Eggnog is so old no one is really able to exactly date when it was first invented and served. Cocktail historian David Wondrich tracks it back to at least 1801—and it’s surely no less beloved in America now than it was then.
While other cocktails lose steam and gain power as the years go by, reliable eggnog is always there to get us drunk during the holiday season.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always the same eggnog, that simple concoction of beaten eggs, heavy cream, sugar, spices, and, of course, alcohol.
In fact, just like most cocktails have gotten “elevated” by the modern cocktail movement, so too has the humble eggnog of late.
A good place to start is at Mace, perhaps the most cutting-edge cocktail bar in all of America at the moment.
Set far east in Manhattan’s East Village, in the neighborhood known as Alphabet City, French expat Nico de Sota spins some of the city’s most intriguing cocktails.
His raison d’être is making cocktails with spices you possibly haven’t heard of, and certainly wouldn’t expect in your drink, like Thai chili, dill, and even mustard seed.
Once Thanksgiving occurs, though, Mace becomes Miracle on Ninth for the rest of the year, a cheery and intentionally cheesy, tinsel-clad bar with a whole new menu of festive cocktails with funny names.
“Eggnog at the end of the day is just booze, eggs, sugar, and cream,” explains de Sota, who never drank it growing up in France. “It’s a drink that has a perfect base to get crazy.”
His Jingle Balls Nog plays with nuttiness, using hazelnut milk to replace the cream and a nutty-tasting Amontillado sherry alongside a brown butter fat-washed cognac.
A syrup made of pandan—that’s one of those obscure spices de Sota loves—replaces sugar, though seasonal spices like clove and nutmeg remain.
Eggnog is allowed to be goofy—it is already innately so. (Do you typically drink raw eggs?)
Mace is owned by Cocktail Kingdom impresarios Greg Boehm and Jeannette Kaczorowski, who have another bar some 12 blocks away named Boilermaker, which, for December, becomes a pop-up tropical Christmas bar called Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack. There, head bartender Sam Gauthier crafts a Caribbean-inspired nog.
“The Toboggan Nog is an example of one of those face-palm moments,” Gauthier explains. “What do people like to drink in the winter and around the holidays? Eggnog and pumpkin spice everything. Throw some good Jamaican rum in, and voilà!”
Bartender Joann Spiegel’s offering is made “smooth and delicious” by utilizing Oloroso Sherry, a hint of vanilla and, of course, Irish Cream.
Other bars are similarly focusing less on the classic American take on eggnog, and instead introducing their own country’s home flavors and spirits to the beloved Christmastime drink.
At Leyenda, a Latin cocktail bar in Brooklyn, bartender Amanda de la Nuez has crafted a nog variant she calls the Noche Buena. It’s made using Plantation Rum, blended scotch, Lustau East India sherry, and Coffee Heering alongside eggs, spices, and even espresso beans.
Ivy Mix, the acclaimed “Bartender of the Year” who co-owns Leyenda, explains: “It’s inspired by Christmas Eve, and very popular with de la Nuez’s family in Cuba.”
If rum, scotch, Irish cream, and even fat-washed cognac don’t make for an interesting enough change-of-pace for you, there’s Oiji, an intimate Korean restaurant a couple blocks from Mace. There, Ryan Te runs a strictly Korean-influenced bar program.
“I’ve made plenty of eggnog in the past,” Te notes. “A Korean version would be rice-based instead of milk. In our Harvest Punch we use the ingredient shik-he, which is essentially a Korean Horchata. [In Korean eggnog] I use the shik-he in lieu of milk and heat it to temper with the egg mixture of a traditional eggnog.”
Another Asiatic take on eggnog comes from Orson Salicetti of Lumos, a Chinese bar in downtown Manhattan.
“Most of the kids in China grow up with ginger and vegetarian milks such as almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk, so I wanted to do something with that,” Salicetti tells me. “I feel the eggnog I grew up with is very sweet and sometimes too heavy.”
For his light, sugar-free eggnog, he uses cinnamon-infused baijiu—a Sichuan, China-produced sorghum and rice wine—in concert with a housemade bean milk, agave nectar, and Domaine de Canton.
Domaine de Canton is surely more well known by American bar-crawlers than shik-he or baijiu. The French ginger liqueur also, no surprise, works perfectly in eggnog, replacing the strong ginger spices typically used.
Notably, Shawn Chen of RedFarm uses Domaine de Canton in his Nogg Out (which also intriguingly uses Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and toasted marshmallows), while Brett Esler of Whisler’s in Austin, Texas, uses Domaine de Canton in A Winter’s Tale eggnog.
Domaine de Canton is not the only oddball European liqueur getting play in today’s modernized nogs. The NoMad’s Leo Robitschek also uses one to take the place of some of those more traditional spices.
Though his Egg Nog (two words) includes fairly expected spirits like whiskey, rum, and cognac, he supplements it with the Italian spirit Frangelico, the hazelnut liqueur in the funny bottle. It adds a nutty, more herbal flavor to the boozy drink.
Then again, if all these nogs sound way too spirit-forward (as they say in the business) and way too spiced up too, lighter vodka nogs are finally beginning to appear around the country.
Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus, Ohio makes My Winter Honey, a vodka eggnog that also includes their own black licorice mead.
While at Featherweight in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Joshua Perez makes one using Hangar 1’s Mandarin Blossom vodka alongside Creme de Cacao.
“I was inspired by the chocolate oranges that you have to smack and peel apart, that I used to get in my stocking every year as a kid,” Perez explains.
Are eggs absolutely vital to the drink?
In Los Angeles there’s Gracias Madre, a Mexican vegan restaurant that somehow manages to make two different eggless, milkless nogs that a friend has described as being “Very L.A.”
“The purpose of using egg yolk in nog is that it essentially adds a creamy mouthfeel, as well as fat, which adds flavor, but you don’t even need egg in eggnog,” explains Gracias Madre beverage director Jason Eisner.
For Abuelita’s Champurrado, Eisner uses avocado as the thickening agent in place of egg. His Not Your Madre’s Eggnog employs coconut milk similarly alongside mezcal, agave syrup, chocolate bitters, a house masala chai blend, and a cocoa powder garnish dusted over the top in the shape of a snowflake. It’s thinner than the traditional eggnog and a whole lot smokier too.
Still, whether it’s eggnog, or egglessnog, one thing remains the same.
“The holidays are about childhood memories, but also about creating new ones with new friends and a family of my own,” notes Eisner. “It’s about being with the people you love, and feeling comfort.”
And there’s surely nothing more comforting than eggnog.
Jingle Balls Nog(Courtesy of Nico de Soto of Miracle on Ninth)
12 large eggs18 oz (by volume) granulated sugar3 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg12 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac15 oz Amontillado sherry36 oz almond milk24 oz heavy cream
In a blender or stand mixer on low speed, beat eggs until smooth. Slowly add nutmeg and sugar until incorporated and dissolved. Slowly add sherry, cognac, milk, and cream. Refrigerate overnight and serve in small chilled cups. Dust with fresh nutmeg before serving.
Makes one gallon.
The Toboggan Nog(courtesy of Sam Gauthier of Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack)
6 egg yolks8 oz pumpkin spice syrup (steep cinnamon and ginger together, add sugar to make a 1:1 syrup and then use 3 parts of that to 1 part pumpkin purée)1 pint of heavy cream1 quart whole milk1 750mL bottle of Jamaican rum½ oz of Angostura bitters
Separately whisk together until peaking:6 egg whites3 more ounces pumpkin spice syrup
Fold this into the rest of the batch and then stir in 1 grated nutmeg.
Noche Buena(courtesy of Amanda de la Nuez of Leyenda)
¾ oz Black Bottle Scotch¾ oz Plantation Jamaican1 oz Lustau East India½ oz Coffee Heering½ oz cinnamon3 dashes aromatic bitters1 egg
Dry shake, shake, and serve in a coupe with grated nutmeg and espresso bean.
Not Your Madre’s Eggnog(courtesy of Jason Eisner of Gracias Madre)
2 oz organic whole coconut milk1½ oz Xicaru Mezcal Espadin½ oz organic agave nectar2 dashes chocolate bitters1 full pinch of Masala Chai Blend (see recipe below)
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and dry shake. Add ice. Shake and strain into a coupe. Using a stencil of your choice, some organic cocoa powder, and a culinary dredge, make a shape on top of the eggnog.
Masala Chai Recipe
4 whole cloves2 cardamom pods1 cinnamon stick¼ teaspoon ground ginger⅛ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper2 tablespoons black tea
Using a mortar and pestle, grind spices until finely ground.