by Anne-Marie Failla
Note from Karen: Anne-Marie Failla, the newest member of our team at Karen MacNeil & Co. takes “research” seriously. Here’s everything you wanted to know about the best egg nog.
Oops, I suppose I should have waited to enjoy the nog until after I wrote the blog.
But after all, it is “The Holidays” and all sense goes out the window when faced with the guilty pleasures of sweet treats, both edible and potable. The New Yorker writer Carmen Maria Machado backs me up, arguing that “eggnog’s decadence should not be considered sinful; indeed, it is one of those foods whose low-fat variations I believe to be a kind of crime”.
Rather, eggnog, that langorously rich custard of milk, cream, eggs, sugar, spices and a dizzying array of alcohol choices, blesses devotees with its intoxicating richness every holiday season. However not everyone worships at that altar; most people agree that you either love it or hate it. Perhaps the scorn is for the 343 calories, 21.4 grams of sugar, and 19 grams of fat (per USDA data) in every serving.
Like many things now American, eggnog can trace its roots to England where, in medieval times, a hot-milk punch called “posset” containing curdled wine or ale (must have been a lot of that back then) was often used in toasts to prosperity and good health. The more refined version infused with brandy, Madeira or Sherry, came later and was enjoyed by the wealthy only, as access to fresh milk, not to mention well-stocked cellars, was scarce.
Once eggnog reached Colonial America, the concoction crossed class lines because the abundance of dairy farms made the ingredients affordable. The Yanks put their own spin on it, replacing the wine with rum, cheap and copious due to the robustness of the “Triangle Trade” of sugar, slaves, and rum between the Colonies, Africa and the Caribbean. This accessibility made eggnog a very popular beverage with Americans. In fact, George Washington had a famous recipe that included rum AND sherry AND brandy AND whiskey along with a dozen eggs.
The origin of the term “eggnog” is hotly debated, and urban legends and interpretations abound. The Oxford English Dictionary, claims nog was “a kind of strong beer brewed in East Anglia.” Alternatively, nog may stem from “noggin,” a Middle English term for a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol. Meanwhile, Babson College professor Frederick Douglass Opie insists eggnog is a mashup with the colonial slang term grog, resulting in “egg-n-grog” which lazily became “eggnog.”
Whatever its etymology, eggnog appears to translate well for holiday imbibing. A variety called “Ponche Crema” is popular in Venezuela and Trinidad and “Coquito” in Puerto Rico uses fresh coconut juice or coconut milk. In Peru, it’s called “Biblia Con Pisco” and is made with a pomace brandy called pisco.
Here at Karen MacNeil & Co, we have been whistling while we work on the third edition of the Wine Bible, tasting through hundreds of wines from the various regions being covered. After one recent tasting, we offered our esteemed researchers and tasting panel members a seasonal surprise: an Eggnog Tasting! See the photographic evidence at the end of the issue.
Focused as we are on the world of wine, and the occasional spirit, discovering the ideal alcohol partner was more interesting to us than scouring dairy aisles for a comprehensive survey of commercial eggnog bases. That being said, after trying—and dismissing—Clover Sonoma’s Premium Organic Eggnog (“thin”, “gumdrop sweet”) and Califia’s Holiday Nog made with Almond Milk (if you’re seeking an egg- and dairy-free holiday beverage, we emphatically urge choosing a Hot Toddy or Mulled Wine instead)—we unanimously chose M.W. Heron’s Southern Comfort Vanilla Spice Eggnog, a rich, creamy non-alcoholic eggnog that ultimately balanced the booze we added masterfully.
Then we spiked it: with bourbon, with rum, with Cognac, and finally with a combination of Cognac and bourbon. Here is a tip that we ourselves did not necessarily follow. Top-shelf spirits are unnecessary, but don’t scrape the bottom of the barrel either.
Starting with the bourbon: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey that went toe-to-toe with the custardy eggnog. But while the textural balance was there, the bourbon flavor overpowered the nog.
Next came the rum: Meyers’s Original Dark Rum was no match for the heavyweight nog. The molasses twang you expect from rum couldn’t find its way through the custardy eggnog and the spirit failed to pack any wallop of alcohol, serving only to dilute the cocktail’s promised lushness.
Karen raided her own cellar for the Cognac: Cordon Rubie J & F Martell Reserve proved a respectable sparring partner, the nutty nuances of the distilled wine evident in the soup of cream and eggs, but the alcohol pulled its punches just enough not to overpower the texture.
Still, the jury was hung: half of us for cognac and the other half for bourbon (the male half, I must say). The solution was obviously to combine the two for a final test. “Transcendant,” “Delicious,” “Rich and complex.” Indeed, the hotflash of the bourbon was tempered by the slow sweet burn of the Cognac.
So there you have it. Our pick for Best Eggnog Alcohol goes to the duo of 50% Cognac and 50% bourbon. And incidentally, our preferred ratio of spirit to nog was 1:5.
As a side note: don’t fear the raw eggs. “FDA regulations only require that 1.0 percent of a product’s final weight be made up of egg yolk solids for it to bear the name eggnog. So you’re not likely to consume much at all from a carton of Safeway’s finest. Plus, most store-bought versions contain pasteurized eggs, which are heated to kill dangerous bacteria. And you can always count on alcohol to KO whatever’s still kicking.
For a delicious homemade recipe, try this one from delish.com:
And don’t forget to top each glass with a dash of nutmeg for flavor and a grating of orange peel for color.
Got any other suggestions for a tasting we should do? Let me know.