By Josh Seaburg | Photograpy by Keith Lanpher
November 27, 2020
In my family, eggnog was the holiday drink of choice. My grandmother served it every Christmas in weighty, ceramic goblets that otherwise sat unused for most of the year. One version for adults, another for the kids. It was always store-bought, never made from scratch.
But even before I was old enough for the high-test version, I looked forward that unique milky vanilla flavor and nutmeg and cinnamon bouquet. Now, of course, I have my choice of liquor, but I still cherish those goblets and their matching tray.
Whether it’s the taste of an espresso martini or the smell of mulled wine, holiday drinks are as much about the memories they evoke as they are the festive blush they produce. So to help this season, we’ve collected some of our favorite seasonal recipes, thrown in some home bartending tips and topped it all off with gift ideas for the drinker in your life.
The holidays may feel a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create some new memories so maybe give that made-from-scratch
eggnog recipe a try.
– Victoria Bourne
A SOLID BOTTOM SHELF
Any person with a quality home bar game can tell you that while having high-dollar hooch is nice, it’s equally important to keep a good supply of less expensive, quality alcohol at your disposal. Whether you’re trying to avoid burning through that rare bottle of bourbon or you simply don’t want to waste the good stuff on mixed drinks, a solid bottom shelf is a must.
Here is a good working list of options for quality juice that won’t break the bank. All are generally available at your area ABC store. (Prices are for 750 ml. and may vary.
GIN: Beefeater London Dry ($19.99)
With gin, look for versatility. London dry styles lend themselves to a wide range of drinks, from a casual gin and tonic to the most meticulous martini. Beefeater finds itself with a few more botanicals than some of its contemporaries, and the slightly higher proof helps it stand out, whatever the application.
Honorable mentions: Tanqueray London Dry Gin, Junîpero Gin
TEQUILA: Espolòn Tequila Reposado ($28.99)
Quality tequila at a reasonable price can be hard to come by. The savvy consumer knows to look for a 100 percent agave label, but there are other standards of production that help separate good ones from the pack. Espolòn is lightly aged, 100 percent agave tequila that hits all the marks; it’s delicious in cocktails and pleasant to sip on its own (or to shoot, if that strikes your fancy).
Honorable mentions: Lunazul, Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila
BOURBON: Evan Williams Black Label ($13.99)
Evan Williams makes a number of great bourbons, but this one works well in all manner of cocktails, at a price suited for heavy pouring.
Honorable mention: Wild Turkey 101
SCOTCH: Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch Whisky ($34.99)
Monkey Shoulder is a delightful blended scotch that combines whiskies from three distilleries, including the heavy hitters Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Such a pedigree makes for a complex sip that satisfies a scotch
drinker without having to dip into single malt costs.
For the smoke lover, Laphroaig Select Scotch Whisky at $44.95 meets an exceptional dollar-to-peat-smoke ratio.
VODKA: Ketel One ($26.99)
Good enough to be premium and priced right to be replaceable, Ketel One is a family-made product that often surprises people who haven’t revisited it for a while.
Honorable mentions: Smithworks American Made Vodka, Deep Eddy Vodka
RUM: Plantation 3 Stars ($19.99)
This delicious light rum is made of spirits from three islands – Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. This trifecta makes for rum that doesn’t get lost in drinks like rum and Coke, tiki cocktails or blender drinks.
Honorable mention: Flor de Caña Extra Dry
RYE: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond ($24.79)
Rittenhouse Rye has been the stuff of legend in the state, to be found only on the back bars of diligent restaurants. Now its producer, Heaven Hill Distilleries, has ramped up production to match demand, and this exceptional whiskey has started popping up on ABC shelves again. Despite its low price, Rittenhouse has earned its street cred. This bottle also makes an excellent gift for any whiskey lover.
Honorable mention: Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond
VERMOUTH: Dolin Rouge, Dolin Dry ($14.29)
The only selection that requires a trek to a wine shop, but your martinis and Manhattans will thank you. Dolin vermouths are produced in Chambéry, France, and bring a soft accent to drinks that call for it. Remember: Vermouth is fortified wine, and must be kept in the fridge after opening.
EGGNOG HISTORY, MYSTERY, METHOD
Eggnog is one of the world’s oldest mixed drinks, but America made it a Christmas tradition.
It’s a descendant of “posset”– a wine or ale-based drink, warmed with milk and spices – that was enjoyed by the British aristocracy throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Eventually, it hopped the pond — George Washington is said to have been an enthusiast – and distilled spirits found their place as the main ingredient. The drink is believed to have been dubbed “eggnog” in a poem by Jonathan Boucher around 1775.
Eggnog is typically a blend of aged spirits, whole egg, cream or milk (or both) and nutmeg. Though it’s known mostly as bringer of holiday cheer, it used to be a year-round tipple. Jerry Thomas, the father of cocktails and author of the first cocktail book, said it wasn’t until the late 1800s that eggnog was relegated to its place in the yuletide season.
These days, eggnog is most often consumed out of a grocery-store carton and spiked with whatever is hiding in the back of the liquor cabinet – the liquid equivalent of a fruitcake.
But the homemade stuff is infinitely better, and surprisingly easy to make.
The main objection that people have to making eggnog has to do with food safety and consuming raw eggs. But it turns out that homemade eggnog can be even safer than the commercial product, given a little bit of time and care.
The Rockefeller University in New York conducted experiments on eggnog safety in 2008 and 2009 at the request of National Public Radio’s Science Friday program. After noting that only about one in every 20,000 eggs is likely to be contaminated by salmonella, they made a batch of a traditional, alcoholic eggnog recipe and spiked it with 1,000 times the normal amount of salmonella in a contaminated egg. They put samples into a petri dish and waited. After three weeks, the eggnog was completely sterile, or free of bacteria. They also found that homemade, alcoholic eggnog developed significantly less bacteria than the nonalcoholic, grocery-store version when both were incubated at body temperature.
The benefits of aging eggnog extend beyond health, though – it tastes better as well. The flavor of aged nog versus unaged has been compared to the difference between a just-ripe and still-green banana. It produces a sharper alcoholic bite around the six-week mark, so make a couple batches and blend them at different ages for best results.
EGGNOG FOR ONE
2 ounces spirit of choice – this can be aged rum, whiskey, brandy or a blend. Just make sure it’s at least 80 proof
3/4 ounce whole milk
1/2 ounce heavy cream
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 whole egg
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake without ice to incorporate the egg. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a glass without ice, and garnish with grated nutmeg.
EGGNOG FOR A GROUP OR TO AGE
(makes about 2 quarts)
16 ounces spirit of choice, blends encouraged
3 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces simple syrup
Crack eggs into a mixing bowl. Whisk, or mix with a stand mixer on low until incorporated. Add simple syrup, then milk, cream and spirits and continue mixing until thoroughly combined. Serve immediately out of a punch bowl, garnished with grated nutmeg. To age, keep eggnog in a well-sanitized, airtight container in the refrigerator. Eggnog will keep indefinitely, but it will start to show some complexity at about two weeks.
MULL IT OVER WITH SPICED WINE FOR YOUR HOLIDAY
As far as holiday drinks for a crowd go, it doesn’t get easier or more festive than mulled wine. Warming beverages and adding spices is no new feat – the first recipe in its current form was published in 1390, alongside recipes for versions made with cider and ale.
Like most drinks with a lengthy history, there are nearly infinite variations on mulled wine from cultures across Europe and elsewhere, but certain core aspects that are consistent. Fruity red wine, like a medium body pinot noir or Spanish garnacha, coupled in varying quantities with warm spices like cloves, cinnamon and allspice, a little added sugar and a garnish of oranges make up the foundation. Vanilla, ginger and cardamom often make appearances as well. This lack of rigor means experimentation is key –raiding the spice aisle can lead to a house recipe that you can share with (or closely guard from) your friends and family.
Get away from the dated “throw it all in a Crock-Pot” method of production by making a shelf-stable spice syrup. This avoids the two worst things about making mulled wine: waiting for it to steep and burning off all the precious alcohol. And don’t forget to use a decent wine.It doesn’t have to cellar-worthy, but it’s best to avoid that bottom-shelf bottle at the grocery store.
MULLED WINE SYRUP
(approx. 12 servings)
5 ounces sugar by weight
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
1 pod star anise
3 pods cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
Zest of one lemon
6 ounces water
2 bottles red wine
In a bowl, combine sugar, ginger and lemon peel. Muddle the peels and ginger and allow to rest.
Meanwhile, toast the cloves, cinnamon, anise and cardamom in a small saucepan until fragrant. Immediately add water to the pan and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar mixture until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Strain, and store in a neutral container in the refrigerator for up
to one month.
To turn this into a finished product, add two bottles of fruit-forward
red wine to a pot with an orange and an apple, both thinly
Heat on medium until the wine is warm, about 130 F. Be careful not to overheat it – alcohol evaporates, and therefor becomes highly flammable at 172 F. Keep your batch away from any open flames.
Once the wine is at the desired temperature, add your spice syrup and serve. Not unlike the spices you choose to use, garnish options are many – clove-studded orange slices, cinnamon sticks and lemon wheels, among others. For a little extra warmth, an ounce of brandy may be a welcome addition as well.
BOOZY GIFTS FOR THE LUSH IN YOUR LIFE
Gift giving can often be complicated, especially for someone who enjoys a good drink. It’s easy to get lost in a world of jiggers and shakers, bottles and glasses. Here are a few selections to help you make the holidays great for your favorite bartender, be it a hobbyist or a stone-cold pro.
Drinking Distilled: A User’s Manual | Jeffrey Morgenthaler has long been a source of no-frills advice. His long-running blog offered bartenders great inspiration during the early days of the cocktail renaissance. His first book – succinctly titled The Bar Book – is a fabulous overview of the steps of cocktail making and why things are done with exacting care. In Drinking Distilled he takes the concept a step further by exploring the hows and whys of drinking culture. His opinionated prose covers a broad range, including toasting, how to care for the teetotaler in your group, and the best glassware for tasting spirits. (Spoiler alert: It’s not a snifter.)
No matter how much you think you know, there’s something new in this tippling tome for every bon vivant.
1792 bourbons | The Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Ky., has been producing outstanding bourbon since 1879. Barton was struck by tragedy in 2018: One of its larger warehouses collapsed, taking thousands of barrels of bourbon with it. The 1792 brand is large enough to survive, though for a while the offerings will likely become scarcer.
Its lineup includes myriad limited offerings, most of which make it through to the Virginia ABC shelves. The 1792 Full Proof bourbon, bottled at 125 proof, is a sleeper hit, sure to delight any bourbon enthusiast, while the Sweet Wheat expression offers a delicious and unique entry to the spirit for
a less experienced drinker. For this year, however, start your people off with the basic Small Batch.
Get one of these beautiful bottles at a price and quality worth doubling up on: one to drink, and one to hide away.
Ceramic flask | Whether it’s to smuggle a sample of some fine spirits or a pre-batched cocktail, a high-quality flask should be a staple of every serious imbiber’s collection. Stainless steel flasks are easily found, if a touch inelegant. Glass flasks are much less common, since they’re transparent – and fragile.
This handsome specimen from Misc. Goods Co. offers a stylish alternative. It’s made in Louisville, Ky., so you know the makers put it through the proper field tests. It closes with a cork, which makes for either a quiet opening when sipping in silence, or a satisfying yank with the teeth for drinking whiskey the cowboy way. Made with quarter-inch ceramic, it holds an impressive 11 ounces – easily enough to share. Consider batching a cocktail to take on the run. Just pop the cork, and pour over ice.
Josh Seaburg is a bartender, brand ambassador and educator who has established several award-winning cocktail programs in the Tidewater area and taught seminars at events across the country.
Editor’s note: This collection was curated from columns that originally ran in Distinction magazine, which is published by Virginia Media, a Tribune Company.