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Why we sip on eggnog around Christmastime

Love it or hate it, eggnog is a Christmas tradition... and it starts in the summer
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS — Eggnog.

A mere mention of the word draws people into two very decisive groups: those who are fiercely supportive of the holiday cup of cheer and those who cringe with a revolting look of disgust.

Steve Smith, owner of the south city bar and restaurant The Royale, sees it firsthand every year.

“Usually you have two camps. One is they will, you know, they'll forfeit their first born for an eggnog. Then there's others that are repulsed by it,” Smith told the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast team on a recent episode. “I don't exactly understand the repulsion, necessarily, but I know there are some people that definitely don't like milk, and I think that's usually the orientation, but this isn't like you're just drinking milk.”

Eggnog is a sweet, thick, creamy beverage usually enjoyed this time of year, topped off with nutmeg and cinnamon – oh, and booze. Usually, a lot of it.

“Well, it is the way to drink it. Let's be real,” Smith said with a chuckle.

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The Royale whips up about 40 gallons of it every holiday season. And they start preparing the wintertime beverage in the summer.

“Usually, I think we start it in July. We’ll start between July and September,” Smith said.

They beat together egg yolks, sugar, whole milk and half and half and then add in bourbon, cognac, and rum. Then, it’s poured into one-liter, half-liter, and cute little 5-ounce to-go bottles, to make spirits bright at home around the holidays.

You don’t have to put alcohol in eggnog, but that’s the magic ingredient that helps it last through the holidays – and beyond.

“These hold really well because we have a lot of high, high alcohol,” Smith explained. “You have to use the right combination of high-proof bourbon. And as long as you got high enough of that in there, it'll hold, essentially, in perpetuity.”

He compared eggnog to wine. It gets better with age – to a point. And then, the quality goes down.

“I mean, wine is not better if it’s 200 years old, necessarily,” he said.

But as far as The Royale’s 2020 eggnog “vintage,” Smith gave it the sip of approval.

“I do have about, I think, maybe eight bottles leftover from last year, which I opened up and they tasted great,” he said.

History of eggnog

So, why does this egg smoothie scream holiday spirit? It all has to do with the availability of rum back in the day.

The writers at Delish cited food historian Frederick Opie, who said colonists referred to rum as “grog” and bartenders served rum in small wooden-carved mugs called “noggins.” The egg yolks, cream, and sugar concoction combined with rum was called egg-n-grog. Eventually, that turned into eggnog.

The first recorded recipe is from back in 1775.

Opie said the drink is connected to British aristocracy. Wealthy people would drink warm milk and egg beverages in the winter, seasoned with expensive spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, and doused with expensive liquors like brandy and sherry to keep it from spoiling.

Americans used rum instead of brandy and sherry. But the scarcity of rum meant it became more of a “special occasion” wintertime drink, which is why we now associate it with the Christmas season.

If you’re looking to try your hand at making some eggnog at home, try this recipe from Food Network’s Alton Brown.

Love it or hate it?

We posed that question on Facebook, and it became a rare occasion of mostly positive comments with a majority of people weighing in to say they love it.

“I like one or two glasses a year. Any more than that is too much. It’s so rich and thick!” said Beckie.

Another viewer named Charlotte said they wish they could have it all year round.

“Love, love it! If I could get some, all year long--- I would!” she wrote.

Then, you had folks like Debbie who said they love it, but lament the calorie load.

“I like it but it's really not worth the calorie load...I'd rather have ice cream,” she said.

Maybe it’s best eggnog is a once-a-year thing.

You can hear more of this story on the Abby Eats St. Louis episode titled "A nod to nog.” The Abby Eats podcast is available for free on all major podcast platforms.

About Abby Eats St. Louis

Abby Llorico tells the story of St. Louis based on what’s on the table. From the hunger for local ingredients, to the booming brunch scene and the craving for creative cocktails, Abby dives into the nitty-gritty of how St. Louis grew to become the foodie town that it is.

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