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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Bartender, Make Mine A Rattle-Skull! Mixing Up Forgotten Cocktails

What if the Revolutionary War happened just because all the colonists were rowdy drunks ginning one another up at the various taverns liberally sprinkled around New England? That’s taking it too far, of course, but those early colonists did enjoy their beverages.

The Green Mountain Boys hatched their plans for liberty and freedom over tankards at the Catamount Tavern in Bennington. And the Continental Army gave a ration of spruce beer to all its soldiers on a daily basis.

Food and drink writer Corin Hirsch was shocked to discover how much drinking was going on in those early days and wrote about it in her new book, Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England.

Hirsch spoke with Vermont Edition about those drinks and passed along a couple of recipes to try.

Modern: Josiah Bartlett’s Hot Toddy

Josiah Bartlett is a New Hampshire–made apple brandy that ages for four years in oak barrels. Like the colonial-era statesman and physician for whom it’s named, it’s elegant and restrained, with layers of apple, pear, vanilla, toasted caramel and hints of cardamom. It’s also smooth as silk in a hot toddy with an orange slice (instead of the traditional lemon) and the slightest drip of honey.

3 ounces hot water

½ teaspoon honey

2 ounces apple brandy

orange wedge, and slice for garnish

cloves (optional)

In a glass mug, pour water over a spoonful of honey and stir to dissolve. Add brandy, squeeze in the juices from the orange wedge and then garnish with orange slice. Add cloves if desired. Sip slowly, savoring the flavors.

Traditional/Modern: Basic Ale Flip

Although flips were traditionally made by using a red-hot fire poker, it’s eminently more practical (in a modern kitchen, at least) to heat the beer ahead of time. You can still hew to tradition, though, by using two separate pitchers (or mugs) to blend the drink. It really does yield a silky-smooth blend.

8 ounces beer, preferably brown ale or stout

2 pint glasses

2 teaspoons sugar or 1 teaspoon molasses

1½ ounces rum

1 egg, beaten

scrape of nutmeg

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 grated nutmeg.

Recipes used with permission of The History Press

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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