This Christmas You Need to Drink Eggnog like Charles Mingus
The jazz legend’s signature Eggnog recipe is the best one our columnist has ever tasted.
I admit it, I love Eggnog. But every year, I have just about 60 days to drink the creamy concoction.
Eggnog season, which runs from November 1 to December 30, isn’t after all flexible. Can you imagine how weird it would be, in fact, to be offered a glass of it in, say, March? Since its appearance on the metaphorical bar cart is so fleeting, I think it deserves your attention. It also deserves to be made from scratch. Especially since the ready-made cartons and bottles of the stuff are almost universally vile.
The homemade version isn’t complicated, just a bit labor intensive. When done right the eggs, cream, sugar and alcohol work in perfect harmony.
But those looking for guidance, will surely be disappointed by many of the Eggnogs recipes available online and in cookbooks, which shamefully fall shy in one key area: the alcohol. I love eggs, and cream is wonderful, but this is supposed to be an adult drink. Jamie Oliver calls for just two tablespoons of rum in one of his recipes, which is designed for four people. (That’s a quarter ounce per cup. I read the recipe six times vainly searching for the line I’d missed about when to add the rest of the rum.)
In Alton Brown’s signature recipe each of the six cups ends up with a paltry .4 ounces of booze. I’ve read pancake recipes with more liquor than that. We’re a cup of flour away from waffles. Martha Stewart is more generous, allowing each of the twelve servings in her Eggnog to receive about two thirds of an ounce of alcohol—so, something like half of what a bartender saddled with an electronically measured pour would put in a Rum & Coke.
Dear reader, I implore you to turn instead to an unlikely source Charles Mingus. Yes, that Charles Mingus. There is something exuberantly charming about his Eggnog recipe, which showed up first in the Village Voice—I think—and gets passed around on social media every holiday season.
People like to say it’s strong, and Mingus’ reputation backs that idea up, but the charm lies not in its potency. The official Charles Mingus site (run by his widow Sue Mingus, and dedicated to promoting his work and his music) calls it “Mingus’s 5-Star Rapturous Deadly Holiday Eggnog!!”
Admittedly, in comparison to the recipes above, Mingus’ seems like a cannonball. But Mingus is right, of course. His recipe is where it’s at. It’s drink strength. It’s more or less the same as top bartender and my fellow Half Full contributor Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe, depending on what you think Mingus meant when he said a “shot.” Anyone who has ever ordered a Martini with three ounces of gin in it (so, everyone that’s ever ordered one in a hotel, basically) has had a drink as strong as Mingus’ Eggnog.
In my book, cocktails with half an ounce of liquor are barely cocktails. Besides, do you really want to be the person who measures out the rum in tablespoons? What I’m saying is that the Mingus Eggnog is not a crazy strong drink, it’s a proper drink.
Plus, there is something magical about it, though, and the magic of the Mingus Eggnog lies in its making. Sue Mingus has streamlined the recipe from the original, which was dictated over the phone to Mingus’ biographer, Janet Coleman. The one that Mingus recited is suitably improvisational and reads like a spoken word poem. There’s a rhythmic beauty to the recipe: “Each person gets an egg,” he said. “Two sugars for each egg, each person.”
It goes on like that.
“In another pot—depending on how many people—put in one shot of each, rum and brandy. (This is after you whip your whites and your cream.)”
“Yes, a lot of nutmeg. Fresh nutmeg. And stir it up.”
It is person based, it doesn’t make four drinks or six drinks. You’re not making this in advance. He looked around the room, saw that there were four people, and he grabbed four eggs. He’s put a record on, and there’s dim light, and he’s poured himself a glass of Scotch to accompany the making of the drink. (You know he’s that guy, right? The guy who pours himself a drink so he can make the drinks.)
I love Mingus’ Eggnog, but I love it because it’s made fresh, for the people in the room. He’s got a thing about how you can keep it cold with vanilla ice cream if you have a lot of people coming over, and even that—I mean, how far in advance can you chill something with scoops of vanilla ice cream? Twenty-five minutes?
Your mind is not blown because the drink is strong, your mind is blown because that cat made it for you, right there.
So listen: this season, starting right now, just ignore all the shelves of ready-made Eggnog. Stock up on rum, brandy, bourbon, and rye. Don’t drink gloopy, thick, homogenized weirdness off the shelf. Buy some good eggs.
We’ve done it with everything else. How many Aviations, how many Boulevardiers must be made before we realize that whisking a couple of egg yolks in a bowl is actually no big deal? It’s not like this is going to become your new violet hour ritual.
This is a limited run, so find some friends and drag them back to your place. Put on “Mingus Ah Um,” and celebrate from scratch.