Your 2010 Eggnog Primer

It’s the last weekend before Christmas, and if you’re very lucky, you’ve managed to get everything out of the way except for a few last details and perhaps a wonderful night in with the family.  Perhaps tonight will be just a matter of a nice dinner, a few sweets and some lovely downtime before theHA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAhhhh, sorry, I couldn’t get that out with a straight face.

Of course you have about forty thousand things to do before Christmas, assuming that you’ve even started to look at your list, or even actually make a list.  Last year, Tina and I were driving around the outskirts of town for the better part of the morning on December 20th, wondering just why in the HELL nobody had Christmas trees for sale — because it’s clearly their fault that some of us wait until Christmas to… well, Christmas.

So it’s at this time of year that I tend to lighten up on my usual stance about single-pour cocktails, simply because I don’t have a whole lot of the time I would at other times of year.  I’m busy, you see, with shoveling stuff, decorating other stuff, baking further stuff, perhaps shoveling some more, and altogether not sitting in the sun and languorously mixing flavorful cocktails.

Fortunately, Christmas is a time of year that agrees with me, and is willing to work with my busy schedule.  So bent on my convenience is it that the spirit has possessed more distillers and liquor producers than ever before in history to produce shortcut Christmas favorites, and none in greater quantity than egg nog.

Let’s talk for a minute about nog, and the eggs that love it.  If you were to imagine holiday drinks on a spectrum, then think of the Dickensian gin punch on one end, and egg nog on the far extreme of the other.  Gin, even by the time that Bob Cratchit’s family was enjoying two rounds of it, was a relatively inexpensive option that practically tattooed a household as working class; egg nog, on the other hand, was a gesture of the luxurious.

It’s worth remembering that in the 18th Century, when egg nog was making its first appearance on our side of the Atlantic, items like eggs and milk were expensive to get and difficult to keep.  Simple refrigeration (let alone pasteurization) was not available, so fresh goods like those being poured into a punch bowl was an extravagant gesture indeed, spiked with colonial rum and the emerging domestic American bourbons.

And now you can buy it in a carton, without any of that interesting stuff.  Hooray progress.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at what a simple, classic egg nog entails:

  • Two dozen eggs
  • Two quarts rich milk
  • One quart brandy
  • One half pint Jamaica rum
  • One and a half pounds sugar

We are not, in other words, talking about a splash here and there.  This is a seriously milky punch, one that is intended to be rich enough to withstand the weight of the liquor, and stiff enough not to melt into sludge at the bottom of the bowl.

Let me be clear:  It is intimidating.  Whatever its traditional roots, someone who offers you authentic eggnog is asking you to drink a glass of very rich milk, your share of 12 ounces of 80 proof liquor, and a bit of raw egg for structure.   That’s a lot to take, and if you’re the one offering egg nog, you will know the pain of all those people who will stare affectionately at you, apprehensively at it, and move along to the white wine.

Which sucks, let’s face it.  There are few moments as awful as when you have produced a monumental amount of food or drink, only to have it politely declined in favor of a safer and more generic offering.  Not only do you feel as though you’ve blown it as a host, but you’re stuck with a gallon of it afterwards and there’s only so much alco-milk you can pour on your All Bran.

And so, enter the pre-made Eggnog cocktails.  While they lack the personal touch and the pure authenticity of the hand-made variety, they have three major advantages:

  1. Eggnog is good, and an entirely boss beverage to offer at any Christmas gathering (NOTE:  I originally wrote “holiday”, but it is much less appropriate to, say, Canada Day)
  2. The time taken to prepare them is exactly equal to what it takes to remove a lid from a bottle, and
  3. Portion size can be limited to 750 mL at a time, resulting in far fewer leftovers and their consequential drunken breakfasts.

With that in mind, I offer to you two very solid, helpful options to Eggnog Up any festive occasion this year.

Option 1:  The Approachable

Old Tom’s Original Eggnog is a 14% ABV eggnog that comes in an inescapably festive bottle, aimed very squarely at this time of year.  It is a product with a distinct focus, and it succeeds very well at what it wants to do:  Be the eggnog that you bring to a gathering, share with a bunch of people, and not really challenge anyone at all whatsoever.

Old Tom’s pours out even lighter than most creme liqueurs, like your average Baileys, and has a sweetness that’s noticeable but not overwhelming.  It is important too that you will detect the rum here, probably before it reaches your face, but that’s okay — eggnog is supposed to be punchy, and this delivers without being acrid.

There isn’t a whole lot to savor about Old Tom’s, on the other hand.  The flavor is simple and the rum is tasty, but it isn’t a bottle you’ll want to open up and savor over the course of an afternoon.  This is meant to be shared out to many over the course of a party, but if the clearly-hammered Santa on the label isn’t hint enough of that for you, then it’s hard to know what else to say.

Option 2:  The complex

Evan Williams Eggnog is an offering that dedicates itself more to the traditional recipe:  a combination of rum and bourbon, it comes in a little heavier on the alcohol (15% ABV) and also more complex on the flavor.

As you might expect, adding in bourbon with rum and a whole lot of dairy will definitely make a more savory beverage, but the blend works well and successfully tastes like the product of an old recipe.  It could simply be that the branding is compelling, or it could be that whisky makes everything taste a little bit classy, but it works.

Moreover, Evan Williams’ eggnog has a thicker, richer texture that really lends itself to sipping; this is not a drink you can do anything other than sip, unless you want the experience of attempting conversation around a cup of cream.  In other words, this is a drink you’ll want everyone at your gathering enjoying once, rather than encouraging them to dip into through the evening — it’s satisfying, but it’s rich enough that it could quickly become cloying.

But for all that, it’s a fun way to elevate eggnog from the teetotalling crud that comes in cartons back to a luxury.  It’s an uncommon approach, and one that will add a bit of fun.

Proper, traditional eggnog really is delight, but its production is a burden not entirely welcome to people who’ve got Christmas Eve trees to buy.  It’s also one of the few cases where a one-pour option is a totally viable choice, and there’s enough selection available to suit a variety of tastes.

Sure, it’s milk; yes, it’s cream; okay, it’s maybe even raw eggs (though most governments have forced that content down to almost nothing).  The important thing is that it’s traditional, tasty and heavily alcoholic enough to get you through the holidays with a smile.

Go on and indulge!  There’ll be plenty of time for your lactase enzymes to regenerate before the New Year.

  • Jacquie

    All of this eggnog talk reminds me of the Alaska Holiday treat, White Christmas. It is a 750 ml bottle that sells for $12 here. (Any decent bottle of anything usually begins at $20.) It’s a mix of rum and brandy that you can just dump into egg nog or drink as a festive alternative to the workaday vodka. Do they sell this where you are? Alaska may be the only place with a tough enough palate to drink this brew.

  • JennyM

    So, our family is working on a good Christmas afternoon buzz, which means that we’re feeling a little reckless in the cocktail department. So far, there are only two takers on the Nog, so we’re doing a little (sloppy) math and trying to scale down the traditional recipe (which should give you an indication of how “festive” we are feeling). Currently the argument is over how many cups are in a pint, and somehow dry measure vs. liquid measure has entered the discussion, but anyway, barring some horrific disaster, I will report back regarding the results. Merry Christmas!

    • JennyM

      Well, I can say two things:

      1) That is a LOT of booze, and a LOT of raw egg.

      2) The Victorians must have been sauced most of the time.

      It was good, though. Thumbs up!

  • Sally Jackson

    We didn’t buy eggnog mixes because my grandmother made wonderful eggnog, and the recipe is simplicity itself. Separate the desired number of eggs. Beat the whites until stiff, adding one tablespoon of sugar per egg white. In a separate bowl beat the yolks, adding 1 tablespoon of brandy per yolk. Fold the yolk mixture into the stiffly beaten whites. Pour over a scoop of ice cream and enjoy.