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Get soused, the colonial way

Could there possibly be any more to discover about the history of New England at this point? As it turns out, yes! Corin Hirsch, a writer from Vermont, has just produced a nifty volume called Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, and it’s full of ye olde trivia, fascinating facts and – best of all – 17th- and 18th-century cocktail recipes.

You might be skeptical that such a topic could fill a whole book – I was – but as Hirsch notes, “European settlers practically swam in a sea of booze from breakfast til bedtime. Whether they were working, weeding, writing, selling goods, getting married or even dying, they drank so heartily that their lawmakers (who sometimes worked under the influence) constantly passed laws to regulate tavern practices, drink prices and what people drank – including how much, when and where.”

Among the things Hirsch teaches us:

∎ By the time the Revolutionary War began, the average colonist older than 15 drank 3.7 gallons of spirits per year, the equivalent of seven shots per day. By 1790, that figure had grown to 5 gallons, in addition to 34 gallons of beer and 1 gallon of wine.

∎ In the 17th century, Connecticut and Massachusetts both passed laws requiring every town to have a tavern.

∎ Early Harvard students typically had beer and bread for a 5 a.m. breakfast, followed by a midmorning meal of beer, bacon, eggs and porridge. The beer was brewed by the university.

∎ Early booze regulations included a Massachusetts ban on selling to Indians (1633) and public shaming for public drunkenness (including a stretch in the stocks or being forced to wear the letter D pinned to your clothing).

New England colonists drank a lot of beer, cider, brandy and wine, but they also concocted cocktails galore. Want to try some for yourself? Here are a few examples, republished here with permission from The History Press.

Hot Mulled Wine

2 cups water

dash of nutmeg

2 sticks cinnamon

1 tablespoon cloves

1 bottle medium-bodied red wine, such as Shiraz

Boil together water with nutmeg, two broken-up cinnamon sticks and a tablespoon of cloves that have been slightly pounded. When reduced by one half, strain the liquid into a quart of wine, set it on hot coals (aka your burner), take it off as soon as it comes to a boil and sweeten it. Serve it up hot in a pitcher, surrounded by glass cups and with a plate of rusks (aka Melba toast).

Slippery Lemon


2 ounces apple brandy

1 ounce dry gin

1/2 ounce dry vermouth

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

dash lavender or other floral bitters

1 teaspoon maple syrup

lemon twist (or a slice of lemon)

Fill a shaker with ice and then add all ingredients except for the twist. Shake hard to combine and then pour the entire blend, ice and all, into a tumbler or rocks glass. Garnish with lemon twist and serve.


pint of porter or other dark beer

3/4 ounce rum

3/4 ounce brandy

3 ounces sherry, or sack

spritz of fresh lime juice (optional)

scrape of fresh nutmeg (optional)

Fill a pint glass three-quarters with dark beer. Add rum, brandy and sherry and then stir to combine. Spritz with lime juice and top with nutmeg if desired or dispatch with such decorum and simply get saucy.

Basic Ale Flip

8 ounces beer, preferably brown ale or stout

2 pint glasses

2 teaspoons sugar or 1 teaspoon molasses

1 1/2 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.



1 1/2 ounces rum

hard cider

Fill a Collins glass with ice, pour in the rum and then top with cider. Stir to combine and serve.


dollop of molasses

1 ounce dark rum, such as Cruzan

6 ounces spruce beer (see note below)

spritz of fresh lime (optional)

Add molasses and rum to the bottom of a pint glass and stir vigorously to combine. Top the glass with spruce beer. Stir, add a spritz of lime if desired, and serve.

Note; In colonial days, brewing with spruce tips (in lieu of hops) was common, but spruce beer could also be a non-alcoholic drink sold from carts, alongside birch beer. Several New England craft brewers produce a version of spruce beer, such as Candia Road Brewing Co. in New Hampshire.)

Blackberry Shrub

1 pound blackberries

1/2 pound sugar

red wine vinegar

Wash berries and then add to a bowl with sugar. Lightly mash the berries into the sugar so they start to release their juices, and then set aside overnight in the refrigerator.

Press berries through cheesecloth lines into a fine sieve, letting the juices fall. Leave the berries this way for a time to allow all of the juices to ooze out. (You can now use this berry mash on top of some yogurt or ice cream.) Pour sweetened berry juice into a sanitized Mason jar and add vinegar. Shake to combine and then let rest for at least a day. The shrub will keep for a few weeks inside the refrigerator.

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