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Aug 02, 2014

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Beer as a mixed drink

By Gregg Smith

It was unique. In all of history theirs was one of the few revolutions not accompanied by a bloodbath of terrorism. Now they were called upon to produce something equally remarkable. Sectionalism was tearing the country apart and their loose confederation provided neither common defense nor the growth of commerce so vital to a young country. Somehow the delegates managed to put their regional interests aside during that sweltering summer and forged a new government. As the president of the convention swung his gavel to close the proceedings he already knew where they were headed. The representatives were beer drinkers and the business being concluded George Washington and the Constitutional Convention adjourned to Philadelphia's City Tavern for a drink, and to many it would be a mixed drink.

Ale was secure enough in its own right, and it was ale which provided the base for most of these colonial cocktails. Added to beer's regular consumption, iits use in mixed drinks was a factor in the growth of brewing.

One of the most widespread versions of beer mixing was "Flip". John Adams reported a person spending a day in the tavern would find it full of people drinking drams of flip, carousing, and swearing. This primarily American drink was found in England but with not near the frequency it was served up in the colonies. The earliest mention of Flip is thought to be in 1690, but the oldest reference in print was the December 1704 edition of the New England Almanac

"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."

What was this drink? How was it made? Fortunately, our forefathers wrote about everything, flip included. The most common recipe called for

"A great pewter mug or earthen pitcher filled two-thirds full of strong beer; sweetened with sugar, molasses, or dried pumpkin, according to individual taste or capabilities; and flavored with `a dash' -about a gill- of New England rum. Into this mixture a red hot loggerhead, made of iron and heated in the fire, was thrust."

Other recipes could be found as regional variations. Lord May of Canton, Massachusetts devised his own version which started with four pounds of sugar and beat in four eggs, tothis he added one pint of cream and let it age for two days. When people ordered a flip he would fill a quart mug two-thirds full of beer then added four large spoonfuls of his aged mixture, stirred it with the glowing loggerhead and added a gill of rum.

Orders of Flip often punctuated the entries in General Washington's expense account, and General Israel Putnam had his own well regarded recipe. Almost anywhere a revolutionary fire was burning a loggerhead stood by the ready, although sometimes it was referred to in other slang terms such as hottle or flip-dog. It was such a common and well loved fire place instrument it inspired James Lowell to pen lines of praise.

"Where dozed a fire of beechen logs that bred Strange fancies in its embers golden-red, And nursed the loggerhead, whose hissing dip, timed by wise instinct, creamed the bowl of flip"

One other variation on the flip theme was when a fresh egg was beaten into the mixture. In this case it was considered different enough to earn the separate name of "bellowstop". As the loggerhead hit this mixture it foamed over the mug and most likely the rest of the table. What could be more fun than sitting around a fire in the tap room and ordering drinks you knew would cause the bartender a big mess? Flip was so widely ordered and of such a fashion that it was a hit well into the mid eighteen hundreds.

Though Flip was certainly one of the most common beer mixtures, it was by no means the only drink order by thirsty firebrands. A most curious mix was "Whistle-Belly- Vengeance" and it was the altogether rage in Salem, Massachusetts. This little delight was probably born of New Englanders well known thrift. To begin required the tavern keeper to have a batch of sour household beer. The success of this venture is dubious, for after securing the sour beer it was simmered in a kettle and sweetened with molasses, crumbs of 'ryneinjun' bread were added to thicken and it was served piping hot. The recipe was common enough for Dean Swift to mention it in his "Polite Conversations"

"Hostess (offering ale to Sir John Linger). I never taste malt-liquor, but they say ours is well-hopp'd.

Sir John.Hopp'd why if it had hopp'd a little further, it would have hopp'd into the river.

Hostess.I was told ours was very strong.

Sir John.Yes! strong of water. I believe the brewer forgot the malt, or the river was too nearhim. Faith! it is more whip-belly-vengeance; he that drinks most has the worst share."

With an endorsement such as this is it any wonder the drink was also known by the name whip-belly-vengeance. Thankfully this was a fad which faded away.

Other favored drinks included "Calibogus" or "bogus" which consisted of rum and unsweetened beer. Rather sounds like a colonial boiler maker. Another variation of this drink was cider based and went by the name "Stone Wall", its effect was reported to be much like hitting one. Yet another drink was "Mumm", don't be deceived by the name, this had nothing to do with champagne. In fact it's hard to imagine a drink further removed. "Mumm" was a charming flat ale made of oat and wheat malt.

If all this didn't tickle a colonist's fancy, or if it was just a case of boredom with the usual beer based drinks, you could try a "flip" based on cider instead of beer. The other possibility was a mixture called "Ebulum" which seems to be a cider based punch in which the cider was mixed with the juices of elder and juniper berries. The other New England favorite didn't use beer at all. "Black Strap" was a mix of cold rum and molasses. Casks of this were found in most every General Store. Next to the barrels were hung dried, salted cod fish which the customers could munch on at no charge. Of course there was a charge for a drink, crafty those New Englanders.

Though we often long for the simplicity of the early days it would seem Billy Joel may have hit the nail on the head when he wrote"..the good old days weren't always good..." Even today's worst beer seems pretty tame next to these.

Gregg Smith

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