Which Type Of Booze Belongs In Eggnog?

Bourbon? Rum? Different versions of the holiday cocktail deliver different spirited flavors.

I started seeing eggnog products pop up pretty much as soon as the Halloween discounts cleared. But now that it's officially Thanksgiving week, the eggnog, which historically has also been called milk punch (no) and egg milk punch (no no) is calling. Store-bought eggnog is sold sans booze, as are many eggnog-flavored holiday offerings this time of year. But after tasting the Boozy Eggnog ice cream from Jeni's (which contains Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) and encountering both Southern Comfort eggnog and some eggnog holiday chocolates filled alternatively with brandy and rum, I got to wondering: What alcohol is best to pair with eggnog?

A brief history of eggnog

Eggnog is older than America, with the term being coined in a poem by Jonathan Boucher in 1775. The basic homemade recipe consists of:

  • Egg yolks
  • Cream or milk
  • Sugar
  • Spirits
  • These days, eggnog typically includes added nutmeg and cinnamon, to give the eggy drink that warm, spiced flair. Some recipes use orange zest, too. The earliest recipes used either beer or wine instead of the more costly spirits, which would lend a much different flavor profile. In fact, many beverage historians (yes, that's a thing!) think the "nog" in "eggnog" comes from an old term for beer or beer mugs, nog or noggin. The typical ratio is one part spirit to five parts eggnog.

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Traditional choice: Brandy eggnog

The traditional choice for eggnog is brandy or cognac. Brandy is distilled wine, and its fruit base lends it a rich flavor. For those who aren't aware, as I wasn't, cognac is a type of brandy, but not all brandy is cognac, since the latter can only come from the Cognac region of France.

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These spirits are the sweet choice for eggnog, which may or may not be to your ideal flavor profile in a season already filled with sugary foods and drinks. In older, more traditional recipes, sherry is sometimes used in place of brandy. While both can be made from grapes, sherry is a type of Spanish fortified wine.

Hardcore choice: Bourbon or whiskey eggnog

Bourbon, which is most famously used in Mint Juleps (served during the Kentucky Derby), is a strong, classy choice for eggnog. Some say it overpowers the nutmeg and cinnamon, but if balanced well, it can be a nice twist on a classic.

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Much like brandy's relationship to cognac, bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. The subcategory of bourbon typically features a smoother taste with less burn, which pairs well with a dessert drink. Notably, whiskey in all its forms is the strongest alcohol choice to put in your eggnog, so proceed with caution.

Pirate choice: Rum eggnog

One of the earliest divergent American recipes used Caribbean rum as the liquor of choice, since it was not subject to the heavy taxes of the British colonies. However, one of the greatest feuds among etymologists who study the term (which is a thing!) is whether the beverage name grew out of the beer-related terms "nog" or "noggin," or instead the term "egg grog" or "egg 'n grog," which would imply rum.

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Some people mix rum and cognac in their eggnog, which takes it up to eleven, if you ask me. No matter what you use, though, it's best not to get too fancy with it. Since the dairy and the spices will be the main attraction, one doesn't need to add super premium rum to this drink. White rum won't stand out enough, so go with gold or dark rum.

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