Here’s how author Corin Hirsch describes the daily drinking habits of intemperate early New Englanders in her book, The Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England(The History Press):
“…mugs of cider at breakfast, 11:00 a.m. drams of rum, Mimbos and Rattle-Skulls and flips knocked back one after the other in an alarming stream…European settlers practically swam in a sea of booze from breakfast ’til bedtime.”
These habits were brought forth from England, where water was considered a drink of last resort. The 16th-century British dietician Andrew Boorde voiced the common wisdom of the time when he said, “water is not wholesome solely by itself for an Englishman…. If any man do use to drink water with wine, let it be purely strained, and then [boil] it; and after it be cold, let him put it to his wine.”
Colonial New Englanders made their beverages with the materials on hand: apples, honey, sugar, molasses, wild berries, and hops. Hirsch describes the common early drinks of the time, including hard cider (a lighter version called “ciderkin” was often fed to children as a safe alternative to water), rum, apple brandy, beer and ale, fruit wine, and mead.
Hirsch also shares recipes for the kinds of punches and flips that would’ve been drunk in private homes and at Revolutionary-era taverns. And since we remain in the grip of the Winter that Will Not Quit, I thought this might be a nice time to share some historic recipes with you.
(Really) Old-Time Cocktails of New England
Hirsch writes, “As with rum and beer, colonists blended cider into a melange of mixed drinks, such as Stone-Fences (a blend of cider and rum) and syllabub (cider blended with cream, rum, and sugar, although wine could be used in place of cider). They would mull cider with egg yolks, sugar, rum, and spices; they would also make a drink called egg cider by cracking a few eggs into heated cider and sweetening it with molasses or sugar.”
1 1/2 ounces rum
Fill a Collins glass with ice, pour in the rum and then top with cider. Stir to combine and serve. Yield: 1 serving
Basic Ale Flip
According to Hirsch, flips were “a mixed drink traditionally made with strong beer, a spash of rum, molasses, spices, and occasionally eggs or cream. The drink was whipped into a froth by plunging a red-hot poker into its midst.” With a nod to the modern cook, she provides an adapted recipe that stays true to the flavors of the original.
8 ounces beer, preferably brown ale or stout
2 pint glasses
2 teaspoons sugar or 1 teaspoon molasses
1 1/2 ounces rum
1 egg, beaten
Warm the beer in a saucepan over low heat until it just begins to froth and then add to a pint glass with sugar and rum. In the other pint glass, add the beaten egg. Pour the egg into the beer, then pour the entire thing back into the first pint glass and continue to combine until smooth. Top with a grating of nutmeg. Yield: 1 serving
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.