A Short History Of Cooking Beer.
Before the days of bottling and refrigeration, fresh beer had a minimal shelf life, and having to waste any brought a tear to many people’s eyes. So like any food item on its way out, people tried to find ways to get just a couple more uses out of it. I’m sure you do this all the time. Strawberries are starting to get soft. Make a smoothie. Worried about your gigantic bag of onions getting too old, make French onion soup. There are many things you can do before food turns and during the 17th century cooking beer with honey and spices was one way to mask the flavor of a beer going bad.
Earlier forms of the hot ale flip were simple hot ale and honey drinks, and if you want to find these recipes, you’ll need to look in old cookbooks. One such recipe from the 1669 book “The Closet” by Sir Kenelme Digbie is an ale recipe with honey specifically for beer that is about to go wrong. Sir Kenelme Digbie described cooking old beer with honey would help the turned old beer and “set the whole a working a fresh, and casting out foulness.”
Some very old books had tips and tricks for the old food, but with the invention of commercial refrigeration in the mid-1800s, that stopped being such a big problem. Most of those recipes either got lost to time, but many still live on as things you usually eat—fruit pies, jellies, alcohol, pickles, hell, even banana bread. Hence, most recipes specifically call for nasty old soft brown bananas no one wants to eat. It’s for flavor, but it comes from a much older tradition. Old meat was a little harder to repurpose and was something you needed to persevere before it started to turn. Although old meat could be used as bait to catch fresh meat or go fishing, once meat goes bad, it needs to be discarded.
What Does The Hot Ale Flip Taste Like?
Check out my article here, where I have taste-tested many different beers to see which make the best flips. Depending on the beer you use, these can be good or bad. To make it more difficult, it’s almost impossible to know which beers are suitable as a flip and which are not without actually trying them. You think a dark flavorful beer would be tasty warmed with spices, whiskey, and sugar, but most are awful. The flavorful beers seem to turn too bitter, but lighter, more drinkable beers like Boston lager and Budweiser are excellent. The only way to know is to try. I started doing a whole YouTube series on which beers taste good and which taste bad, and my goal is to try every beer I can get my hands on hot. I have a hot beer tier list of my favorite beers so far. I like fat tire, to begin with, but hot it was amazing.
Keep in mind that this is a way of making old beers taste good again. I opened a bottle of beer, poured it, set it on the counter for a day, and it made a better flip than a fresh bottle of the same beer. The new beer tastes better cold, but the old beer tastes better flipped. My mind was blown. No of these results were expected. I believed the opposite to be true of what the actual results were. I only tried it with this one beer (Boston lager since I liked it flipped, to begin with), but I feel I should do the same experiment for others. Doing this will likely make me gain quite a few pounds in the next year, but I think it will be fun.
What Is A Flip?
No one knows where the term flip came from. Some guesses are that it described the bubbles leaving the drink. Like the bubbles flipped from the inside to the outside, or the drink was so strong it would make you flip out of your chair. No one knows, but I have my idea. Some 18th century and earlier books provided ways to repurpose food that was going bad or losing its freshness. I wrote a bit about that in the paragraphs above. It is often referred to as the food or drinks turning. My guess is the term flip was a clever play on words to describe making a turned beer taste good again. Again I have no evidence of this. It’s just a feeling.
I will be using a traditional toddy rod or, as it is also called, a loggerhead to warm the Flip. A stove works too, but a toddy rod imparts a slightly toastier final flavor. If you are curious to learn more, check out this fantastic article on early American toddy culture.