School of Hard Nogs

Good Drinks Bar


BILL: [gets up to leave]

AB: All right. Stay warm out there, Bill.

BILL: We'll see you later. [exits the bar]

AB: [to the camera] Good evening. Come on in. Get out of that nasty weather. What can I pour for ya?

CUSTOMER: [played by the camera]

AB: Not quite sure what you feel like? Well, let me make a suggestion. I've got the perfect thing for a night like this. [takes out a pitcher of eggnog] Made it up in the back myself. Yeah, my own recipe. Rich, creamy goodness, with a little kick to, you know, take care of the cold. Go ahead, have a try. Ahh, you can trust me. I'm a professional.

CUSTOMER: [person off-camera has a taste]

AB: Yeah, pretty good, huh? That, my friend, is eggnog, real eggnog. I know. I know. There are a lot of folks out there who say they don't like eggnog. But trust me, those are the folks who have never had real eggnog. It's a pretty important drink. It's got a long and illustrious career on both sides of the Atlantic. It's easy. It is delicious and more versatile than a busload of Barrymores. If you ask me, that means that this stuff right here is seriously ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Good Drinks Bar

GUEST: Thing

    Although it is indeed a beverage, if you really delve into the history of eggnog, you'll find that, for centuries, it's been made as though it were a pie—a custard pie with meringue, no less. The only difference is you don't pan it up, and you don't cook it.

    Now here is my software, and you'll see that it is indeed pie-like. We've got a third of a cup plus a tablespoon of sugar, a pint of whole milk, a cup of heavy cream, three ounces of [camera pans up to AB] ... Oh, hey, I said it was delicious, I didn't say it was low-fat, okay? Three ounces of bourbon, a teaspoon of grated nutmeg, um ... [looks around, and doesn't find it] Oh, sorry. [reaches into his pocket and produces a whole nutmeg] I always keep one in my pocket in case of emergencies. We'll grate it a little bit later. And, of course, eggs. It is, after all, eggnog. Four large chicken eggs.

1/3 Cup + 1 Tbs. Sugar
1 Pint Whole Milk
1 Cup Heavy Cream
3 Ounces Bourbon
1 tsp. Freshly Grated Nutmeg
4 Large Eggs

    Now we will need to deal with the yolks and the whites separately. And since we intend to beat the whites into a froth, we want to make sure that we don't get any yolk into the white. More on why later. So to deal with that, we have two mixing bowls which are alike. We've got a small cup that we will use as a quarantine for the whites. We'll use a plate here. Now, you could break the egg in half and use the two shell pieces, but that's kind of tedious. You could use an egg separator. This is a fabulous tool. It is made just for separating eggs, it's very good at it, it's a unitasker. We don't like uni-taskers. A slotted spoon, however, is a multi-tasker, and it does just a fine job.
    Now, as far as the actual cracking process, you don't have to drive it down, just kind of tap it like that, and then deposit thusly in your spoon. Now, if it is a young, fresh egg, it's very likely that the membrane of the white will want to hang on to the yolk. So, wiggle it back and forth and eventually that membrane will let go. There. Now the yolk goes into bowl number one, and then we inspect the white, briefly, to make sure that there is no fleck of yolks. It's fine, so it goes into bowl number two. And we repeat with the remainder of the eggs.
    When the separating is done, beat the yolks at high speed until they lighten both in color and in texture. That is the only sign that the proteins, the salts, the water, and the fats inside have thoroughly mixed. If you skip this step when you add the sugar later on, the water will be sucked away by the hygroscopic sugar leaving some nasty little knots of protein—lumps, that will be very hard to get out. So, we're not going to skip it. Now you could use a stand mixer for this. But I really think that when you've got this small of a volume, you're a lot better off going with the hand mixer.
    Now we add the sugar. Not that sugar [the one-tablespoon of sugar], that's for the egg whites. This sugar [the one-cup of sugar]. The key to integration, go slowly.
    There. That is definitely lighter and thicker. Time for the dairy. To make this a little easier, I'll pour the cream into the milk, and you might want to go kind of slow on this just so you don't fling the dairy all over the place. There.
    Oh, I almost forgot the nutmeg. Ahh, the nutmeg. I guess we need to get into grating this. You know, when it comes to nutmeg grating I get really irritated sometimes. I mean, look at this. All these devices that are made to grate nutmeg. [holds up a specimen] A nutmeg grater. What else does it do? Nothing. [holds up another specimen] A nutmeg grater. What else does it do? Well, if there was a hole in the side, it might sharpen pencils. But it doesn't, so it won't. The only one that I kind of sort of don't mind is this very very old model, and I kind of like this because it's got this little cubby in the top that holds the nutmeg. It's cute. It doesn't do anything else, so it's gone. What I do like is this grater. This is a rasp-style grater with very, very fine holes. What I especially like is that it's got a plastic cover. And if you put the plastic cover on the other side, you've got a nice catch tray. So, all you have to do is lay it down, do a little grating, reach into your pocket and find your teaspoon, and then just tap out the goods like that. And we've got our teaspoon.
    All right. That goes into our egg mixture and stir it in. Of course, we've only got one item missing at this point, the bourbon. [reaches for it to find it empty] Where the ... Thing.

AB: Thing, where are you?

THING: [appears drunk with a number "1" tied around his middle finger]

AB: Oh, Thing. You've really tied "one on," ... and with my bourbon, no less.

    Well, I suppose I could do what the colonial Americans did and use rum. Or I could use brandy, or even sherry, the way the English did. But, gosh darn it, good Kentucky bourbon whiskey has really become the standard for ...

THING: [leans toward AB]

AB: Don't touch me.

... become the standard for eggnog. And how is bourbon whiskey any ...

THING: [leans toward AB again]

AB: I mean it.

... any different from Irish whiskey or Canadian whiskey? Well, gosh darn it, I don't know. But I know where to find out.

AB: All I can say is, I hope you have a serious cuticle ache in the morning.

The word nog was an Old English term for ale and
a noggin was the cup from whence it was drunk.

Maker's Mark Distillery: Loretto, KY - 8:45 am

GUEST: David Pickerell, Master Distiller

    Great bourbon starts with great corn, so you always have to take samples and test your corn before you can move on to the milling. Now this device basically makes a lot of very fine corn meal, not unlike what you would make cornbread out of. Only, you probably wouldn't like cornbread made from this, because it's the wrong kind of corn. It probably would taste a little gross.
    Now the true brewing can begin. All you need is a bunch of water, a bunch of yeast, and a really really big mixer that is also capable of heating to very high temperatures. Now the corn is added along with some wheat which creates an interesting flavor and also aids the fermentation just a bit.
    Once that is churned and cooked for a while, the entire batch is moved to these big, open tubs where the yeast can convert sugar in the grain to alcohol. It also creates a good bit of CO2 which explains the gurgling and the foam there. It also explains the aroma in this room which is a great deal like a bakery. If you were to taste this liquid, well, it would taste a lot like bread too, although it is technically a very young beer.
    Now once the fermentation is completed, this young brew is pumped to the still. The first still—and, of course, distilling means to basically remove solids and impurities—and that's exactly what happens in this three-story tall metal tube [camera looks up at AB through a gap in the floor and still] Hi, how are you? Solids are removed, water is removed, impurities are removed, creating a very, very rough kind of liquor that needs to be distilled yet again. So the liquid is pumped into a different kind of still. This one kind of looks like a big drum, and there the distilling goes to an even finer level. The resulting liquid from this level of distilling is completely clear; it doesn't look anything like bourbon. It doesn't smell like bourbon, it doesn't taste like bourbon. In fact, it looks and smells and tastes a lot like grappa, which is pretty harsh stuff, if you've ever had it.
    The real miracle of bourbon happens when that stuff gets inside one of these [oak barrels]. [rolls a barrel over to David] There. Now, this gentleman is Dave Pickerell.

AB: Hi Dave. How are you?

DAVID PICKERELL: Hi, Nice to see you.

And he is the Master Distiller here, so I figure he should be able to answer this question: ...

AB: Dave, what happens inside these barrels?

DAVID PICKERELL: That's where the whiskey matures.

AB: You mean, ages.

DAVID PICKERELL: No, there's a difference between aging and maturity. Age is just an indicator of maturity.

AB: Oh. Okay, well, explain maturity then.

DAVID PICKERELL: Well, there's two things that go on in here. There's what we call extraction, and that's where whiskey is moving in and out of the wood dissolving all the wood chemicals and dragging them back into the liquid. Then the second phase is reaction, and that's where the complex chemical series of reactions take place between the wood chemicals and the grain chemicals to make bourbon.

AB: To make bourbon. And it happens in a very warm place, I might like to add. Now, let's talk a second about this charring business. Why do you burn up the inside of perfectly good barrels?

DAVID PICKERELL: Well, what we're trying to do is change its structure. Right behind the char, you can see a reddish-brown line. That's where all the wood sugars got hot enough to caramelize. That's where all the caramel color and flavor comes from in bourbon.

AB: So it's not actually from the blackened outer part, it's from deeper in.

DAVID PICKERELL: That's correct.

AB: Oh, this I did not know. What's the other line that's even further in?

DAVID PICKERELL: Well, this other line is how far the whiskey actually penetrated the wood during aging.

AB: It soaks in that far?

DAVID PICKERELL: Yes, it does. And you see how light it is here, compared with here. Well that's because of all the wood chemicals that have been extracted during maturation.

AB: Got it. You know what, I think it's time we drink some.


AB: So, how do we get this thing out? Do you just kind of reach in ...

DAVID PICKERELL: [picks up a big crow bar and prepares to swing it]

AB: Hey, hey, hey. Wwhat are you doing, big guy?

DAVID PICKERELL: I'm going to show you how we do this in Kentucky. [strikes the oak barrel twice on the cap dislodging it] Now we can taste it. All right, time to get rid of the pipe and pick up the whiskey thief.

AB: Whiskey thief?

DAVID PICKERELL: That's just an overgrown soda straw.

AB: Oh yeah, a little hole on the end, so you just kind of cap that up.


AB: So, how many times—if age isn't the big determiner here—how many times do you actually have to sample a batch to know that it's mature?

DAVID PICKERELL: Well, every batch gets sampled at least five times before it gets made into a bottle.

AB: Five times every batch.


AB: Wow, look at that color. So all of that color comes not necessarily from the char itself, but from that old red line behind it.

DAVID PICKERELL: That's right. All of it comes from that red line.

AB: And that's also where that ... pulling that out is also where a lot of the aromatic and flavor comes from.

DAVID PICKERELL: You get all the ... a lot of the nose comes from wood.

AB: So, in a way, what you distill is a solvent that extracts burnt wood.

DAVID PICKERELL: Well, actually, I prefer to think of myself as an alchemist. I take corn and turn it into gold.

AB: Nice, nicely done. Well, I'm going to have a sip, see how gold it really is. [tastes] Ahh, that's nice. How about you just put that plug back in there and put that in the back of my car, okay? Thanks, Dave.

Good Drinks Bar

    Finally, our bourbon goes into the yolk mixture. There we go. Now this, we will stash in our chill and bring out the egg whites, which we will now beat to soft peaks. [produces an automatic hand mixer] Unh, unh, unh, unh. [points to beaters] Not until we've cleaned these. [runs the mixer through soapy water, then clean water] A little soapy water, a little clean rinse. Crystal clean. Soft peaks, here we come.

    And there we have soft peaks. How do you know? [turns the mixer upside down, strikes the body of the mixer, the little collapse] That's how you know. Now it is safe to add the sugar, slowly, very slowly. Just sprinkle it on. At this point, it will not cause the bubbles to collapse. If we had done it any earlier, it might not have formed. Well, they would have, but itwould have taken a long time.

1 Tbs. Sugar

    Now, about that whole don't-get-any-egg-yolks-in-the-whites business, let me explain. You got [looks around]  ... Here. [hands the mixer "you", a hand continues mixing]. Sit a piece. I'll be back.

In 1964 Congress granted bourbon the honor of being
the official alcoholic beverage of the United States.

The Kitchen

    Now I realize we've probably covered this lesson in other programs*, at different times. But you know, some things just bear repeating. What we are talking about, of course, are foams. Now what is a foam? Well, it's really just a big old pile of bubbles, right? Well, what's a bubble? Well, if you look at it, it's really just a protein matrix trapping little droplets of water. Why, if you could look close enough at any one of these bubbles, it would look kind of like a ... well... It would look like a window.
    [approaches a window] See, the muntins and the mullions—or is it muttons and the, oh, whatever—these wooden things are the proteins, and then in between you've got the water, which is the glass, okay? Now the proteins are held together via hydrogen bonds, and that's kind of like, uh ... Well, hold on a second.
    [dons some rubber gloves] When you beat egg whites, you are essentially unraveling protein strands and stretching them until they can literally reach out and hook up with other protein strands. And this creates a stable superstructure for the bubble. [grabs other gloves hands, they pull, they don't slip]

AB: Thank you, thank you.

    If, however, egg yolks crash the party [covers hands with shortening], it's a bad thing, because, you see, egg yolks are mostly fat. So when the bonds try to form ... [grabs other gloved hands, they slip through]. Oops, sorry.

Good Drinks Bar

GUEST: Food Police Officer (off camera, in a helicopter)

    [returns to the mixing where the "hand' is struggling with the foaming] Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Good, good, good, good, good, good. I think you've got stiff peaks. We'll take a look. [turns over beaters and taps, they don't fall] Yeah, those are plenty good. Now, to integrate these, we could do the traditional custard fold with a spatula, but I really don't want to, you know, take that kind of time. So just turn your mixer on to a low speed, and slowly pour in the custard.
    Chill thoroughly before serving. Oh, and as for leftovers, just chill them for up to a couple of days, and then re-froth with either your trusty hand mixer or your blender.

THING: [has a cold pack on his hand nursing a hangover]

    You know, world-class bourbons contain complex flavors, thanks in part to natural impurities called congeners. Now this collection of esters, acids, aldehydes, and higher alcohols are created by the fermentation process, and they can also create [points to Thing] in over-imbibers a seedy set of symptoms known as a hangover. Clear spirits, like vodka and gin don't contain nearly as many congeners, so they don't typically generate such miserable mornings after. A cure? Well, since eggs contain cysteine, the substance that offsets the toxic acetaldehydes in question, it could be that a glass of eggnog, sans booze, might just help.

AB: Eggnog, Thing?

THING: [shakes his fingers "no"]

AB: No? Oh, well. You did it to yourself.

FOOD POLICE: [speaking through megaphone in a helicopter outside off camera] Alton Brown, this is the Food Police.

    Great Scot!

FOOD POLICE: Come out with your beverages up!

AB: Why don't you guys go pick on somebody else?

FOOD POLICE: We know you've been using raw eggs in there. We don't like it one bit.

AB: I used pasteurized shell eggs. They're perfectly safe.

FOOD POLICE: Yeah, whatever. Put the eggnog in the bucket.

AB: Okay, okay. [pours a little bit of eggnog into a bucket lowered from above] There. Get out of here!

FOOD POLICE: Unh unh, all of it, Brown.

AB: Oh, bother. [pours the rest in] There. Stinkers! You stinky stinkers!!

FOOD POLICE: Name caller!

AB: Arrrgh.

The Kitchen

    Fine. Government says that eggs aren't safe unless they're heated to 160? Fine, we'll do that. After all, eggnog is nothing, really, but a custard waiting to be stirred into existence. So, that's what we're going to do. We'll custardize it. Now all I need is this saucepan. Yeah, this saucepan. That's all I need. And we'll add to that the very same pint of milk, the very same cup of cream, and the very same teaspoon of nutmeg. I need the three ounces of bourbon, but I wouldn't want to add that now, not if we're going to heat this. Because believe me, heat control is the secret to this entire operation.

1 Pint Whole Milk
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp. Freshly Grated Nutmeg

    So we're going to put this over high heat and bring it to a boil. But never, ever, ever turn your back on this or it'll boil over. [starts to turn away, and then immediately turns back] I don't trust it. I don't trust it so much, that I'm actually going to work my eggs and sugar right on top of it. [sets up a double boiler for the eggs and sugar] Why not? We could use a little heat. So while that is coming to a boil, we will place in the top our four egg yolks, and we're going to beat those until they are light in texture and color.

4 Egg Yolks

    Now, time to add our third of a cup of sugar, very, very slowly.

1/3 Cup Sugar

    There. Once we have reached ribbon stage, that comes off, as we do not want that to get hot, and turn our attention back to our milk mixture.

Modern eggnog descends from sack posset a
strong, thick, English beverage of old.

The Kitchen

    When this hits a boil, turn off the heat. Now, if we have timed things properly, something wonderful will happen. Bring your bowl with your eggs nearby. I like to keep mine on the counter. If yours skids around, a little ring of wet paper towel should keep it in place. Oh, and we're also going to need a ladle, okay.
    So, we will start stirring this again just to loosen it up, and we'll take a ladle full of the hot mixture and very slowly, very slowly, drizzle it in whisking very quickly. Now this, of course, is called "tempering". And basically, we're just trying to slowly elevate the temperature of the eggs so that they will not curdle.
    Just go ahead and add this right back to the pot, still whisking, though. There. Now comes the miracle part. If we have played our cards right, we will be exactly at the 160 degrees that the government seems to think is so important. [checks with an insta-read thermometer] ... 55. 162. Perfect. No extra heat required.

    Oh, almost forgot the secret ingredient, the bourbon. Hey, it looks like Thing didn't get to it this time. That's good. Now let this mixture cool down and then refrigerate.

3 Ounces Bourbon

    When the nog is thoroughly chilled, you are ready to fold in the final foam. By the way, for this batch, pasteurized egg whites. They are readily available in modern megamarts even if pasteurized shell eggs aren't. And they whip up exactly the same. Time to compare, I think.

Good Drinks Bar

    [samples one of two eggnogs] Ahh. [samples the other] Mmm. Yep. Both very, very good. The cooked version, of course, is a little thicker, almost shake-like, because of the coagulated proteins. It is a cooked custard. But you know, that thickness, I don't know. I don't think it's quite as refreshing. I like the original version better. Glad I saved some.

FOOD POLICE: Unh, unh, unh, Brown. Put it back in the bucket. In the bucket.

The Kitchen

    [takes dessert after dessert out of the fridge to only have it taken by a hand off screen] Ah. You know, the holidays are a treacherous time, my friends. People are always just showing up, unexpected and uninviting, wanting to be fed, or watered. How can you possibly be prepared for this onslaught? More eggnog, of course. For instance, if you are like me, and you keep around plenty of the cooked custard base without the egg white foam worked into it, well, then you could surprise your various guests with delicious eggnog ice cream. That's right, it's a drink, it's an ice cream base, it's both!
    Just crank up your favorite ice cream maker and pour in one whole batch of your cooked eggnog mixture. In about 20 minutes, you'll have a delicious soft-serve product that you can enjoy right on the spot. [tastes] Mmmm, yum. Or, of course, you could move that to an airtight container, and harden it, overnight—at least eight hours—in your freezer. Equally delightful.
    Now I should point out that feeding this to the kiddies Christmas Eve, will help them nod off ever so quickly. But you could, of course, make it without the bourbon in it. But I can't really see where the cheer is in that.

Good Drinks Bar

    Well, America, I hope that you've gained a little appreciation for the noble old nog. Not only is it historically significant, culinarily versatile, and scientifically fascinating, it's a free-flowin', glowin' nectar, well-deserving of the title "Good Eats".
    I'm Alton Brown. See you next time.

*Covered in the Egg Files V: Quantum Foam.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010