Cocktails 101: Ruminations on Eggnog

Cocktails 101: Ruminations on Eggnog

A little history, a little nutmeg, a little holiday magic in a glass

Order up a taste of the holidays at the Velvet Tango Room
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Order up a taste of the holidays at the Velvet Tango Room

During colonial times, eggnog was made using expensive booze from England, then the Americans started using less-expensive rum from the caribbean to craft their drinks. Various nationalities have their own versions, such as coquito, made with coconut milk, and popular with Hispanics. I have my own version, too.

As a child, I so looked forward to the Christmas season, when the milkman would deliver milk and cream to our home.  (There used to be something called a milkman. He delivered glass bottles of milk and put them in something called a “milk-chute”, a small two-door pass-through to the outside of the house not unlike a mailbox, but slightly bigger. Small, but large enough for a child to slip through when he was grounded.) In the winter, you always had to listen for the delivery, as the glass bottles would freeze and crack. Our milkman was from the old Meyer Dairy.  During the holidays, Meyer Dairy made delicious eggnog, a far cry from today’s commercial versions. It was quite the splurge for our family to get a quart of eggnog once a week in December and boy oh boy, I remember it well. On Sunday evenings my sister and I would each get a small juice glass of eggnog and we would watch The Wonderful World of Disney.

Some years – okay, decades – later, I was in a grocery store around this time of year and I spotted a few cartons of eggnog on the shelf. Meyer Dairy was long gone, but I had the memory of eggnog in my mind, so I bought a carton.  I could understand that it was no longer in glass bottles, but I was a bit surprised when I read the expiration date. Really? I thought – it will last until Easter?  Of next year?  I thought it surely was a misprint. I opened it up anyway and poured myself a glass. Thick, gooey, unnaturally yellow “eggnog” oozed from the carton to the glass. I became very suspicious. This did not look like the eggnog I remembered. My childhood memories of eggnog were shattered when the horror that is commercial eggnog hit my palate. This was not the eggnog I remember! This was an ungodly sludge, spewed from the bowels of Hell by Satan himself to tarnish Christmas. Seriously.  What the hell happened to eggnog? This tasted like funky super-sweet wallpaper paste with a crappy chemical aftertaste. I threw it away. A few years later I tried it again. Worse than before.

So now I understand perfectly why people hesitate drinking it when I make it at the VTR. We have generations of young people suffering from what I will refer to as Post Eggnog Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PETSD. Symptoms range from pursing the lips shut at hearing the word “eggnog” to a not-so-subtle gag reflex. Why is this? Well, as the saying goes, if you can’t decipher the ingredients, you probably shouldn’t drink it.  So what goes into the average commercial-grade eggnog? The ingredients look something like this:  Milk (not cream), high fructose corn syrup and regular corn syrup, mono and diglycerides, tetrasodium phosphate, guargum, carrageenan, artificial vanilla and something called an “egg base”. Curious. So there you have it – the perfect recipe for eggnog travesty.

Gentle reader, those days are over. And they have been over for years at the VTR. A new tradition has grown over the past four years at the VTR, and it is reaching cult-like status.  That being said, as of Jan 1, 2010, eggnog will be on our regular cocktail menu. And throughout this December you can join us in a traditional glass of eggnog with my compliments. Not unlike the “cocktail epiphany” one can experience at the VTR, the “eggnog epiphany” is eye-opening. Just like when someone tastes a proper daiquiri or gin fizz, a taste of real eggnog will stop you in your tracks. You'll think: “What the hell? This can’t possibly be eggnog”, followed by “I’d like some more of that!” People ask for it year around.

Real eggnog is beautiful in its simplicity. It is not hard to make, and adding liquor to already great eggnog makes it off the charts good. Also, it costs about 25 percent of the commercial versions. While salmonella scares have made some people paranoid, with proper preparation it is not an issue.  Incorporating the alcohol with the eggs before adding the cream and milk sterilize the yolks, so follow the recipe. No need to cook it, no need to put ice cream in it as some folks do. (I really don’t get that, by the way - just rum and brandy, please!). Or whiskey; maybe some Southern Comfort with bourbon to cut it back. Make a batch before watching “A Christmas Story” and enjoy this holiday season.

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