Handle The Proof: Eggnog

Although we can't pinpoint the exact moment--or fathom the circumstances why--someone first mixed cream, eggs and alcohol together in one bowl, there's surprising agreement on the likely origins of eggnog.

Cocktail scholars...sorry, daydreaming for a moment...believe it started as a variation of dry sack posset, a British favorite from the Middle Ages consisting of milk and sherry. Some link it to syllabub, a mix of milk and plain old red wine.

Of course, these may have been twists on a more ancient milk and honey treat. Whatever--our colonial forefathers substituted rum, the everyday American drink at the time, or (on the frontier) rough whiskey.

That's right, on the frontier. Eggnog was a man's drink back then. They say even George Washington used to whip up a version spiked with whiskey, sherry, brandy and rum for those wild Mount Vernon cotillions. Well, he didn't actually make it. And the name 'eggnog' supposedly derives from the large mugs wielded in English taverns--or "noggins" in the colloquial.

Or maybe it's from "grog," that once-popular rum drink.

In fact, grog was so hot at one point in history there were songs written about the stuff. Despite the fact that eggnog was a must at holiday parties in the 1700s, I can't think of a musical celebration. It's possible that 'grog' became 'nog' once Patrick Henry and his ilk began adding cream.

Of course, as I've pointed out before, men wore powdered wigs and pantaloons back then, too. The 18th century was a confusing time.

Now it's a tame milkshake poured from cartons--which really betrays what a blistering concoction eggnog used to be. Folks in the past would whisk dozens of raw egg yolks with startling amounts of alcohol, then finish it off with a bottle of cream...folding in stiff egg whites for good measure.

The stuff I've made working from old recipes is both potent and extremely rich. Four glasses might cause you to slur--if you could gulp down that much cream and yolk.

For one or two glasses, though, it's so damn good.