The holidays are approaching fast, and while many of us start putting thought into gift giving, others rally around the idea of holiday food, feasts, and boozy drinks. Yes, pumpkin spice and peppermint mochas flood the season of giving, but one thing is clear for many traditionalists, those trendy drinks have nothing on eggnog. While enthusiasts can probably purchase boxed eggnog year-round, why is it most popular around the holidays? How did this boozy drink become a traditional fridge favorite? Let’s explore the infamous origin of eggnog as it has a pretty interesting past.
What’s in a Name?
One can’t be too sure of the origins of the name, but several sources mention that “Nog” was used throughout English history to describe strong beer. Another possibility is that the name refers to the wooden cup, or “noggin, ” used in the 16th century. The word “eggnog” itself wasn’t believed to be used until the 18th century in Colonial America. Don’t be misled, however, the word may have been coined in America, but the drink itself has English origins.
Contrary to popular belief, eggnog is not a homegrown, American drink. In fact, research suggests that the festive drink can be traced back to 13th century Britain. It was called “posset” and was made of hot milk curdled with ale or wine, often sweetened and spiced with whatever was on hand. It’s believed that monks added in eggs and figs. As the drink gained popularity, sherry became the go-to alcoholic ingredient to mix in. Milk, eggs, and sherry were all very scarce and very expensive at the time, which is why the drink became most popular amongst the wealthy class. The drink would be made especially for social gatherings, special occasions, and celebrations mainly to toast for continued health, wealth, and prosperity.
Coming to America
The drink’s popularity overseas eventually spread to the American colonies. Most American families had their own farms that supplied milk and eggs, so sipping the festive drink became more inclusive. However, sherry was not readily accessible, so more lesser expensive liquors like rum were substituted in.
Even our first president, George Washington celebrated with an eggnog drink during his term. Records indicate that he served the drink to visitors at Mount Vernon. Rumor has it, the former president had an impeccable tolerance. His “eggnog” recipe according to Time:
One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one 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 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, 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.
While the recipe has changed over time, it’s clear that by the 19th century, eggnog was associated with the holiday season, a tradition that continues to this day. What we love about eggnog is that it can be tailored to meet your tastes; there are so many different recipes available, and if all else fails, you can pick it up from any grocery store shelf. Proud connoisseurs may scoff at commercialized, boxed eggnog and will vouch to make their own batches every year. If you know an enthusiast, invite yourself to their home over the holidays. You’ll be in for a special treat, and you never know, you may never go back to store-bought eggnog ever again.