Part II of “Warming Beers for Cold Nights”
“Stepping from behind the bar, the tavern keeper walked over to the flickering hearth. […] Bending over, he picked up the jug he had placed on the brick floor close to the bed of coals. Inside the beer was just beginning to steam. […] While it heated, he returned to the bar to scoop his secret mixture into a large tankard. […] He thought back on preparing it earlier in the day. To the fresh eggs, beaten into a froth, he had added brown sugar and a touch of rum. […] Rather than nutmeg, he added cinnamon, [and] blended in a little apple and pumpkin to create an appealing accent that cut through the richness of the eggs, [making] the drink taste distinctly different from the way it did in other taverns. […] From the jug the tavern keeper poured the steaming beer into the tankard, swirling it with a spoon to dissolve the mixture. Bending over again, he picked up a poker, […] and when he pulled it from the fire it glowed bright red. Then he thrust it into the tankard. With a hiss it threw off a small cloud of steam. […] Caramelizing the sugars, it heated the beer, and cast an aroma of sweet spice throughout the room.” (Gregg Smith, Beer in America, 209-210).
Like W.T. Marchant and John Bickerdyke writing in Britain nearly a century before, Gregg Smith takes up the theme of mixed drinks made with beer in his Beer in America: The Early Years (1998). And like those nineteenth-century writers before him, Smith’s rumination on what American tavern denizens were drinking in times prior to the rise of industrialism is revealing, both in terms of the ingredients and attitudes toward warm drinks. Just as in the old country, beer was thought to be better than drinking water, but warm beer was thought to be best, presumably because warm liquids were easier to digest and because beer was considered healthy. And it had the physician’s imprimatur. Indeed, many a colonial drinker influenced by the recommendations of physicians and prevailing lore “were as likely to order a warmed, mixed beer as a tall, cold one” (Smith, 211).
As for the ingredients, eggs play a starring role in many a warm beer drink consumed prior to the early nineteenth century. Eggs, you say? Though the thought of eggs in warm-beer drinks might strike many a contemporary drinker as odd, both Marchant and Bickerdyke enumerate several warm beer drinks that featured eggs in their respective works about historical drinking customs in Britain. The flip described at the outset was a popular tipple, all the more so in colonial America if we’re to believe Alice Morse Earle’s account in her turn-of-the-twentieth-century Stage-coach and Tavern Days: “There never was a day, never a minute of the day, and scarce of the night, that some old Yankee flip drinker was plunging in a loggerhead, or smacking his lips over a mug of creaming flip” (Earle, 108). Even the New England Almanac from 1704 attests to the drink’s popularity:
The days are short, the weather’s cold, / By tavern fires tales are told. / Some ask for a dram when first come in, / Others with flip and bounce* begin. (Cited in Earle, Stage-coach and Tavern Days, 108).
*Bounce was a colonial-era liqueur made from cherries or other fruits such as apricot.
So ubiquitous was the drink in the taverns along the New England turnpikes and stage coach routes that the tools and vessels needed for making it were part of the surroundings in these taverns of yore. Large mixing jugs and long-handled spoons were among the tools of the tavern keeper’s trade, but perhaps what made the flip in colonial America a truly “American” drink was the loggerhead. Sometimes known as a flip-dog or hottle, the loggerhead “was as much a part of the chimney furniture of an old-time New England tavern and farm-house as the bellows and andirons” (Earle, 112).
Published a decade before Earle’s work, Bickerdyke’s Curiosities of Ale and Beer and Marchant’s In Praise of Ale provide a glimpse of the recipes that gave rise to the American variations. Here’s Marchant’s version:
“Keep grated ginger and nutmeg with a little fine dried lemon peel rubbed together in a mortar. To make a quart of flip:––Put the ale on the fire to warm, and beat up three or four eggs with four ounces of moist sugar, a teaspoonful of grated nutmeg or ginger, and a quartern of good old rum or brandy. When the ale is near to boil put it into one pitcher, and the rum and eggs, &c., into another; turn it from one pitcher to another till it is as smooth as cream.” (Marchant, 607-608).
Of note is that both chroniclers of the flip in Britain make no mention of the loggerhead treatment — a good thing for those of us in latter-day homes or apartments without fireplaces and pokers. Marchant’s recipe adds rum or brandy; Bickerdyke’s calls for rum or gin.
Speaking of gin …
Purl is another warm ale-based beverage that enjoyed immense popularity during its heyday, so much so that it was, according to Bickerdyke, “the common morning draught of Londoners” (Bickerdyke, 387). Purl was also popular during the American colonial era, as Gregg Smith notes.
Marchant describes the recipe thus: “It is made with a mixture of beer or ale (formerly amber ale was only used), and gin and bitters, or gin bitters. The gin and bitters are put into a half-pint pewter pot, and the ale warmed over a brisk fire, and added to it, at the exact warmth for a person to drink such a portion at a single draught” (Marchant, 609).
Bickerdyke has left us an even more complex and time-consuming recipe for ostensibly “common” purl prepared in advance and left to mature in the cellar for up to a year: “Roman wormwood, gentian root, calamus aromaticus, snakeroot, horse radish, dried orange peel, juniper berries, seeds or kernels of Seville oranges, all placed in beer and allowed to stand for some months.” Bickerdyke adds — tongue firmly in cheek — that “the writer who gives this receipt says a pound or two of galingale improves it — as if anything could improve such a perfect combination! (Bickerdyke, 387). So there you have it: If you don’t have any gin on hand, just procure some galingale and calamus aromaticus along with your juniper berries and make a “gin-beer” instead. Don’t forget to heat it up after it has stood for the requisite several months.
Flips weren’t the only warm-beer blends made with eggs. An egg hot was a simple concoction made with a pint of ale to which the barkeep added three eggs, two ounces of sugar, nutmeg, and ginger (Smith, 215).
Even more elaborate is the flip’s cousin, the egg possett, described here by Marchant:
“Beat up well the yolks of eight eggs with refined sugar pulverized and nutmeg grated; then extract the juice from the rind of lemon by rubbing loaf sugar upon it, and put the sugar with a piece of cinnamon and a quart of strong home-brewed beer into a saucepan, place it on the fire, and when it boils take it off, then add a single glass of gin, or this may be left out, put the liquor into a spouted jug, and pour it gradually among the yolks of eggs, &tc. All must be kept well stirred with a spoon while the liquor is being poured in. If it be not sweet enough add loaf sugar” (Marchant, 606-607).
It may well seem strange to even think about drinking your beer warm — or, for that matter, about adding eggs to your beer. That said, think of these recipes as a fine way of gathering some friends together while the weather’s still cold to experiment with a few of these forgotten gems from the past. (Don’t forget to check out Part I, “Warming Beers for Cold Nights,” while you’re at it.) Who knows? You might even find some inspiration for the present!
W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale, Or, A Compendium of Songs, Ballads, Epigrams, and Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops, with Some Curious Particulars Concerning Ale-Wives and Brewers, Drinking-Clubs and Customs (London: George Redway, York Street, Covent Garden, 1888).
John Bickerdyke, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer: An Entertaining History (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1889).
Alison Morse Earle, Stage-coach and Tavern Days (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1900).
Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587–1840 (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1998).
Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern (date unknown): Salvatore Colleluori, “The Colonial Tavern, Crucible of the American Revolution.”
Loggerhead: Earle, p. 113 (screenshot).
Other images: F.D. Hofer.
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