Whether you’re for or vehemently against eggnog, a product that easily wins the title of “Most Polarizing Beverage” of the holiday season, there’s no denying that it is — and should be — a personal journey of discovery. To help guide you in that creamy and sweet saga, the Food & Wine team tasted as many different cartons as we could find in New York City grocery stores at the start of the holiday season. While this isn’t an exhaustive survey of every eggnog on the market nationwide, we tasted nearly 15 different options that came from brands with wide (and local) distribution. Some were fairly traditional, others flavored, and several fell into the rapidly expanding dairy-free nog category.
Before we dive into our favorites and what we love about them, let us ask ourselves some fundamental questions: How did eggnog even become a fixture of the holidays? Are there real eggs in it? And, is it even worth drinking it without booze?
What Is Eggnog?
Culinary historians generally agree that eggnog dates back to medieval Britain in the 13th century, when members of the aristocracy often drank hot milk and eggs combined with spices and alcohol known as “possets” (not to be confused with the other, more common kind of posset, which is like a sweet, chilled pudding). The drink’s boozy profile evolved to include sherry, and, later, rum. Meanwhile, as America settled into its status as a fledgling country in the 18th century, President George Washington’s heavily spiked eggnog quickly became a beloved Christmas-time drink, a tradition that has carried into modern day.
Eggnog is classically made using eggs, milk, heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Cinnamon, cloves, star anise or grated nutmeg are typically added for a warming flavor and garnish, and you can experiment with using rum, whiskey, or brandy for a boozy upgrade.
Now that you have a sense of eggnog’s past, here are the four best eggnogs we’ve tasted this year.
Best Dairy-Free Eggnog: Chobani Oat Nog
First came the Millennial-minded rebrand, then came Chobani’s venture into the dairy-free space. The brand has been experimenting with plant-based dairy for some time now with flavored coffee creamers and creamy oat milk, but this seasonal eggnog might be their best release yet. Our editors felt it had just the right amount of coconut on the nose, and a great balance of cinnamon and clove spices. While many of the dairy-free eggnog contenders we tasted were surprisingly runny, Chobani’s offering had a nice, creamy heft to it. Some mentioned that they didn’t taste (and missed) the egg part of the drink, which brings us back to the personal journey aspect of eggnog — if you’re looking for less egg, but more spice, Chobani’s oat nog is likely for you!
Best Eggnog to Spike: Southern Comfort Traditional Eggnog
It’s not all that surprising that the team behind Southern Comfort whiskey knows how to make a booze-friendly eggnog. “This is thick, rich and pleasantly sweet thanks to baking spices,” one editor said. Another liked its deep yellow color because it felt “like real, homemade eggnog”, and most of our testers felt it would play best with whiskey or rum. It’s worth noting that Southern Comfort also makes a vanilla flavored eggnog, but we found that version overpowering in its sweetness. If you’re looking for a SoCo eggnog, go for the original.
For Fans of Really, Truly Creamy Eggnog: Upstate Farms Eggnog
From Buffalo, New York, Upstate Farms’ eggnog won over most of the self-proclaimed nog enthusiasts on our staff. Exceptionally thick, creamy, and heavy on the egg flavor, this is an eggnog for someone who loves a homemade version, but perhaps doesn’t have the time or energy to whip up a fresh batch. While some of our testers remarked that this eggnog is so thick, it would be difficult to down more than a glass in a single sitting, some found it refreshingly balanced in terms of sweetness. All in all, this isn’t an eggnog for the faint of heart, but it’s sure to satisfy traditionalists.
The Best Eggnog for Almost Anyone: Pittsford Farms Eggnog
Also from upstate New York, Pittsford Farms’ eggnog is a perfect grocery store gateway buy for the nog-curious. “This is really high quality dairy, the balance of cream and egginess is spot on, with a nice, subtle hint of vanilla and spice, especially ginger,” one editor shared. “This has the most ‘natural’ milk and egg notes. I appreciate its mild, sweet flavor, but wish it had a bit more spice,” said another. If you enjoy the taste of melted, vanilla ice cream (for the record, we did), this is likely to scratch the same itch.