The History of Drinking Egg Nog During The Holidays

December 22, 2016 | Brian

When the family comes over and you need to take the edge off, eggnog flies in for your rescue. The drink has been a perennial holiday favorite, even among casual drinkers. In Europe, eggnog had been a popular beverage for many generations, but it didn’t become synonymous with the holiday season until it jumped the Atlantic Ocean in the 1700’s.

Back in the day, American colonies were something like 97% farms. In addition to cattle, chickens, pigs, and other creatures, these farms had an important ingredient for making eggnog. Rum.

This discovery was revolutionary, and it became a hallmark of alcoholic drink combinations. Farms were able to combine their ample milk and eggs supply with a hint of rum or whisky to create this holiday deliciousness. Even President George Washington is on record as having served his Mount Vernon guests a batch of eggnog mixed with sherry, rum, and rye whiskey during the holidays.

As popularity rose, so did controversy. In 1826, West Point cadets got upset when their new Colonel Sylvanus Thayer forbade alcohol consumption on the premises. Historically, they had been allowed to drink spiked eggnog during their Christmas celebration. In defiance of Colonel Thayer, many cadets smuggled alcohol onto the campus. Some even boated across the Hudson River to stock up for the night. Soon enough, the anger spilled over into a full-blown riot, which is now referred to as the Eggnog Riot. Windows were broken, fighting occurred in the streets, and ultimately, 19 cadets were expelled from West Point. The U.S. Military Academy no longer holds a Christmas party because of this incident.

Back in this era, there was no refrigeration, which leads historians to believe that the infusion of rum was a means of distracting oneself from the nasty taste. Another theory surmises that rum was a perfectly natural addition, since many drinkers had their eggnog hot.

The early 20th century was a dark time for eggnog, and alcohol in general, but prohibition didn’t keep everyone was teetotalism. In fact, eggnog was seen as an annual refuge from the law. People would buy a batch of rum on the black market just to make eggnog during the holidays. They didn’t want to do it more often because it would increase the odds of getting caught and arrested.

Thankfully those days are long past us. Now, eggnog drinkers can buy a pre-made mixture at their local grocery store. Of course, if you’re a real connoisseur then you make it yourself.

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