I made eggnog this season, for the first time. It was a revelation—I had no idea that homemade eggnog was so different from the commercial stuff, or that it could taste this good.

So how will the eggnog you make at home be different from the grocery store product? For starters, it will contain real eggs. It will not have preservatives, laboratory flavorings, or stabilizers, and only minimal sugar. It will be fresh, light and open, just eggs and dairy and your favorite spirits—the way it’s been made for hundreds of years.

Eggnog has been a winter drinking tradition in the United States since the early eighteenth century—George Washington famously served a very potent holiday eggnog at Mount Vernon. The drink’s narrower association with Christmas and New Year’s celebrations is more of a nineteenth century thing, but shows no sign of fading.

Historians are generally agreed that modern eggnog is descended from the much older “posset,” a milk and wine combination that probably would have been familiar to Chaucer, and which evolved over the centuries into a way for well-heeled Europeans to show off with their cream, eggs, wines, and brandies all at the same time.

Colonial Americans had plenty of dairy and eggs; better yet for modern eggnog, they had not only brandy, but ample supplies of rum and whiskey. Eggnog was affordable and easily made, and became very popular.

Eggnog, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

The recipe I use is based on one from Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail (2002).

DeGroff has his own story about this eggnog. He calls it “Uncle Angelo’s Egg Nog,” and relates a story about how his uncle won a Four Roses bourbon contest with the recipe. Hats off to Uncle Angelo. Here’s DeGroff’s (and Angelo’s) recipe for a large pitcher of eggnog:

Uncle Angelo’s Egg Nog
(Dale DeGroff)

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • ¾ C sugar
  • 1 qt milk
  • 1 pint cream
  • 6 oz bourbon
  • 6 oz spiced rum
  • 1 whole nutmeg, for grating

“Beat the egg yolks well until they turn light in color, adding ½ cup of the the sugar as you beat. Add the milk, cream, and liquor. Then beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar until they peak. Fold the whites into the mixture. Grate the fresh nutmeg over the drink.”

Eggnog, like a good bowl of Punch, is meant to be served from a bowl or pitcher in a social setting, to lubricate celebratory gatherings, to raise our convivial spirits. You’ll want to serve it in small cups or glasses—partly to meter out the alcohol in small, convivial portions, and partly because this stuff contains a zillion calories, and is about half fat. (Chefs will recognize the non-spirits portion of the recipe as a version of crème anglaise, the batter used to make ice cream.)

Not throwing a party? It’s easy math to make a sixth of DeGroff’s recipe, which is about the right size for two portions:

Egg Nog (for Two)

  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 oz fine sugar
  • 5 oz whole milk
  • 2½ oz cream or half-and-half
  • 1 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz spiced rum
  • 1 whole nutmeg, for grating

Beat the egg yolk well until it turns light in color, adding half of the the sugar as you beat. Add the milk, cream, and liquor. Then beat the egg white with the remaining sugar to soft peaks, and fold into the mixture. Grate fresh nutmeg over the drink, to taste.

This cut-down recipe will fill two rocks glasses.

The obvious things to play with when making eggnog are the proportions of milk and cream, but the number of eggs and the amount of spirits are easily adjusted to your personal tastes, too. I like this recipe for its lightness, and for its balance of flavors between the eggs, rum, and bourbon.

Some recipes suggest that a bit of salt improves the eggnog; I’ve tried it both ways, and I don’t really see that it makes a difference.

Eggs (detail), photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.Many sources recommend that you can make eggnog with pasteurized eggs. No, you cannot. At least, not if you intend to whip whites for the foamy texture. Where I come from, pasteurized eggs are maddening to separate, and impossible to whip into peaky foam. If you’re looking for that light texture, stick with regular eggs.

Finally, there’s the question of how long you can or should age your eggnog. I’m new to nog, so the longest I’ve kept a batch around so far is about four days. Starting on the third day, and certainly on the fourth day, the constituent flavors, especially of the bourbon and rum, become less distinguishable; the liquid takes on a softer, custardy flavor. It would be interesting to see where it goes from there, but four days is about as long as I care to keep uncooked egg batter in the fridge.

But that’s just me—I have seen suggestions that three weeks is the minimum time required to get flavors to meld, and that eggnog is at its best when it is six months to a year old. Long aging sounds a little dodgy to me, absent very large doses of spirits in the mix; besides, I don’t have enough room in my vermouth-laden fridge to keep a pot around for a year. (Milk, cream, eggs, sugar… what could go wrong?) I’d love to hear from anyone who has actually done this experiment.

Aged or not, eggnog is a delightful drink when properly made, and a fine way to share your rum and bourbon when friends gather.

Happy New Year!