Research: The History of Eggnog

Thursday, January 12, 2017
Hey, did you guys know that there was an event in American history called “The Eggnog Riot”? And that its alternate name is “The Grog Mutiny”? Really! It occurred in 1826 when a bunch of cadets sneaked whiskey into the U.S. Military Academy for a Christmas party, and wound up getting into a huge, drunken brawl. Twenty cadets were court-martialed, and one of the participants was future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. How come high school history classes never cover cool stuff like this?

Though eggnog is usually considered a holiday drink, a lot of people like to indulge in it throughout winter. As with a lot of drinks, there are ton of different ways to make it. When it first came about in England, it was made with wine. When it arrived in America, rum was favored. In the southern states, they prefer bourbon. In Puerto Rico, they add coconut juice/milk. Mexico intensified it with grain alcohol. And in Peru, they add a brandy called pisco.

Eggnog dates back to Europe in the Middle Ages, and probably evolved from a drink called posset, which is hot milk that has been curdled with wine or ale, with spices added. The concoction was often used as a remedy for colds and flu, and sometime during its rise in popularity, eggs began to show up in posset recipes. The “nog” part of the name is likely derived from noggin, a term for a small, carved wooden cup that was used to serve alcoholic drinks of all stripes.

In the 18th century, eggnog crossed the pond to the American colonies. Brandy and wine were heavily taxed, so America stuck out its collective tongue, and switched to Caribbean rum, which was far cheaper. In Britain, eggnog was a drink that was mainly consumed by aristocracy, but over here in America, its cost-effectiveness, plus easy access to cows (milk) and chickens (eggs) made it a popular drink for all classes. Rum became harder to obtain after the Revolutionary War, which is when domestic whiskey became the booze of choice to include. George Washington was a big fan of eggnog, and even devised his own extremely boozy recipe that utilized rye whiskey, rum, and sherry.

Weirdly, eggnog doesn’t seem to have any official historical affiliation with Christmas. It’s served warm, and it’s mostly served in social settings, so it makes sense that it would insinuate itself into the winter holidays. But no holiday is required to enjoy a cup of nog, and never has been. In Baltimore, there was a tradition in which young men would visit all of their friends on January 1. At each of the homes, the visitor would be offered some eggnog, and got progressively drunker throughout the day. How awesome is that?!? We tend to think of the past as stodgy and prudish, but once you start digging into the history of popular foods and drinks, it becomes clear that people have been cutting loose since the very beginning.