Serious Eats: Recipes

Time for a Drink: Colleen Bawn

[Photograph: Paul Clarke]

Two hundred years ago, ordering a flip would have likely brought you a steaming tankard of hot ale mixed with eggs, cream, sugar and rum, either heated over a fire or, if you're lucky, scorched to foaming, sputtering pyrotechnics by plunging a red-hot iron loggerhead into the murky mix.

Cool presentation? Absolutely. Tasty? Umm...

Today, we toss around the "flip" term more willy nilly (when it's used at all), appending it to pretty much any boozy drink bulked up with the addition of a whole egg, and which (depending on how you look at it) encompasses the much more familiar realm of eggnog. Simple flips start easy: a dose of spirit (think dark and rich: rum, brandy, bourbon), a teaspoon or two of sweetener of choice (sugar, demerara syrup, maple syrup), and the egg, all shaken together with ice, strained into a cup or glass, and topped with a little nutmeg.

While a simple flip is delicious, you can also go grand with the whole idea. In addition to adding richness and body, the egg also serves as a buffer for big, strong flavors as well as tempering sweetness, so it's possible to throw some assertively flavored spirits and liqueurs together without the mix being overwhelming in potency of flavor or of sweetness. Here's a drink to try out the concept for yourself: the Colleen Bawn.

The Colleen Bawn dates to at least 1903, when the recipe appeared in The Flowing Bowl by Edward Spencer. Driven by the spark of rye whiskey, the drink introduces two very big hitters in the realm of full-flavored liqueurs— Benedictine and green Chartreuse—and blunts their sometimes overwhelming impact with the richness of an egg.

The name harks back to an early 19th century murder case in Ireland, a story that over the next century-plus inspired novels, stage dramas, operas and eventually motion pictures. Spencer doesn't reveal where the drink originated, nor clarifies details regarding the name, and the drink was pretty much out of circulation until early 2007, when I was introduced to it by Murray Stenson at Zig Zag Café in Seattle, who had dug it out of a recently acquired copy of Spencer's book. I researched the story a bit and blogged about it at the time, and now a quick scan of Google shows the recipe (along with details and preparation suggestions that sound oddly familiar) popping up all over the place.

One quick preparation note: the eggs you're likely to find in your market are typically larger than those used in the past. One contemporary egg is sufficient for two drinks, so either invite a friend over, or whisk up the egg separately and save half for your morning omelet. To make the whole thing more sociable, the recipe below is designed for two drinks.

Rich in texture and robust in flavor, the Colleen Bawn isn't exactly a beginner's cocktail, but it's an intriguing relative of the more user-friendly eggnogs making the rounds this time of year.

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