Aging Eggnog is nothing new. Plenty of holiday parties have ended with leftover Nog lost in the back corner of the fridge until someone accidentally uncovers the moldy jug around Valentine’s Day. Aging Eggnog purposefully into something that you actually want to drink (and can do so without upchucking all that holiday cheer), on the other hand, is a revelation for winter revelers tired of the old ho-hum classic. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Listen to a master bartender who has drank year-old Eggnog and lived to tell the tale.
Nick Bennett, head bartender of New York’s Porchlight, admits that it can be a bit nerve wracking to let eggs sit for so long (especially when you add about $120 worth of booze to the mix, as he does), but he says the results are totally worth the risk.
“When it gets a little bit of time to sit and relax and mix together, over time it will break down the protein strands in the eggs, and you’ll get better texture and more flavor,” he says. “The sugar, any spices you’re adding to it, the alcohol—you get more of a combined flavor out of it all. It’s smoother, silkier and a little hardier.”
As for the threat of contamination, Bennett puts his faith in good old alcohol. The booze kills off most pesky bacteria in the Nog that could make your holidays very unhappy. For proof, he points to a study by Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology. For years, the scientists—whose work keeps us all safe from bacterial infection—had an informal tradition in which they would age a batch of Eggnog from Thanksgiving until the lab’s holiday party in December. They even intentionally added salmonella one year and monitored the bacteria, and still the Eggnog was free and clear after one to three weeks (though they decided not to drink that particular batch).
Bennett prefers to use overproof spirits such as Cognacs like Louis Royer Force 53 or Pierre Ferrand 1840, or overproof rums, just to be on the safe side, but 20-percent ABV for the total Eggnog mixture should be enough to keep your Nog free of microbial bugs.
Even if you don’t totally count on the disinfecting abilities of your preferred brown spirit, classic canning technique teaches us that bacteria are of little concern if you store your aged treat long enough. “Basically what happens is, as long as you’re storing it in a sterile and sealable container like a Mason jar, any bacteria that’s in the egg will eat and eat and eat, and after three to six weeks, you’ll have peak bacteria growth. But then at that point, the bacteria has eaten everything that it can eat, and ends up killing itself,” Bennett explains. So take proper canning precautions: boil the jars, seal them tight, and store them in a dark corner that isn’t vulnerable to temperature fluctuations (no need to take up room in your fridge).
There are as many ways to make aged Eggnog as the fresh stuff, and it’s worth experimenting with a few variations to find your favorite. Bennett uses whole eggs but no cream in his aged base, and then adds cream once he is preparing to drink the Eggnog a year later. Alton Brown uses only the yolks and includes cream from the beginning. You can also adjust the aging time between six weeks and a full year. All those options are on top of the various liquors, spices and proportions you can opt for in the original recipe.
All of that being said, you should still err on the side of caution. If the Nog looks funky, don’t drink it. Even Bennett has had to throw out a batch that looked a little gray. But assuming you follow basic safety precautions, use quality ingredients you’d happily drink fresh, and put a little faith in the powers of alcohol, you should receive a batch of silky, decadent, perfectly blended Eggnog. It’s the boozy gift your future self deserves.