Whenever I look at a glass of eggnog, I first think of that musical montage from Rocky. Do I really want to down a drink whose main ingredient is a passel of raw eggs? Well, 'tis the season. Eye of the tiger, baby!
Since commercially available 'nogs clock in at almost 200 calories per piddling 4-ounce serving, this is generally not a drink for the South. No, this was created by people who relied on a thick layer of fat to protect them through long, frigid winters filled with backbreaking labor and only a tiny wood stove to warm the hands and feet. When Southerners create cocktails, we use mint or sugarcane or lime. Refreshing. Civilized.
But Southerners also have two classic failings — we love fat and we love liquor. What? I can have both at the same time? Well, let's crack some eggs into a bowl and get to drinkin'!
The Brits — creators of "posset," the progenitor of eggnog — had the right idea when they mixed strong beer or wine into 'nog. At that point, it officially moved from mere dessert beverage to cocktail. The American colonists — the ones who weren't teetotaling Puritans — were prodigious and frugal drinkers, so when it was imported to the States, we fortified the creamy beverage with rum. Stronger and cheaper, don't you know. George Washington was rumored to make a special White House blend using whiskey, rum and sherry. There may even have been some egg and cream in there. Maybe.
Eggnog is essentially liquid crème brulee — eggs (often with a few extra yolks thrown in), cream, milk, sugar, nutmeg or cinnamon, and whatever other festive spices seem appropriate. In most modern recipes, the eggs are cooked with the milk and cream until the liquid reaches 160 degrees, just like a custard. That's hot enough to kill any bugs that might worry you.
Add enough liquor, and instead of feeling like a boxer in training, you'll want to put on that reindeer sweater and listen to Gene Autry sing about Frosty while you sip from a glass of cholesterol and booze. By the second round, those family gatherings don't seem nearly as strained. The main question is: What booze is best?
Well, the spirit of choice here in the South is bourbon. Don't be too concerned with the quality of the spirit — Beam or Jack Daniels (yeah, I know Jack ain't officially bourbon, save your e-mails) will work fine — but since you're already taking one step down the sugar and fat highway, you may as well pour in some sweet Southern Comfort to up the ante.
When it comes to rum, Captain Morgan was made for this sort of job (and little else). It's a spicy little number that manages to add flavor while increasing the proof. Regular clear rum is fine, I guess, but it's a little sad to leave that eggy liquid untainted by brown liquor. Otherwise, eggnog just doesn't look right.
My favorite eggnog mixer is a bit of Spanish brandy. It's brown, alcoholic, a little sweet and often adds the barest hint of a fruity backbone to the 'nog. Kahlua works well too, especially if you've become addicted to the Starbucks 'nog latte. Eh, who'm I kidding — eggnog is a very forgiving beverage. Few people are gonna know what alcohol is buried under that viscous blanket of egg and cream.
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
Booze to taste (I usually go with a 3 parts 'nog to 1 part brandy, but remember — you can always add more later.)
Whisk together eggs, yolks and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the eggs are light. Whisk in milk, cream, vanilla and nutmeg until smooth. Heat over low, stirring frequently, until the mixture hits 160 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, it'll be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). If the 'nog looks a little chunky, that's fine, just pour it through a sieve. Mix in liquor of choice. Chill. It'll last at least a few days.
Brian Ries is a former restaurant general manager with an advanced diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Creative Loafing food critics dine anonymously, and the paper pays for the meals. Restaurants chosen for review are not related to advertising.