The days are short, the weather’s cold, by tavern fires tales are told. Some ask for dram when first come in, others with flip and bounce begin. —New England Almanac, 1704
Colonists survived New England winters with the help of fire and alcohol. The hot ale flip combines the two in a frothy, warming cocktail. Tavern-keepers started by mixing a pitcher of beer, rum, and a regional sweetener (such as sugar, molasses, dried pumpkin, sorghum, or maple syrup, much like in switchel). Then, they plunged a hot iron poker into the drink. This technique caramelized the sugars and created the boiling, foamy flip.
To give the concoction a velvety consistency, bartenders sometimes poured it back-and-forth between pitchers. One of its nicknames, “yard of flannel,” comes from the viscous string that stretched between the vessels. Patrons drank the finished potion in mugs or special flip glasses.
The English viewed the flip as a lowly “sailor’s drink,” perhaps because the tool most commonly used to heat the beverage, a loggerhead, was also used to melt pitch for ships. Across the Atlantic, however, soon-to-be Americans embraced the cocktail, as it capitalized on available resources. Doctors were already prescribing ale to treat colds, insomnia, and stomach problems. Every establishment had a hot iron poker. And the Triangle Trade made rum cheap and abundant.
Shortly after the flip’s debut, egg and cream were added to improve texture and create a richness. Present versions still include a whole egg. Those that feature cream, however, lose the beer and the heat. While the chilled update has an eggnog-like quality, some say that stovetop-heated flips taste “sort of like drinking liquified earth.” If that modern take evokes dirt, one can only imagine what the tasting notes would be on the ashen loggerhead–infused rendition.
Need to Know
Fireplaces are no longer bar fixtures, so hot pokers are no longer ubiquitous flip-making tools. Nowadays, blow torches are the barkeep's heater of choice, and stovetop renditions are safe, convenient options for at-home bartenders.