hist-brewing: PS: Rats!

Martyn Cornell atrectus at blueyonder.co.uk
Mon Oct 29 18:39:04 PST 2001

I believe what Michael Eyben is describing is not "Uisge Bay" but Atholl
brose, a variation on an old Scots food. Ordinary brose was a liquidy
porridge made from oatmeal and water: Atholl brose is made from whisky,
oatmeal and honey ( see the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary under
'brose'). On a completely different tangent, according to Dorothy Hartley
(Food in Britain, ISBN 0 316 87900 2, p527), in the 16th to 18th centuries
one form of brose involved a fermentation brought about by the oatmeal/water
mixture being carried in yeast/bacteria-contaminated leather or wooden
hoggins on the backs of shepherds in the Scots mountains who were hiking
after their sheep Š

On the substantive matter, ishkavar equals a good phonetic stab at
usquebaugh, which is the 16th-17th century English spelling of the Irish
uisge beatha, water of life. (Uisge, water, is cognate with a number of
river names in Britain, such as the Usk, the Exe and the Axe.) Usquebaugh
was also spelt whiskybae, which was being shortened to whisky by 1715
(Shorter OED again). The first authentic mention of the drink is in an Irish
record called the Annals of the Four Masters, which has an entry under the
year 1405 that on Christmas Day that year Risteard Mac Raghnaill, heir to
the chieftainship of Muintir Eolais, died of a surfeit of aqua vitae ­ which
is, of course, the Latin for water of life.

However, the earliest known recipes for usquebaugh, all from around 1600,
show it was very different from modern ideas of whisky ­ more like gin in
its use of multiple botanical flavourings. Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book,
dated 1604, from Oxfordshire, England, had several recipes for "uskebaugh"
(sic) which included saffron, musk, ambergris, cardamom, galingale, red rose
petals and Indian spikenard among the ingredients (see Elinor Fettiplace's
Receipt Book, by Hilary Spurling, ISBN 0 14 00.8828 8, page 63). And as many
people who read this will be thinking, Cindy Renfrew's A Sip Through Time
has around half a dozen recipes for usquebaugh which include licorice,
fennel seeds and cinnamon Š

Martyn Cornell

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