When Jesse Torres decided to put eggnog on the opening menu at Denver’s American Elm, a neighborhood restaurant that opened in late 2019, he couldn’t have predicted that by the time it had aged a year, he would legally be able to sell it to-go and, least of all, that $60 bottles of it would be flying off the shelves.
“It most definitely has changed things in a very good way,” he explains of the ad hoc pandemic liquor laws that have lifted restrictions on selling takeaway cocktails. The restaurant also offers fresh, spiked to-go eggnog in 32-ounce milk jugs using Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum, Brandy Sainte Louise and freshly grated nutmeg along with the requisite eggs and cream.
As Torres points out, until this strange year, people essentially had only two options for eggnog enjoyment: Make it fresh themselves, or purchase the crummy options offered at grocery stores and spike it as they see fit. While a handful of bars have sold mugs of eggnog seasonally over the years, it has never become a fixture within the modern cocktail movement. Perhaps its traditionally fleeting window of enjoyment—the days around Christmas—was too narrow for bars to invest time into developing a house recipe. Or, perhaps, the demand for such an indulgent drink did not match the energy and space required to whip up the inherently large-batch cocktail.
Then COVID-19 hit. Now, just about every bar and eatery—from acclaimed pseudo-speakeasies to Japanese-style cocktail dens to tiki joints to Italian charcuterie spots and even vegan restaurants—is offering its own take on nog. And guests can’t get enough.
“People are more willing to take home and enjoy eggnog now than actually drink it at a bar or restaurant,” says Torres. “I think that has something to do with eggnog being more a ‘home’ kind of drink that’s enjoyed during family gatherings or other traditional activities at home, like decorating the tree or opening presents.”
And, yet, year after year, most people—deterred by the trouble of separating eggs, the mess of combining gallons of dairy and booze, and the task of finding a punch bowl big enough to handle the build—don’t do it. It’s with this in mind that Death & Co. has begun offering to-go kits featuring their Vintage Eggnog (Old Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon, Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum, Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Madeira, cream and eggs, aged at least a month) paired with rum-spiked cookies.
“This is certainly the first year we’ve served it to-go, but this drink was built for takeaway,” says Tyson Buhler, the bar’s national beverage director. The kits are available at the Death & Co. locations in Manhattan, Denver and Los Angeles; they’ve already sold 30 this season, despite a hefty $90 price tag for a 750ml bottle and eight cookies. “Holiday drinks like eggnog and toddies are something I equate with gatherings of family and friends,” Buhler says, “and even if that’s not happening this year, my hope is we can still provide some level of comfort with these drinks.”
Max Overstrom-Coleman, the owner of Wolf Tree, a cocktail bar in White River Junction, Vermont, feels the same way. He has been making eggnog at various bars he’s worked at since 2003. Over the years, he has subtly tweaked the recipe, eventually settling on a split base of bourbon, dark rum and Cognac (“I like the depth and complexity it provides,” he explains) with a good helping of what he calls “rich and unctuous local Vermont cream.” This year, he’s offering his nog in glass flasks, with ceramic mugs available to purchase as an add-on.
“It has not changed the drink in any meaningful way,” he explains of the to-go packaging, “but it does give me the opportunity to tell folks that the drink ages exceptionally well [as] folks often ask about how long it ‘lasts.’”
While comfort seems to be at the root of this year’s nog explosion, certain bars can’t help but put their personal spin on the formula. Like the Seattle-based Revel’s Toasted Coconut Eggnog, served in a take-home Mason jar. At Manhattan’s Katana Kitten, meanwhile, Masa Urushido presents Mama Shawn’s Matcha Eggnog, made of blanco tequila, milk, cream, eggs, alpine herbs and, of course, matcha in a transparent to-go vessel that shows off the drink’s distinctive green hue.
Perhaps most surprising in this sea of nog, however, is the rise of San Diego as the inexplicable offbeat nog capital of America. Kindred, a vegan death metal bar, currently offers Necronominog, an eggless nog made with rum and oat milk. Nearby, J & Tony’s, a self-described natural wine and Negroni warehouse, sells a canned Amaro Nog made with nocino, while Polite Provisions’ Pineapple Upside Down Nog is sold to-go via their sister restaurant next door, Fortunate Son Chinese. The 12-ounce cans include brown butter–washed Cognac, PX sherry, Madeira, roasted pineapple, cream and eggs. According to the label, they’re meant to be chugged.
But in all its iterations—offbeat or archetypal, for sipping or chugging—the insatiable thirst for eggnog seems to reflect a shared search for comfort. At a time when travel and family gatherings are verboten, nog can provide a sensory link to seasons past. As Overstrom-Coleman explains, “The transportative effects of eggnog are incredibly strong,” he says. “Few drinks can create the sense-memory recall of better days and a full heart than a frothy cup of well-made nog.”