Eggnog History: The Rotten Truth Behind Christmas’ Worst Cocktail

Eggnog may seem innocent, but its opaque, gloopy appearance hides a past full of violence, inequality, and intrigue.

Photographer: Hannah Chamberlain of SpiritedLA

It started innocently enough. 

It’s commonly believed that the recipe was derived from a 13th Century beverage enjoyed by monks in England called “posset,” made of warm ale, eggs, and figs. Over time, posset evolved to include milk and sugar, like our current eggnog. However, those were luxury ingredients and inaccessible to the many, so the drink was reserved for the aristocratic elite.

When the drink migrated to America, this changed.

Fresh eggs and milk were widely available, and rum, which was cheap thanks to its triangular trade relationship with slavery, became the common base spirit. Eggnog was now for the masses, and it was a hit.

But the biggest testament to its popularity was the Eggnog Riot of 1826 at Westpoint military academy. Due to rowdy and undisciplined behavior from the cadets, the Superintendent of the school, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, banned all alcohol on campus in 1826. But as Christmas approached, the cadets at the academy couldn’t resist eggnog’s allure and they smuggled in 4 gallons of whiskey from a nearby tavern. After midnight on Christmas Eve, officers at the school were awakened by drunken mayhem. The nog-riddled cadets assaulted 2 officers, broke windows, tore up banisters, fired their guns indoors, and shattered plates and cups. 19 students had to be expelled. 

Eggnog remained popular, and continued to inspire bad behavior through the 19th century as newspapers report on stabbings and fights thanks to this eggy disaster juice. 

Who knows what new darkness is lurking in its murky depths?


Cocktail recipe used in TikTok video from David Wondrich’s Imbibe.

Photographer: Hannah Chamberlain of SpiritedLA

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