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Cordials-art - 6/24/12


"Cordials, Brewing, and Vinting – using herbs and spices, Intro to Alcohol with herbs and spices" by Lord William Ismeade


NOTE: See also the files: cordials-msg, absinthe-msg, Apricot-Crdal-art, bev-distilled-msg, Clarea-d-Agua-art, infusions-msg, Peach-Brandy-art, spiced-wine-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Cordials, Brewing, and Vinting

using herbs and spices

Intro to Alcohol with herbs and spices

by Lord William Ismeade


Introduction to Brewing, Vinting and Cordials


Flavored alcohols have been around since at least the 13th c. The distillation of wine into aqua vitae and the subsequent flavoring of these spirits with various herbs and spices were written about by Catalan Arnold de Vila Nova (b. 1240) in his Boke of Wine. He and other alchemists believed in the restorative and life giving properties of these waters. Early liqueurs however were considered alchemical potions, not necessarily pleasure drinks.


By the 14th c., the drinking these liqueurs had become very popular in Italy and had spread into France. Catherine de Medici, a native of Tuscany, is often credited with bringing them with her to France. There is, however, some evidence of an earlier diffusion of liqueurs, or an independent outgrowth of these drinks prior to their introduction by Catherine. Even if they were present before, the Court of Catherine certainly increased the popularity and acceptance of these drinks among the nobility of France.


Between the 14th c., and the early 17th c., considerable production of these liqueurs was from alchemists and monastic orders. Benedictine, as the name indicates dates to the Benedictine monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli, in the Abbey of Fecamp about the year 1510. The recipe for Chartreuse was originally an 'Elixir de longue Vie', given in 1605 to a Carthusian monastery near Paris by the Marechal d'Estrees, a captain under Henri IV (Shapiro). Recipes, too, for the herbal liqueurs of Aiguebelle, Carmeline, La Senancole, and Trappastine were also originally monastic elixirs (primarily Cistertian). However, not all production of liqueurs was limited to monasteries. By the middle to end of the sixteenth century several distilleries had been formed which were producing commercial quantities of liqueurs. These included the Dutch distillery of Bols, founded in 1575 and Der Lachs, a German distillery which began producing Danzig Goldwasser in 1598. The first of the liqueurs produced by Bols was an anisette liqueur and Kümmel on which they began production shortly after the founding of the distillery.


Cordials (and liqueurs) are simply flavored and often sweetened distilled alcoholic beverages. The word 'liqueur' is derived from the Latin liquefacere which means to melt or dissolve. This refers to the methods of flavoring the base alcohol.


Schnapps is the generic term for all white (clear) brandies distilled from fermented fruits. It's worth noting that true German schnapps is not what we get in the United States. The major American commercial brands are all heavily sweetened, and have added glycerine as well. If you want to try to capture the taste of true schnapps, consider making an eau de vie.


Eau de vie in the context of liqueurs is a French expression for an unsweetened fruit brandy, very similar in nature to Schnapps. It has come to be used to mean an unsweetened liqueur as well, probably because of the similarity of taste and texture.


Although this class has the major focus on Cordials I would be remiss if I did not at least touch upon brewing and vinting as they are the basis of all alcohol products. Our modern versions of Cordials and Liqueurs resulted from a long rich history of medicinal preparations that are herbal in nature. Alcohol bases allowed herbs to be preserved for long periods of time and given in liquid forms by the apothecaries and healers. It should also be noted that in period, most manor houses had distillation equipment and many abbeys distilled not only alcohol but also made essential oils from herbs and spices.


What we find studying alcohol based tinctures and Cordials is that these are in no way a cooking area. They in fact fall within the medical and text of period. Based on when in period you are, it could lead to heresy, inquisition, jail, torture and even death for crossing a fine line between chemistry, science and alchemy or witchcraft. This however changed when it was ruled by the church that it was not a sin to distill things into their respective substances and fully allowed monks and priest to use distillation.


Period Alcohol Types


Ale, beer, cider, perry and wine are all fermented directly from yeast and as a product of eating sugar, they produce alcohol. With a few exceptions these range from 3.2% to 21% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) drinks. We know from various sources fermentation was left to chance in early period and many of these drinks were not left to fully ferment and become clear before using. Wine have been used, I include mead in wines, as far as 6100 years ago (Owen, James 2011).


Medium range drinks known as Grappa, Brandy and Schnapps are distilled liquids usually ranging from 20% to 40% ABV. The major difference between them is where they come from. Brandy and Schnapps are a direct distillation from the finished wine. Grappa is a distilled product from the left over pressings of the grapes. These can be traced to the Salerno school of medicine between the tenth and twelfth century where chemistry work was done with alcohol distillation. It is highly improbable the distillation during this time could range any above 40% ABV due to the equipment available at the time. The simple Amblic was available but the design allowed for a large amount of loss within distillations of alcohol.


Therefore high alcohol content was not available until the early 13th century. This changed due to the invention of the Canale Serpentinum. The Canale Serpentinum was a serpentine shaped spout for the Amblic which sat in a cooling trough that was cooled with a fresh supply of water the length of a man's arm (Alderotti). Von Lippmann published Alderotti's work and tested it stating that he could easily obtain 90% alcohol with a 5/7 distill ratio.


Alcohol by Volume abbreviated by ABV is a measure of how much alcohol by percentage is contained within the total volume of liquid. We see that the ABV is half the proof, so 40% ABV is 80 proof or 20% ABV is 40 proof.


Herbs & Spices




As stated above the reason for introduction of Herbs and/or Spices to Alcohol and distillation was for medical purposes. It is hard to imagine Benedictine liquor or Amaretto being given for illness but they were. Herbs were given as a medical remedy for imbalances of the Humors and remained the study and treatment for medical issues until the late 1800's. Aqua vitae or Water of Life is listed in several period text across the known world. Plague Water was also a mixture of various herbs designed to keep the plague away. Dioscorides, Galen, Hildegard, and Gerard wrote works describing herbs and their nature on the body. In my opinion this is where anyone developing a cordial should start. Knowledge of what you are making the cordial for is first and foremost. It will also insure you are not defeating the purpose by mixing opposite virtues of the herbs. If we are making something for a cold or the flu, we would want to introduce herbs that would reduce fever, calm coughs and loosen congestion. This would be much like our sample Cordial with Calendula and Elder Berry. Things like Peppermint, Fennel, Caraway and Cumin are great after dinner drinks because they reduce gas and indigestion.




Flavor profile should have a strong impact on your drink the later in period you go. Catherine de Medici enjoyed the cordials as many of us still do today. A flat non-flavored drink of bitter herbs and alcohol might appeal to some tastes but a splash of flavor is generally welcomed. Things like mmel and Krupnik abound in flavor while being extremely helpful with digestion, cough, colds and sore throats. The thing to do is mix sweetness like sugar, honey or fruit with bitter or sour herbs and vice versa for overly sweet. Don't expect everyone's taste to be the same as yours but balance the flavors.


Fresh Vs. Dried


Should I use fresh or dried herbs is the most asked question I get. The answer is "It Depends!" Alcohol is a preservative to maintain the essence of the herb or spice within the liquid. Some herbs lose their flavor and qualities with drying. Cilantro is a perfect example, fresh it has wonderful flavor and can added to many dishes. Dried however it has no flavor profile so this is one that needs to be fresh herbs. The down side with using fresh herbs is water content. The lower the water content the better the shelf life. The higher the water contents the shorter shelf life and chance of going rancid.


Mixing and Extraction


Various herbs or spices can be added to beer or ale during the brewing process. The boiling extracts not only flavor but the essence also. The problem however lies with the amount needed to become medicinal. The amount of alcohol also plays a big factor due to the lower alcohol the harder it is to extract the essence. The lower alcohol content also does not allow the preservation without distillation. The Herbal by John Gerard shows a great deal of mixing herbs with ale for immediate consumption.


With wine and mead the same holds true as with beer. Mixing enough herbs with the must to get a medicinal benefit would overpower the wine. However mixing with a finished wine can be a great way to achieve medicinal strength and as a preparation for distillation. The alcohol content can be high enough the extract the essence of most leaf herbs and seed spices if they are bruised before addition.


First, distillation is illegal in the United States for any drinking alcohols. Distillation is however the best way to fully extract the essence of any herb or spice. Different types of distillers can pull oils or extract the essence. Wines or oils can be infused with herbs and spices then distilled to get a highly concentrated form that is medicinal quality.


Even with the issues with distilling we can still achieve a medical usage quality without breaking any laws. Creating a tincture is extracting the herb with alcohol without distillation. The first and by far the easiest way to do this is the time method but we can also do a percolation method. A tincture should be of a quality of 1:5 strength with dried herbs. With the fresh herbs a 1:2 ratio is needed. The water content within the plant plays a large part as the herb is already hydrated with water. Fresh herbs also require what is called maceration along with bruising. Maceration in its simplest terms means touching the solvent or covered in alcohol. This means that something must be used to keep the herbs completely submerged. Any floaters can spoil and ruin the whole batch.


As stated above time is by far the easiest method. It requires nothing more than soaking the herbs in alcohol for a specified time. We have several factors for length of time. Leaf herbs are the fastest, seeds are next, and then roots, bark or wood take the longest. It will not harm or degrade the tincture if you mix things that require different time for extraction or if you leave it longer than you expected. The best ways to deal with this issue is break or cut root items into smaller pieces, and crack the seeds. Any level of alcohol can extract but will require more time. A 40% 50% ABV will be finished in 4 weeks a 14 % will take from 8 to 10 weeks. Keep in mind that once you get under 14% the preservation qualities start to diminish and oxidation becomes a big factor.


Under no circumstance should you try this with nuts or pits (Peach, cherry, olive, etc.)

These items when mixed with levels of alcohol extract a substance call strychnine.


Percolation is a much more laborious process and does not give the level of extraction but does work with about 50% efficiency. Percolation is the process of pouring the alcohol over the herbs, letting it drain off and continuing the process. This process works best by using a funnel, straining material like cheesecloth or linen and 2 containers. The herbs and/or spice need to be crushed as fine as possible to get the best results. The reason I mention this technique is due to time constraints. If someone has a cold or stomach issues they cannot wait 4 weeks, this could be prepared in an hour.


The last technique and the weakest of the three is water and heat extraction. I have heard this called a hot toddy growing up. A perfect example of this is Fennel. Make a strong tea with Fennel (1 tea. Per cup water) add 1 teaspoon honey and 1 shot alcohol. It calms the stomach and the alcohol helps the Fennel to hit the blood stream faster. These are not meant to be kept but used immediately.




Sweetening a cordial does two things, it masks bitter unpleasant flavors and brightens or

highlights the flavors. A cordial does not require sweetening. There are several period references to mixing with only beer/ale or wine and drinking (Gerard). Taste however usually prevails and sweetening is better.


Historically Nearchus, a member of Alexander the Great invading army in 325 B.C., records the first growth of sugar cane in the Punjab area of India. The Chinese were manufacturing sugar in 640 A.D. and about the 8th century in Japan (Strong, pg. 50). Apparently, there was no sugar in the Near East during ancient times, or in Egypt, Greece or Rome during the early period, although Pliny the Elder had heard of "honey from reeds" as did the physician Galen who remarked that it was "not so sweet as our honey." (Aykroyd, pg. 12). Around the middle of the 8th century Egypt was producing sugar and using it in large amounts, there is also reference to the first sugar statues (subtleties). Sugar was common in Italy and Spain during the 13th through the 15th century coming from Egypt through Venice with the Portuguese dominating the sugar market from 1456 well over the next 100 years.


The question is always was there white sugar in period. Yes, absolutely! This depended on the processing technique but there is mention of a double processing used by Egyptians that was extremely white and Sugar loaves were known to be white from paintings produced in the 14th century. The question is now whether the white sugar was used for something like a cordial. My opinion would be yes and no! The doctors and apothecaries catered to all with money. The higher the class the more likely it was to get the better and more expensive sugar. Last mention of sugar is beet sugar is in no way period. Olivier de Serres first wrote of preparing sugar syrup with beets in the 16th century and it was not available until 1747, when Andreas Sigismund Marggraf discovered the process of extraction from the beet.


Modern sweetening should be white, Panela or Panocha, or honey. Panela is a Mexican cone sugar that is less processed and has a character of its own. Honey from period would have been much more of the wild flower varieties but in my opinion using a specialized will not add enough character to justify the additional cost.


Judging Cordials




This has been an area of concern due to the crossing of medicine and brewing. In my conclusion of the documents I have read brings me to say it should be approached from a Medicinal stand point first and foremost. The documentation should show clearly what was used and what it would help. Was it for balancing a Humor or was it very specific. As we saw above the sweetening used should follow the time period. Later period cordials could easily use white sugar and earlier period would be honey.




Appearance should be an indication of how honed the skills are but the documentation could also call for powdered herbs or spices thus creating a cloudy drink. Has the drink aged enough for sediment to fall out or could it have been filtered through cloth.




Aroma can be deceiving but should allow for most of the ingredients to shine through. There should not be one overpowering smell unless it is a single style cordial. If honey is used it should not be the only thing you smell. Multiple herbs and spices can create a wonderful nose and using an herb like rose or lavender for aroma can also improve the drink in some cases.




This is the most opinionated part of judging any drink. Anise is a perfect example. Anise is very good for you and is an ingredient in many of today's cough syrups. Many find its taste horrid, however. The idea should be "does it taste like what the ingredients say are there"! Taste should be based on the parts of taste: Initial, mouth feel, throat, and nose. What is the initial reaction is it too sweet, sour, hot or bitter.


Swish it around your mouth, does it coat and feel oily, clean, pucker or burn.


When swallowed did it warm all the way down or burn like fire and mouthwash or cough syrup. After swallowing breath out through the nose, small changes and aromas should be there.




The finish or after taste you will carry around a bit. Things like anise, caraway, and even coriander were given to freshen breath. A good honey will give that waxy comb flavor. This should be in the documentation and explained. Some folks do posses a super pallet.


Making a Cordial


Finally creating your Cordial. The equipment and process are simple but creating the taste is where it is complicated. Equipment consists of a large mouthed jar with a lid large enough to hold the herbs, liquid and sweetener. A funnel and material to strain or filter the herbs out. Herbs and/or spices, alcohol, sweetening and a bottle for the finished product.


Place herbs, sweetening, and alcohol in jar, if the jar is a canning jar with a metal lid wrap the top with plastic wrap to prevent metal taste. Place jar in a cool dark place like the cabinet or under the sink and shake it every day the first 7 days. After that let it site for the next 3 to 5 weeks then strain all herbal material and taste. This is the time for adjustment and judging your own work. I have never thrown out a batch but I have decided to make additions or add more sugar. Keep track of the ABV as you add volume. If you are not submitting the cordial for judging this is not real important but is if you are making updates and wish to reproduce your results.


An idea: make single herb cordials and when needed you can mix them to create more specific herbal remedy or flavors.




Alderotti, Thaddeaus, De Virtutibus Aquae Vitae, (12231303), Developed an arm's length spout for the Alembic, the "canale serpentinum" which was used with a cooling trough. The first method of cooling the distillate after it left the stillhead.


Aykroyd, W.R.; The Story of Sugar; Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1967


Forbes, Robert James (1970). A short history of the art of distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal. BRILL. pp. 57, 89. ISBN 9789004006171. http://books.google.com/books?id=XeqWOkKYn28C. Retrieved 29 June 2010


Gerard, John, (1597), The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants. (London, England: Published by John Norton 1597)


Lippmann, Von, Vatican Latin codex No 2418.156, (early 13th century) publishes Alderotti's work concerning distillation, stating 90% alcohol can easily be obtain using the alembic made by Alderotti


Magnus Albertus, De Secretis Mulierum, (11931290), 2 recipes for alcohol distillation


Owen, James, National Geographic News, published January 10, 2011, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111">http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111oldestwinepressmakingwinery armeniascienceucla/


Shapiro, Marc. "Alcoholic Drinks of the Middle Ages." The Compleat Anachronist #60, 1992.


Strong, L.A.G.; The Story of Suga