The holidays are over but technically winter is only getting started and the gray drizzle that has accompanied us these past few weeks has not made going outside an inviting prospect. Cold weather often inspires a desire for a warm beverage next to a toasty fire. Winter is often not seen as the time of year for beer. A cold beer sounds better in the heat of summer than it does during a chilly winter but just as you have mulled ciders, there are several warm beer preparations that have historically been served.
The ale flip originated around the 1700’s and consisted of ale, rum, and sugar heated with a red-hot iron rod thrust into the mug and stirred, causing it to froth, or “flip.” Over time other additives were put into the mix like egg yolk and lemon, and eventually the ale was removed and other spirits like brandy or bourbon replaced the rum. A traditional ale flip is still as tasty today as it was three hundred years ago. There are not many places that serve them but fortunately it is easy enough to prepare at home.
There are a wide range of base beers used in preparing an ale flip. The fun of ale flips, besides their comforting flavors, is the amount of variations you can do with the base recipe. Porter is probably a more historically accurate style to use and its flavor is enhanced by the toastiness that comes from flipping it. Stout is not always recommended since it brings its own roastiness that sometimes can compete with the flipping process. That being said, there is a wide range of stout styles and some work better than others. Rogue’s Chocolate Stout, for example, is fairly dry with a dark cocoa flavor that lacks a mid-palate sweetness. The addition of the sugar and egg to this beer helps balance the flavor and body and doesn’t overwhelm it. Something like a Russian imperial stout (especially if barrel aged) is already going to be on the sweeter, fuller-body side and the flavor additives plus heat can make the beer seem bulky and off-balanced. The inherent spiciness that comes from Belgian yeast can make a nice addition to the brew. A Belgian-style dubbel works well with rum and if you intend to add lemon I would suggest a tripel. Belgian-style brews tend to be sweeter so I would recommend adding a little less sugar. An English-style ale like Fullers ESB works well too. The maltier character and lower hop content produces a smoother flavor than most American-style ales.
There are a range of recipes out there but the most common recommendation is one egg per every 8 oz of beer. This is served with about one shot (1 ½ oz) of liquor and a tablespoon or so of brown sugar. The sugar is often dissolved in a little hot water first to make a smoother blend. Spices like nutmeg or cinnamon can be added during the cooking process, or just used as a garnish. Because alcohol and fire are involved when making a flip, the traditional method of using a fire iron has its hazards. A safer process is to use a stove top. Whisk together the rum, eggs, sugar, and any spices you are adding in a heatproof pitcher. Then heat the beer in a saucepan on a stovetop, turning off the flame before it boils. Slowly pour the warm beer into the rum mixture while whisking so that the eggs do not cook. Then pour the mixture back-and-forth between two vessels until it becomes smooth and well-blended. Over time this process of pouring an egg mixture back-and-forth became the more common technique and eventually evolved into the flip family of cocktails.
While these ingredients can be heated on a kitchen stove for a similar effect, there is a distinct toasty flavor and fuller mouthfeel that comes from preparing an ale flip in the original fashion. If you have a fireplace or even a barbecue then you can give it a try at home but you will definitely want to be careful. Like before, whisk together the egg, rum, sugar, and spices and pour it into a mug. I recommend using a ceramic beer mug since it has a handle and the ceramic lends itself to hot temperatures. A pint glass can work but you are playing with fire, and I don’t mean the actual fire. Temperature fluctuations and glass are known to not get along and broken glass and red-hot iron (plus steaming beer) are even more unfriendly. Once the egg mixture is in the mug, pour the beer on top of it. Make sure not to fill the mug too full. Place the mug on a steady surface and put a fire iron in the coals for a few minutes, allowing it to get red hot before thrusting it into the mug and stirring quickly. The mixture will hiss and froth as you stir. Top it off with some nutmeg or other spices and the result is a toasty, warm brew that is reminiscent of egg nog but something entirely different. Once again, this process involves fire and alcohol so attempt at your own risk.
Mulling over beer
Look at a recipe for mulled beer and it often just a definition of an ale flip, however there is such a category as mulled beer that remains distinct from a flip. These warmed brews are more in tune with mulled ciders and wines. The biggest difference between an ale flip and a mulled beer is that the latter is missing an egg yolk. This creates a much different mouthfeel and flavor. While an ale flip can have a little nutmeg grated on top, it is not often prepared with the melange of spices a mulled beverage is.
Sour ales, and especially Flanders red ales, works particularly well for mulled beers. These are often very expensive bottles and most beerdoes are going to be hesitant to start heating them up and playing with them. I recommend trying it with one of Lindemans’ lambics. They are cheap and come in a wide range of fruit bases, including cherry, raspberry, and apple. They are a little on the sweet side so additional sugar is not necessary. There is a lot to experiment with depending on which base beer you are using. Lindemans Pomme (apple) works well with rum, cinnamon, and cloves. Their Framboise (raspberry) blends nicely with brandy, orange peel, and a dash of allspice. Prepare a mulled beer the same way you would a mulled wine. Place the ingredients in a saucepan and warm while stirring. Make sure just to heat the liquid and not to bring it to a boil.
While I have not tasted many examples of mulled beers, I was lucky enough to be in Portland, OR, while the renowned Cascade Brewing was serving their Glueh Kriek, a mulled sour cherry ale. It was my last beer at their barrel house before heading back to my hostel in the dead of winter. The bartender brought me an auburn brew with wisps of steam rising from the glass. Taking a sip, there was a deep warmth and silky sourness accompanied by an elaborate spiciness and elegant cherry character. After finishing the brew I headed out and started walking toward the hostel. It had started snowing and the shrill cold air filled me with each breath, contrasting with the spiced heat still felt in my chest. I walked on with the sweet-sour flavors persisting on my palate and snowflakes dancing upon my face, each step taking me closer to warmth of my bed.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, January 11, 2017