Ale Flip and Other Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England

Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. And enough booze to keep the entire country constantly buzzed. Wait, you don’t remember that last stanza in the Declaration of Independence? Maybe it’s because drinking was something our Revolutionary forefathers took for granted as an already-inviolable part of their lives, as Corin Hirsch recounts in her new book, Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips and Rattle-Skulls to Switchel and Spruce Beer. If you’ve got even a passing interest in American history, you’ll want to grab a pint and educate yourself on what they didn’t tell you in grade school. The United States was in fact founded on mountains of malt and molasses.

Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, via goodfoodstories.comColonists brought the long-prevailing aversion to contaminated water to America (and did a great job polluting the waters of the New World not long after they arrived on these shores). Fermented drinks like beer and cider and distilled spirits like rum didn’t make them sick, like the bacteria-ridden European water did, so imbibing was the norm for men, women, and children alike. “From breakfast cider to afternoon beer to evening flips, toddies, and glasses of Canary wine, alcohol lubricated almost every hour of every day,” Hirsch writes.

The temperance preached by the stereotypical Puritan (even by famous fuddy-duddies Cotton and Increase Mather) still allowed for a few glasses a day, and many Puritans were the distillers and brewers making mead, brandy, and beer. Thomas Jefferson’s hopes for Virginia vineyards are well-documented, but did you also know that George Washington was a homebrewer, favoring his own recipe for “small beer” (a low-alcohol, bran-based malt) along with porter? When Scotch-Irish immigrants arrived in America, so did whiskey. And when it was discovered that molasses wasn’t just a wasted byproduct of West Indian sugar making but a plentiful source for rum, the colonies had a new favorite drink.

colonial ale flip with porter and rum, via
As Hirsch relates, bartenders have been bestowing memorable names upon their concoctions for centuries, like the mimbo, stone-fence, sangaree, cherry bounce, and flip. She calls the flip (pictured above, with recipe following) the gimlet or Cosmo of its day: an inescapable fixture on every 18th-century bar menu. Beer and rum, often along with eggs or cream to thicken the drink and a few spoonfuls of sweetener like molasses, cane sugar, or dried pumpkin, were mixed in a pitcher while a poker was heated in the fire. The red-hot poker was then used to whip the drink, making it frothy and warm while adding caramelized flavor. Pouring the drink between two mugs, as in the recipe below, added velvety texture to the already-creamy drink.

For my photographed version of the traditional ale flip, I decided to keep it within the family of beverages from my friends at Brinley Gold Rum. The rum itself is their signature Shipwreck spiced rum, made with molasses and nutmeg. The beer in the drink is Shipwreck Porter, a collaboration between Brinley Gold and New Jersey’s own Carton Brewing. Aged in the same oak barrels that held the Shipwreck rum for four years, the deeply flavorful beer takes on the vanilla and spice notes that seeped into the wood over time, along with the coffee maltiness that make a porter so satisfying.

You don’t have to go whole hog with the ingredient pairings as I did, but look for a malty dark beer like a porter, an oatmeal stout, a traditional British brown ale, or even a doppelbock to go with the spicy molasses notes of the rum.

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  1. joan says

    Interesting story! Hmmmm egg, beer, and rum…maybe! Years ago at the Wayside Inn in Massachusetts, we asked the bartender for a drink from back in the day, and I believe he served us something called either a woo-coo or coo-woo…. i believe it was whiskey and ginger??! I look forward to reading this book!