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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).

Flip

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

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.

Possett

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).

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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!

Sources

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).

Images

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.

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

Nose, nose, jolly red nose / And what gave thee that jolly red nose?

Cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg, and cloves / And that’s what gave me that jolly red nose.

At the beginning of his chapter on warm beer, W.T. Marchant expresses regret that “some of the more comforting drinks,” such as wassail, had waned in popularity over the years. “When beer was the staple drink, morning, noon, and night,” he continues, “it was natural that our ancestors would prefer their breakfast beer warm and their ‘nightcaps’ flavoured, hence the variety of their comforting drinks” (599).

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IMG_0283

 

Marchant’s undeservedly obscure 1888 classic, In Praise of Ale, is much more than a “compendium of songs, ballads, epigrams, and anecdotes relating to beer, malt, and hops.” It is, rather, nothing less than a compendium of traditions, gender roles, social relations, and the customs of everyday life. I will leave all that richness to the side for now, save for the following observation: If the past is a foreign country, it is one in which the inhabitants drink warm beer.

* * *

Before heading off on my most recent road trip, I spent some time perusing the list of upcoming topics for The Session, that monthly virtual symposium that gathers together beer writers from across the interwebs. For June’s edition, the scribes behind Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog suggested that we take a deeper draught of traditional beer mixes. No beer cocktails, they admonished. Instead, they proposed experimenting with some classic two-beer mixes of times past, inspiring us with a few examples:

  • Lightplater–– bitter and light ale.
  • Mother-in-law—old and bitter.
  • Granny—old and mild.
  • Boilermaker—brown and mild.
  • Blacksmith––stout and barley wine.
  • Half-and-half––bitter and stout, or bitter and mild.
  • B&B––Burton and bitter.

Alas, I was not able to participate in this exploration of what remains a more vibrant aspect of British pub and tavern culture than of North American craft beer culture, but the idea traveled with me this summer.

* * *

A few weeks back, I spent some time with Marchant’s gem during one of my trips to the rare manuscripts reading room at the Cornell library. Leafing through this old 600-odd page tome, I found myself drawn to the chapter on warm ale. As it turned out, a few days previous I had come across another reference to warm beer in the library’s catalogue:

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).

What’s up with all this warm beer, I asked myself? Marchant even had a reference to this 1641 treatise on warm beer in his work published more than two hundred years later.Dauphin - Francis (Wiki) These deep concern with the iniquities of chilled beverages reminded me of my Swiss grandmother, who used to give my brother and me grief about drinking our soft drinks ice-cold in a hot summer’s day, muttering vague prognostications to the effect that our stomachs would perform some grievous trick like turning somersaults. A similar fate seems to have befallen “the Dolphin of France, son to Francis the French King,” who, “although he were a lusty strong gentleman, yet he being hot at tennis, and drinking cold drink fell sick and died” (cited in Marchant, 601).

But maybe they were on to something, my grandma and those critics of the dolphin tennis players of the mid-1600s.

Even if no one I know has dropped dead upon knocking back a cold one after mowing the lawn, nowadays we tend to drink our ales far too cold, and our lagers, too.Bourdieu - OutlineTheoryPractice For the most part, the notion of an ice-cold beer is so culturally ingrained as to be a part of our habitus. It would strike many of us as odd––even some of the craft beer enthusiasts among us––to even begin to contemplate drinking our beer at cellar temperature, let alone at room temperature or warmer.

* * *

To my pleasant surprise, as I read on about the deleterious effects of cold beverages, I found not only a discussion of the benefits of warm beer to health, countenance, and constitution, but also a collection of recipes for beer cocktails of yore.

Marchant was well-versed in the kinds of traditional beer mixes that Boak and Bailey bade us try, but his account of beer’s versatility as a bit player in a panoply of curious drinks reveals yet deeper layers of possibility for the mixologist with a zymurgical bent. 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” (612).

Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene’s Elizabethan-era stage play, A Looking Glass for London and England, provides another indication that beer played best in concert with other foodstuffs:Crab Apples (Wiki Commons) “Mark you, sir, a pot of ale consists of four parts: imprimus the ale, the toast, the ginger, and the nutmeg” (604). Marchant is quick to point out that these lines leave out the roasted crabs. Crab apples, that is; for “to turn a crab is to roast a wilding or a wild apple for the purpose of being hissing hot into a bowl of nut-brown ale, into which had previously been put a toast with some spice and sugar” (605).

* * *

And so, here are a few recipes for your historical cocktail hour, straight from the pages of In Praise of Ale. Try some of these now, or tuck the recipes away for the winter holiday season or for your harvest wassailing.

The Crafte for Braket [Braggot]:

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 (606).

Flip:

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 (607-608).

Cool Tankard, or Beer Cup:

A quart of mild ale, a glass of white wine, one of brandy, of capillaire, the juice of a lemon, a roll of the peel pared thin, nutmeg grated at the top (a sprig of borrage or balm), and a bit of toasted bread (608).

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 (608).

Purl:

This is a beverage which is held in high estimation in many places. 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 (609).

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Bonus: Best Title for a Beer Book Ever

Thomas Tryon. A new art of brewing beer, ale, and other sorts of liquors: so as to render them more healthful to the body, and agreeable to nature; and to keep them longer from souring with less trouble and charge than generally practiced, which will be a means to prevent those torturing distempers of the stone, gravels, gout and dropsie. To which is added, the art of making mault, &c. and several useful and profitable things relating to country affairs. Recommended to all brewers, gentlemen and others, that brew their own drink. The third edition, with many large additions never printed before. By Tho. Tryon, student in physick, who hath lately published rules physical and moral for preserving of health, with a bill of fare of 75 noble dishes of excellent food. Price bound 1 s. Licensed and entred according to order (London: printed for Tho. Salusbury, at the sign of the Temple near Temple-Bar in Fleet-street, 1691).

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Reference

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).

Images

Title Page: F.D. Hofer

Francis of France (Francis III, Duke of Brittany), Painted by Corneille de Lyon: Wikipedia

Bourdieu: Amazon

Crab Apples: Wiki Commons

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© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

 

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