Ever since I was old enough to have holiday memories, my favorite thing about the season has always been eggnog. As a minor in the 1970s, of course, I was relegated to the cheap, artificially colored, gelatinous goop that came from a grocery store carton. Thickened with unrecognizable ingredients such as carrageenan and guar gum, it would be another thirty years before I discovered what proper eggnog should be.
I spent many years early in my bartending career attempting to perfect a true, hand-made eggnog recipe. Given the dearth of good craft cocktail books in print at the time, I turned to the vast collection of cookbooks I inherited from my grandmother. I those volumes, I came across a myriad of recipes from the 1950s, all featuring overly complicated methodologies (separating the eggs and beating them into a puffy froth) or bizarre ingredients (vanilla ice cream). I felt these recipes were all missing the texture I was looking for, and often seemed to be something damn near impossible to replicate in a bar setting.
A quick glance at the first cocktail recipe book to be printed, Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide ( also known as How to Mix Drinks or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion) of 1862 features a recipe for “Egg Nogg” that is remarkably similar to another style of drink in the book, what’s called a Flip. A flip is a very old style of cocktail that calls for brandy or rum, a touch of sugar, and a whole egg, shaken with cracked ice and served with a dusting of fresh nutmeg. Thomas’ eggnog recipe is merely a flip with the addition of milk.
And that’s when it hit me: If the original recipe is something that can be prepared with basic ingredients and simple tools, I can start offering eggnog during the holidays at my bar. And so I did. Nowadays we make our eggnog in large batches for ease of serving, but this recipe has always worked in a pinch, and I have the pleasure of introducing a new generation to this classic holiday cocktail, sans guar gum.
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1.5 oz 2:1 simple syrup
1 oz brandy
1 oz Jamaican rum
5 oz half-and-half
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well with cracked ice until combined and chilled. Strain into two chilled punch or small wine glasses, and grate fresh nutmeg over the top.