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How To Make a Flip

Bourbon, port, sugar and egg.

Slightly sweet and rich

‘A thick and creamy drink best enjoyed on cold wintry days‘

A flip is the kind of cocktail you only drink in winter. All that nutmeg and egg yolk is fine two weeks before Christmas but it’s rather cloying early August – and as such it’s a drink I don’t often meditate over, or even order that much. Yet it’s one of the oldest around, sipped in the colonial taverns of mid-17th century America, brought forward into the modern era with a few additions and still just as delicious when ordered in London bars today.

Separating cocktails into categories was something the early bartenders were a bit too militant about – giving us fixes and daisies when the word sour would perfectly explain the cocktail in front of us. However flips are an easy one to identify. In a line up of cocktails they’re in the squat, squared off Martini glass, with a lovely bubbly head and flecks of grated nutmeg on top and must have either a whole egg or just the yolk, sugar and a base spirit or liqueur inside. And in earlier times they also had ale as a crucial part of that mixture.

However the earliest flip missed the egg yolk in favour of something more medieval: a hot poker.

Yes, that particular implement has had more uses in history beyond the death of Edward II (if you don’t know the story it involves his posterior and that’s all I’ll say).

“The mixture would be stirred and then heated using a hot poker. The poker affects the drink in a number of ways, one of which was to add a foamy, creamy texture. Later, when hot pokers seemed a little impractical, an egg was added in its place in order to achieve the same creamy consistency. But there’s no substitution for a hot poker in life, and it affects more than just the texture and temperature of the drink,” writes Tristan Stephenson in The Curious Bartender.

This was at a time when beer was a pretty flavourless drinking option, missing the all-too-crucial hops which add that moreish and complex bitterness. By heating the drink with a hot poker the sugar would be caramelized, adding structure and balance and making the beer component slide down effortlessly. “...the rich fortification of rum and a warm, silky texture that slides a healthy dose of alcohol swiftly into the bloodstream, and you have a formidable winter mixture fit for any table, old or new,” writes Tristan.

So where does the egg replace the hot poker?

From Imbibe by David Wondrich we find that by the 1820s a flip has egg and was in fact a major part of day-to-day drinking, as were all egg-laced cocktails. Eventually these drinks disappeared but there were some exceptions, and the flip was one of those.

“There was a flip of sorts, that took the might quaff of Colonial days – when flips were made from quarts of ale and gills of strong rum, thickened with eggs and sugar and poured back and forth from pitcher to pitcher in the traditional rainbow arc – and shrank it to something that would fit in a cocktail glass… But the only time that egg drinks really recaptured their former importance was on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, when they were mandatory,” writes Wondrich.

But here we’re still talking about a thick, muggy, warm drink. And if you’ve had a flip recently you’ll know it’s shaken over ice to impart some refreshing chill. Our original hero Jerry Thomas, who penned the most prolific and earliest bartender’s manual included the old hot-and-heavy version in his first edition. It was in fact one of the many, dare we say plagiarists, who followed him, E. A. Simmons, made some notable additions to Thomas’s work, that being; giving the Mint Julep a whiskey base and adding an iced version of flip with a whole egg, sugar and either brandy, whiskey, gin or sherry.

“I don’t know if the drink was original with him,” says Wondrich, “but if so he qualifies as another benefactor to the human race.”

From Simmon’s adjustments the flip has never looked back and is today found in menus and is mentioned in bar books published around the world. But even here, I knew I wasn’t quite finished with the flip just yet – for if you look at each recipe from Jerry Thomas in the 1860s all the way through till today, they all have grated nutmeg on the top. Which got me to thinking – why?

This question required a departure from cocktail books and instead I consulted The Flavor Thesaurus (of which I desperately want to graffiti with a u).

“The botanical name for nutmeg, Myristica fragrens, makes it sound like a Bond girl – appropriate enough for such an exotic, beautiful double agent of a spice, apt equally to make sweet, creamy dishes less cloying and cruciferous vegetables less bitter,” it says, before listing all the flavour pairings for nutmeg. And it’s here we find this: Egg & Nutmeg, followed by an ode to Eggnog which describes perfectly why flips are garnished with this incredible spice; “the initial warm shock of nutmeg gives way to soothing, thickened milk and the afterglow of rum.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself, except of course for the flip the thickened texture comes from the eggs. And for those who don’t fancy getting smashed on rum, you’ll find a sherry, port or even Dubbonet version tones the drink down while still keeping all its winter credentials.

Bottoms up.

Make it at home:

Prep Time: 7 minutes   |   Serves: 1   |  Skill: Medium

45ml bourbon   |  15ml port (tawny)   |   10ml sugar syrup   |   1 egg   |   Soda water to top   |   Cubed ice to shake

Place a coupe glass in the freezer three hours before to chill

Cocktail shaker   |   Hawthorne strainer   |   Coupe glass

1. Pour the bourbon, port, sugar and egg into one half of your cocktail shaker.
2. Cover and shake well without ice to emulsify the egg.
3. Open the shaker and fill with ice. 
4. Shake again until thoroughly chilled.
5. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.