Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Flipping Out for Drinks with Whole Eggs

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Bowl of nog. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

People do all kinds of things at this time of year that they ordinarily wouldn't—like wear reindeer sweaters, for example, or turn over parts of the house to rampaging packs of in-laws.

One other thing that people tend to do more in December than during all other months combined is introduce eggs into their strong drink. I'm not talking about the light, foamy cocktails made with a little egg white that you see throughout the year; rather, these are the rich, thick nogs of winter that trace an ancestral linage back to the flips of colonial America.

The sweet, creamy eggnog poured at holiday parties is far removed from the traditional flip. While today the term "flip" is applied (when it's used at all) to drinks made simply with spirits, sugar, and a whole egg, in centuries past a flip was practically a meal in itself. In Straight Up or On the Rocks, his excellent book on America's drinking history, William Grimes wrote that flips first appeared around 1690, and were made by sweetening beer with molasses or dried pumpkin and fortifying it with rum. Recipes for flips were pretty similar until the mid- to late-19th century; here's the recipe for a rum flip that appeared in 1862, in Jerry Thomas' landmark Bartender's Guide:

Keep grated ginger and nutmeg with a little fine dried lemon peel, rubbed together in a mortar. To make a quart of flip:—Put the ale on the fire to warm, and beat up three or four eggs with four ounces of moist sugar, a teaspoonful of grated nutmeg or ginger, and a gill [4 ounces] of good old rum or brandy. When the ale is near to boil, put it into one pitcher, and the rum and eggs, &c., into another; turn it from one pitcher to another till it is as smooth as cream.

Known colloquially as a "yard of flannel," the drink is rich, heavy, and kinda funky. I've tried making them before; give it a shot if you're adventurous, but based on my experience, next time I'll simply opt for the beer on its own.

Today, flips of a different nature are enjoying some degree of popularity on the craft-cocktail circuit. Contemporary flips are relatively simple: a base of spirit (preferably dark & rich), a little syrup and/or liqueur, and a fresh egg, all shaken together and served with a little nutmeg grated on top. Drinks like the Fort Washington Flip, made with apple brandy and maple syrup, or a simple rum flip made with a dark rum such as Zacapa or Zaya and sweetened with demerara syrup with maybe a little allspice liqueur are delicious examples of basic flips. Another interesting variation is a style of flip made with a flavorful Italian amari as the base spirit. A Cynar Flip, made with a bitter liqueur flavored with artichokes and a whole egg (no additional sweetener is needed) is pretty damn spectacular, as is a Fernet Flip, made with the intensely bitter Fernet Branca and a robust Italian vermouth.

I'll dig out a flip-style recipe for Friday's Time for a Drink, but for now, are there any drinks made with whole eggs that make it into your holiday season rotation?

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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