The International Eggnog
Eierpunsch, rompope or biblia con pisco. Almost every nation has a traditional mixed beverage making use of egg. Camper English lists the most popular eggnog recipes.
If you believe the internet, eggnog was both an American invention and first consumed at Jamestown in 1607, the first successful settlement on mainland North America. This would make Captain John Smith, the leader of the colony, one of the first American mixologists. And this is precisely why you should not trust the internet. Though Captain Smith may have consumed egg drinks at Jamestown, they probably would not have been the eggnog that we know today, but its predecessor. The drinks were probably some form of posset, a hot cocktail of wine or ale mixed with curdled milk or eggs.
Eggnog, on the other hand, is usually mixed with distilled spirits instead of beer or wine. It appears that the addition of distilled spirits is an American trait making the beverage distinct from posset. Eggnog is also most often served cold rather than hot like posset, although the Tom and Jerry is a form of hot eggnog that was once popular. Posset is no longer popular, of course, but once common enough that it was referenced in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. LeNell Smothers, former liquor store owner and expert on egg drinks (she’s currently writing a book about the history of eggs in beverages), agrees that the drinks may be related. “Perhaps the British posset tradition is the root of the American eggnog. Let’s not also forget to throw in caudles and various punches, as well, as part of that tradition of mixing eggs in drinks. Mixing wine or ale with eggs and spices strengthened the weary worker returning home or the tired traveler stopping into a tavern needing sustenance and warmth.
With the prevalence of rum in the New World, it’s only natural to have replaced the wine and ale with what ingredients were locally available.” The most popular native American spirit was rum, often distilled locally with molasses from the British islands in the Caribbean. It was also pretty affordable compared with imported brandies. Rum was probably the most common spirit used in eggnogs originally, as it still is today, but eggnog can be mixed with anything from cognac to tequila. Rum and rum drinks were called “grogs,” so many people believe the word eggnog comes from a shortening of “egg and grog.” Another theory is that the word “nog” is short for “noggin,” which was a small cup, and thus “eggnog” is short for “egg and grog in a noggin,” which is only slightly less cumbersome to order from your local bartender than a Long Island Iced Tea.
The First Reference
If we choose to believe the internet (risky, as mentioned above), the first reference to eggnog comes from a newspaper in New Jersey in 1788. Later that same year, Philadelphia’s Independent Gazetteer offered some dietary advice about eggnog still relevant today. It reportedly stated, “When wine and beer, punch and eggnog meet, instantly ensues a quarrel.” Apparently this quote was referring to indigestion, but with all that alcohol a bar quarrel would not be unexpected either.
In David Wondrich’s book Imbibe, he says the upper classes would mix their eggnog with brandy, rum, and fortified wines, whereas only the rural residents took it with whiskey. (The internet is filled with a recipe supposedly from the first American president George Washington, made with eggs, milk, and cream with brandy, whisky, rum, and sherry. I have not been able to verify the source of the recipe, however.) The first bartender’s book, Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, included six recipes for eggnogs: Egg Nogg (sugar, egg, cognac, rum, milk, nutmeg) Hot Egg Nogg (same with boiled water), Baltimore Egg Nogg (rum, Madeira), General Harrison’s Egg Nogg (made with alcoholic cider- and thus closer to posset), and Sherry Egg Nogg (with sherry).
Thomas also claims to have invented the Tom and Jerry, a hot eggnog with rum, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Though he may have done a great deal to popularize the Tom and Jerry, David Wondrich disproved the claim that Thomas invented it, citing earlier references to the drink. The Tom and Jerry is typically prepared differently than eggnog: The mixture is made up into a “batter” that can be stored. This is then mixed to order with rum and hot water and garnished with nutmeg. In the US, a Tom and Jerry is typically served hot, while an eggnog is served cold. A less common way to serve eggnog is to age it. (There is a recipe for aged eggnog on Chow.com) Says LeNell Smothers: “A fresh batch of egg nog is delightful, but nothing beats the melded flavors of an egg nog left to age in a closed bottle in the back of the fridge for at least a month.”
The International Eggnog
Eierpunsch is a German version of eggnog made with white wine. One recipe calls for 1 bottle of white wine, 4 eggs, 5 tablespoons of sugar, one packet of vanilla sugar, 4 cloves, 250ml strong tea, lemon or lime juice, and a pinch of cinnamon. Another recipe dating from 1904 calls for eggs, lemon juice, sugar, white wine, water and rum.
The French also have a native egg drink. A recipe for “lait de poule” (hen’s milk) calls for an egg yolk, sugar, and orange flower water, mixed and then warmed with boiling water. It was often recommended for persons with a cough, taken before bed. Other recipes for lait de poule add alcohol like cognac and rum to the mix, and in some parts of Canada the typical eggnog that is sold in a milk carton in grocery stores is labeled as lait de poule.
Many Latin and South American countries have eggnog traditions as well, usually made with the local spirits. In Puerto Rico, the local version of eggnog is called “coquito,” and is made with eggs, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, cinnamon, vanilla, and of course, rum. In Mexico, eggnog is called “rompope,” and is sometimes made with rum but often with neutral grain spirits. It is quite frequently flavored with ingredients like almonds, allspice, cinnamon, pine nuts, vanilla and chocolate. Furthermore, rompope is an ingredient in traditional Mexican desserts including “tres leches cake”.
In Peru, the local unaged grape brandy pisco is used to make the “biblia con pisco,” which can range from being just a mixture of egg, sugar, pisco, and nutmeg to a more complicated version calling for port, cognac, cocoa butter, and evaporated milk. Bottled egg liqueurs (eggs, sugar, and liquor) include many brands of rompope from Mexico, sabajón of Colombia, and advocaat from Holland. They are sipped neat like other cream liqueurs, and frequently used in cooking.
How to Serve the Eggnog
Typically in the United States, boxes of pre-mixed, non-alcoholic eggnog begin showing up on grocery store shelves in November. Eggnog is often served at holiday parties and offered at bars through the holiday season, typically ending on New Years. Then, eggnog is replaced with champagne for the night and on the morning after, Americans purchase a gym membership that they’ll never use and resolve to lose weight and start eating healthier food. Eggnog is not often served after January first.
At the bar Shepheard in Koln, Bar Manager Stephan Hinz has been serving eggnog for four years. He says this year he plans to serve it from December until the end of January. Eggnog is by no means the only winter cocktail served at Shepheard. Hinz says he will likely also serve the drinks Hot Buttered Rum, Big Jack, Tahitian Coffee, and AMG Punch. These other drinks may be easier to sell than eggnog, which doesn’t have the history in Germany that it does in the States. “I think our typical guests won’t order this drink (on their own), so the bartenders have to recommend and explain this drink. I am quite sure if the try it once, the will love it,” says Hinz.
Klaus St. Rainer, owner and bartender at the new Die Goldene Bar in Munchen, also plans to serve eggnog this year. He describes his new bar as, “A classy cocktailbar with a modern twist. Small drink menu with a bunch of house drinks and classics. Only a few, freshly squeezed juices, and we make everything we can by ourselves.”
He will serve not just eggnogs (mainly in December, he says), but also hot drinks. These include the “Rüdesheimer Kaffee” with brandy and sugar flamed in a special cup, filled up with strong coffee and topped with vanilla espuma instead of the usual cream. They’ll also serve the “Hot Monk” that is ginger and honey, slightly muddled with a spoon, filled up with hot water and topped with Green Chartreuse VEP. St. Rainer says “There are not many bars who serve eggnogs in Germany, and customers normally do not ask for it. But if you make a good one and tell the people some facts about it, they like it! German people are always careful in ordering egg drinks (because of) some horror stories in the past about salmonella.”
The Salmonella Issue
There was a large salmonella scare in the United States this summer with more than half a billion eggs recalled and destroyed, so eggnog will probably not be very popular this year. These eggs were from large commercial farms that sell eggs under many brand names. Salmonella bacteria, if present, are found on the outside of the egg and only come into contact with the egg yolk and whites when you crack them open. While it is not common, some bartenders sanitize eggs before using them. In his book Artisanal Cocktails, Scott Beattie explains that he rinses eggs in a solution of 3 tablespoons bleach to 9 quarts of cold water. He lowers each egg into the solution with tongs, then dries each one and stores it in the refrigerator until use.
Smothers raised her own chickens while living in New York, and still recommends using the freshest eggs possible. She says, “Use only the freshest, flawless eggs from a farmer you know. If there’s poo on them, don’t wash it off until ready to use. The egg naturally has a protective barrier as it leaves the hen’s ass. Commercial producers spray the shells with a protection after cleaning.” With eggnog and any egg drinks it is best to thoroughly wash the shaker and other equipment after each use, preferably separately from other glassware. That way if you do get the one-in-10.000 egg that is infected with salmonella, you won’t share it to more than one customer. Beyond cleanliness, there are a few other tips to making great eggnog. St. Rainer of Die Goldene says to “beat egg white and egg yolk separately. Then combine them and keep whipping over boiling water until all ingredients are inside.” Eggnog mixes well with fortified wines and just about every base spirit including tequila, as evidenced by Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Clyde Common Eggnog recipe below. For an ambitious bartender, this flexibility could allow an entire eggnog program this winter: Perhaps a selection eggnog made with different base spirits, or a menu of eggnogs as they’re made around the world.
Eggnog, from Stephan Hinz of Shepheard
45 ml Cognac
30 ml Sherry PX (Pedro Ximenez)
1 egg yolk
15 ml cream
13 ml Vanillasugar
Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a coupet glass. Garnish with nutmeg.
Egg Nogg, from Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide
1 large tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar.
1 fresh egg.
½ wine-glass of brandy.
½ wine-glass of Santa Cruz rum.
A little shaved ice.
(Use large bar-glass.)
Fill the glass with rich milk and shake up the ingredients until they are thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into a goblet excluding the ice, and grate a little nutmeg on top. This may be made by using a wineglass of either of the above liquors, instead of both combined.
Every well ordered bar should have a tin egg-nogg “shaker,” which is a great aid in mixing this beverage.
Clyde Common Eggnog, from Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland, Oregon
Beat a dozen eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add 2 1/4 cups of sugar and blend for one additional minute. With the blender still running, add 3 teaspoons of freshly-grated nutmeg, 1 1/12 cups of Amontillado sherry, 1 1/2 cups of anejo tequila, 4 1/2 cups of whole milk and 3 cups of heavy cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine.
This article was first published in MIXOLOGY Issue 6/2010.