Christmas Cocktail Line-Up
I like simple drinks. None of your elaborate rosemary-infused pear vodka pompom for me thank you very much. I have tried these ornate offerings and their kin too many times, only to wind up feeling disgruntled and ripped off. Most are pretentious, too sweet, and extortionate. If strong spirits are required give me scotch with a splash of water or a tequila on the rocks with a twist of lime; you can keep your fruit juice fripperies.
And then Christmas arrives. As December dawns I become a glutton for all the hot, fruity, mulled mugs that you can throw at me. Perhaps it’s the combination of heat, spice, booze, and fruit; the first sip is always medicinal (okay, I may be several hundred years behind modern medical science, but who cares) and the last sip is just as assuredly Dionysian, complete with the subsequent collapse into snoring contentment. So this year, in the spirit of Santa’s hard working elf, I am pleased to present my definitive Christmas Cocktail Line-Up.
First, a sustaining breakfast beverage to get you holidays off to a good start.
I first encountered eggnog while working as a barista. We served ‘eggnog lattes’ (a desecration of our sumptuous coffee) and the so-called nog came in cartons with an expiration date six months away. Isn’t this stuff made of milk, cream, and eggs? I wondered. Freaky. The liquid was slop heavy and puss yellow. As customer after customer crooned in delight over their noggy-drinks, however, curiosity overcame disgust and I took a sip. It clung to my tongue, it clawed at my throat, it wallowed in my stomach like Platonic melancholy. ‘Ah, but this isn’t real eggnog,’ a co-worker informed me. ‘It’s got to be homemade. And the key is brandy and rum; they cut the cream and make it a different drink entirely.’
So I gave it a whirl. The result was indeed worlds away from store-bought nog—lighter, fragrant with nutmeg, and a pleasant pale creamed hue. It was still rich and weighty, but the alcohol carved through the cream giving it lovely sharp counterbalance. A small cup of this nog is a luxurious festive indulgence. It can also be adapted for various recipes from eggnog french toast to fudge and cheesecake. For Christmas dessert I’m thinking of trying a recipe for eggnog flan with a cinnamon crust.
The true etymology of the term ‘eggnog’ is hard to distinguish from legend. Some say that ‘nog’ comes from the middle English ‘noggin’ meaning a small wooden cup for alcoholic drinks. Others say eggnog is a shortened version of ‘egg and grog,’ the latter being a term for the diluted alcohol, particularly rum, given to sailors (presumably in an attempt to keep them sufficiently tipsy and content but not so drunk that they toppled overboard). Whatever the case, the drink itself if thought to come from an English drink called posset. Dating back to the 14th century, posset was a medicinal beverage (here we go again with the booze-loving doctors) made with cream, eggs, spices, and a sherry-style wine called ‘sack.’
Both posset and eggnog were beverages of the aristocracy. The lower classes couldn’t afford luxuries such as cream, eggs, and spices. Instead these commoners would thicken their booze with bread (tipsily one-upping the Italians and their bread soup). I find it a great tragedy that we have reduced this once noble tipple to a dispirited yellow goop filled with chemicals and colorings. The only resort is to make the stuff at home. Here is a good traditional recipe adapted from Historical Foods.
4 fresh healthy eggs*
100g (3oz) sugar
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg – extra grated for garnish
1 whole cinnamon stick
100ml (3oz) brandy
100ml (3oz) dark rum
350ml (12oz) whole milk
250ml (8oz) heavy cream
Optional: bring this recipe up to date with the addition of vanilla
* Salmonella is a remote possibility. Life is risky. Buy fresh, good quality eggs.
1. In a large bowl beat the eggs until frothy. Then beat in the sugar. One by one slowly add the milk, followed by the cream, brandy, and finally rum, beating each in well before adding the next.
2. Grate in the nutmeg and add the whole cinnamon stick. (Although vanilla is not traditional, it complements the other flavors well. If desired, add the seeds scraped from 1/2 a vanilla pod.)
3. Refrigerate the mixture for a few hours, then remove the cinnamon stick, shake well, and serve.
Eggnog that is not preserved by ungodly means has a short shelf life. Keep refrigerated and drink within a few days.