Sunday, October 2, 2011

Flip, Shrub and other drinks favored of Georgian Londoners

by Tim Queeney

While researching my book, George in London, set in 1751, I came across many intriguing types food enjoyed by Londoners of the Georgian era. Among the most colorful of these were the names of popular drinks. From small beer and perry to flip and shrub, the drinks of 18th century Londoners often carried names whimsical to our modern ears.

Take rum fustian, for example. It’s a wonderfully old fashioned name. Not one you’re likely to hear today. If it was, you might at least expect you were getting a rum drink. But you would be wrong. Rum fustian was made with a quart of strong beer, a pint of gin, a bottle of sherry and 12 eggs, smoothly mixed and flavored with nutmeg, lemon and sugar.

The key element in the fustian was gin. And gin was a wildly popular drink in Georgian London. So popular and so cheap -- you could buy a large quantity for only a penny -- there were fears that English society would collapse due to the drunkenness, illness and death brought on by widespread gin abuse during the Gin Craze. Artist William Hogarth’s engraving "Gin Lane" (image above), shows the state of alarm many people felt about the Gin Craze. A distilled liquor that uses juniper berries for flavoring, gin consumption was rampant from the 1730s to roughly 1750 when the Gin Craze began to taper off. As Rosamond Bayne-Powell writes in Eighteenth Century London Life, “...working men went into gin shops on Saturday night, and were found lying dead drunk on the pavement the next morning.”

Along with gin, the other widely consumed drink in London was beer. In 1725, Londoners drank 1,970,989 barrels of strong beer. London had, by one eighteenth century count, 207 inns, 447 taverns, 5,875 beerhouses and 8,659 brandy shops dispensing beer and other drink. If that prodigious amount of strong beer was imbibed, what was small beer? As its name suggests, small beer had a low alcohol content and was considered fit for servants and children! This dispensing of beer to children, while alarming by modern standards, wasn’t quite as callous as it sounds. Water supplies in the eighteenth century were often dangerously contaminated. The alcohol in small beer was usually sufficient to kill deadly microorganisms.

Wine was also popular. Since Britain was often at war with France in the eighteenth century, French wine could be hard to come by. The solution was Portuguese wine, including wines shipped from the city of Oporto, hence the name “port” for wine from Portugal. The 1725 numbers had London consuming 30,000 tuns of wine. A tun was a large barrel holding roughly 256 gallons or about 960 liters. Thus, the 30,000 tuns equaled about 7,680,000 gallons of wine.

What about the other colorful drink names? Perry was a drink made from pears, much as hard cider was made from apples. Shrub was a drink made with a “shrub” or concentrate of orange or lemon juice mixed with sugar and rum. Toddy was hot black tea to which was added sugar or honey, cloves or cinnamon and whiskey. And porter was a type of dark beer brewed with dark malts. It was from porter that stout evolved.

Perhaps the most quaint name for an eighteenth century drink enjoyed by Londoners is flip. Flip was made by mixing ale with sugar, adding eggs and a spice such as nutmeg or cinnamon and then a liberal portion of rum or whiskey. Then the liquid was made to “flip” or froth by immersing a red-hot poker from the fire. This was a popular drink with sailors and Darius Attucks, the mariner who accompanies young George Washington on his adventure in London in my book George in London would likely have had flip often.

During George and Darius’ adventure in London they attend a gala ball at the house of George’s patron, the Baron Mowenholtz. Darius describes the refreshments for the guests:

“The back hall nearest the kitchen was provided with several long tables and lit by four candelabras. Across the tables was arrayed a rich selection of sweet meats, roasts of beef, quails, pigeon pie, cold mutton, veal chops, Colchester oysters, ox palates, pickled whiting, turtle soup, peas, boiled potatoes, leeks, apples, oranges, plums, cheeses both white and yellow, loaves of bread, cakes, syllabubs, Atholl Brose, fruit pies and tarts. To drink were bottles of cherry wine, a bowl of brandy punch, fustian punch, mulled wine, French claret, Madeira Sack, heavy port wine, porter, ale, gin and rum — as this last was a sailor’s spirit, I fancied the baron had provided it for my benefit and so availed myself aplenty.”

My book George in London is available on Amazon for Kindle and will be available in other formats soon. Tim’s news satire website is Height of Eye.

Sources: Dr. Johnson’s London, Coffee-Houses and Climbing Boys, Medicine, Toothpaste and Gin, Poverty and Press-Gangs, Freakshows and Female Education; Liza Picard, St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Eighteenth Century London Life; Rosamond Bayne-Powell, E.P. Dutton, 1938.

Hanoverian London 1714-1808; George Rude, University of California Press, 1971

A Sea of Words, A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’Brian; Dean King, Owl Books, 2000.


  1. Thanks for sharing the insights into the eating and drinking habits and fads among the British in Georgian England.

  2. Fascinating! Rum fustian for me please!

  3. Thanks, Teresa.

    Jane, yes the run fustian does sound like quite a concoction doesn't it? Imagine if we had heard one of the characters on Sex and the City order one?

  4. That was a great explanation about many of the drinks available and I was amused by the fanciful names as they remind me of the names today.. I confess that hearing of all those eggs being put to use that way made me queasy.

  5. Thanks, Tim. I've never been a big drinker, so didn't even know the name of the horrid drink that tastes like pine trees. Must be gin, the juniper berry concoction. I do like rum, though!

  6. Very entertaining and informative. Thanks! (The description of the refreshments made me hungry. Ox palates...? Must try!)

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  10. Thanks, Sophia, Debbie and Barbara!

  11. This great! I wish you had written it two years ago when I was trying to figure out what small beer was! Thanks for sharing.

  12. This was so interesting! I love to cook, and my husband brews beer, so this article was helpful and insightful on multiple levels. It is great to know what those drinks are, when I run across them in novels!

  13. Thanks, Linda and Lauren. Glad you liked it.

  14. Shrub is still a drink which you can buy - not everywhere,but certainly in Plymouth (Devon) and the surrounding areas.Funny how some things live on in certain areas and die out in others....


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