Move aside, Egg Nog! Historic Cocktails to Celebrate the Holiday Season

The shapes of drinking glasses are frequently influenced by the beverages they contain. What better way to ring in the holiday season than to consider three popular 18th and 19th century drinks, their associated glass forms, and for your drinking pleasure, some period cocktail recipes.

POSSET

Posset Pot with Raven's Head Seal 19th Century European Savoy Glasshouse; Ravenscroft, George England, London About 1676-1677 79.2.74 Bequest of Jerome Strauss On Display in the European Gallery

Posset Pot with Raven’s Head Seal
19th Century European
Savoy Glasshouse; Ravenscroft, George
England, London
About 1676-1677
79.2.74
Bequest of Jerome Strauss
On Display in the European Gallery

A beverage of spiced hot milk that has been curdled with alcohol, posset is often thickened by adding pieces of bread. It was a popular festive beverage but was also drunk by those who were sick with a cold.

The posset pot is an excellent example of a form driven by its intended contents, as well as an example of a shape that has since faded from production along with the drink’s popularity. The curdled milk and bread chunks were eaten with a spoon from the top of the posset pot, while the remaining alcohol in the vessel could be consumed through the spout attached to the vessel’s base.

Ale Posset (Hot):

“Boil a pint of new milk, and pour it over a slice of toasted bread. Stir in the beaten yolk of an egg and a small piece of butter, and sugar ad lib. Mix these with a pint of hot ale, and boil for a few minutes. When the scum rises the mixture is ready for use.”

The recipe is referred to as a ‘modern recipe for a tasty beer-compound’ in Edward Spencer’s The Flowing Bowl; a treatise on drinks of all kinds and of all periods, interspersed with sundry anecdotes and reminiscences (1898, reprinted 1925).

FLIP

Flip Glass Boston & Sandwich Glass Company United States, MA, Sandwich About 1825-1835 55.4.217 On Display in the American Gallery

Flip Glass
Boston & Sandwich Glass Company
United States, MA, Sandwich
About 1825-1835
55.4.217
On Display in the American Gallery

Flip is a spiced, sweetened drink of ale or beer often with the addition of beaten eggs. Unlike posset, there is no evidence that links flip to a specific glass form during the eighteenth century, although it is assumed that flip would have been drunk from a tumbler.  ‘Flip Glass’ is a collector’s term that has since been given to large tumblers, thus implying, oftentimes inaccurately, that they were used for this drink.

This recipe, also found in Spencer’s The Flowing Bowl, was my favorite thanks to its lively and colorful description:

Ale Flip:

“Beat well together in a jug, four eggs with a quarter of a pound of sifted sugar; then add by degrees, stirring all the time, two quarts of old Bourbon ale, and half a pint of gin; pour backwards and forwards from one jug to another, and when well frothed serve in tumblers. Grate a little nutmeg atop of each portion. This is one of the best “nightcaps” I know—especially after you may have been badger-hunting, or burgling, or serenading anybody on Christmas Eve.”

PUNCH

Punch Bowl, Tray, and 15 Glasses Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat France, Baccarat 1867 67.3.41 Gift of Mrs. Charles K. Davis

Punch Bowl, Tray, and 15 Glasses
Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat
France, Baccarat
1867
67.3.41
Gift of Mrs. Charles K. Davis

Introduced to Western Europe from India in the late-seventeenth century, punch was a hot or cold beverage, typically composed of wine or distilled liquor, water, milk or tea, sugar, lemon juice, spice, and/or mint. While often prepared in ceramic bowls, glass was the preferred material from which to serve and drink the beverage.

The following two punch recipes were originally printed in an 1860 issue of Practical Housewife (published in both London and Philadelphia):

Regent’s Punch:

“Take a bottle of champagne, a quarter of a pint of brandy, the juice of a lemon, a Seville orange, and a wine-glassful of Martinique, with this mix a pint or more of a strong infusion of the best green tea strained, and syrup or sugar to taste.”

Milk Punch for Christmas Day:

“Add the peel and juice of twenty-four lemons and three pounds and a half of loaf-sugar, to five bottles of cold water, and four bottles of rum; when these are well mixed, add two bottles of boiling milk, and mix the whole well. Let it stand for twenty-four hours, strain well, bottle, and cork it tight; it is then ready for use, N.B. The finer the strainer is, the better the punch. This is the best receipt we have ever seen or used.”

This punch bowl is currently on view in the exhibition Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939 at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC through January 19.

With such great historic cocktail options, wouldn’t it be fun to serve something in addition to traditional egg nog at this year’s holiday party? Which would you try?

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  1. Shared the posset recipe with a tour of high school students today. I think their conclusion was that they’ll stick with eggnog!

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