If eggnog started out as a Colonial-era drink for aristocrats, by the late-1700s, Americans from all walks of life were getting their nog on.
That would all change when America’s economy came crashing down in 1929. Suddenly, a lot of folks found themselves lacking the budget for such a frivolous use of eggs, milk and spices. Thus, by the mid-1930s, powdered eggnog “mixes” (just add booze and water) were being sold by local dairies, creameries and even bakeries like Madison, Wisconsin’s Strand Bakery, who produced a jarred mix that could seemingly be stored indefinitely. Post-Great Depression, the rise of home refrigeration and supermarkets opened a pathway for carton versions that would come to dominate the eggnog category well into the 2000s.
The dirty little secret is that, today, most nationally-distributed “name brand” nogs are essentially eggless, something that, believe it or not, the FDA doesn’t mind, despite the fact that their printed requirements dictate: “The egg yolk solids content is not less than one percent by weight of the finished food.” It likewise need only have six percent milkfat and just over eight percent milk solids. The rest? Spices, “flavorings,” a ton of sugars and sweeteners that end in “-ose,” preservatives, gums, glycerides and gelatin, which keeps many of these beverages thick despite the severe lack of eggs and milk.
The funny thing is—there’s really no need to jam these products with preservatives. As discussed in the recent aged eggnog piece, alcohol is nature’s preservative, allowing eggnog to keep indefinitely. Alas, most of these commercial brand nogs aren’t just egg-free, they’re also booze-free. Meaning, when blind tasting them, we would have to spike the beverages ourselves (which we did with both Maker’s Mark bourbon and The Real McCoy 12 Year Rum).
It should be noted, when straw polling friends and acquaintances across the country for what they considered the best pre-packaged eggnogs, most tabbed ones from local mom ‘n’ pop creameries and innumerable Midwestern dairy outfits. Unfortunately, it would have been nearly impossible for us to get these freshly-made (and preservative-free) local sensations to Bushwick, Brooklyn.
For the tasting, I was joined by PUNCH’s editor in chief, Talia Baiocchi; deputy editor, Jason Diamond; and partnerships manager, Allison Hamlin. We blind-tasted 15 different eggnogs, running the gamut from large factory eggnogs to “nog-ternatives,” as well as a few already-alcoholic versions. Below are our top picks and a few to avoid.
So Delicious Dairy Free Coconutmilk Holiday Nog
Picture us stunned that the best, and easily most complex, nog was one lacking both eggs and milk. An intense graham cracker nose leads into a buttery, thick body that one taster described as a “melted McDonald’s milkshake.” It’s a bit tangy, with hints of sour cream or yogurt, though not unpleasant. When rum is added, it becomes a Mounds candy bar, though one taster couldn’t get over its raw muffin notes.
Hood Golden Eggnog
This Massachusetts dairy offers a plethora of nogs which we included in our tasting; some were awful, a few odd (think Pumpkin Eggnog) and this one stellar. It doesn’t smell great, however; like sweet cream that has just about turned. It likewise has a buttery body, almost cake batter-like in richness. Where it excels is in seamlessly integrating with booze, which it did especially well with rum, which caused one taster to label it “danger nog.”
Organic Valley Eggnog
This supermarket standard pleased the tasters for its strong nutmeg notes, which we found lacking in so many other nogs—this one even has the decency to offer visible nutmeg “flecks.” It has a certain freshness most of the other nogs lacked, not having that bubblegum synthetic taste as so many others did, perhaps due to the organic ingredients and cane sugar. When alcohol is added more layers are unlocked and the variety of spices and vanilla notes move to the forefront.
Our Least Favorites
Trickling Springs FarmFriend Egg Nog
This Pennsylvania dairy loudly touts everything it has on its glass labeled bottle (grass fed cows! no carrageenan!). Admirable, yet the tasters couldn’t get over its odd meaty note on the nose, which we eventually homed in on as being “kosher hot dog water from a New York street cart.” The palate actually isn’t all that bad, however. It’s buttery and rich, but just can’t overcome the Hebrew National punch to the face.
Evan Williams Egg Nog
The only two alcoholic nogs in our tasting were arguably the two worst. This one from the stellar Kentucky distillery was a total misfire. A strangely cheesy nose, akin to the powdered stuff that comes with Kraft Mac & Cheese, leads into a body with intense rubbing alcohol notes; if the venerable Evan Williams Bourbon (a winner in our previous bourbon tasting) was actually used, it doesn’t show—this 15 percent ABV product tasted like it used unaged spirits.
Old New England Classic Egg Nog
The retro label for this Massachusetts-based spirit company’s 15 percent ABV nog claims that it is made with Kentucky straight bourbon, rum, brandy and blended whiskey. Off-putting circus peanut notes on the nose at least masks the intense booziness that greets you upon the first sip. The finish is cloying and synthetic, tasting like those hard sticks of pink gum that came in old packs of Topps baseball cards.