Tales of the Cocktail: Colonial-Era Cocktails
Fire, red-hot metal, smoke and sizzle — now that’s my kind of seminar! (More in a bit.)
And oh, the punch! We do love our punch, and punch is undergoing quite the revival these days, now that we remember how to do it properly. Punch lost its cachet for a while, thanks to an image of frumpy old ladies with porcelain cups, followed by the frat boys’ version of cheap booze dumped into a garbage can, and that bizarrely violent “Hawaiian punch” guy certainly didn’t help. Punch is back though, from its 17th and 18th Century origins, but what about the other drinks of the era? How about recreating that style?
“Nobody looks good in breeches, stockings, a frock coat and a three-cornered hat,” said our presenter Wayne Curtis. “Really, who ever thought that looked good? Nowadays it’s a great way to get beaten up in a bar.”
Punch is indeed back, and we’re learning and enjoying the basic flavor profile of punch — “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak, plus spice” — but why aren’t we seeing more colonial-era drinks returning to our modern drinking? Well, it could be that colonial-era flavor profile — “sweet, sweet, sweet and sweet,” as Wayne put it. The drinks were also sweetened in ways we might find a bit unusual today. People at the time didn’t have a lot of access to white refined sugar and used what they had on hand — honey and molasses, but also apple juice, maple sap, dark hard cones of loaf sugar and even dried pumpkin, called for in many recipes of the era due to its native sugar content. We might not want to drink exactly what they drank in those days, but we can certainly modernize them and use elements from them to more suit contemporary palates.
They drank a wide variety of booze back then too. A Swedish traveler and writer named Israel Acrelius kept a meticulous list of every spiritous potable he came across in the colonies at the time:
That’s quite a bar crawl, although we might not necessarily like it all.
Wayne took us through some really tasty modern versions of what our forefathers drank 200+ years ago, starting with a lovely Pineapple Syllabub, which I can see myself having for breakfast in the morning:
It’s a fairly gentle morning drink a hybrid imported from abroad along with New World materials at hand. It’s an incredibly old style of drink as well, dating back to the 15th century. Wayne read us an early recipe: “To one bottle of red or white wine, ale or cider, sweeten and grate in nutmeg. Hold under a cow and milk it until a fine froth is on top.”
Well, we had a hard time getting the cow up in the elevator, so our modern version was made with pineapple-infused Cruzan rum, cream, and lemon zest. Yum.
I’ve enjoyed modern versions of the Stone Fence, but this one was a bit more like the so-named drink of old. The colonials basically drank it as a spirits-fortified apple cider; today’s version was made with Cruzan blackstrap rum, St. Elizabeth’s allspice dram for a bit of spicy complexity, Woodpecker hard cider, and a bit of vinegar for acidity. (Vinegar was a common souring agent used in lieu of citrus, which was unavailable to colonial folks most of the year.)
Spruce sap/resin was very popular in 19th century — spruce gum was one of the more popular chews of the time, with a flavor so long-lasting that a writer of the era said you could chew it half the day, then pass it on to a friend and let him chew it for a while. (Ahem. Very glad I live in the 21st Century.)
Calibogus was a typical spruce-based drink of the era, which at the time was a spruce beer fortified with rum. Today’s version was made with Cruzan single barrel rum, fresh lime juice (not a typical historic ingredient), Layman’s spruce beer extract, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur for a little bit more of that flavor of the forest, plus a bit of molasses syrup & soda. Delicious and (to our contemporary palates) pretty unusual.
Aha! But! What about the fire and glowing iron?
About an hour into the seminar we were ready. Wayne had a reproduction of an 18th century loggerhead made — an iron implement about three feet long, with a small hook on one end and a ball on the end somewhere between a tennis ball and golf ball in size. Someone apparently had the grand idea that this should be moved into the bar to heat up drinks. (Well, why not? Go figure.)
What Wayne had been saving for us was a Colonial-era Flip, which bears pretty much zero resemblance to what we think of as a flip today (a drink shaken with spirits and a whole egg). Flips in the 1700s were brown ale, rhum and molasses, heated up by plunging a hot loggerhead into the pitcher. It wasn’t just a way to heat it up quickly, though — the red-hot loggerhead had some other amazing effects on the mixture. It almost immediately builds up a huge, frothy head, burns the grains, hops and the barley of the ale, caramelizes the molasses and really blends the flavors and changes the taste profile in a way you wouldn’t get by just heating it up on the stove. (Martin Cate once tried using a charcoal starter, and that really didn’t work.)
Here’s how it’s done (tri-cornered hat optional):
Wayne prepared the drink by pouring two bottles of dark ale (
Bass Newcastle, in this case), 4 ounces of molasses and 8 ounces Cruzan aged rum. Then … the plunge!
Man … that was good. The sharp tang of the molasses that bothers some people was really nicely tempered, making a deep, rich flavor with developed sweetness from the caramelization. I could really get used to this drink. Unfortunately, living in either New Orleans or Los Angeles a piping hot drink isn’t going to be terribly appropriate most times of the year … but hell, I’ll enjoy it during the two weeks that it’s actually cold.
Of course, during the question and answer session I was curious as to whether there was any direct evolution from this style of colonial flip with the drink to which we now refer as a flip, spirits shaken with whole egg. “You sir,” Wayne replied, “have just destroyed three days of my life!” Actually, the serious answer was … who knows? The only relation, it seems, is the name, and sometime in the mid-1800s the name was appropriated for the egg-bearing drink. Ah well, the reality might be unsatisfying but it’s good to know. I’ll do whatever I can to get Wayne those three days back.
And man, that flip was good.