Sure, you can make your own eggnog for the holidays, but it’s a whole lot easier to pull a carton out of the fridge when the mood strikes. There are a number of pretty solid options available at your local grocery store, but there are some pretty bad ones, too.
There are actually so many options in the grocery aisle these days that you might have a little trouble determining what to choose. We consulted a few bartenders to see which store-bought eggnogs we might find in their fridges, and we also snagged some tips on how to serve that carton in style.
“Personally, I’m a fan of whatever is local, whether it is organic or not,” said Chris Hannah, a bartender at Jewel of the South in New Orleans and the 2022 U.S. Bartender of the Year. “So when I’m in New Orleans, I fancy Borden’s. If I’m in Pittsburgh, I would seek out Maggie’s Farm, and Rompope if I were in Santa Cruz, California.”
No matter which you select, Hannah recommends picking up a bottle of sweet sherry or Madeira and adding that as well as whiskey, brandy or rum to the mix and “grated nutmeg at all times — the more generous the better.”
If you don’t have a local option, there are also a lot of great brands that are available at larger retailers nationwide.
“A lot of store-bought nogs are vanilla heavy, overly sugary and taste like liquid ice cream,” said Stuart Weaver, the general manager and bartender at Lady Jane in Denver. He typically reaches for Whole Foods 365 brand Grade A Egg Nog, which he said “has a nice balance of spice without being too sweet.”
As you might imagine, there was one thing all of the bartenders we spoke to agreed on: You should add booze.
“At Lady Jane, I add four different boozy elements ― rye, bourbon, Jamaican rum and Pedro Ximénez sherry,” Weaver said. While four different spirits might seem like a lot, the practice of adding rye, rum and sherry reportedly dates back to the early days of eggnog ― even George Washington served his blend to guests with a mix of the three.
“At home, you can keep it a bit simpler and just go with two: rye and Jamaican rum,” Weaver said. “Rye brings the spice and Jamaican rum brings the funk. If you’re feeling really jazzy, grab some sherry, too! Since store-bought nogs are pretty sweet already (even 365 brand), I would avoid Pedro Ximénez and grab a bottle of Amontillado sherry instead.”
In terms of how much, Weaver recommended using equal parts rye and rum, and then adding a half part of sherry. He also suggested mixing it up a day ahead of time and letting it mellow overnight.
Ricardo Flores, the head bartender at the award-winning cocktail bar Hot Tin in New Orleans, does a bit of a twist on traditional eggnog around the holidays. “I opt more for the Puerto Rican-style coquito,” Flores said. “The main difference between the two is coquito is coconut milk-based and eggnog is milk and real eggs.”
A good alternative for vegans or anyone who might be averse to drinking raw eggs, Flores recommends the brand So Delicious’ Coconut Milk Holiday Nog, which is available at most Target stores. “It’s still creamy and gently spiced, but not heavy, and the lack of egg lightens up both the texture and the flavor,” he said. “The hint of coconut at the end is a tropical kiss and pairs nicely with a splash of your favorite rum. I recommend Don Q Gold, personally, but any other spirit of choice could work.”
Juan Cardona, the head bartender at Mister Mao in New Orleans, also recommended a coquito, but suggested Pennsylvania Dutch eggnog that comes with booze already in it. For a twist, he recommended adding cold brew for an overall more balanced drink and topping it with whipped cream and chocolate chips.
Non-dairy eggnog came up quite a bit in discussions with bartenders, due to it being a bit easier on the stomach ― so you can enjoy more of it.
Rachael Robbins, a cocktail consultant and bartender at Iron Bar in Morristown, New Jersey, recommends Silk Original Eggnog.
“It’s so delicious that dairy drinkers won’t even know what they’re missing and vegan/vegetarians won’t be excluded from enjoying some holiday cheer,” she said. “You don’t want to weigh down your guests with too-rich drinks. Everyone will be sleeping before the main course hits the table.”
Rather than reaching for rum, she suggested using just rye or bourbon in your drink. “These options don’t add more sugar (rum is actually made out of sugar!) and give the nog more flavor layers like caramel, oak and vanilla,” Robbins said. “Don’t forget to use fresh grated nutmeg!”
One thing all of the bartenders we spoke to agreed on: The best eggnog is the one you like. Grab a carton and experiment with a few different preparations until you find the perfect eggnog for you.