A Bourbon Lover’s Guide to Eggnog – Get Ready for the Holidays!

Ah Christmas. The only time of the year when you can drink spiked custard straight from glass and get away with it. It’s one of my absolute favorite seasonal treats. I always have at least one bottle in my fridge from November through January.

Eggnog has become so synonymous with the holidays that supermarkets clear whole shelves for it when the season approaches. (And don’t forget it’s the reason grandma got run over!)

What is Eggnog?

eggnog

Whether you avoid it like the plague or buy 4 bottles at a time, eggnog is something of a mystery to nearly everyone.

It is a rich creamy drink, usually served around the holidays, that contains eggs, dairy, spices, and (usually) some kind of alcohol. It is possible to make it yourself, but many people opt for the commercial variety.

What is the History of Eggnog?

The exact history of eggnog isn’t known. However, there are a few drinks from yesteryear that might be linked. It is likely the drink originated in England. (Dairy and eggs mixed with alcohol? Where else!)

Posset

One popular drink in England was known as posset – a warm mixture of curdled milk and wine or ale. There are records of this drink as far back as the 13th century and it is believed to have morphed into milk and wine punches served over the next centuries. There is some indication that eventually eggs were added to posset, making eggnog, but there is no positive proof.

Some also say the word “nogg” may have come from the traditional wooden cups called “noggins.” Noggins were used to serve ale or wine in medieval Europe.

Egg-flip

Another English drink known as “egg-flip,” which contained (you guessed it) eggs, but no milk or cream. These eggs were often beaten and mixed with alcohol. In some cases eggnog is still called “egg-flip” thought that is rare today.

Grog ‘n’ nogg

Early British and Americans used the term “grog” to describe alcohol and “nog” to describe a thick drink. Another possibility is the phrase “egg ‘n’ grog” which would easily translate to egg-nog. So there’s another fun thought. (Isn’t it fun to say?)

Eggnog in America

eggnog for christmas

Whatever eggnog’s original form, we can thank the early American colonists for making it a part of our traditional Christmas feasts.

Cows and chickens were more common in the colonies since the majority were farmers. So these previously rich-people-only commodities became available to all.

Even better, sherry and brandy were expensive to import, but one of America’s major industries involved sugar cane from the Caribbean. You know what that means…Rum!

Suddenly everyone could make eggnog! George Washington himself even had his own personal recipe that he served his guests at Christmas-time. (He may just be the most staunch supporter this polarizing drink has ever had.)

What Ingredients are in Eggnog?

First, yes. Eggnog has eggs in it. Raw eggs. Don’t panic. I’ll explain later. Typical ingredients include milk, eggs, cream, sugar, and some kind of brown alcohol.

Raw Eggs are in Eggnog?!

Yes, raw eggs can have salmonella. Will you get salmonella from drinking eggnog? Probably not. Most commercial eggnogs get rid of the eggs entirely and use guar gum and carrageen to create that thick quality. Commercial brands do use eggs, but they are pasteurized to rid them of any icky bugs.

Pasteurizing Your Own Eggs

pasteurized eggs

If you’re making your own ‘nog, you can either pasteurize the eggs yourself or you can cook the custard a little.

Home pasteurizing involves heating the eggs to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celcius).

  • Just place them in a saucepan with water
  • Use a thermometer to measure the temperature
  • Leave them in the 140-degree water for 3-5 minutes

Cooking your Eggnog

If you’re cooking the custard, simply mix the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes. Then chill as usual.

There are those who believe that pasteurizing or cooking eggnog messes with the flavor profile and makes the eggnog too think. I personally have never tried it since raw eggs have never bothered me. But if you are concerned about raw eggs and equally concerned about taste…best to go for a high-end commercial, egg-less variety!

How long does Eggnog Keep?

Eggnog keeps in the fridge for around 5-7 days. Commercial eggnogs do last longer than homemade ones since they are usually egg-less or contain pasteurized eggs. Homemade eggnog has a slightly shorter fridge-life of about 3-4 days.

Will “Aged” Eggnog make me Sick?

Unless you are extremely unlucky, no.

Eggnog keeps, especially when chilled. And salmonella (the real risk of raw eggs) doesn’t last long in high alcohol. So if you really spiked your drink and if you had a glass and weren’t sick, to begin with, chances are you’ll be fine if you have a second glass (or a third or fourth!) in a week.

In fact, a couple of scientists at Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology have been aging eggnog for a month in their lab before the holiday party, every year for 50 years. No one’s died yet.

They even tried an experiment where they added salmonella into a batch of eggnog and monitored the bacteria. After 3 weeks, the alcohol had killed them all off. No one drank that batch though. There are those who argue this isn’t a valid experiment as it hasn’t been replicated or peer-reviewed, but it should at least make you a little less terrified of those raw eggs.

The likelihood you’ll get salmonella in your lifetime is very small. Especially from eggnog.

How to Store Eggnog?

  • Keep it in an airtight container.
  • Keep it chilled.

*If you cooked yours, be sure it cools completely before you put it in the fridge!

Eggnog Around the World

egnogg drink

Eggnog has spread across the continent, thankfully. And every culture has put their own unique spin on it.

Puerto Rico, for example, adds coconut milk giving it a rich tropical flavor. They usually remove the eggs. Puerto Ricans call their version “coquito,” and it’s one of the most delicious eggnogs I’ve ever tried.

Peru got ahold of it and created a whole new drink called “albarrobina.” They use evaporated or condensed milk, egg yolks, and a syrup made from the wood of mesquite trees (which gives the drink its name.) They also prefer to add pisco.

  • Mexico calls it rompope.
  • Ecuador calls it ponche de leche (and adds orange zest).
  • Cuba calls it crème de vie.

The Best Commercial Eggnogs

1. Southern Comfort Traditional Eggnog

southern comfort eggnog

If you’re buying at a grocery store, this is the best way to go. It is sweet, but not overly, and there is no cake, or banana, or bubblegum back taste. It’s thick and creamy and well-spiced.

2. Organic Valley Eggnog

organic valley eggnog

Strong on spice and nutmeg, but is just the right amount of sweet, cream, and vanilla. It is more natural than most of these other brands, though.

3. Hood Golden Eggnog

hood eggnog

The sweetest version, often compared to cake batter or ice cream. Lovely nutmeg spices.

4. Trader Joe’s Eggnog

trader joe's eggnog

The thick and creamy version, but surprisingly not as rich. Very sweet and vanilla-y, but some banana flavor hints.

5. Horizon Organic Low Fat Eggnog

horizon organic eggnog

The sweetest and most “classic grocery store” variety, but good in a pinch. Not as thick as homemade, come people note bubblegum or banana flavors, thinner than homemade.

6. If you live near NYC – Ronnybrook Eggnog

ronybrook eggnog

My all-time favorite eggnog! The guys at my farmer’s market get out 2 bottles every time they see me coming. (You can buy it in local grocery stores as well.)

It’s delicious, tastes homemade. Full, creamy, thick like custard. It is a little short on spice though, so I just add a little extra to taste. (Also it comes in returnable glass bottles, who doesn’t love that?!)

7. Lactose-Free – Lactaid 100% Lactose-Free Vanilla Eggnog

lactaid egg nog

Very smooth and buttery, but definitely not as thick and creamy. Unlike most non-milk options this one does not have an aftertaste.

If you need nut milk – There are varieties from So Delicious Coconut Milk, Almond Breeze, and Silk Soy Milk. I’ve never tried these options, but the general consensus is they are thinner than a good eggnog should be. Since they come from nuts, though, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Just be aware.

How to make your own Eggnog

homemade eggnog

To some, mixing raw eggs and alcohol can be a daunting task. But it needn’t be!

You simply separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with some sugar. Add in the milk, cream, nutmeg, and alcohol. Beat the egg whites separately with a little sugar. Fold the egg whites into the mixture. Then chill until the serving time when you top it with a little nutmeg.

Super easy! There are a number of varied recipes out there that tell you to add cloves or vanilla, change the amounts of sugar and the proportions of the dairy, or add the egg whites in right before serving.

Experiment around and see what works for you. After all, it’s the holidays. You’re allowed to make 5 batches of eggnog. Right?! Right.

My favorite recipes:

What is the Best Bourbon for Eggnog?

whiskey bourbon

The trick to pairing alcohol with Eggnog is…pick a cheap one!

*All your bank accounts breathe a sigh of relief.*

Eggnog is a very rich and flavorful drink as it is. There is no need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on “the good stuff.” You’re just going to mix it in your cocktail and the subtler more complex flavors will be overwhelmed.

If you are buying bourbon for your eggnog only, you could even purchase a half bottle of something. It’s cheaper and you’ll end up with less leftover. (Or buy several half bottles to taste test your favorite!)

Bourbon is made from corn mash, often combined with other grains such as rye or barley. The corn makes it a smooth, rich drink. And bourbon adds those qualities to any ‘nog it encounters. You’ll get a strong drink, but not an overpoweringly “alcohol-y” one.

1. Evan Williams Black Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon $14.29

evan williams

Full of caramel apples and black pepper spice. Vanilla, caramel, walnuts, and clove linger in the background. This is an excellent affordable option to add a little more spice and kick to your eggnog. Choose if you like a strong cocktail.

2. Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey $28.09

bulleit bourbon

There is a large amount of rye in this bourbon which gives it a strong kick. The nose is full of oak, cinnamon, and vanilla. Brown sugar and tobacco notes as well, but it mixes well with eggnog. Add for kick and sweet!

3. Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky $27.09

maker's mark bourbon

This is one of the best-selling bourbons in the United States. Instead of rye mash, Maker’s Mark mixes wheat with corn, give it a creamier mouthfeel and less of a harsh kick. Rich fruit, brown sugar, and vanilla combine with apples, nuttier spices, and oak. Choose if you value smooth and creamy!

4. Wild Turkey Bourbon 81 Proof $29.97

wild turkey bourbon

Classic mixture of corn, rye, and barley. Strong and bold flavors of pepper, clove, toffee, and even honeysuckle shine through. Spicy with nutmeg and cinnamon in the back palate that keep the raisin flavors from begging too sweet. Ends on vanilla and honey. Add for a big bold flavor.

5. Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey $31.99

knob creek

On the higher end of affordable bourbons, Knob Creek has an extremely complex palate. The flavors range from spices like pepper and vanilla to caramel, sugar, and orange. Hints of leather, butter, and corn come through. It is 100 proof, so the alcohol is strong, but it finishes softly. Choose to add complexity!

6. Four Roses Bourbon $39.99

four roses

Getting pricier here, you should only use if you have an extra bottle lying around. I wouldn’t buy this just for eggnog since it is rather nice to sip or add to milder cocktails as well. But I do enjoy it and if I have an open bottle, I’ll add it to our eggnogs!

This is a softer, more sophisticated bourbon. It’s got mellow aromas of caramel and butterscotch. There isn’t much complexity here. It is very easy to drink and goes down smooth, though it is on the sweeter side. Add for an element of sophistication!

7. Angel’s Envy Bourbon $49.99

angels envy

PRICIER. I just had to include this one on the list because it is so delicious. It’s so yummy you probably shouldn’t put it in eggnog, but if you have a really special guest over and want to wow them…this is your bet!

An incredibly well-rounded bourbon, Angel’s Envy is full of dried fruits, toffee, and maple syrup flavors. Imagine candied organ skin, caramel-dipped raisins, and candy roasted nuts. Very smooth with a slight bite at the back. Choose when you want a special treat!

What if I don’t like Bourbon? What other Liquors can I mix with Eggnog?

Good question! (But also, I’m hurt.) There is a litany of alcohols you can add to eggnog, so don’t feel pigeon-holed into just one option. The general rule is to stick to golden, amber, or brown liquors. (Although Tequila is an option, but more on that later.)

Brandy

The traditional eggnog mixer! You can’t really go wrong here. Brandies can come from all over the world and are essentially distilled fruit juice (think wine) aged in oak. They add a rich spicy flavor to celebrate the holidays!

Best Brandy and Eggnog pairing: Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP $12

paul masson brandy

Full of fall fruit and spice flavors, this California brandy does well when mixed with a fall/winter drink like eggnog. It’s full of warm spices like vanilla and caramel and even some tobacco.

Sherry

Another traditional option, Sherry can both add nutty flavors and cut the sweetness! Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning alcohol is added to the dry wine base. Most sherries are aged in oak as well and some are sweetened by adding grape juice.

Best Sherry and Eggnog pairing: Lustau Dry Amontillado “Los Arcos” Sherry $15.96

lustau

The dry, light and nutty flavors of Los Arcos will add some deep complexity to extra creamy eggnog. The strong nut component includes toasted almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts. But the spices don’t stop there! Dates, cloves, oranges, and vanilla wood fill the rest of the glass. An excellent warming drink.

Cognac

Cognac is a type of brandy, however, it’s a little pricier and a little more luxurious than your average brandy. (As usual with these things, it can only be made in France with specific grapes.) For those of your less interested in the alcohol and more interested in the sugar, add in a Cognac. Cognac is distilled wine, so the alcohol content and flavor is lower.

Best Cognac and Eggnog pairing: Hennessy VS Cognac $34.99

hennessy cognac

Apples, almonds, and grapes run through the fruity notes, but the hint of vanilla at the end ties it together. It’s a little more of a spring drink than one would normally choose for Christmas, but the luxurious apples and vanilla make it worthwhile for an eggnog feast!

Rum

I like spice, so personally, I go with a spiced rum.

However, there is a school of thought that one should avoid spiced rum in eggnog since it is already spicy enough with nutmeg. This is especially true if you purchased commercial eggnog as they tend to add vanilla and other spices. If that’s the case (or you just prefer light spice) go with an aged or gold rum. Jamaican rum is also a good choice!

Best Spiced Rum and Eggnog pairing: Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum $27.49

chairman's reserve rum

A very smooth spiced rum. Different from the standard vanilla-based rums, Chairman’s Reserve is remarkably flavorful with elements of orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove. There are very faint hints of vanilla and coconut. It reminds you of Christmas and hot-out-of-the-oven spicy cookies. Imagine mulled wine, but rum! The full load of spices mingles perfectly well with Christmassy eggnog. This is one of my favorite seasonal combinations and one of my top eggnog mixers!

Best Gold Rum and Eggnog pairing: Travellers 1 Barrel Belize Rum $19.99

barrei

One Barrel is aged in oak, so there’s amber color, a hint of wood as well as caramel and vanilla and just a hint of chocolate. It’s been described as a “moonshine” rum and about as original as you can get. If you’re mixing with eggnog, any harshness will be blown away and the sweeter flavors will mix well with eggnog!

Tequila

I have to be totally honest here. This is NOT my choice of alcohol for eggnog. Eggnog should be rich and warm and Tequila is just too light and summery. But this may have something to do with my hatred for Tequila in general.

So, if you love it, really love it, don’t listen to me. Tequila creates a bright and somewhat sassy version of the classic drink.

Best Tequila and Eggnog Pairing: Espolon Bourbon Barrel Finished Añejo Tequila $26.99

espolon tequila

Finished in whiskey bourbon barrels (which might be why I can almost tolerate it?) this tequila has a much more complex flavor. Agave is inescapable, of course. But the wood infuses it with dried fruit, butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, and even some slight hints of chocolate.

Whiskey (NOT Bourbon)

Again, whiskey was used in eggnog from early on, so you’ll be going back to its roots here. Known for its higher alcohol flavor, whiskey adds an extra kick and cuts through some of that cream. There are two main types of whiskey to add in eggnog, although there are several other varieties you can experiment with as well.

Rye

Featured in Washington’s first recipe, rye whiskey is probably the most common whiskey to add to eggnog. Some of the bourbons above also contained rye, so you can use them if you want to try a slight amount of rye first!

Best Rye Whiskey and Eggnog Pairing: Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey $22.99

rittenhouse

Strong Kick, deep spice, and just a hint of dark woody sweetness combine in a great value rye. (You could even sip some of this while you’re mixing your eggnog, it’s good enough alone.) Rittenhouse has created a delightfully warm rye whiskey, perfect for winter parties. It’s bold enough to cut through that thick cream. A really delicious option.

Scotch

I will never understand this one.

Scotches, especially peated ones, are so full of deliciously complex flavors. There’s already a lot going on. Why on earth would you mix a perfect Scotch with such a rich and powerful drink as eggnog?!  But I digress.

If you can find a young blended Scotch, try it. It will definitely level-up your eggnog, even if the subtler flavors get lost. You can trust the delicious smokey flavors will shine through and intensify your ‘nog.

Best Scotch Whiskey and Eggnog pairing: Chivas Regal 12 $28.09

chivas regal

A nice blended scotch whiskey with all the fall flavors of heather, honey, apples, vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch. It’s a perfect blend with the classic cream and nutmeg in your cocktail. And the price means you won’t cry as much when you dump it into some eggnog.

Combining Liquors

Holidays are a time for over-indulgence. And eggnog fits right in with that tradition. Other than just have more than once glass of eggnog, you can personalize this over-indulgence by combining alcohols to give your glass a unique flavor profile!

(Our eggnog-champion-of-the-year George Washington used brandy, rye, and rum! He also let it sit for days…I’d die to be a fly on the wall at that party.)

The Best Combinations

homemade eggnog for christmas

There are some people, like Martha Stewart, who swear by the three liquor policy. Others feel overwhelmed by more than 2. The choice is up to you, but below are some flavor combinations you might want to try.

  1. Cognac and Rum
  2. Cognac and Bourbon
  3. Sherry and Tequila
  4. Bourbon, Cognac, Rum
  5. Rye, Sherry, Rum

My Pairing: Ronnybrook Eggnog with extra nutmeg, cinnamon, and a sprinkle of cloves paired with Four Roses Bourbon and Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum.

That was a Very Long post about Eggnog

You’re right. I do not apologize in the slightest. Why would anyone not want to know everything there is to know about a custard you literally drink from a mug?

But here are the key points for anyone who’s already ‘had a few’ this holiday season!

  1. Eggnog is made from milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and alcohol.
  2. No, it won’t make you sick. (Unless you have ‘rotten’ luck… I’ll leave now.)
  3. Bourbon is a classic eggnog mixer. And the best bourbon to put in your eggnog is a cheap one!
  4. But feel free to try brandy, sherry, cognac, rum, whiskey, or even tequila.
  5. Or any combination of the above!

Don’t worry too much about what you put in your eggnog. The flavors of the drink itself will make you happy. Just choose something you like and enjoy!

Happy Sipping!

Kathryn Loveless

Kathryn Loveless is a freelance writer for hire who delights in all things delectable. You can find her perfecting a roast chicken recipe, hunting down a new bottle of scotch, or hosting a wine and cheese soirée somewhere in New York. My passion for Scotch started in college when my conniving parents gave me their best whisky for my "first taste." Needless to say, the stuff my friends had at school didn't compare. They had a joke "If Kathryn comes to a party, you need a whiskey that's over $40." My first job in NYC was hosting several fine-dining establishments where I learned everything I could from bartenders and mixologists. Now that I work in writing and development full-time, I continue my education in classes around the city and explore the newest whiskeys on the market. (Still trying to find a bottle of Compass Box No Name if you have any leads...) Newest in my collection: Compass Box Peat Monster and Port Charlotte Islay Single Malt (I love peat if you can't tell.) Most interesting thing on the market right now: Japanese whisky! (No "e" since much of the trade was learned in Scotland.)
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