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Of Hearths and Heated Ales: A Taste of Drinking History

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.

Related Tempest Articles

Warming Beers for Cold Nights

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

© 2018 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Warming Beers for Cold Nights

~ “The past is a foreign country.” ~

You might have ended up here thinking this post was going to be about barley wines, Belgian quads, barrel-aged imperial stouts, or winter warmers. It’s not, much as I enjoy those typically malty styles. My apologies. Blame it on a piece I wrote a few years back called “When Once They Drank Beer Warm.” My enthusiasm for introducing readers to a nearly forgotten past did not mesh well with the timing of the piece. (Read: not an inordinate number of page views.) You see, I posted this article about warm beer at the height of summer. Who in this day and age wants to contemplate warm beer when the temperatures say beach and biking? But with a good two months’ worth of cold weather on the horizon, now might not be a bad time to revisit the past and cook up a tankard or two of warmed and spiced ale to parry the cold. So buckle up for a journey into the brave old world of warm beer concoctions, along with several recipes sure to expand what you thought possible of those aforementioned winter warmers.


John Bickerdyke begins Chapter XIV, “Beverages Compounded of Ale or Beer,” of his 1889 work, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer, with the following observation:

“Very few people, when warming themselves in the winter months with Mulled Ale, know that they are quaffing a direct descendant of that famous liquor known to our forefathers as the Wassail-Bowl, and near akin to Lambs-Wool, of which Herrick wrote in his Twelfth Night:

Next crowne the bowle full

With gentle Lambs wooll*,

    Adde sugare and nutmeg and ginger,

With store of ale too

And thus ye must doe,

    To make the Wassaile a swinger.’”

*Lambswool is one of the traditional drinks of the Wassail and was made with sweet, spiced hot ale or cider and roasted apples.

That Bickerdyke could assume his audience would be warming themselves with mulled ale is indicative of just how much our attitudes have changed regarding the “proper” consumption of beer in the intervening space of a mere 125 years, especially concerning temperature.

Bickerdyke was not alone. Published a year earlier than Bickerdyke’s Curiosities, W.T. Marchant’s In Praise of Ale dedicates an entire chapter to warm ale. Here, Marchant references a work published some two hundred years before his own, the title of which bears clear witness to the author’s attitudes regarding cold beer: A Treatise of Warm Beer, Wherein is declared by many reasons that Beer so qualified is farre more wholesome than that which is drunk cold (1641).

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Given the ample references to the deleterious effects of cold beverages in these older sources in conjunction with encomia lauding the benefits of warm beer for health, countenance, and constitution, it’s not surprising that recipes for warm ale and beer concoctions abound in the days before the arrival of cleaner water supplies and more reliably consistent (and industrialized) methods of beer production.

Hold my warm beer … …

* * *

Why warm beer now, winter weather notwithstanding? In his socio-cultural history in the form of a book about beer and ballads, Marchant lamented that “the making of these warm, comforting, and invigorating drinks has become all but a lost art” (Marchant, 606). Books are a form of cultural memory, and beer books are no different. Writing in the waning years of the nineteenth century, Marchant was attempting to preserve a long history of sociality that barely survived the Industrial Revolution. And even if history is, in many ways, about preservation, it is also about sensitizing us to difference –– cultural difference, political difference, differences in traditions and mores, and, yes, differences in beer drinking customs largely unfamiliar to us. (Warm beer, anyone?) Though the echo of this history resonates in some culinary circles enthusiastic about keeping old drinking traditions alive, these seemingly foreign traditions are almost all but forgotten among the wider public of beer enthusiasts.

So why did warmed beer beverages nearly fade into oblivion? Why is this past so foreign to us drinkers of cold beer? Refrigeration, a late nineteenth-century invention, may have had something to do with it. Beyond that, Gregg Smith, author of Beer in America: The Early Years, maintains that enough circumstantial evidence supports the notion that beer-based mixed drinks were a means of saving beer that had gone awry. “As brewing’s raw materials, equipment, instruments, procedures, and science advanced in the 1800s, beer mixed drinks […] all but disappeared” (Smith, 224). Writing over a century earlier about lambswool and the Wassail Bowl, Bickerdyke wryly notes the following:

“It can easily be understood that when ale was for the most part brewed without hops, and consequently rather insipid in taste, many people would have a craving for something more highly flavoured, and would put nutmeg, ginger, and other spices into their liquor. It is not unlikely that the introduction of hops was the cause which ultimately led to beer cups going out of fashion” (Bickerdyke, 381).

In other words, sugar and spice were very nice in times when home- or tavern-brewed beers were of wildly varying quality and the ale preceding hopped beer was “rather insipid in taste.”

* * *

The metaphorical shelves of books by late nineteenth-century writers like Marchant and Bickerdyke are stocked with a curiosity cabinet’s worth of drinks awaiting the intrepid contemporary beer enthusiast on a quest for novelty in the past. Here are a few recipes for your historical cocktail hour, straight from these pages. (Of note: Should you venture to try these at home, I’d opt for malty beers over hoppy ones.)

Rum Fustian. A night cap prepared in the same way as posset (discussed in my next piece), with subtle differences. Combine “the yokes of twelve eggs, a quart of strong home-brewed beer, a bottle of white wine, half a pint of gin, a grated nutmeg, the juice from the peel of a lemon, a small quantity of cinnamon, and sugar sufficient to sweeten it.” (Marchant, 607). Oddly, no rum.

Lambswool. A drink that has absolutely nothing to do with the wool of little lambs, and plenty to do with roasted apples. Authors differ on when the roasted apple should be added to the beverage. Smith states that “apples were […] roasted until the skins burst and were added to the warm beer mixture before serving” (Smith, 223) — possibly a colonial American variation on a British theme. Bickerdyke suggests the following means of preparing lambswool:

“To make this beverage, mix the pulp of half a dozen roasted apples with some raw sugar, a grated nutmeg, and a small quantity of ginger; add one quart of strong ale made moderately warm. Stir the whole together, and, if sweet enough, it is fit for use. This mixture is sometimes served up in a bowl, with sweet cakes floating in them” (Bickerdyke, 382).

As for the rather curious name? Bickerdyke and others trace it back to an ancient Celtic pagan festival called La Mas Ubal (The Day of Apple-Fruit), which was held on the first day of November. La Mas Ubal was pronounced lamasool, which was eventually corrupted by the countryfolk into lambswool, the beverage for the feast day bearing its name.

Warm Ale Cup. “One quart of ale, one glass of brandy, two glasses of sherry, and a quarter of a pound of lump sugar. Spice according to the palate. Boil the sugar in half the ale, and then mix the whole together” (Marchant, 608).

Freemasons’ Cup (served hot or cold). Combine Scotch ale with a similar quantity of mild beer, half a pint of brandy, a pint of sherry, half a pound of sugar loaf, and plenty of grated nutmeg. Ever the wag, Bickerdyke quips that “freemasons must have strong heads” (Bickerdyke, 391).

Buttered Ale. Marchant cites a seventeenth-century traveler to England who wrote the following: “In the evening, the English take a certain beverage which they call buttered ale, composed of cinnamon, sugar, butter, and beer brewed without hops” (Marchant, 612).

Braggot. Last but not least, braggot. Writes Chaucer of this elixir in his Miller’s Tale:

“Hire mouth was as sweete as braket or the meth*” (cited in Bickerdyke, 380).

*“Meth” here refers to metheglin, a type of mead.

Braggot is a beverage of great antiquity and has gone by many names, including bragawd, braket, bragget, and braga. The latter is of Nordic origin, and is derived from the name of one of the mythological gods of the Edda. The drink’s iterations over the years are no less diverse. With characteristic wit, Bryckendyke observes that “to define Bragot with any degree of preciseness would be as difficult as to give an accurate definition of ‘soup’” (Bickerdyke, 379).

Marchant furnishes us with a recipe of suitable vintage, “The Crafte for Braket”:

“When thou hast good ale, draw out a quart of it and put it to the honey, and set it over the fyre, and let it seethe well, and take it off the fyre and scume it well, and so again, and then let it keel a whyle, and put thereto the peper, and set him on the fyre, and let him boyle together, with esy fyre, but clere. To four gallons of good ale put a pynte of fyne tried honey and a saucerfull of poudre of peper*. (Marchant, 606).

*As far as I can make out, “poudre of peper” possibly refers to the medieval spice blends “poudre forte” (a spice blend based on cinnamon, clove, and black pepper) or “poudre douce” (similar to poudre forte, but with ginger and without black pepper). Unsurprisingly, like gruit, the variations were manifold. The spice retailer World Spice Merchants adds Grains of Paradise to its poudre forte.

* * *

Remember those winter warmers I mentioned at the outset? In the absence of anything but anecdotal evidence, I don’t think it would be a stretch to claim that the concoctions I have described here were the inspiration for many a contemporary spiced beer fit for winter evenings by the fire. In the same spirit of preservation and historical archeology evinced by the likes of W.T. Marchant and John Bickerdyke, I hope to have opened a small window onto an almost forgotten drinking past by offering you this small compendium of recipes.

Stay tuned for Part II, which gives you a taste of the origins of early American drinking history, itself borne out of the spirit of these drinking customs of Olde Albion. Here’s to keeping the cold at bay!



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).

Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587–1840 (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1998).

The Oakden Traditional Cookware blog.

Image Credits

Pinzgauer Alps: F.D. Hofer

Jan Luyken, The Brewer (1694): Brookston Beer Bulletin

Marchant title page photo: F.D. Hofer

Engraving from title page of the 1604 edition of Marx Rumpolt’s Ein new Kochbuch: Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id313700877

Simon A. Eugster, Cinnamon: sticks (ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka), powder, and flowers. Created from 31 images stacked with CombineZP. Wikimedia/Wiki Commons.

Honey photo: organics.org

Related Tempest Posts

Of Hearths and Heated Ales: A Taste of Drinking History

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer

© 2018 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.