By Tim Korby
Do you prefer rum, brandy or whiskey in your holiday eggnog? Or maybe you’re like George Washington, whose potent recipe called for rye whiskey, rum and sherry. The term “eggnog” doesn’t appear in written history until the late 1700s, and the actual origin of the name is unknown. Many believe that it is partially derived from the term “grog,” which referred to a warm drink of dark rum, sugar, spices, fruit and water. A tavern patron would order an “egg and grog” from the bartender, which would eventually become just an “eggnog.” The other origin of the term eggnog comes from the word “noggin,” which was a small, wood-carved cup used to serve strong ale or other drinks, thus one would order an “egg in noggin” drink; you see the evolution.
The origin of the eggnog recipe itself is thought to have originated from a medieval British drink called posset, which was composed of raw milk, spices and ale, or possibly back even further to the 12th century, when monks drank a mixture of eggs, figs and a sherry-style of wine. In the 17th century, British high society would toast to each others’ health (and their own wealth) with a concoction of milk, eggs and Madeira (all of which were in scarce supply at the time).
During that same time period here across the pond, where most farms had plenty of cows and chickens, eggnog became a very popular wintertime drink. But because of the high tariff on Madeira and sherry coming from Europe, Americans started adding the more affordable rum from the Caribbean to their milk-and-eggs drink. Then, in the 1700s, as whiskey replaced rum as America’s liquor of choice, the eggnog recipes changed again.
For many (including me), the favorite alcohol additive for eggnog is brandy. Because the flavor of brandy is less intense than either whiskey or rum, it allows more of the flavor of the eggs, milk, sugar and spices to dominate. My favorite brandies to add to eggnog are the slightly sweeter versions like Presidente from Mexico or Torres from Spain. If you would prefer to add rum to your eggnog, then pick up an amber-colored rum instead of a dark or a crystal-clear rum. Two good choices are Mount Gay Eclipse Rum from Barbados or Appleton Special Rum from Jamaica. And if you prefer to use whiskey, then try George Dickel Rye or Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon; you won’t go wrong with either.
Here is a simple recipe for homemade eggnog: In a blender, add 4 egg yolks and mix until they lighten in color. Gradually add 1/3 cup of sugar and mix until dissolved. Then, add 1 pint of whole milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg and 3 ounces of rum, brandy or whiskey and mix well. Chill and serve. This will make about 6 cups and will last in the refrigerator for days if necessary.
Tim Korby is the director of Julio’s Liquors’ the-AngelShare.com online wine store. He started in the wine industry in California in 1976 and moved to the Boston area in 2000. In addition to being a retail wine buyer, he has taught wine courses since 1984 and has regularly written newsletters, articles and blogs since 1981. Korby travels the world several times each year to find just the right wines for his customers and to learn the true romance of the wines he sells.