is more of a milk reduction-caramelisation.

Thanks again!
  • #3
  • Answered by fx
Rodrigo, thanks for visiting! Dan is a fun-loving person who smiles very naturally - I guess he was one of these babies who keep smiling all day and he just never stopped. And he makes a lot of tongue-in-cheek jokes - we have jolly good fun! Yes the hypocras still surviving in Europe are most warm and served around Christmas, but it works equally well with room-temperature wine. The manjar blanco you describe may be related to the same recipe via the Spanish peninsula.
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Dave, I just added a bit about the taste, basically it's a bit like port with spice, very fragrant, intriguing taste with these uncommon spices.
  • #5
  • Comment by Jason
What is it that the stuffy bureaucrat complained about? I mean, not that I'm surprised ;)
  • #6
  • Comment by Sarah
Lovely! I wonder if they ever marinated anything in hypocras back then...?
Love Dan's smiling face and the instructions for the wyne!  I can't help thinking of POSH NOSH episodes (if you are a fan of Richard E. Grant look on youtube) at this chateau. Extraordinary food for ordinary people!
  • #8
  • Comment by david
Having just come into acquaintance with galangal in the last five years, I am curious when did it come to Europe. It is a Thai spice as I am familiar with it.

Still it looks like a nice drink for a party.
  • #9
  • Comment by Helena
Hmm ... nice, I could almost taste the hypocras.

If I recall correctly, I might have seen commercial versions of Medieval spiced wines around. (As in the product said it followed an old Medieval recipe, not that it was bottled and passed down from Medieval times.)

Had a lot more types of spices in it though, I wonder if it is the same stuff. Also as I recalled, it was de-alcoholed and sold in a health food store.

Sounds like a great alternative to mead and a Japanese tonic called Yomeishu that has been around since 1602. Now if I can only find a commercial brand that bottles this stuff for convinience.
  • #10
  • Comment by Ariun
What a lovely cheerful person Dan is! I want to give him a BEEEEG HUG! (But will refrain -- presence of his honey Hanne noted).
  • #11
  • Comment by Dan
Hello FX
It is me Dan. It was a pleasure to have you here, and we had a lot of fun. You say that you have taken more than 1800 pictures. Some of them must have been without my smiling face.
All the things we made for drinking and eating was very good and the taste was very fine. I hope that your readers can wait, they have to, until you have finished the 7 articles.
Ariun, who wanted to give me a beeeeg hug, may be we could arrange some thing!
FX - Hope to see you in Denmark one day.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Hello Dan and Hanne and thanks for your warm welcome in Hattonchâtel! As you can see you are already becoming quite popular with my readers, a lady even asked a print of your picture to put in her kitchen. For the beeeeeg hug we'll ask Hanne if she allows it of course! Hope to see you in Denmark some time soon. Hold on for the other articles, more is on the way.
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Ariun, Dan agreed for the beeeeeg hug but will ask permission from his wife first!
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
Helena for the hypocras I have all sorts of very serious medieval recipes and all use a different combination of spices although always a limited number of different spices, not the whole spice shop. I really recommend that you try it instead of buying some bottled stuff, it's only a matter of mixing everything, leaving to steep, the filtering. That's all.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
David, I asked my galangal when it arrived in Europe but this one was fresh out the boat. This being said medieval cuisine makes prodigal use of many spices we have come to associate with exotic Asian dishes, including ginger. The big difference is that we get way better spices way cheaper nowadays, and the hoi polloi like us gets to enjoy them too.
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
Callipygia, thanks for letting me know about Posh Nosh, this is great stuff! Dan didn't need much help to smile he is such a great person and I think he just liked the idea of making a gallon of spiced wine for a party.
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
Sarah, I don't think that hypocras has much been used to marinate anything but feudal lords' palates!
  • #18
  • Answered by fx
Jason, I did not speak much with the Préfet, but these guys never do less than three banquets a day, so by not staying more than an hour at each place they can make more of them. Many Préfet are formerly with the Gendarmerie and don't drink that much I guess.
  • #19
  • Comment by Aaron
FX, I see that you have not posted my comment regarding Calamus.  I hope I did not offend--that was not my intention.
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
Aaron, I did not see your comment about Calamus - sorry.
Everything looks phenomenal. I think that hypocras would make a fabulous drink for the holidays here in Vermont!! Definitely adding that to my holiday recipe repertoire. Although I'm sure it's quite tasty any time of year!!
Hi FX,
I didn't get the chance to view the hypocras preparation, very intersting and very well pictured!! Even nicer with Dan's smile.
Looking forward to the next serie.
have a nice week.
FX Cremel.
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
FX, there is more to come also with Dan and his crew, and then some with your father, who was very photogenic. I hope he will like the pictures too, maybe a reader will offer a beeeeeg hug!
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
Laura, hypocras is cold so I guess you could serve it during most seasons, although Spanish sangria might have more success during the summer. If you make some, make a lot and keep it bottled, it should store forever!
  • #25
  • Comment by Malto
It's hilarious to see all the women fight over Dan. Maybe FX can use it as a marketing point: "Be featured on FX, win youself hordes of female fans!" Dan... the new "face that launched a thousand ships"?
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
Malto, indeed I was much pleased to see that there is a market for mature manly appeal - I wonder what my readers will say about the gentleman who skinned, roasted and carved the wild boar!
  • #27
  • Comment by Aaron
I think it's possible that galangal is not the correct ingredient.

For one thing, it's indiginous to Southeast Asia, so it's unlikely that it would have been available in medieval Europe.

There have been other situations where "calamus" was listed as an ingredient, but was mistakenly translated as galangal.  Look at the wikipedia entry on Abramelin Oil for an example.

Calamus was frequently used as an additive to wine in the middle ages.  Look at the wikipedia entry for calamus (a.k.a. Sweet Flag) for more information, including a citation regarding its use in wine.
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
Aaron, I just checked my book about Taillevent's viandier and ... it is galanga all right.

"Garingal is the name of the root of galanga. This plant is from the same family of the ginger with an eatable root. In the Middle Ages, people considered that the best one is the small galanga, reddish in color and coming from India, hard and heavy as opposed to the big galanga, white or greyish and coming from China. "

This spice appears twice in Le Viandier.
  • #29
  • Comment by Aaron
The problem is that the word frequently gets confused when things are translated from one language to another or confused during a transription, and the error persists once it's made.

Please have a look at the two wikipedia articles I referenced (I tried to put links to them in my original comment, which is probably why you never received the comment).

It's possible that galangal was brought from Southeast Asia to Europe via the Silk Road in the Middle Ages, but it seems more parsimonious that it was actually calamus, an ingredient that is known to have been added to wine and that is known to have been mistranslated as galangal in other circumstances.
  • #30
  • Answered by fx
Aaron, I tried to email M. Taillevent but no answer ;) I guess we will never know if he used calamus but wrote galingal in his book. However I saw here http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/galang01.html that galanga was known in Europe for 7 centuries, since ginger is found in almost every medieval recipe and galanga is a cousin of it, it seems to be quite likely that indeed he used this spice and not another. If I can raise Taillevent on MSN I'll ask him to confirm, but in the meanwhile if you allow I'll use Ockham's razor and assume he wrote it right.
  • #31
  • Comment by Catherine
FX, that sounds delicious. I would make some for my next party if I had the slightest idea where to get some of these spices, but I don't. Maybe someday!
  • #32
  • Answered by fx
Catherine, you can order most spices from the Internet and they are quite cheap nowadays.  
You can order all these spices (and many more) from www.penzeys.com
  • FX's answer→ Thanks for the link Cynthia!

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