My friends Ford and Lisa invited me to their “Nog Salon” this year, and I was thrilled to attend. For you see, Ford and Lisa are practitioners of the mysterious art of aging Eggnog. Yes, aging Eggnog is actually a thing. No, I don’t have a death wish. I was actually very excited to taste their mature Nog side by side with a fresh batch we were going to whip up together.
Eggnog, of course, usually engenders a certain level of squeamishness and serving it usually involves answering a number of familiar questions. Generally, the concern centers on whether or not the creamy concoction is safe to drink and if eggs are actually involved. (Yes, and yes if you’re making the classic recipe.) And the level of anxiety only rises exponentially when holiday revelers hear that the Nog they’re about to drink has been sitting in the fridge for weeks.
But I’ve learned that aging Eggnog—contrary to anyone’s first gut instinct—actually can make it safer. To be clear, I’m not talking about the non-alcoholic cartons you buy in the supermarket but the boozy old-fashioned treat that’s made from scratch. In fact, it’s very important that your recipe contains a sufficient amount of liquor, generally recommended at around 20 percent, since the alcohol is key to killing bacteria.
No doubt one of your guests will gasp with surprise as you pour bottles of whiskey or rum into the bowl of Nog. Ignore them. Remind them that they have no sense of the scale of the drink. It might look like reckless fun (and it should be) to open bottle after bottle and throw away the caps, but really, you’re keeping your friends healthy by exterminating potential nastiness. At the party, we put together a mix of 16 cups of booze for a total batch of slightly less than four gallons. (We used a mix of different types of liquor, including, of course, bourbon, which is traditional, as well as rum, brandy, apple brandy, and a bit of gin, which gave the drink a piney, dare I say Christmassy aroma.) Even with its high alcohol quotient, Eggnog should still be aged in your refrigerator, which also helps with controlling bacteria growth.
That said, if you’re making Eggnog for a nursing home or you know that one of your friends has an immune disorder, just to be safe, Rum & Cokes would be a better choice.
Eggnog is, at its simplest, a straight-forward custard. You beat egg yolks with sugar until they turn slightly pale and form ribbons behind the whisk when you pull it out. Then you mix in booze and dairy. Some folks mix the booze and the dairy, some pour the booze into the beaten yolk mixture. I’m not sure if it matters but in order to avoid any potential curdling, I usually combine the eggs with the alcohol.
The biggest difference between one recipe and the next seems to be whether or not you whip the egg whites and incorporate them. At Ford and Lisa’s Nog Salon, the egg whites were beaten to the suggestion of a peak and then added to the boozy concoction, and the result was terrific. If you like your ouefs afloat on the neige, by all means keep them separate and float the meringue on top. In fresh Eggnog, the whites add volume and lightness, and gives the drink an airy spring, which is delightful.
After we finished making the fresh Nog, it was time for the side-by-side taste test. The moment of truth.
It became immediately apparent that there was no need to make this a blind tasting. Anyone could tell the two drinks apart. The difference between the aged and the fresh Nog is that dramatic. Fresh Eggnog is big and foamy. The taste has structure and levels, it hits you in different ways. You’ve got the custard, the cream, the booze, the fizz.
The aged Eggnog, which was a month old, was a totally different beast. Cohesive, unified, certainly suggestive of everything that had gone into the drink, but no longer singling them out individually. The mouthfeel was slick. The drink was smooth and round. Where the fresh mix knocked you about with its boozy octane, after a month the alcohol had mellowed and simply become part of the chord. While I liked them both, I actually preferred the aged one. It made me wonder why we don’t all have a bottle of Eggnog aging in our refrigerators and now mine does.
1 dozen Eggs, separated
1.33 cups Sugar
6 cups Liquor*
1 pint Half & half
1 pint Heavy cream
1 pint Whole milk
Garnish: Fresh grated nutmeg and grated orange peel
Beat the egg yolks with 1 cup of sugar until they are pale and stiffen into ribbons. Then slowly add the liquor to the mixture, stirring all the while. Then add the dairy. If you like the fizzy feel, beat the egg whites into soft peaks with the last third of a cup of sugar and fold them into the rest of the ingredients. Serve with a garnish of grated nutmeg and grated orange peel.
You can consume the Nog now or pour it into a container with an airtight cap. Leave it in the back of your fridge for at least a week. I think a month of aging is optimal.
*What liquor you use, is really your call. For my taste test, we used a preponderance of bourbon, and I think our final mix went 3 cups bourbon, 1 cup anejo rum, 1 cup VSOP Cognac, half a cup apple brandy, and half a cup of gin. You can also just use bourbon or just rum.