Yard of flannel is hot ale, laced with rum and spices, and thickened with egg.
Though there’s a surprising number of beer and cocktail blogs that have tried out old recipes of yard of flannel, there’s very little information on the history of this drink available online.
I’ve found no documented link between these two drinks, but yard of flannel is nearly identical in recipe and preparation to an old Scots cocktail called het pint (literally “hot pint”). The only difference is that the Scots version typically uses whiskey instead of rum.
Het pint was once an important part of Scottish celebrations, especially Hogmanay, the Scots New Year. In the 17th and 18th centuries, public houses made het pint on New Year’s eve, and villagers would buy a copper-kettle’s-worth to take home for the festivities.
Kettles of het pint would also be carried through the streets by “first-footers.” The first person to enter a house on New Year’s day was said to be a foretoken of the prosperity of the coming year. The first-foot was ideally “a man, tall with dark hair… carrying gifts, including whisky, tea, coal, or salt, symbols of good health, good fortune, good luck, a warm home, and a full larder.” In some traditions the first person to cross the threshold is a more or less random event. In others young men would travel from house to house with gifts. These first-footers often carried pots of het pint with them as they walked through the town, offering the drink to passers-by.
Het pint was consumed at many other celebrations, notably rural weddings on Orkney.
Not only are recipes for het pint and yard of flannel consistenty nearly identical, they both use the same technique to develop a tall foamy head on the drink. When agitated, the egg proteins develop a head that is much more stable than that of beer alone (think: meringue). The head on het pint and yard of flannel is traditionally produced by pouring the drink back and forth between two mugs in a tall cascade.
Ale makes up the bulk of the drink, so the choice of ale to be used is the most important decision made by the cook. Nowadays “ale” refers to a beverage that undergoes a warm fermentation with a top-fermenting strain of yeast, typically producing an aromatic, fruity, floral beer. It’s counterpart, “lager,” goes through a colder, longer fermentation with a bottom-fermenting strain of yeast, resulting in a cleaner, crisper drink.
Until atleast the nineteenth century, in Great Britain the word “beer” referred exclusively to hopped beers (a Bavarian invention), while “ale” was reserved for the traditional, unhopped, British drink. Therefore the “ale” called for in old het pint recipes refers to this ancient style of British beer. Many contemporary beers made in the UK are reminiscent of these older styles, though they do contain some hops. Here’s a description of modern Scottish ale:
Scottish Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown… brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars which create a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Overall hop character is low, light floral or herbal, allowing its signature malt profile to be the highlight.
This style of beer makes perfect sense for het pint, as the malt and caramel flavours compliment the rum or whisky. The pronounced hops flavour of most contemporary beers would probably be out of place.
I’ve hear that the “yard” in yard of flannel refers to the yard-long glasses in which the drink was once served, and the “flannel” refers to the rich, soft mouthfeel developed by the heated eggs. I can’t find a reliable source for that information.
I don’t imagine this drink will be everyone’s cup of tea, as the modern man doesn’t like the thought of drinking hot eggs, but I have to say it’s a well-balanced cocktail with a fantastic mouthfeel.
Yard of Flannel (a het pint…)
adapted from Back to Basics
- 1 large egg
- 1/6 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- fresh grated nutmeg to taste
- 341 mL your favourite English pale ale, Scottish ale, or possibly brown ale
- 1/6 cup golden rum
- Whisk together egg, sugar, and salt.
- Gently heat ale and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed pot. Do not let the ale boil.
- Once the ale mixture is starting to steam, slowly pour it into the egg while whisking. Adding the ale too quickly may curdle the egg, which would be bad.
- If you’re a stickler for tradition, you can develop the head by pouring the mixture back and forth between two mugs. As you can probably imagine, this quickly cools down the drink. You can get just as good a head by whisking vigorously while the flannel is still in the bowl.
1. Duncan, Dorothy. Feasting and Fasting: Canada’s Heritage Celebrations. ©2010 Dorothy Duncan. Dundurn Press, Toronto, ON. Page 313.
2. McNeill, F. Marian. The Scots Kitchen. ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill. Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland. Page 309.
3. Beer Advocate.com