by Josh Seaburg
Eggnog is one of the world’s oldest mixed drinks, but America made it a Christmas tradition.
It’s a descendant of “posset” ¬– a wine or ale-based drink warmed with milk and spices – that was enjoyed by the British aristocracy throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Eventually, it hopped the pond — George Washington is said to have been an enthusiast – and distilled spirits found their place as the main ingredient. The drink is believed to have been dubbed “eggnog” in a poem by Jonathan Boucher around 1775.
Eggnog is typically a blend of aged spirits, whole egg, cream or milk (or both) and nutmeg. Though it’s known mostly as the bringer of holiday cheer, it used to be a year-round tipple. Jerry Thomas, the father of cocktails and author of the first cocktail book, said it wasn’t until the late 1800s that eggnog was relegated to its place in the yuletide season.
These days, eggnog is most often consumed out of a grocery-store carton and spiked with whatever is hiding in the back of the liquor cabinet – the liquid equivalent of a fruitcake.
But the homemade stuff is infinitely better, and surprisingly easy to make.
The main objection that people have to making eggnog has to do with food safety and consuming raw eggs. But it turns out that homemade eggnog can be even safer than the commercial product, given a little bit of time and care.
The Rockefeller University in New York conducted experiments on eggnog safety in 2008 and 2009 at the request of National Public Radio’s Science Friday program. After noting that only about one in every 20,000 eggs is likely to be contaminated by salmonella, they made a batch of a traditional, alcoholic eggnog recipe and spiked it with 1,000 times the normal amount of salmonella in a contaminated egg. They put samples into a petri dish and waited. After three weeks, the eggnog was completely sterile, or free of bacteria. They also found that homemade, alcoholic eggnog developed significantly less bacteria than the nonalcoholic, grocery-store version when both were incubated at body temperature.
The benefits of aging eggnog extend beyond health, though – it tastes better as well. The flavor of aged nog versus unaged has been compared to the difference between a just-ripe and still-green banana. It produces a sharper alcoholic bite around the six-week mark, so make a couple batches and blend them at different ages for best results.
Eggnog for one
2 ounces spirit of choice – this can be aged rum, whiskey, brandy or
a blend. Just make sure it’s at least 80 proof
3/4 ounce whole milk
1/2 ounce heavy cream
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 whole egg
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake without ice to incorporate the egg. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a glass without ice, and garnish with grated nutmeg.
Eggnog for a group or to age
(makes about 2 quarts)
16 ounces spirit of choice, blends encouraged
3 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces simple syrup
Crack eggs into a mixing bowl. Whisk, or mix with a stand mixer on low until incorporated. Add simple syrup, then milk, cream and spirits and continue mixing until thoroughly combined. Serve immediately out of a punch bowl, garnished with grated nutmeg. To age, keep eggnog in a well-sanitized, airtight container in the refrigerator. Eggnog will keep indefinitely, but it will start to show some complexity at about two weeks.
Josh Seaburg has established several award-winning bar programs and a series of innovative pop-ups, highlighting elaborate cocktails and food from local chefs.