How Drinking Eggnog Became Synonymous With Christmas Festivities

These days, as soon as the weather begins to cool down, you can walk into pretty much any grocery store and grab a carton or two of eggnog. While there may be some debate as to when eggnog season officially starts, it is probably safe to say that the holiday season just wouldn't be the same without this sweet and creamy beverage. However, it wasn't always so easy to get your hands on this festive nog, and the recipe has certainly changed over the years.

While your everyday grocery store eggnog is usually sold right next to the milk, the traditional homemade recipe was a little bit stronger, not to mention less kid-friendly. Traditionally, eggnog is made with milk, egg yolks, sugar, spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, and a hefty dose of rum or whiskey, according to Food Network. But while there are certainly plenty of ways to spike your drink with some extra holiday fun, these days, everyone from your grandmother to your youngest child can enjoy a glass of store-bought eggnog on Christmas morning. But how exactly did this sweet concoction become so integral to the holiday season? It turns out, we have Medieval monks to thank for this popular Christmas drink.

Eggnog was a favorite of the American colonists

In Britain during the 13th century, monks were known to make "posset," an ale that was mixed with milk, eggs, figs, and sherry, according to Time. Because its main ingredients were considered pricey luxuries at the time, the beverage was usually reserved for times of good prosperity. However, it didn't become associated with Christmas specifically until the 1700s, when the drink made its way to America.

Colonists in the New World might not have had much, but they did have farms that gave them access to plenty of chickens and cows, and therefore eggs and milk, as well as large quantities of cheap rum, per Time. They enjoyed the warming effect of the spiced boozy beverage during the cold winter months, adding more seasonal spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, to make it a truly festive holiday drink, according to Insider. These days, eggnog is still very much synonymous with Christmas festivities, but one doesn't have to have their own farm to enjoy the eggnog. However, store-bought eggnog is slightly different than the traditional recipe, containing just a "mixture of milk or milk products of at least 6% butterfat, at least 1% egg yolk solids, sweetener, and flavoring," and zero alcohol, says Ethical Foods. But if you really want to embrace this holiday tradition, there are plenty of ways to make old-fashioned eggnog in your own kitchen this Christmas season.

A Christmastime beverage fit for a president

If you had any doubts about eggnog's popularity during the 1700s, just consider that an iconic U.S. president also loved the flavors of the drink. George Washington may be best known for being America's first president, but visitors to his home knew him as a generous host who always had a warm and inviting glass of an eggnog-inspired beverage waiting.

While the concoction Washington served wasn't eggnog in the traditional sense, and the recipe wasn't created by him, it serves as a tasty riff on the classic recipe. The drink featured eggs, both whites and yolks, milk, cream, and sugar, as well as sherry, rum, whiskey, and brandy, which ensured that this version of eggnog offered quite a kick. And while you may not elect to use as much alcohol in your recipe, liquor selection is a key factor in creating the holiday beverage.

Tips on choosing the best alcohol for your eggnog

If you prefer the spiked version of this classic Christmas treat, alcohol selection is hugely important. While alcohol amplifies eggnog's warming quality, which is essential on a snowy Christmas day, it should also play well with the flavors of the drink. In this case, brandy is an excellent choice, as the liquor is known for having a subtly sweet, oaky flavor. This sweetness is derived from the fermented grapes used to make brandy, although the liquor can be made with other fruits, including apples and peaches.

If you want your eggnog to have a richer flavor, consider including rum along with brandy. Rum also imparts a mild sweetness but contains rich caramel notes thanks to the oak barrel aging process. You can also use spiced rum if you want your sweet Christmas concoction to have a bit of pleasant heat. While eggnog's roots go far back in history, the satisfying beverage is still enjoyed by people all over the world during the Christmas season.