For a few years in my early 20s, November 1 was my favorite day of the year. At the time, I worked for a now-defunct local Bookstop that served Starbucks coffee in the cafe. November 1 was the day we started serving eggnog lattes. I didn’t actually care for the coffee, but my employee discount afforded me a nearly endless supply of cheap eggnog through the winter season. Truth be told, I may even have snuck a few small sips off the books. Don’t tell my old manager.
These days, I have to look elsewhere for my eggnog fix. While the carton of Oak Farms that graces my fridge through most of the fall and winter does just fine in a pinch, I’ve recently begun expanding my eggnog horizons. There’s a whole world of eggnog out there, from simple homemade versions made with fresh eggs, dairy and customizable booze, to eggnog relatives like the warm and fluffy Tom & Jerry or the tropical riff of Puerto Rican coquito, to long-aged nog for the brave of stomach.
Much of the appeal of eggnog is circular. Eggnog is a festive drink, served almost exclusively during the winter holiday season. Naturally, then, we associate it with celebration and good cheer. It’s a sort of self-perpetuating cycle, tradition begetting itself one creamy cup at a time. “Even drinking some mass-produced carton eggnog, I just get thrown back to my grandma’s house on Christmas Eve,” says Chris Morris of Hunky Dory.
Even the preparation of eggnog gives it a sort of gravitas, setting it apart from other beverages. Though you might find a made-to-order nog on a bar menu, the stuff is usually prepared in batches and consumed similarly. There’s advanced planning and the dedication of large volumes of ingredients. It’s a production, and one that Morris relishes. “Despite batching over 40 liters of eggnog last year by hand [for Hunky Dory], I still did my own batches for Christmas dinner with the family.”
Morris’ recipe follows a pretty straightforward path, with a few booze-tweaks to his personal preference. That customization is one of the chief benefits of making your own. “Booze. Eggs. Cream. Sugar. Spices. After that it’s a pretty malleable beverage, which is part of what makes it so fun,” says Morris. Along with the traditional whiskey and rum, Morris adds a fair amount of rich Cognac and nutty oloroso sherry.
“With most classic drinks,” says Morris, “I like to take nods to tradition, so I love what the sherry and Cognac bring to the party. They’re certainly not required, and as long as you’re adding sufficient booze (say, two 750 mL bottles) I think it’s a good transparent base. As you can certainly notice, I also like a nog that has some strength to it.”
Chris Morris’ Eggnog
2 cups sugar
4 cups whole milk
2 ½ cups heavy cream
1 heavy pinch kosher salt
8 oz. Cognac
8 oz. oloroso sherry
4 oz. aged rum
METHOD: Separate egg yolks into mixing bowl. (Save whites for another use.) Beat yolks until pale. Whisk in sugar. Stir and incorporate dairy and salt. Add alcohol. Bottle and set in cooler to age (one week* to one year). Served chilled and finish with grated nutmeg.
You’ll note that Morris recommends aging his eggnog, at least briefly. This aging is designed to render the eggnog safe from any potential salmonella contamination, with the alcohol killing off the bugs. Back in 2009, NPR’s Science Friday tackled this very subject, partnering with Rockefeller University microbiologists to test the theory that the alcohol content of homemade eggnog is sufficient to eliminate any potential pathogens. The study prepared a batch of eggnog, then seeded it with the equivalent of approximately one to 10 eggs’ worth of salmonella. After one week, some reduction of bacteria was evident. After three weeks, all traces of contamination were gone.
*Note that studies suggest a longer aging period is necessary to eliminate all potential contaminants, with three weeks generally serving as a safe guideline.
To read the rest of Nicholas L. Hall’s article on eggnog, featuring more recipes from Alvin Schultz and David Cedeno (Prohibition Supper Club), pick up a copy of the December 2016-January 2017 issue. To find a retailer near you, click here.