Before there were cocktails, the cool tipple for the American colonial to throw back was flip, of which I have spoken before. But I hadn't tried it myself, didn't know first-hand anybody who had, and could only dredge up a scant handful of brief modern testimonies online. Notwithstanding that these last universally held flip to be the foulest beverage they had ever consumed (a view also quite widely held by contemporary visitors to the colonies), I felt that the frontiers of historical research deserved my personal attentions.
For home-made flip, you will need:
- Beer. For authenticity this should be something British, brown and not too heavily hopped. Beyond that, you don't need to be too fussy; Old Speckled Hen is probably overkill, but I didn't want the project sabotaged by a truly crappy beer.
- Rum. Again, don't trouble yourself over quality. This stuff is basically cooking rum.
- Molasses or brown sugar.
- Beaten eggs. I started with a modest solitary egg.
- Optional: cream, spices, chicken stock... whatever tickles your fancy, to be honest.
Equipment: fork or egg-whisk, metal tankard, fire-poker, hot fire, oven mitt, bucket to catch spillage.
First of all, you need to warm your irons to red-heat. Remarkably few pubs boast open fires any more, or are willing to let their patrons play with branding-irons; such is our diminished world. I therefore availed myself of my parents' Clearview wood-burning stove.
Extant recipes for flip vary quite a lot; I decided to go with a heaped teaspoon of sugar, a generous shot of rum and a single beaten egg.
Top off with beer, stir. I remembered after the event that most descriptions imply that the beer is poured first - the reason became obvious, since the egg protein made the beer-foam a lot more reluctant to settle.
Again, not much mention is made of stirring, but since I was using sugar rather than molasses I thought it wise. Also, I didn't much fancy the idea of the egg separating out and forming a floating omelette on top of the beer.
The poker being good and hot by this point, I manfully plunged it in. The result wasn't quite as dramatic as accounts had suggested - it sizzled and foamed a little, but it didn't even overflow the tankard. Too small an iron? In the heyday of flip dedicated pokers were made, maybe with a greater area. Too few eggs?
The result was, let's be honest, a great deal less strong than I'd anticipated. Light, sweet, agreeable, just the slightest hint of burnt flavour. Drinkers of less advenurous spirit than myself declared it pleasant. Clearly I was doing something very wrong.
I hunted up a second poker, heated both to red-heat, and plunged them in at once. This elicited a great deal more sizzling, a smell of scorching and foam overflowing the tankard - still not quite the dramatic chemistry-experiment reaction that I'd expected, but a whole lot closer.
The flavour was much stronger - not to everyone's taste by any means, but no worse than a strong coffee. Quite good, if you're fond of barbecue and dark coffee and smoked porter. Also, the consistency was quite smooth, with none of the eggy globs I'd worried about. It appeared that science had triumphed!
(Also, christ but I'm fat at the moment. With a wig, a frock-coat and a shave I'd quite look the part.)
My appreciation palled somewhat as I drank, however. I think this was a drink intended to be drunk in concert with a two-inch cross-section of cow, an archipelago of potatoes in gravy and a sufficiency of pickled herrings. Drunk alone, it's a sippin' drink. And even then, by the time I'd got a third of the way in my reaction had changed from 'strong, complex, engaging' to 'one hearty swig of this and I'll hurl.'
So, yes, a worthy experiment, but not one I think I'm going to be repeating this lifetime.
(Thanks to isquiesque for her invaluable photodocumentation.)