No other holiday drink—hell, maybe not any drink at all—inspires strong feelings quite like eggnog does. A spiced and spiked mixture of eggs and milk, it’s a complete love it or hate it experience.
But if you’ve only ever had those sickeningly sweet store-bought eggnogs, you’re missing out. It’s a cocktail with a rich and storied history dating back into the Middle Ages, and a favorite of elites in a time when its ingredients were expensive and hard to come by.
Being a dedicated eggnog enthusiast, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to teach you a little bit about one of my favorite drinks. Let’s start with a history of eggnog so you can appreciate it even more—and the historical background will help make sense out of why and how to make your own nog.
The History of Eggnog
In the long history of mixed drinks, eggnog is something of an aberration. There are few if any drinks (or drinkers) that were brave enough to mix cream, eggs, sugar, and booze in one glass—because if you do it in the wrong order or prepare it incorrectly, it will curdle into a chunky mess.
With that much against it, how has eggnog survived to the present day as a favorite holiday drink? It starts in Britain in the Middle Ages.
Take a look at the ingredients in eggnog: Milk, cream, fine alcohols, sugar, spices, and eggs. Not a single one of these items was in ready supply for common people—and the British elite absolutely loved anything that would show off their wealth.
As a result, the early British posset—a simple heated combination of milk and wine or ale—started to transform into a rich man’s drink. Why limit it to just two expensive ingredients, when you could have an even half dozen?
So cooks in wealthy households continued to accentuate the drink’s richness. Then it made its way to America’s fertile farmlands, where a constant supply of eggs, milk, and rum was easy to find.
That’s how we’ve ended up with today’s version of eggnog. And while it’s fallen out of favor in many circles because of bad experiences with over-sweetened store bought versions, the real thing is actually quite delicious.
How to Make Your Own Eggnog
Let no one tell you that there is one perfect eggnog recipe. Throughout its long history, many have tried to push their ideal version of the nog—but if you take a closer look at each recipe, you’ll see that they’re all variations on a central theme.
Take, for example, the following particularly boozy eggnog recipe often attributed to founding father George Washington. Even though it’s unlikely that Washington actually wrote the recipe, it’s a fine example of a 19th-century nog.
“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry – 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.”
Separating the yolks and whites here is vitally important. By beating the egg whites to a stiff mixture, the proteins are broken down enough that they can be smoothly incorporated without creating a gummy texture.
You can also make eggnog one drink at a time, as instructed by legendary barman Jerry Thomas in his How to Mix Drinks: Or, the Bon Vivant’s Companion. I’ve provided common measurements used today where Thomas would have called for a wide range of strange measuring devices, including wine glasses, ponies, and jiggers.
The recipe calls for:
- 1 tablespoon of superfine sugar, dissolved in 1 ounce of cold water
- 1 whole egg
- 2 ounces of cognac
- ½ ounce of dark rum
- 4 ounces of milk
You’ll need to combine all of that in a shaker tin with a scoopful of shaved ice, and shake it vigorously for about a minute. Strain it into a fancy glass and grate a little nutmeg over the top.
So there you have it: Mix together eggs, milk, sugar, and spirits, and you’ll have your own eggnog. If you’re making it in a large batch, prepare it as per the George Washington recipe. Otherwise, have your shaker tin at the ready for single servings.
Wait, Can You Really Drink Raw Eggs?
Disclaimer: There will always be a risk associated with eating or drinking any raw animal products. Making eggnog as directed will reduce that risk, but never eliminate it.
Both of these recipes are fairly heavy on the booze for a good reason: The alcohol content helps to make the eggs safe for human consumption. This is especially true when the eggnog is prepared in a large batch and left to rest—the alcohol will have even more time to kill any possibility of salmonella in the raw eggs.
Wrapping Up: Premade Nogs That Are Worth Buying
If all of that sounds like a lot of work to make a batch of holiday milk punch, that’s because it is. And if you’re not down to venture into the annals of history to develop and perfect your own eggnog recipe, I totally get it. Thankfully, there are actually a few premade eggnogs that are worth mixing precious liquors into.
Trader Joe’s makes a fantastic Eggnog liqueur that comes in at a solid 14.75 percent alcohol, and their boozeless vegan eggnog is as delicious as dairy-free nog can get. If you can’t find those (they tend to sell out fast), Organic Valley is my go-to eggnog mixture—it blends beautifully with dark rum to make a smooth and not-too-sweet treat.
Whether you make eggnog yourself or put it together from store bought versions and liquor, I hope you can develop a newfound appreciation for this holiday staple.