Somm Talk

How to Make Eggnog, Our Favorite Holiday Drink

Justin Vann walks us through the history of this creamy, boozy, wintry delight.

By Justin Vann December 10, 2020

Eggnog is a fascinating drink, both for its rich history and its profoundly rich flavors.

The first memories I have of eggnog are pleasant but perplexing. Why are eggs added to this sweetened, spiced milk? To make it even more confusing and exciting, I learned the grownups would add alcohol to eggnog. Decades later, I am excited to report the fruits of my research.

The Founding Fathers of Eggnog

It is my duty to inform you that consuming raw or undercooked eggs increases your risk of food-born illness. A great way to avoid problems is to keep eggnog refrigerated below 38 degrees F at all times (in your refrigerator). Also, if you’re interested in a healthy beverage, look elsewhere. Eggnog is so calorically dense, it would make a large Frappuccino blush.

The eggnog we drink today evolved from a 13th century medieval British winter drink called “posset,” and a similar beverage made with eggs and figs, typically consumed by monks. Eggs, milk, sherry, and other boozes used to spike the drink were only within the grasp of the wealthy for most of the last millennium. Not unlike the mint julep, eggnog was a drink enjoyed by the landed gentry who could afford it. Speaking of wealthy aristocrats, our first eggnog recipe in this column is from George Washington:

  • 12 whole eggs
  • 32 oz cream
  • 3 2oz milk
  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 16 oz brandy
  • 8 oz rye whiskey
  • 8 oz Jamaican rum
  • 4 oz sherry (a sweet style, like cream, probably)

In his own words:

“Mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

Washington’s recipe predates the existence of bourbon but nicely encapsulates the four traditional spirit additives to eggnog: American whiskey, Caribbean rum, French brandy, and fortified wine from Jerez or the island of Madeira. It showcases 'nog with texture and is an important reminder that the founding fathers of America were unquestionably drunk all the time.

Maturity Comes with Age 

The production of eggnog also helped preserve perishable commodities that weren’t available year-round before refrigeration. Alcohol acts as a sterilizing agent against harmful bacteria in eggs and dairy. Rockefeller University conducted a small experiment that suggested homemade alcoholic eggnog that was 20-percent liquor (bourbon and rum at a standard 40-percent alcohol content) was almost completely sterile.

Conversely, store-bought eggnog quickly grew unwelcome life when kept at a similar temperature. Not only does this general addition of liquor sterilize the drink from bacterial spoilage, but it also makes it capable of aging for long periods of time.

In the past five years, interest in aged eggnog has climbed significantly. Resting finished eggnog for one to two months isn’t uncommon, but there are bars locally and nationally that have pulled off year-old eggnog, and, in even wilder moments, vertical tastings of eggnog of one to three years of age. Properly aged eggnog is very strong, and that alone isn’t for everyone, but the drink gains complexity and richness after even a single month of aging.

The pandemic has made aged eggnog financially onerous for many places this year, but consider this a formal mandate to try your hand at it at home. My favorite for aging is this slightly modified version of Death & Company’s aged nog recipe:

  • 15 whole eggs
  • 45 oz whole milk
  • 30 oz heavy cream
  • 22 oz granulated sugar
  • 11 oz Old Grand Dad 114 Bourbon
  • 11 oz Smith and Cross Jamaican Rum
  • 7.5 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
  • 7.5 oz Blandy’s Rainwater Madeira

With an immersion blender and a large, sealable container, thoroughly blend the whole eggs with all of the liquor, and age the mixture for two days in your refrigerator. After two days, use the immersion blender to thoroughly mix in the rest of the ingredients. Age for as long as you have the patience—it will mellow and deepen in complexity the longer you wait. 

A Nod to Other Versions of 'Nog

Britain and America aren’t the only parts of the world that enjoy a long history of boozy eggs and dairy. Coquito is Puerto Rico’s answer to the drink.

“Holiday milk punch or ponche de creme is common all over the tropics,” says David Perez of Heights-area bar Lei Low. “In Puerto Rico, coconut and eggs are added to create a creamy nog.” Lei Low’s version innovates on the classic coquito recipe by adding Carta Blanca rum from St. Lucia to aged Puerto Rican rum.

There are plenty of great recipes available for nog, fresh and aged. It is a beverage that takes well to your own creative embellishment. If you aren’t making it from scratch, consider picking it up from a local bar or restaurant instead of deigning to buy the stuff at the grocery store.

Here’s a List of Bars and Restaurants Selling Alcoholic Eggnog

Non-Alcoholic (or Low Alcohol) Options

Justin Vann is a sommelier who serves as wine buyer for Theodore Rex and Nancy's Hustle. His message to you: It has never been more urgent to give support to bars, restaurants, and wine shops as the food-and-beverage industry is being crushed by Covid-19. Your dollars going toward a local, independently owned business in lieu of a national chain can be the difference between life and death for that business.

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