The Origins of Eggnog: A Favorite Christmas Cocktail

Holiday parties have been fueled by eggnog for centuries

Eggnog is an old holiday tradition.
gordana jovanovic / E+ / Getty Images

Eggnog is a drink that stirs up memories for most people and you either love it or hate it. Either way, you must admit that it is embedded in our Christmas and holiday traditions. If you have tried it and found it wasn't your thing, maybe you just haven’t had good eggnog and it is time to give it another try.

Though it's enjoyed worldwide, many people wonder where eggnog got its start. Let's explore the origins of this timeless drink and how it spread over the centuries.

What's in a Name?

The word eggnog itself does not have much appeal. That guttural sound and the thought of drinking eggs is enough to make many people back away. There are differing opinions as to the origin of the name for this famous drink.

One version says that eggnog derives from an Old English word for strong beer. There's also the possibility that it derived from noggin, a word for a small cup that's first known use was 1588. Another version attributes the name to Colonial America where colonists referred to thick drinks as grogs and eggnog as egg-and-grog. 

According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of eggnog was sometime around 1775. That would lead us to believe that the word was, indeed, an American invention, though it was probably influenced by the English origins.

Eggnog's European Origins

It is believed that the eggnog began in Europe. As early as the 13th century, medieval monks in Britain were known to drink posset, a warm ale punch with eggs and figs.

Over the years, this likely merged with the various milk and wine punches often served at social gatherings.

By the 17th century, sherry became the primary ingredient and it was popular to use this eggy beverage as a toast to one’s health and prosperity. It was primarily consumed by the well-to-do of society because milk, eggs, and sherry were scarce commodities in Europe at the time.

Eggnog in The New World

When the brew was brought to the New World, colonists added their own twist. The rum that American colonists could get from the Caribbean was considerably less expensive than the other liquors shipped from England. And so, along with the readily available supply of milk and eggs in the colonies, the rum version quickly became a popular drink for people of all classes.

Variations on Eggnog

As a rich, spicy, and alcoholic drink, eggnog became a familiar fixture during the holiday season across the growing colonies and, eventually, the new country of the United States in the 1700s. Each region would adapt the drink to their personal tastes.

It's said that George Washington devised his own recipe of the brew which only the most courageous guests would partake. The first President's recipe mixed rye whiskey, brandy, rum, and sherry. In the South, people's tastes tended to prefer whiskey over rum.

When the brew reached Latin America, even more adaptations were made:

  • In Puerto Rico, coconut juice or milk was added. Today, the eggs are typically left out and the drink is called coquito.
  • In Mexico, eggnog became even more flavorful with the addition of Mexican cinnamon and vanilla with either rum or grain alcohol. This one is often called rompope.

Noggin' Today

The basic recipe for eggnog has not changed over the years (eggs are beaten with sugar, milk, cream, and some kind of distilled spirit) and it remains a favorite for holiday parties. There are a number of variations on the classic eggnog recipe, though, and they can be very fun and unique. It is a fantastic base for experimentation and everything from additional spices to tequila has been added over the years.

No matter which eggnog you choose to serve, it is sure to be a winner with most (admittedly, not all) of your holiday guests. However, for those who wish to go nogless, there are many other spirited holiday drinks that are sure to be a hit and lift anyone's holiday spirits.