Monday, December 22, 2008


One of my favourite things about the holiday season is eggnog. I probably drink several gallons of eggnog from late November until early January. Indeed, it is possibly one of my favourite things to drink. For those of you who don't know precisely what eggnog is, eggnog is made with milk, cream, beaten eggs, and sugar, and flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg. In addition to these ingredients, it is also often mixed with some sort of alcoholic drink, most commonly rum although brandy or whisky can also be used (our family recipe calls for bourbon, preferably Jack Daniels).

The origins of eggnog are obscured by the mists of history, so that there is actually some debate as to when and where the drink originated. One claim is that eggnog actually originated in Colonial America as a variation on the many milk punches in existence at the time (more on that later). It was supposedly in Colonial America that rum, often called "grog," was substituted for the wine used in milk punches, and beaten eggs added to the mix as well. This drink was called "egg-and-grog," which was abbreviated to "egg 'n' grog," which then became "eggnog." Personally, I find this story a bit far fetched. First, it seems to me that eggnog is as much a British (or to be more precise, English) drink as it is an American one. Second, I find this etymology of eggnog to be a bit ridiculous. It would seem more likely to me that "egg and grog" would have been abbreviated to "egggrog" than "eggnog."

A more likely explanation is that eggnog evolved out of an earlier drink called posset. Posset was a milk punch--essentially boiled milk, which was then mixed with wine or ale. It was often given as a remedy for such things as a common cold, and people today still use it as a means to get to sleep. For posset to become eggnog, all it took was for some enterprising individual to add beaten eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As to the etymology of the word, it apparently derives from our word egg and the Middle English word noggin. Just as it does now, noggin referred to the human head, but it was also applied to wooden mugs used in pubs to serve drinks.

Regardless of when it developed, eggnog was an exceedingly popular drink by the 18th century. President George Washington was quite a fan of the drink, and even had his own recipe that not only included whisky, but rye and sherry as well. Needless to say, it was said to be a very potent drink. British journalist Pierce Egan developed his own variation on the drink to promote his book Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. Called a "Tom and Jerry." It is still served today. In Black and White: A Journal of a Three Months' Tour in the United States in 1866, English Barrister Henry Latham told how Christmas was not properly observed unless eggnog was made for all visitors.

As to precisely when eggnog became associated with the Yuletide, that is a bit of a mystery. It must be pointed out that posset and other milk punches, which would include eggnog, were primarily enjoyed during the winter months. In Baltimore it was strongly associated with New Year's Day, when young men would go from house to house drinking eggnog with friends. Given that eggnog was primarily a winter drink and that drinking as always been a part of Yuletide even before Christianity found its way to northern Europe, it is perhaps natural that it should become associated with the holiday.

Many families on both sides of the Pond have their own recipes for eggnog. As I mentioned earlier, in my family's recipe whisky (preferably Jack Daniels) is used instead of rum. Still, it was perhaps eventual that eggnog would be mass produced. I am not sure when this occurred. Milk was first delivered in bottles in 1878, so I am guessing it must have been sometime after that point. At any rate, it has been around for as long as I have been alive. Of course, there are many out there who maintain that eggnog bought in the store is not really eggnog.

Eggnog has become a well established part of the Christmas tradition. Several gallons of it are sold in store from November to January in the United States alone. And who knows how many gallons of it are made across the English speaking world using family recipes. I know it remains my favourite holiday drink to this day. Especially when made with bourbon.

it could go back as far as the 17th century. At any rate, it was well established by the 19th century.


J. Marquis said...

I love it with Jack Daniels or Southern Comfort.

Mercurie said...

I like Southern Comfort with it too, although Jim Beam will do in a pinch!

Avid Reader said...

Maybe you can revive the old traditional nogging party --going from house to house sampling nogs.