Eggnog: you know it’s delicious, but did you know it once led to a riot at West Point? In honor of National Eggnog Month (which runs all of December) and National Eggnog Day (which falls on December 24), join us as we raise our glasses to one of the most popular beverages of the season with these fascinating facts.
1. Eggnog most likely originated in Medieval times.
Most historians trace eggnog back to posset, a hot milk-based drink comprised of spices and wine, which became popular as early as the 14th century. Though it was mostly consumed as a cozy cocktail, it was also used as a soothing remedy for colds and flu. Posset remained a mainstay into Shakespeare’s era, though it was famously used for nefarious purposes in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth drugged the guards’s posset outside King Duncan’s chambers.
2. George Washington had a (now-famous) super-boozy eggnog recipe.
Our first president apparently enjoyed serving eggnog during Christmas at Mount Vernon; according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it was one of his favorite concoctions. The recipe continues to circulate widely today, even though Washington forgot to include the number of eggs needed (hey, improvise!). And here it is, in his exact words:
One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.
3. Dwight Eisenhower was also a proponent of boozy ‘nog.
One of the 34th president’s favorite ways to de-stress was to cook, according to National Journal. “By the time he left office, Dwight Eisenhower had concocted a hearty collection of recipes, chronicled in his post presidential papers,” write Marina Koren, Brian Resnick and Matt Berman. “There was his famous vegetable soup and beef stew, warm hush puppies, and lemon chiffon pie … But nothing could get you drunk faster than Ike’s eggnog.”
Ike’s recipe calls for one dozen egg yolks, one pound of granulated sugar, one quart of bourbon, one quart of coffee cream (half & half), and one quart of whipping cream. National Journal whipped up some of Ike’s eggnog, and found it a “very alcoholic, surprisingly light and creamy (in density, not in richness or calories) nog.”
4. Heavily spiked eggnog once caused an infamous West Point riot.
The Eggnog Riot, a.k.a. The Grog Mutiny, was a Christmas soiree gone very wrong at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1826. Earlier that year, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, West Point’s superintendent, had forbidden alcohol on campus. Known as the “Father of West Point,” Thayer turned what had once been an academy consisting of an undisciplined student body and a derelict campus into the respected institution West Point is today, according to Natasha Geiling in her very detailed retelling of the riot for Smithsonian magazine.
“Eggnog was a traditional part of West Point’s annual Christmas celebration, but Thayer’s moratorium on alcohol threw a wrench in the festivities,” Geiling wrote. “Not to be denied a night of revelry, some cadets set about smuggling in liquor from nearby taverns for the holiday party.”
The cadets proceeded to get rip-roaring drunk, and the night resulted in smashed crockery and windows, broken furniture, the drawing of swords (no one was hurt), gunshots (only a doorjamb was harmed), and a knocked-down lieutenant. Once the “party” was over, 19 cadets were expelled.
The U.S. Army also has a telling of the Eggnog Riot on its official homepage, and the article concludes thusly: “Years have passed since the cadets overindulged on eggnog, but the moral of their story is still applicable. Too much of the ‘good stuff’ can lead to serious consequences. So remember this story as the holiday parties approach; let’s not let one night of fun alter our future as 19 West Point cadets had.”
5. When Starbucks removed Eggnog Latte from its holiday menu, there was a flurry of complaints.
In 2014, Starbucks dropped the Eggnog Latte from its offerings. According to USA Today, there was immediate customer backlash. “The coffee kingpin will bring back its seasonal Eggnog Latte nationwide this month after a customer revolt spread from letters to phone calls to social media,” reporter Bruce Horovitz wrote. “It had dropped the beverage, a seasonal offering since 1986, to try to simplify its expanding menu.” Starbucks even issued an apology: “We made a mistake,” said then-spokeswoman Linda Mills. “We are very sorry.”
Starbucks credits the original Eggnog Latte to Il Giornale, a small, Italian-themed coffee chain in Seattle. Il Giornale’s owner was Howard Schultz, who bought Starbucks in 1987 and then continued the Eggnog Latte tradition at the now-behemoth coffee chain. Though Schultz left Starbucks earlier this year, eggnog-flavored beverages continue to be a part of the coffee chain’s holiday menu.
6. Puerto Rico has its own holiday drink that’s similar to eggnog.
Coquito is a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas drink, and it’s typically made with coconut milk, rum, nutmeg, cinnamon, and, depending on the chef, sometimes condensed milk, and sometimes egg yolks. The Museo del Barrio in New York City hosts an popular annual Coquito Masters contest during the holiday season.
“Coquito is a very important tradition in the Puerto Rican community. Everyone has their own recipe,” Debbie Quiñones, founder of the contest, told the New York Times in 2009. At the contest covered in the article, one woman competed with her father’s secret recipe, which her mother had stolen for her from his hiding place: a metal safe under his bed. Another contestant used his grandmother’s recipe.
“Everyone has a little quirk that they think makes it better than everyone else’s,” Dr. Frank Estrada, another contestant who was competing with an old family recipe, said. “I can’t sell it, because if I was to put a price on it, of what I think it’s worth, they couldn’t afford it.”
7. It is important to chug eggnog with caution—even the non-alcoholic kind.
In 2014, Ryan Roche of Lehi, Utah, officially became “Utah man hospitalized after chugging eggnog.” Roche’s story of eggnog chugging gone awry became national news, all because he decided to engage in an alcohol-free eggnog-chugging contest as part of an office holiday party.
According to BuzzFeed News, Roche was on his way out the door when he heard his boss yell, “Roche, get up here!” Roche then chugged a whole quart of eggnog in 12 seconds flat. “I just opened up the carton and pretty much poured it down my throat,” Roche told reporter Jim Dalrymple. “I didn’t take a breath of air.”
Roche left the party coughing, but he figured he would soon be fine. Instead, ended up in the hospital, where he spent a day in the Intensive Care Unit, and another two days in recovery. The doctors determined Roche had inhaled some of the eggnog, and he was given antibiotics.
8. Eggnog is sometimes referred to as a “hell’s angel.”
In Stella Gibbons’s 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm, one of the main characters makes a beverage called a Hell’s Angel, consisting of one egg, one teaspoon of cream, two ounces of brandy, and some ice.
9. David Letterman liked to incorporate eggnog into his Late Night holiday traditions.
David Letterman was famous for his oddball holiday traditions, such as annual target practice involving the giant meatball that topped the Late Show’s Christmas tree in lieu of a traditional star, bow, or angel. And of course, some of his odd holiday shenanigans incorporated eggnog. One year, Letterman drenched his film crew with a Super Soaker filled with eggnog. Another year, the Goo Goo Dolls performed their hit song “Name” with nothing particularly unusual about the performance … until they dove into a giant glass of eggnog.
10. December 24th is National Eggnog Day.
So what are you waiting for? Find your favorite eggnog recipe. Add some booze, or don’t. Dive in. Don’t forget to come up for air. And, as George Washington advised, taste frequently!
This article originally ran in 2015.