It's that time of season when you can drink eggnog with impunity and no one else will accuse you have being a—what's that other seasonal treat that nobody seems to like?—fruitcake. So let's get to it.
Eggnogs take some ribbing, but we feel it's a worthy cocktail for when the weather gets nippy and the mood is festive. This is a drink that strikes a nimble balance between sweet and hearty at a time when you need both. It's certainly not as cloying as some of the modern confections that masquerade as cocktails.
Furthermore, in a party situation, it's fairly versatile. Unless you serve it premixed in a punch bowl (as shown in the photo, which you shouldn't do without also providing influenza vaccine), eggnog can be customized to your guest's taste simply by the spirit you add. The classic is rum, but it can be anything brown: Bourbon, brandy, some sects even allow Scotch.
Eggnog evolved from the original mixed drink: punch. By the Seventeenth Century, that's what the generic term "nog" meant in English. In the late Eighteenth Century eggnog appeared, mingling eggs, cream, sugar and spice—all things that were delicacies of the time—with spirits. If you were blessed enough to have them at Christmas, it was a pretty good way to celebrate. In the Nineteenth Century, Dickens would place "seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam" in his description of a festive party in A Christmas Carol. However, modern mixology would suggest keeping most spirituous cocktails—with the exception of Irish Coffee—cool.
Oddly, eggnog had its particular little early-season niche in the protocol of drinking. Further into winter, people drank even more bracing mixtures. That's why the angelic Clarence comments in the classic holiday flick It's A Wonderful Life that it's "not nearly cold enough" for a flaming rum punch, even as snow piles up outside. When is it cold enough for a flaming rum punch? Today's short answer—as well as the long one—is never. The advent of central heating and the proliferation of personal liability litigation have obviated the need to link libation and open flame.
Enough history, lets a take a look at how you make the drink in the twenty-first century. (Click here to see a professional do it on video. And if you don't feel up to the effort, consider Holiday Nog from Bolthouse Farms, a premixed eggnog concoction that we found unusually tasty for its class of product.)
Read Holiday Punch for a simple eggnog recipe.