It’s a damp and drizzly evening in Portland, and Ms. Thirsty is feeling a cold coming on. Of course, the ever-inventive science of mixology has produced countless potations for just such a circumstance, so it’s an excellent opportunity to investigate a traditional — if little-practiced — cure. Thus we embark upon our own version of the Cocktail Chronicles’ Gettin’ Jerry With It, taking a page (in this case, page 61) from Jerry Thomas’ seminal 1862 work, How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion. We have halved the Professor’s recipe, since a quart of this unknown commodity seemed a bit much, but otherwise faithfully reproduce his Egg Flip, aka (and more poetically) the Yard of Flannel.
1 pint ale
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Whisk eggs, sugar and nutmeg in a bowl, then bring ale to a boil. Once ale is boiling, pour slowly into egg mixture, whisking to prevent curdling. Transfer to a pitcher, then pour back and forth into another pitcher, from a great height, until exceedingly frothy.
It may be that in the New York of 1862, ale was ale was ale, and when Jerry Thomas said to use ale, you knew exactly what he meant. Not being much of a beer historian, I’m willing to entertain the notion. In the Pacific Northwest of 2005, however, ales range from sweet to sour, sharp to bitter, dark to light, herbal to malty, strong to mild, and countless other diametrically-opposed poles of the palate. There’s no such thing as generic ale, and unfortunately, ale is far-and-away the most significant component of this recipe. Your choice of ale will very much determine the character of your Yard of Flannel. Given the other ingredients in the drink, Pyramid Brewing’s seasonal Snow Cap Ale, described as “complex and spicy, yet deliciously smooth” seemed likely to fit the bill. Lagunitas’ Censored might have been a good candidate, too.
If a single rule governs the boiling of a pint of beer, it is this: watch it closely! Do not turn away to whisk-up your eggy ingredients. Get the egg, sugar and nutmeg business dealt with first, then, and only then, attend to the matter of the beer. A boiling pot of ale will likely develop a mighty head, and, unattended, will cascade forth from its saucepan, douse the flame and make a nasty puddle on your stovetop. This advice is informed by recent experience.
When pouring the hot ale into the bowl of whisked eggs and sugar, we are directed to proceed in small measures, stirring constantly lest curdling take place. Pouring and whisking as bidden, there was, indeed, no curdling … not proof that such care is necessary, but it certainly didn’t hurt. This done, decant from the bowl into one of two pitchers/mugs/steins/big-things-with-handles, that the fun may commence.
Thomas was famed for the spectacular production value of the Blue Blazer: flaming whiskey poured back-and-forth, at arms’ length, between two pitchers. The final step in the manufacture of a Yard of Flannel is a fluffier, gentler version of the same extreme showmanship. Instead of ropes of fire, however, you’re pouring cocktailian contrails, so if something goes wrong you’ll just need a mop and a shower, not a fire extinguisher and a skin graft.
Since the object of the exercise is to maximize frothiness, it’s worth considering the size of your vessels before beginning the pouring process. A fair head is going to develop from this flying font of beer, so reach for your largest steins. If you’ve no two vessels that can accommodate the equivalent of, say, 26 fluid ounces, set some of it aside. The exact manner of pouring is left to the reader, but assuming that your aim is true and you manage to keep the drink off the floor, you’ll soon be casting your very own yard of flannel: a three foot skein of tan, foamy liquid, falling from mug to mug. Keep in mind that while it’s coursing through the air, your flannel is cooling off, so pour back and forth only as much as is necessary to ensure the proper body without rendering it lukewarm.
The verdict? Well, it’s no Cock Ale, but astute readers will have noticed that this post has earned a simultaneous filing under both the “to avoid” and “to enjoy” sub-categories. When presented with Jerry Thomas’ cure for the common cold, Ms. Thirsty’s candid assessment was that “it certainly tastes like it has medicinal properties.” Granted, Ms. Thirsty doesn’t care much for dark ales, and had just been exploring the restorative powers inherent to 100° Southern Comfort, so perhaps hers was not the most objective palate in the house. Still, despite the brown sugar, this is a bitter brew, and unless one has made a habit of drinking hot beer, it’s not something one can readily wrap one’s head around. I’m not sure that I ever managed to quite accustom myself to it, but there is virtue in perseverance, and I began to find some merit in the Yard of Flannel about halfway through the drinking of it. The texture is silken, a bit like a well-steamed latte, and previously unnoticed flavors assert themselves. With Snow Cap, I found that a strong hazelnut nose arose from the Flannel. I’m not sure that I’d make one with Snow Cap again, but I’m a bit curious as to how other ales would bear up. Of course, I’m also a bit curious as to when exactly one would want to drink one of these concoctions. Personally, whether coming down with something or not, when it’s cold outside and I want to be warm on the inside, I instinctively turn to a hot toddy, like the Falkland Island Warmer — it just resonates with me. Probably an Ayurvedic thing, with Flips ill-suited to my doshas.
Incidentally, many recipes for the Yard of Flannel call for the addition of several ounces of rum, and warn against allowing the ale to come to a boil. Both of these modifications to Thomas’ strike me as damned good advice, and should I find myself pouring a Yard in the future, I’ll likely concern myself less with the letter and more with the spirit of the Professor’s directions.
I do think that everyone should try a Yard of Flannel (or its near-relative, the Ale Flip) at least once, if only to discover for oneself the joy of juggling streams of hot beer and raw eggs. Leave a comment if you do, making a note of the ale you employed. If there’s a perfect ale for flipping, I’d love to hear about it.