I can't think of the last time I bought commercial egg nog. The very thought of it was sort of gag-inducing for a long time. As a child I loved the stuff, but at some point my tastes changed, and the last grocery store nog I remember drinking was sickly sweet with a thick, gloopy texture that evoked a mixture of molasses and Elmer's glue.
In the intervening years, we've made our own nogs, including a recipe that involves separating the eggs and beating the whites to soft peaks, which are then integrated back into the custard. The resulting egg nog is light and fluffy, and somehow tricks you into believing that you're not drinking a dozen eggs and a pint of whipping cream. This year, I've taken on aged egg nog, which should be just good enough by Christmas Eve, though part of me is tempted to start next year's batch now.
But when Amy reached out with an invitiation, collaborating with Beth from Whole Foods Northern California, offering a tasting of different egg nogs, my curiosity was piqued. Surely there must be good egg nogs on the market, and I intended to find out.
So a few of us filtered in to Steep Brew, the cafe at Whole Foods Potrero Hill.
I figured it would be all, drop in, taste some nogs, and blow. Yeah, not so much. Beth had laid out an entire table with not just the nogs, but some other goods she wanted us to try. From the bakery, we had a chocolate turtle cake and an orange upside down cake, the latter of which was good by any metric, even though it had oranges all over it.
And there were cheeses, most notably a nice gouda with holiday spices (nutmeg and cumin prevailed) that immediately evoked egg noggy goodness, and a manchego paired with a curiously good cranberry nut cake.
And then Beth whisked away for a moment to retrieve the ham. Because, of course, you need ham to taste egg nog.
Positioned as we were smack in the middle of a very public space, seated around a table positively laden with cartons of egg nog, plates of nibbles, bottles of wine (yes, there was wine) and a big old ham, we of course got a lot of attention. One lady passed by our table no fewer than three times, ogling us with crazy eyes while dragging a granny cart behind her, before she stopped to say, "You've got a picture perfect party going on. But I guess you knew that. Ha ha ha ha. But it could be better, if you had rattlesnake handlers." Riiiight.
On to the nog!
We started with a couple dairy-free nogs, figuring our palates might be coated with eggy-creamy goodness otherwise. Our first sip, the Califia Farms Almond Milk Egg Nog, was not a hit. Surely part of it is the cognitive dissonance of expecting a true egg nog and getting a taste that lacks both egg and dairy, but it was more than that. We all detected an odd note, faintly chemical, I thought even maritime. The prevalent thickener used was carrageenan, which is derived from seaweed. So.
By contrast the So Delicious Coconut Milk Egg Nog got good marks all around. The spicing was on point, and the natural flavor of coconut milk complemented it nicely. If I were eschewing dairy, I'd pick this one. Mind you, we did not taste any soy nogs.
Of the mainstream nogs, our first taste was Clover, which we unilaterally found far too sweet and insipid. I'm told the organic version is better, but we did not try that.
But the next taste, Organic Valley, immediately got us talking. It had the right thickness, and very forward notes of vanilla and nutmeg, with visible flecks of both. The nutmeg flavor was so clean, it tasted like it had just been freshly scraped over the cup.
That would have been a tough act to follow by any metric, but the Traderspoint Creamery nog wouldn't have cut muster regardless. The spicing was balanced, but uninteresting, and it too had a strange aftertaste. And then we noticed it was thickened with carrageenan. Hm.
Last but not lest, Straus was a solid player, with good weight and balanced spicing, and there was no denying the quality of the dairy. Absent the tasting, I would have bought Straus, and enjoyed it.
Among all the tasters, including one child, the unequivocal winner was Organic Valley, with a nod to So Delicious as a dairy-free option.
That said, I'll stick to our homemade aged eggnog, and not just because it's about 30% alcohol.