“Eggnog is a drink that effectively transports you to your grandma’s house,” says Max Overstrom-Coleman, owner of Wolf Tree, a cocktail bar in White River Junction, Vermont. For him, maintaining the nostalgia of the drink is important. As a holiday season mainstay, a good eggnog evokes a sensory experience—its velvety, smooth texture, custardy flavors and finishing touch of warm spices work in perfect harmony. These are the quintessential elements for Overstrom-Coleman’s take on the drink, the winner in Punch’s blind taste test.
The batched recipe is smooth and silky, almost like “sipping a milkshake or a half-melted ice cream,” he says. It’s “the expression of what an eggnog should be,” a simple drink.
Though he built his spiked recipe on a trio of booze elements—bourbon, rum and Cognac—his intention wasn’t to overcomplicate the drink; instead, he felt that a blend was the best way to reflect a mix of his favorite renditions of the beverage he’d been offered at his grandparents’ and family friends’ homes over the years.
Because homemade eggnog typically calls for a generous helping of eggs and cream, which could result in the dairy component overshadowing the booze, he turned to an aged rum “to build up its backbone” and add aromatics and body to the cocktail.
As for the bourbon, he experimented with a number of wheated options, such as Maker’s Mark, and bourbons with a low-rye mash bill, such as Eagle Rare, but he realized he favored something a touch more peppery to cut through the creaminess of the cocktail. He eventually landed on Old Grand-Dad, a bourbon with a substantial amount of rye in its mash bill, lending a subtle heat to the eggnog. “The rye component makes it less soft and sweet, [and] a bit more punchy and bracing,” says Overstrom-Coleman.
After selecting those spirits, something was still missing. The combination of a spicy bourbon and a rich dark rum yielded a “lack of lightness,” as Overstrom-Coleman puts it, so he searched for something to further cut through eggnog’s sometimes cloying flavors. He reached for Pierre Ferrand’s 1840 Cognac, which added floral and honey blossom flavors to the blend. “It reduces the overall weightiness in your mouth,” he says.
Next, there wouldn’t be homemade eggnog without the eggs. Overstrom-Coleman’s recipe calls for whole eggs; he separates the yolk from the whites and vigorously whips each part separately. The yolks combine with sugar, while the egg whites form soft, meringue-like peaks, imparting an airiness to the finished drink. They also bind the ingredients together in a unique way, especially if you age the eggnog, says Overstrom-Coleman, who is a big proponent of the method. He has kept a batch of eggnog in his walk-in fridge at Wolf Tree for almost a year now. (For those who want to try aging, he suggests simply keeping a container of a batch refrigerated for up to a year and giving the prepared eggnog an occasional shake to rehomogenize the ingredients.)
While he’s put a lot of consideration into the spirits and the method behind the drink, the biggest secret to Overstrom-Coleman’s eggnog is the fresh ingredients available to him in Vermont. “Don’t sleep on the dairy and eggs,” he says, grateful for the abundance and high quality of local farm products. He recommends using fresh heavy cream and whole milk, as opposed to skim, because the dairy ingredients make up a large part of the drink, and you’ll definitely taste the nuances in the eggnog if you splurge for top-shelf ingredients.
While Overstrom-Coleman’s eggnog is a celebration of what’s locally available, it’s also meant to be a form of escape. A marine biologist by training, Overstrom-Coleman’s previous job took him seafaring all over the world, leaving him with countless good memories at far-flung destinations. That experience defined his approach to cocktails. “A well-crafted cocktail allows the trappings of the day to fall off so you can reset and recharge,” he says. Whether it’s a beachside drink or a fireside eggnog, that spirit of relaxation prevails in Overstrom-Coleman’s cocktails: “It should taste like vacation in your glass.”