Eggnog and the holidays go hand-in-hand, but where did this unique beverage come from?

December seems to be the only month where you are encouraged to drink a heavy concoction of egg yolks, cream, sugar, spices, and alcohol.  Drinking eggnog at any other time of the year just doesn’t seem appropriate to most.  While it may not be everyone’s favorite drink, for many of us the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without eggnog to bring in some Yuletide cheer.

People have been enjoying eggnog for a long time, although early versions didn’t contain eggs.  The precise history of the rich beverage is unknown, but it is generally believed that it has its roots in the 14th century when Medieval Englishman would drink posset, a hot cocktail made from milk that was sweetened and spiced and mixed with ale or wine.  Eggs were added to drink at some point in time, but then became less common due to the expense.  Milk and alcohol were also expensive so eventually the drink became something that only aristocrats could afford.

In the 18th century the egg-rich posset drink crossed the Atlantic and made its way to the American colonies.  Because many people had farms and chickens the beverage was no longer exclusive to the rich.  Dairy, eggs and alcohol were easy to come by so eggnog became very popular.

The word eggnog itself is believed to come from noggin, which was a small wooden mug used to serve the drink.  It could also have come from the word grog, a Colonial term which was used to describe drinks made with rum.  The term egg n’ grog was eventually shortened to eggnog.  It wasn’t until 1800 when the term eggnog was first written by Isaac Weld, Jr. in his book about travels through North America and Canada.

George Washington was a fan of eggnog and records from Mount Vernon show that he frequently served it to visitors.  His recipe called for three types of alcohol – rye whiskey, rum and sherry.  Popular recipes of the time often called for a dozen or more eggs mixed with copious amounts of alcohol, be it rum, brandy, whisky or wine.  The particular type was not as important, just as long as there was something to give the drink a good kick.  Perhaps this had more to do with the popularity of eggnog than the eggs and milk?

Nowadays commercial eggnog often contains very little egg and instead has a variety of thickeners, stabilizers and modified milk ingredients.  If you’re looking for a delicious glass of classic eggnog to ring in the holidays, perhaps try this recipe from Alton Brown, it doesn’t skimp on any of the good stuff!