The December holidays are a time for indulgence, and — though it’s been villainized in recent years by the calorie police — a glass of spiked eggnog is a sure-fire way to get into the spirit. Insist on counting calories? Then pass on the fruitcake (and the trays of same-old-same-old cookies), and enjoy a creamy nip of spiced nog.
Eggnog dates back to pre-colonial times in England, where it was popular with the aristocracy. Dairy products like milk and eggs were costly and scarce — as were the alcoholic ingredients mixed with them, such as brandy, sherry and Madeira.
Eggnog and its holiday associations began after the drink crossed the pond. Dairy products were plentiful in the colonies, and rum (which was inexpensive due to the triangular trade) was used to spike it. When the Caribbean rum supply dwindled after we declared our independence, domestically produced whiskey or rum was substituted.
According to kitchen records from Mount Vernon, eggnog was a popular drink for George Washington to serve his guests. His version was not for the fainthearted; it included brandy, rum, rye whiskey and sherry.
Today, with the craft cocktail revolution, creative versions of eggnog abound. Several D.C.–area locales are offering their own distinctive takes on this holiday-season classic.
The most potent version just might be the Egg-N-Grog at Capital Hill’s Balkan restaurant, Ambar. Mixologist Rico Wisner’s version is made from a combination of Hennessy Black, Ron Zacapa, Chairman’s Reserve spiced rum, Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, spiced syrup, whole egg and milk. It will be available until Serbian Christmas (Jan. 7, if you didn’t know).
If the cold weather of December makes you shiver and crave a tropical treat, the next best thing to an island getaway is Puerto Rico’s version of the seasonal staple. From the land that birthed the piña colada comes the coquito, an eggnog-like drink constructed from rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, egg yolks and vanilla. Latin hot spot Cuba Libre makes a delightful version featuring coconut rum and cinnamon with a toasted coconut rim.
Perhaps the most well-planned version can be found at Magnolia’s on King in Old Town Alexandria. Way back in August, mixologist Zachary Faden bottled eggnog using bourbon, rum and rye and mezcal. These cocktails have been bottle-conditioned for four months, which allows the booze to break down the proteins, round out the drink and provide a silky mouthfeel.
Finally, for sheer holiday indulgence, hop a train to Metro Center and visit the ever-elegant Bibiana restaurant. Bibiana’s classic eggnog with a twist sports a unique combination of Pedro Ximénez sherry, Bénédictine and Buffalo Trace bourbon. This tipple is part of the restaurant’s extravagant 25 cocktails of Christmas. Bibiana began counting down to the holiday on Nov. 30, introducing a new, seasonally inspired cocktail every evening until Dec. 24. Other festive tipples include the Fichi, made from Maker’s Mark bourbon, pureed figs, maple syrup and vanilla sugar, and the Hazelnut Old Fashioned, made from hazelnut-infused Filibuster bourbon, orange and cherry.
If you prefer to remain in your own abode, you can whip up a batch of eggnog presidential-style. In an article about the history of eggnog, Time magazine published George Washington’s recipe. Apparently the original did not specify the exact number of eggs, but Time suggested using a dozen.
George Washington’s Eggnog
1 quart cream
1 quart milk
12 tablespoons sugar
1 pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey
1/2 pint Jamaica rum
1/4 pint sherry
Mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs. Add sugar to beaten yolks and mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.