Those who’ve spent any time around me during the holiday season know I have a problem. Actually, make that several of them.
The short list starts with a crippling addiction to Sailor Jerry rum balls, which have to be made by hand and with double the booze called for by Canadian Living. Then there’s a complete and utter obsession with Christmas movies. From Bad Santa to Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Elf to It’s a Wonderful Life, ’tis the season to take deep root on the couch during the month of December.
Thankfully, the one thing COVID-19 has been good for this opening stretch of Christmas is providing a great excuse for declining invitations for dinner, drinks, and trips to Turkish steam rooms. Why leave the house when you’ve got every evening for the next three weeks planned around a Santa-sized sack of Christmas Crazee pot cookies and the timeless classics of Rankin/Bass?
Moving along, six full days are required to decorate the house, which begins with crippling indecision over where the miniature Charlie Brown Christmas tree, A Christmas Story leg lamp, and vintage Santa Claus salt and pepper shakers will be placed. Follow that with an endless debate about whether—because of mixing eras—it’s okay to position the Buddy the Elf bobblehead next to the Bedford Falls Main Street diorama and Jack Skellington snowglobe.
Then it’s on to who gets top billing for the Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer display on the fireplace mantle: the Island of Misfit Toys crew, Hermey the dentist, Yukon Cornelius, or the endlessly bullied (until he can prove he’s actually good for something) teenage deer with the facial deformity.
And somehow, and almost impossibly, all of these Christmas-season problems pale when compared to the one I have with eggnog. In the beginning, that particular relationship was all about an occasional random hookup that was never terribly satisfactory.
Blame that on multi-national food corporations. For most of us, the introduction to eggnog comes at major supermarkets like Safeway and No Frills. There’s no point calling out their featured brands here; let’s just say you know them for having a consistency that suggests week-old egg yolks mixed with industrial horse glue. And tasting like Ray Charles was responsible for measuring out the sugar, corn starch, and guar gum. Unless you happen to be part fly with a thing for drinks you can stand a spoon up in, a rum-and-mass-produced-eggnog once a week is more than enough.
Revisiting ancient history for a second, eggnog has been a thing forever. It dates right back to the 12th century, when British monks decided a great way to make abstinence more tolerable was to mix warm ale and/or wine with eggs, figs, and random spices. In those times the drink was called posset.
As old-timey mixologists got more creative, the recipe mutated to incorporate milk and cream, and—for those whose holiday bonuses were extra-big—sherry, whiskey, and cognac.
The origins of what we know today as traditional rum-based eggnog can be traced back to the early settlers of America and Canada. With U.K. whiskeys priced above the reach of the common rabble, that steered imbibers to rum from the Carribean, which was actually affordable at the local Ye Olde Liquor Store outlet.
Early proponents of booze-spiked ’nog before dinner, after dinner, and on one’s morning cornflakes included George Washingon. Falling under the umbrella of pantaloon-remover, the first American president’s home eggnog included Jamaican rum, rye whiskey, sherry, brandy, heaps of sugar, cream, milk, and a pre-paid taxi coupon for the horse-and-buggy ride home.
But enough about that guy—back to me. My love of eggnog can be traced to taking a chance on Avalon Dairy during a long-ago trip to IGA.
The initial attraction was a decidedly retro-looking glass bottle. But after getting home, bang—the hook was sunk instantly. Pleasantly rodolent of nutmeg and cinammon, Avalon’s eggnog was a revelation in that it wasn’t overly sweet or weirdly viscous. Today, the dairy boasts that its seasonal sensation is favoured by four out of five Santas. Not to mention nine out of 10 difibulator manufacturers—but you can worry about getting heart smart in the New Year.
Since that glorious day of discovery at IGA it’s been all rum and eggnog all the time every December, the recipe changing depending on what’s in the house. Sometimes it’s Avalon with Sailor Jerry or Mount Gay and a splash of brandy, others with an additional shot of Kahlúa (credit for which goes to the great Vancouver writer John Lucas).
It's not all smooth sailing on a sea of delicious Avalon eggnog every year, though. I sometimes end up in Toronto for Christmas, where the liquid pride of the West Coast doesn’t exist.
That’s required either going the spiced horse-glue route at Zehrs, or getting busy in the kitchen. For reasons that have everything to do with liquor-nerd snobbery, you can guess which option wins.
Two Internet eggnog recipes stand out above all others, one by Bobby Flay, and the other by Alton Brown. And not to play favourites, but Brown’s is the gold standard. Google it, crack a dozen eggs or so, start mixing, and you’ll be an instant fan.
Which is to say, you’ll end up with a problem. To which I’ll be able to relate.
And while we’re talking problems, after about two hours of obsessive rearranging, the Island of Misfit toys crew ended up front-and-centre on the fireplace mantle this year. Given the kind of year it’s been, that was the right choice.
Here’s an recipe you can make if you don’t feel like going the Alton Brown eggnog-from-scratch route.
West Coast Eggnog
1.5 oz Mount Gay Eclipse Rum
1/2 oz Kahlúa
1.5 oz whole milk
3 oz Avalon Dairy Egg Nog
Pour into a tall glass over ice, stir, and top with powdered cinammon and nutmeg.