Among the things that get better with age, eggnog doesn’t naturally come to mind.
Made of cream and milk, sugar and salt, numerous eggs and a heavy hand of booze, the eggnog from one Durham bar proves patience can be a virtue.
The Durham diner Jack Tar will open its annual holiday bar on Black Friday, setting up a winter wonderland outdoors on its patio. The star of the holiday menu is a double dose of aged eggnog: a one-year-old nog, and a two-year-old.
The one-year-old will be shaken with heavy cream and milk, while the two-year-old will be served as a cordial for smooth sipping.
“It’s like the best vanilla milkshake you’ve ever had,” said Jack Tar general manager Jim McKay.
How it came to be
It wasn’t an accident that Jack Tar kept an eggnog aging for two years, but it wasn’t exactly on purpose either.
Late in 2019, as strings of Christmas lights still twinkled, the Durham bar mixed up the batch of eggnog it meant to serve the next year. The 2019 edition had been such a hit, Jack Tar quintupled the recipe for 2020. By the numbers that meant more than 300 eggs and more than three dozen quarts of eggnog set aside for its year-long slumber.
As we know now, 2020 was a doozy.
Jack Tar served its aged eggnog last year, but with COVID numbers high through the holidays, many people kept the Christmas cheer at home in 2020, and the bar had more than eight quarts left over.
Gray Brooks, owner of Jack Tar and other downtown Durham restaurants, said after two years, the aged eggnog has only gotten smoother.
“It’s just gotten mellower,” Brooks said. “It’s crazy how it mellows out. … The heat is almost completely gone, it’s just more noggy flavor.”
The cleansing power of alcohol
Modern squeamishness has led us to forget something our ancestors once relied on, the cleansing power of alcohol. It’s difficult to accept that eggs and dairy held long past their shelf life could be safe to drink.
In 2008, a team of microbiologists at the Rockefeller Institute studied what happens to eggnog as it ages. They infected a batch of nog with salmonella, mimicking the potential danger of a bad egg, and watched over three weeks as the alcohol eventually killed off all the bacteria.
The Jack Tar version ages the eggs, alcohol and sugar, adding the dairy when serving the one-year, and leaving it out for the two-year.
“People give me a sideways look, and I’ll say, ‘Here try it,’” said Jack Tar bartender Michael Killebridge. “Then their eyes open wide. If they need any reassurance I tell them with this much booze nothing can live in this.”
Brooks spent years in the Seattle food scene and said he first encountered serious eggnog in a restaurant there. A Dutch cook shared his family’s recipe with the kitchen, Brooks said.
“He wouldn’t age it and it was made with grain alcohol so it was super hot,” Brooks said. “That’s where my fascination began. … Eggnog is so much more than the carton of stuff you add booze to. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
‘Smitten with how it turned out’
But Jack Tar’s eggnog has aged into something special, a cocktail that has somehow gone on this journey with us, changing along the way.
“We were smitten with how it turned out,” Brooks said.
Through 2020, even as Jack Tar sat closed to the public, the eggnog was cared for and tended to. Killebridge stirred it weekly, a few swishes of a giant whisk to remix the concoction, before tucking it back in again.
There’s eight quarts of the two-year nog left and 20 quarts of the one-year, Jack Tar’s McKay said.
More than just a cup of good cheer, the two-year nog marks the passing of a pivotal time, Brooks said.
“It means we’re still here,” Brooks said. “It’s amazing we’re drinking this thing that was started in the months before anyone had heard of COVID. It reminds me there’s this continuance.”