Welcome to TOP SHELF, a new Uproxx Drinks series in which we take a deep dive into one obscure, underappreciated, or altogether forgotten cocktail each week. We kick off this week with a drink everyone loves to hate: Eggnog
The holidays may well and truly be over, but February is still very much winter. We’re still dealing with dreary weather and neighbors who haven’t taken their Christmas lights down. Also, the white walkers are probably stalking towards us right now.
Point being, these are hard times, and hard times call for festive, comforting cocktails. Sitting atop the festive cocktails category is eggnog. It’s also a cocktail that doesn’t get a ton of 2016 love. In fact, if there’s a food-counterpart to eggnog, it’s fruitcake — a once popular treat that’s since become more of an obligatory holiday side note.
Actor and alcohol aficionado Jack Maxwell, host of the Travel Channel’s original series Booze Traveler isn’t an eggnog fan and opened up to us about the drink:
I can’t stand it. Here’s why: When I was a little kid, it used to come in–and it probably still does, but I’ve stayed away from it–in cartons that looked like milk. When I was a little kid and I could barely read, I reached into the fridge at my grandmother’s house, at Christmas time…I thought I’d treat myself to a big glass of milk. And then I read it said “Eggnog,” and I thought, oh maybe that’s just like a Christmasy thing. I thought, that must be good. I like eggs, and I don’t know what nog means, but I poured a big glass and gulped it as fast as I could and…I did not like that.
So, it kinda put me off eggnog for a while.
The beverage Maxwell downed as a kid probably had little resemblance to the original beverage. There was no alcohol in there, for one thing. The real eggnog is thought to have originated in medieval England. Called “posset,” it was a boozy mixture of hot milk and alcohol–possibly ale or wine–liberally flavored with available spices, and likely sweetened, as well. The jury is still out on exactly who it was that later added the game-changing eggs to the mix, with some nog enthusiasts suggesting monks made the move.
As the drink began to lose popularity in England, it gained a following in the American colonies. Where it had once been a celebratory drink of the well-to-do, owing to the expense and quantity of the ingredients required, in the colonies, it gained a following amongst those with more modest incomes. Many colonial families had access to egg-laying chickens and milk-producing cows. What they didn’t have access to were the expensive sherries and madeiras that the British drank. They did, however, have whisky and rum, and it’s with these additions that the traditional eggnog we know and love came to be.
Wait, love feels a little strong, right? Didn’t Jack Maxwell just profess his hatred?
Well, it turns out, the story isn’t over.
They say it [eggnog] started in England back in the day. But when I went to Scotland…we flew to the island of Shetland…the vikings there, have a drink called “whipkull” which is just like eggnog, but as the guy in the Scotland episode of Booze Traveler said, “It’s gloriously unhealthy,” a dozen eggs, and it’s rum, and it’s just like an eggnog, but the way he made it was so good. So, after all these years of being a little kid and never having eggnog again, I had whipkull made by Davy the viking, and now I like it again because of the way he made it.
While we weren’t able to get a hold of Davy the viking, we did take Maxwell’s words to heart: What made for a good eggnog experience was to have it made by someone who knows what the hell they’re doing.
We reached out to head bartender Tyson Buhler of New York City’s Death & Company. Opened in 2006, Death & Company very quickly became known for its incredible cocktails, marked by inventiveness, experimentation, and attention to detail. People sometimes waited for hours to get inside, leading to a first-come, first-serve call-back policy upon the availability of seating.
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Get Lucky (Scott Teague, #DeathAndCo) 3 blackberries 2 oz. white rum 3/4 oz. lemon juice 1/4 oz. ginger syrup 1/4 oz. orgeat syrup 1/4 oz. acacia honey syrup Peychaud's bitters, to garnish In a pilsner glass, gently muddle the blackberries. Fill the glass with crushed ice. In a shaker, whip the remaining ingredients, shaking with a few pieces of crushed ice just until incorporated. Strain into the glass. Garnish with a thin layer of bitters and serve with a straw. #deathandcobook
The excellence of Death & Company’s drinks and bartenders didn’t go unnoticed in the professional community, either. A mere four years after opening, they won Best American Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.
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Thanks @LiquorDotCom for including us in your list of 13 Most Influential Craft Cocktail Bars in America! "If it seems like a cocktail world cliché now, you probably spotted it first at Death & Co. That includes—but is not limited to—unmarked entrances, dim mood lighting, bartenders sporting vests and elaborately groomed facial hair, 'ice programs' and pre-Prohibition era cocktails. But when #DeathAndCo arrived on the scene, these were fresh ideas and your drink experience today is better because of it."
Needless to say, Tyson Buhler knows his stuff. If anyone knows how to make a real eggnog, worth drinking into the bleak and chill month of February, it’s him. The Death & Company menu currently lists a Vintage Eggnog, rich with enough booze to satisfy a Navy officer — already a promising sign.
What makes for a really good eggnog? What sets a good one apart?
Really great eggnog starts with really great ingredients. Considering the majority of the cocktail is dairy, using a fresh quality cream and milk is key. Using a high proof spirit is also of importance. Because of the fat content of the dairy, higher alcohol spirits are needed to cut that and allow their own flavors to shine.
What makes a terrible eggnog? What should bartenders, home or otherwise, avoid?
The biggest mistake I see from bartenders is treating this like just another cocktail. It’s really meant as a communal drink. Something to be prepared and chilled down ahead of time rather than shaken for each individual serving.
Traditionally, eggnog was a drink that laid down to rest for a period of time. In nature, chickens don’t lay eggs year-round and, in order to not waste, people would add those eggs to alcohol and sugar, which act as a preservative. At Death & Co., we make the eggnog in very large batches, then allow it to rest in glass bottles at a cold temperature for at least two months before serving. This really allows the flavor to meld and it changes the flavor and texture over time.
Fortunately for us, having just learned this method, Buhler provides a recipe that you can enjoy a little sooner than April:
- .75 oz Old Grand Dad 114 bourbon
- .50 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
- .50 oz Smith and Cross Jamaican rum
- .50 oz Blandy’s 5yr Rainwater Madeira
- 1.5 oz Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 2 oz Heavy cream
- 3 oz Whole milk
- Combine all ingredients into a blender at very low speed.
- Blend until sugar is dissolved.
- Chill, then serve.
- Garnish with grated nutmeg.
Are you an eggnog fan? Do you have a bar that makes a great nog? Which cocktail do you want us to take on next week?