Secrets to Christmas eggnog

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When I worked at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, the day after Thanksgiving was not Black Friday; it was eggnog day.

The thing that made Greenbrier’s eggnog so unique was the curing process. The day after Thanksgiving, the food and beverage director, the executive chef, sous chefs, executive pastry chef and various bar managers would come to the pastry shop to oversee the making of eggnog. In preparation, someone from the pastry staff would go to the liquor control room for a case each of brandy, bourbon, creme de cacao, dark rum, light rum, Grand Marnier, multiple brands of whiskey, as well as a few bottles of Cointreau, Frangelico and Kahlua. This may see like a lot of liquor, but this one batch of eggnog (approximately 20 gallons) served guests for most of the month of December.

You’re probably wondering why so many managers had to “oversee” the making of eggnog. Aside from the copious amounts of alcohol involved, they were there for their individual palates. Once the base was made, the alcohol was added one bottle at a time, with everyone tasting the eggnog. All of the managers would comment on the flavor and say what needed to be added. “Add another bottle of dark rum,” someone would say. “It needs more Grand Marnier,” another would add. “No, not that whiskey, the other bottle of whiskey,” yet another would say. This would go on for hours. Some managers would even leave to take care of their responsibilities and come back later to check the progress.

Then came the curing process. Many modern recipes require you to cook the eggs and dairy together to pasteurize it and guarantee that any harmful bacteria are killed. The Greenbrier recipe didn’t require eggs to be pasteurized through active cooking. Although the dairy was heated (barely a simmer), this was primarily done to dissolve the sugar and activate the steeping process for the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and vanilla beans that flavor the base. Once the alcohol was added, and the flavor was right, the eggnog was poured into giant dairy cans to cure in a cooler for the next two weeks.

During this time, the flavors melded together and the alcohol mellowed as it cooked the proteins from the eggs, which thickened the mix. The eggnog, however, wasn’t done. Because the alcohol flavors mellowed as the eggnog cured, the chefs and the F&B director would return to the bake shop every day to taste and adjust the flavor by adding more alcohol.


This is not the Greenbrier recipe, but a recipe that I have personally used for years. Having seen how eggnog was made at the Greenbrier, however, I’m convinced it would be impossible to duplicate it anyway. The only thing that’s consistent every year is the base. The added flavoring changes depending on the tastes of the people making it. This is why I suggest you use my recipe as a guideline and feel free to adjust the alcohol to suit your preferences.

  • 4 1/2 quarts       milk
  • 3 cups                 sugar
  • 1/4 tsp.               salt
  • 2 each                 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 each                 vanilla bean (split and scrapped)
  • 18 each               egg yolks (See note)
  • 2 cups                 Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 cup               brandy
  • 1/2 cup               dark spiced rum
  • 1/2 cup               bourbon
  • 1/4 cup               whiskey
  • 9 cups                 heavy cream (whipped medium peaks)
  • 18 each               egg whites (whipped medium peaks)
  • as needed           freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Heat milk in a pot until just below a simmer and turn off the burner.
  2. Add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.
  3. Whisk in egg yolks.
  4. Add cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean. Cover with plastic wrap and let steep for 30 minutes.
  5. Add liquor and pour into desired storage container.
  6. Refrigerate for a week, tasting occasionally to adjust the flavor. The alcohol taste should always be a little stronger than you prefer.
  7. After a few days, remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean.
  8. If you’re serving the eggnog warm, heat the mix over a double boiler, stirring often to prevent the bottom from cooking. Once it’s warm, turn off the heat, but keep it in the double boiler.
  9. Just before serving, whip heavy cream to medium peaks and fold into the eggnog mixture.
  10. Whisk egg whites to medium peaks and fold into the eggnog mixture.
  11. Portion into cups and grate a little nutmeg onto the top. Freshly grated cinnamon or chocolate would work too.

Note: If you have a recipe that calls for whole eggs, try making the eggnog with just the yolks, then folding in the whipped egg whites at the end. It will give you a frothier eggnog.

Making holiday eggnog, especially if you do it the way the Greenbrier does, can be somewhat labor intensive, but I promise that the end results are well worth it. So, fight the urge to buy a carton of the pre-made stuff and take some time to make a batch of real holiday cheer.


Question: You've listed bourbon and whiskey as separate ingredients, but in America, whiskey (with an "e") is synonymous with bourbon--except it's not from Bourbon county. Could you just use 3/4 of a cup of only bourbon or only whiskey? Or do you find you really need to have each?

I would also guess that Cointreau or a quality triple sec could substitute for the Grand Marnier?

Thanks for the recipe. I'm sincere in my inquiry above. Just wondering in your experience if those substitutions are doable so I can use what I already have in the cabinet.

I may try and quarter the recipe and make it in that quantity, since I could never dispense of that much egg nog before Christmas, LOL! It sure sounds tasty! Thanks again!!!


Hey Ed,
How's about doing a piece on gingerbread cookies? Our son loves the gingerbread men from St. Germain, but they're so dang expensive!

edmorita moderator

@harrycovair @MaxMaxMax the base can go up and down without any problems. I would adjust the amount of alcohol though. The best way is just to taste as you go along until you get the flavor the way you want it. I might like my eggnog stronger than you would.


@edmorita @MaxMaxMax Is the recipe reduction a linear cut across all the ingredients. I mean since @MaxMaxMax used 1/4 of your recipe, would a 1/4 reduction in all your ingredients result in the same end result?

I'm asking because I had to double a dessert recipe which I assume also doubled the Condensed Milk content. I found the end result definitely sweeter than if I had kept to the original recipe.

Mmmm, orange flavor whiskey, Southern Comfort comes to mind but that was back in my younger days but I digress.

edmorita moderator

@MaxMaxMax Yes you could do 3/4 cup of either. I list Bourbon and Whiskey seperatly because I use both Kentuky Bourbon (I like Woodford) and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey (Green Label if you can get it). I do this because I find that too much Jack Daniel's adds a banana flavor to the eggnog. I like the banana flavor, but not too much of it, hence the bourbon.

As for the triple sec/cointreau/grand marnier, you can use them interchangeably, but I found that the orange flavor to be strongest in cointreau. If you are looking for more orange, then go with that. less, try the triple sec.

Although I don't really care for it, I once worked with a chef who put creme de menth in his eggnog. he would color half the batch red then layered it with the white to make a candy cane eggnog. Clever, but you couldnt dring mor than one because of all the peppermint.

edmorita moderator

@MikeSumida sometimes it is unavoidable for show-work. Besides, you don't usually eat show-work pieces.


@edmorita I was thinking more along the lines of a gingerbread cookie one could eat. What good does food do if it looks pretty but comes out like pressboard? Isn't your philosophy that if it doesn't enhance flavor, don't put it on a plate? :)

edmorita moderator

@MikeSumida Gingerbread to eat or for decorations? The recipe for decoration gingerbread is edible, but it's about as hard as pressboard. On the other hand, gingerbread cookie recipe is better eating, but doesn't hold up as well if you are making ornaments or houses.