If You’re Not Heating Your 19th-Century Flip with a Maine-Made Loggerhead, What Are You Even Doing?

Topsham blacksmith Nicholas Downing is bringing back an old-school cocktail tool.

Topsham blacksmith Nicholas Downing is bringing back the loggerhead, an old-school cocktail tool.
By Will Grunewald
Photographed by Danielle Sykes
From our April 2022 issue

In a brief chapter of Moby-Dick, Ishmael and his crewmates encounter flip aboard a passing whaler, off the coast of Patagonia. “Flip? Did I say we had flip?” he gushes. “Yes, and we flipped it at the rate of ten gallons the hour.” The flip was, clearly, very good. But exactly what was flip? A 19th-century reader would know. A modern-day reader, probably not. Flips went out of style soon after Melville’s day (but not before also making appearances in the pages of his contemporaries, from Charles Dickens to Harriet Beecher Stowe). Back then, a flip was a common hot cocktail made chiefly with beer, rum, and molasses. The proto-mixologist would combine ingredients in a sturdy tankard, then plunge a red-hot iron rod into the liquid, producing much hissing and frothing. The result was sweet, toasty, and warm.

Loggerheads, also known as mulling irons.
Loggerheads, also known as mulling irons.

The rod used for flips was known as a loggerhead, sometimes called a mulling iron. Nicholas Downing, a blacksmith from Topsham, first made a loggerhead five years ago. He’d sell one once in a while, but only this past year did loggerheads pick up steam — two dozen orders came in, mostly around the holidays, from up and down the East Coast and as far away as Nevada. The uptick in interest, he gathers, has to do with people more often drinking outdoors amid the pandemic, and anyone looking for loggerheads likely winds up on his website — he’s not sure of anyone else forging and selling them anywhere. Downing sticks to old-school methods, making loggerheads much as they would have been made two centuries ago. “I’m a bit of a romantic,” he admits. “I even light my fires with a flint and steel, just because it feels right.” A flip, too, can feel right. After a harrowing squall, Ishmael notes, the crew felt “so sober, that we had to pass the flip again.”

Blacksmith Nicholas Downing makes custom loggerheads starting at $95. 207-358-0077.

How to Make a Flip

Flip recipes are flexible: white or dark rum, different beers, add an egg or don’t. (The modern, unheated rum flip, made with sugar, cream, and egg, evolved from traditional flips.) This recipe is a good baseline.

12 oz. not-too-sweet stout or porter, like Atlantic Brewing Company’s Cadillac Mountain Stout
2 oz. dark rum
2 tbsp. molasses

Place the bulbous end of a loggerhead in the hot coals of a fire, until it glows faint red. Combine beer, rum, and molasses in a heat-resistant pitcher large enough for double the amount of liquid, since the drink will froth. Dip the loggerhead into the pitcher and stir until a thick foam has formed. Serve in a mug and add a dash of nutmeg.