The drink of presidents and the cause of riots, eggnog is all it’s cracked up to be
What came first, the tipsy or the egg?
In the grand history of imbibing, the egg has played a constant supporting actor role, be it in the character of frothy whipped whites to give a drink a cloud-like lightness, or in that of a spiced-up egg yolk to ease a morning hangover.
For the Christmas holidays, however, especially in the Americas, the egg moves over to center stage and gives a performance well worthy of an annual encore. Hark, the herald eggnog sings.
Does any one drink really capture the holidays like eggnog? One thinks not.
Eggnog traditionally makes its appearance just before Thanksgiving in the United States and then parties hearty until just after New Year’s Day. It plays well with bourbon, rum, brandy and myriad other liquors. It even likes to spice things up with dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon or even chili powder.
What is eggnog? It’s actually a pretty simple concoction made with raw eggs, cream or milk and a little sweetener, such as sugar, honey or syrup. This is whipped until quite aerated, then finished off with an alcohol of choice. There are nonalcoholic versions as well, but let’s not get silly.
For what has become such an American tradition, the origins of eggnog do point to Great Britain, where people had long sipped on a posset drink, mainly made with hot milk. For those who could afford eggs and cream, the two were mixed together and then rapidly mixed by pouring the liquid back and forth between two cups — drinking cups were called noggins — and sipped while still warm. It was spiced with brandy, Madeira or sherry. Rather than eggnog, however, this drink was more commonly known as an egg flip.
In the first decades of the 19th century, popular author Pierce Egan released a book called “Life in London: Or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq., and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom.” Included in his ribald tale was a well-described eggnog cocktail well fortified with brandy. This the author named after his main characters, Tom and Jerry.
Another theory suggests the name eggnog was born in North America, where more people had access to both eggs and cream. The egg mixture was combined with grog, the rum drink found in every tavern, and called simply eggs and grog. It was later shortened or possibly slurred and became eggnog. On this side of the Atlantic, the drink was served cold.
Whatever the truth of origin, there is no question that the cocktail of the aristocracy in England became the swill of the masses in the colonies. Throughout the late 1700s and the entire 1800s, eggnog was a very popular holiday drink. For both Christmas and New Year’s, large punch bowls were filled with it and offered to guests when they came calling. Smart guests went calling at a lot of places so inebriation was always possible.
Among the biggest fans of eggnog cocktails was one first President George Washington. He had a personal recipe that combined eggnog, rye whiskey, rum and sherry. Who needed a boat to cross the Delaware?
In the first cocktail book published in the United States, Jerry Thomas’ “How to Mix Drinks,” there are half a dozen eggnog drinks indicating the 19th century holiday revelers were no shirkers. Among Thomas’ inclusions were Egg Nogg, this drink fortified with cognac and rum; Baltimore Egg Nogg using rum and Madeira; and General Harrison’s Egg Nogg made with alcoholic cider.
Recipes for eggnog cocktails can still be found in abundance, especially as more flavored and infused alcohols come on the market. One of the most wonderful things about this holiday-spirited mixer is that it blends well with almost everything.
Locally, no one pays homage to this magical mixture more than Ocean Grille & Beach Bar, 1228 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston. Ocean Grille is one of the few places that not only makes its own eggnog, but has it on hand year-round.
“Truthfully, it was kind of an accident that we have it all the time,” said Bryan Davis, the restaurant’s general manager. “We have a good customer who made up a pretty potent batch one Christmas. The next morning, everyone was pretty hungover, and someone wanted French toast. Well, all the eggs had been used making the eggnog, so someone decided to use the leftover drink to dip the toast in.”
Waste not, want not.
“It was incredible,” Davis said. “We knew it had to go on the menu, so now for Sunday brunch, we have Vicky’s Bourbon Eggnog French Toast.”
Notable on the printed menu is that anyone ordering the toast must be age 21 years or older. It would be interesting to know how many people have ever been carded for ordering French toast.
During the holidays, Ocean Grille has created its own eggnog cocktail, to prove that eggnog is not just for breakfast anymore. The restaurant’s version includes generous additions of both rum and Hennessy V.S. cognac, thus crowning it with the imaginative moniker “The Henn’s Egg.”
Of course, eggnog history is not without its blemishes. Beginning on Dec. 23, 1826, cadets at the U.S. Military Academy began quietly stockpiling large quantities of whiskey with which they fortified the eggnog on hand. On Christmas Eve, rather than visions of dancing sugar plums, the residents of one barrack envisioned some kind of slight, rioted and soon had the entire academy in an uproar, which lasted well into Christmas Day. The event, called The Eggnog Riot, resulted in implicating 70 cadets and court-martialing 20 others along with one enlisted man. One of those implicated was future Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis.
The original recipe for eggnog also has changed through the years, particularly in this century when an unwanted visitor became a major concern. That visitor is salmonella, often associated with raw eggs. Health officials urge everyone to prepare eggnog by heating it to a safe temperature, as even the addition of alcohol to the drink for immediate consumption is usually not enough to exterminate the salmonella.
Another method to “clean” the eggnog, one that is preferred by eggnog purists, is to age it. This involves making eggnog the cold way, then fortifying it with at least 20 percent strong alcohol, such as rum or bourbon. The mixture should then be refrigerated in a sealed container for at least a month or up to one year. Studies have shown that eggnog deliberately infected with salmonella still had levels of it after one week but was tested and declared safe after three weeks.
One other alternative is to simply purchase eggnog in the grocery or liquor store and eliminate most of the worry.
The Henn’s Egg
Courtesy of Ocean Grille & Beach Bar
Makes 1 serving
5 ounces homemade eggnog
1 ounce Hennessy V.S.
1 ounce Cruzan Spiced Rum
Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake vigorously then strain into cocktail glass. Top with grated nutmeg.
6 whole eggs, divided
¾ cup sugar, divided
1 quart of half and half
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Divide the whites and yolks into separate bowls.
Using a whisk or the electric mixer’s whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with ½ cup of the sugar until light and pale yellow in color. Stir in half and half.
Clean and dry the whisk or whisk attachments, then beat the egg whites and remaining ¼ cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the yolk-cream mixture, then refrigerate and chill for at least one hour.
Note: To make aged eggnog, add at least one cup of alcohol, such as rum, brandy, bourbon or a mixture of them, when adding the half and half. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for at least three weeks.