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.
Colonists 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.
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 ale flip the gimlet or Cosmo of its day: an inescapable fixture on every 18th-century bar menu.
To make an ale flip, beer and rum were mixed in a pitcher, often along with eggs or cream to thicken the drink and a few spoonfuls of sweetener like molasses, cane sugar, or dried pumpkin.
A poker was heated in the fire until red-hot poker and then used to whip the drink, making it frothy and warm while adding caramelized flavor.
Pouring the ale flip between two mugs, as in the recipe below, added velvety texture to the already-creamy drink.
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.
- 3 fluid ounces (6 tablespoons) dark rum
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pint (16 fluid ounces, or 2 cups) dark beer such as brown ale, porter, or stout
- freshly grated nutmeg for garnish
- Pour the rum and molasses into a pint glass. Crack the eggs into a second pint glass and beat well with a fork.
- Warm the beer in a small saucepan over low heat just until it begins to froth and steam; don't let it come to a boil.
- Pour the beer into the glass filled with rum and molasses, then pour the mixture into the pint glass containing the eggs.
- Continue to pour the drink back and forth between the 2 pint glasses until smooth and well-blended.
- Divide the drink between two mugs or other clean and heat-safe drinking glasses.
- Grate fresh nutmeg over the flip and serve immediately.