The Storied Past of Eggnog

Clark:  Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?

Eddie:  Naw, I’m doing just fine, Clark.

This classic exchange from the movie Christmas Vacation spotlights the American tradition of gathering around the punchbowl filled to overflowing with (potentially spiked!) eggnog to ring in the holiday season. This sweet, thick, spiced liquid is the beverage of choice for many this time of year, and is a staple at bars, restaurants, and holiday gatherings throughout December. At every turn, iterations of eggnog abound…pies, cakes, popcorn, smoothies, cheesecake, coffee, ice cream, and even bubble gum all give a nod to this holiday classic. But where did eggnog originate and how did it become associated with Christmas?

An Eggnog Timeline:

  • The early years: Eggnog, in its boozy state, has been around since the 13th century and was originally an English hot drink called posset – a mixture of milk curdled with wine or beer. Down the line it is believed that monks were the first to add eggs to the concoction and on occasion, figs. Posset was most prevalent among the elite due to the high cost of milk, eggs, and liquors like brandy and sherry. Hence, eggnog became the trademark drink of the British aristocracy and it was customary to raise a glass to prosperity and good health throughout the year.
  • Circa mid 1700s – early 1800: In time, this creamy beverage made its way across the pond to America where farm and dairy products were plentiful. Due to the heavy taxes on brandy, early settlers modified the recipe, replacing traditional English spirits with very affordable rum. Colonists referred to rum as grog, and bartenders served rum in small wooden carved mugs called noggins. As time marched by, alterations of the drink’s name changed from egg-n-grog to eggnog, and it went from being a chilled drink consumed in cold months to a beverage specifically enjoyed at Christmastime.
  • Eggnog Riot of 1826: A Christmas tradition gone awry… The place, West Point. The context, annual Christmas party. For obvious reasons, alcohol was banned from the premises, but on December 25th, 90 defiant cadets managed to successfully smuggle a large quantity of whiskey onto campus disguised as eggnog where, reportedly, a particularly raucous display ensued. The extent of destruction was significant and 11 of the most offensive partygoers were court-martialed and kicked out of West Point. Nonetheless, the soldiers (and plenty of civilians, too) continued to enjoy eggnog as the years rolled by. As one enlisted serviceman remarked, “Eggs are very plenty and very cheap, and lots of eggnog are to be drunk. The ‘boys’ are bound to do it.”
  • 20th Century Eggnog: The Christmas-sy libation was enjoyed by the affluent and ordinary U.S. citizens alike until Prohibition (1920-1933) put a damper on things. In time, however, homemade boozy eggnog made a (legal) comeback and ringing in the holidays was common practice everywhere. Even the U.S. White house was known to raise a glass with their guests at Christmastime. In fact, President Dwight Eisenhower, known for his commitment to innovation, came up with his own twist on the Christmastime cheer which included: one dozen egg yolks, one pound of sugar, and one quart each of coffee cream, whipping cream, and bourbon.
  • Eggnog Today: Whether the liquid cheer is jazzed up a little (or a lot) for adult drinkers, there seems to be no middle ground – folks either love it or say bah-humbug to this yuletide beverage. Sales have actually shot up significantly across recent years with Americans consuming 54 million bottles of store-bought eggnog in 2020. Although the convenience factor of readymade eggnog cannot be underrated, there is truly nothing that comes as close to the taste of the original beverage as homemade. This holiday season, whether you opt for off-the-shelf or made-from-scratch, provide your guests an extra measure of festiveness by adding a dash of grated nutmeg, a dollop of whipped cream, and a cinnamon stick to your mug of eggnog. Cheers!
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