Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 4: Clarrey, Spiced White Wine with Honey

He drynketh yppocras, claree, and vernage
Of spices hoote, to encressen his corage
Chaucer, The Merchant's Tale, from the Canterbury Tales
For me, part of the appeal of making clarrey, a medieval spiced white wine with honey, was the thought that I would get to drink something similar to what Chaucer may have quaffed while writing his Canturbury Tales.  After all, he does mention clarrey - or "claree" - in both the Knight's Tale and the Merchant's Tale. If that's not bringing history and literature to life, I don't know what is.

The fact that it's alcoholic didn't hurt, either. I mean, all this medieval cooking really works up a thirst - a wench has got to drink, after all. (That said, I think this could easily be adapted if you don't drink or if you'd like to make it for kids, which I'll discuss in a bit.)
Many people are familiar with hippocras, a red mulled and spiced wine, but using white wine is far less common, and that's another reason I decided to try it. I was afraid that the honey would make it too sweet, as I'm generally not a fan of overly sweet spirits, but the spices - particularly the white pepper - balanced the drink perfectly. In fact, this beverage has quite a kick to it, and produces a pleasant burn on the back of the throat.  You're supposed to ferment it for at least a month, and can even do so for up to a year. While I do have quite a bit left,  I wanted to try it right away to make sure it was good, which it is. No sacrifice for this blog is too great,  even drinking under-fermented clarrey!

I took the recipe from Gode Cookery; the original comes from Forme of Cury, which you can find in Curye on Inglisch, a collection of fourteenth-century culinary manuscripts. 

  • 1 750 ml bottle of sweet white wine. *
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1 tbsp each of cinnamon, galingale, and cardamom (you can substitute ginger for galingale, but you can usually find it in Asian supermarkets.)
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • cheesecloth

*For a non-alcoholic version, I suggest substituting an unsweetened white grape juice, and for kids, also reducing or eliminating the white pepper

Slowly bring the wine and honey to a boil, skimming any scum off of the surface.  Turn off the heat, add the spices, cover and let sit for 24 hours. The next day, using a ladle, strain the drink through 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth. The spices will have left a rather nasty scum on the bottom; try to scoop up as little of it as possible. Bottle the strained wine and let it sit for about a month - though it's really good right away! While I photographed it in a clear bottle to show its pretty golden color, I stored the clarrey in a tinted bottle on the chance that the light would have a bad effect on it.

I really hope you try this one! It may be an ancient recipe, but it's absolutely accessible, and so perfect for the holidays. See you tomorrow for Day 5, when I'll discuss what I served with the peas porridge from Day 3!


  1. I love this! Beautiful pictures! I really wanna give it a go... it seems so simple! I don't think I'd be able to wait a whole month to try it though lol I'd probably end up drinking it right away!

  2. another great one and this is one pretty drink for the holiday table I love the honey in this, sounds great and I think your right I need to try this you are very persusive with these gorgeous mouth is ready for some now!

  3. During the holidays we still drink a lot of "vin chaud" hot wine with spices, orange peel honey, cinnamon, the italian version is with white wine and French and German versions with red wine, so I guess your wine is the ancestor of our modern "vins chauds". Love those medieval posts!

  4. Great pictures. Pretty drink for Christmas dinner.

  5. I loooove spiced wines, lovely post again!

  6. wrench? - me thinks not....interesting with the pepper - what size bottle of wine did you use, 750ml or 1.5 liters...I think this is a perfect wine for the holidays...a great conversation piece...

  7. Uh-oh Drick, I left out the bottle size! 750 ml. Thanks for noticing! I'm gonna edit that right away.

  8. oh i want me a glass your a history buff do your write about history!

  9. Gorgeous. It would make such a wonderful gift. I think we'll try the grape juice version with the kids.

  10. Ah, you are bringing back memories of reading Canterbury Tales in 9th grade English! I remember back then I thought it was the most excruciating exercise ever. That being said, I love the idea of white mulled wine. I just had some Hippocras on Holiday in Edinburgh and am now hooked to warm spicy wine!

  11. Having made my hippocras it would be great to try clarrey... thanks for sharing the recipe, it's waiting for it to be ready that's so hard!

  12. Oh this sounds like something what my mom-in-law used to make. But we don't drink it! We use them as cooking ingredients. I also made some but without boiling and it turned out great & light. Yours look more flavourful with all those spices and great sweet smell as well. Bravo!

  13. How interesting. Spiced white wine. It will make a great conversational piece for sure!

  14. @sanjana & @lostpast - Yes, waiting is the hard part, and I cannot claim to have been entirely successful so far!
    @pegasus: thanks! it is such a pretty color, i can just see it on a table with candlelight.
    @citron: i love discovering these connections to modern recipes, it's fascinating!
    @motherrimmey, @miriam, @chowandchatter: thank you!
    @vegetablematter: i t would make a fun gift! I think i should make some now for next year!
    @experimentalculinarypursuits: i didn't like chaucer back in the day either - i was more of a jane austen and bronte girl, still am - but now i think it's fun in a totally dorky way.
    @mylittlespace: well, if yo make this i hope you drink it and don't cook with it! ; )
    @penny: yes, i do think it's definitely a conversation starter to serve an alcoholic beverage you made yourself!

  15. Sounds intriguing! I love the bottle you've stored it in.

  16. I love this! Wish I had seen this before making vats of red mulled wine for our huge party on Sat. This looks intriguing and I would like to try it out sometime - perhaps in the deep cold days of Jan...

  17. I have been wanting to make holiday wine for sometime. This post is a great inspiration, will try soon!

  18. Must definitely try this hydromiel a bit.

  19. I made this for a re-enactment event in the UK and it was a huge success; very popular late in the evening after a meal. I only brewed it for 48 hours but it tasted delightful. I used a dry wine as a base and the result was still very sweet; I would be hesitent to use a naturally sweet wine with so much honey. I used less honey than the recipe suggested (I feared it would taste too much like mead) and the result was something akin to an apple crumble.
    I would certainly make this again, perhaps leaving it to brew for longer. I would be interested how the taste changed after a few months.