Every year for my holiday party, I make a giant punch bowl of eggnog. This year was no exception. And every year, about two cracked eggs into the preparation, I start asking myself, “Why the hell am I putting myself through this shit again?” And the answer is simple: Because it’s the best way during the holiday season to discreetly sip your “potion” in front of family members.
Eggnog is one of those great holiday traditions that seems to have always just existed. Even the legendary cocktail historian David Wondrich can’t completely trace its origins back to a certain Eggnog Zero. In his seminal book Imbibe!, Wondrich notes eggnog’s first mention in a 1801 Pittsburg Gazette article. Wondrich’s take on the beverage, however, is unapologetic. He calls it “one of the novelties Americans were inflicting on the art of drinking.” (Nowadays, I suppose Pittsburgh is more famous for inflicting a problematic JoePa beer on the art of drinking.)
The writer’s annual jug of nog.
Having said that, many less academic folks than Mr. Wondrich—i.e., Wikipedia users—will tell you that eggnog comes from more European origins, specifically something called the posset. This hot, curdled milk-and-egg libation was apparently quite popular in medieval times. Nevertheless, I simply can’t picture burly men in chain-mail enjoying anything close to what the yuppies in silly sweaters were enjoying in my apartment last Saturday night.
My evidence that eggnog is a purely American invention? The fact it’s a drink loaded with sugar, heavy cream, and whipped eggs. Doesn’t that sound like something a Starbucks in the mall would serve? Hell, isn’t it something it already kind of does? Then again, there’s a strong counterargument: It’s a pain in the ass to make. And as we all know, Americans have long been considered very lazy drink-makers. Most of us are more of the add-booze-to-a-Coke variety of “mixologists” than the separate 24-eggs-and-beat-heavily types.
“It’s essentially the winter version of a Long Island Tea. Should I put rum in it? Bourbon? Cognac or brandy? Hell, why not all of the booze?”
Do you know a lot of folks that want to have to pull their heavy KitchenAid mixer out of that high kitchen cabinet, just to get a buzz a few hours from now?
But maybe we weren’t always that way. Maybe Americans once had greater drink-making ambitions. Wondrich confirms, “Formerly a major part of day-to-day drinking, by the middle of the nineteenth century drinks made with eggs had seen their role greatly diminished.” That diminishment had gone from turning the eggnog from a year-round cocktail into a beverage consumed mainly in December.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to dirty your hands separating the whites and the yolks in your kitchen. You could just buy some store-brand eggnog, but that kind of defeats the purpose. Eggnog is one of those things that always tastes better when you know you actually put in all the work to make it happen.
It also tastes better because—let’s be serious—it’s essentially the winter version of a Long Island Tea. Should I put rum in it? Bourbon? Cognac or brandy? Hell, why not all of the booze? It goes without saying that making an eggnog is also a great way to clear your liquor cabinet of those half-empty bottles, which are taking up valuable cabinet space. And yet it still goes down as smooth as baby formula.
Lest you write it off as a joke, talk to a professional first. Many top bartenders throughout the country actually savor the opportunity to feature eggnog on their menu once December rolls around. “I think it’s pretty cool to show people how beautiful it can be with so little stuff and very little time needed to whip it up,” says Brett Esler of Austin’s Whisler’s.
Nico de Soto—a Frenchman who hadn’t even heard of eggnog growing up in Europe—now enjoys making a special brown butter fat-washed cognac eggnog for his bar Mace in New York’s East Village. “I like eggnog because it’s easy to twist all its elements and go crazy,” he tells me. “Fat, sugar, milk, that’s it.” Still, even a bartender who loves it, like Wes Gerald from Harlowe in West Hollywood, offers a warning to cocktail snobs: “Just remember that eggnog is the natural predator of the finely coiffed mustache.”
Bartenders like Brett Essler—whose bourbon-heavy concoction is pictured above—appreciate the beauty of nog. (Photo by Brian Flannery)
By now I’ve found there are “eggnog people” and the “anti-noggers.” To folks like myself, it’s self-evident that eggnog is delicious. (Even Clark Griswold knew that.) To the anti-noggers, you will never be able to convince them of its milky, creamy greatness, even if you do break out your microplane to grate some fresh nutmeg over top of it. Face it: These anti-noggers are like squeamish children at a sushi restaurant; they’ll stick with a boring glass of wine all night because these people have no imagination. Eggnog is supposed to be a completely absurd thing to dump down your gullet, and that’s why I love it.
This article was brought to you by BACARDÍ. Enjoy BACARDÍ in your eggnog this holiday season.