"Eggnog" sounds kind of gross. The name alone might be why I never tried the mixture of eggs, whole milk, heavy cream and sometimes booze until well into my twenties, when my boyfriend, now my husband, urged me to try it during one of our first holiday seasons together.
It still seems like a dubious drink given that raw eggs are involved, but I'm hooked. I buy it in nonalcoholic half-gallons at the store and have also come to anticipate the day when our former neighbor brings over large mason jars of a rum-and-cognac-filled version that his grandmother, in Fredericksburg, makes (and ages, per the traditional way) every year. My husband and I made eggnog fudge once; our take on homemade eggnog was just OK but at least had lots of alcohol.
Thankfully, I don't have to rely on my shaky skills in the kitchen to get really great, really boozy eggnog — and the rest of Austin doesn't, either. Peche is in the middle of its Six Weeks of Eggnog promotion, during which the half-dozen bartenders working there each come up with their own, often completely wacky twists on the holiday drink. Each week features a new recipe, up until the six weeks end on Jan. 6.
The downtown French restaurant and absinthe bar established the eggnog specials a couple of years ago, as the vision of bar manager Shaun Meglen. Like me, he can't get enough of the stuff every December. The rich, creamy concoction isn't for everybody (I never tried eggnog growing up — my parents aren't fans), but there's a good chance one of the eggnog riffs at Peche will please even picky palates.
Indeed, Meglen says he brought the eggnog specials back this year after Peche customers talked him into it.
"The idea of us hand-shaking fresh 'nogs to order for six weeks sounded both awesome and terrible, and it was," he says. "We didn't end up doing it the following year, but after countless guest requests for the six signature 'nogs from all six bartenders of yesteryear, we decided to give it another go for 2018."
All of Peche's eggnog drinks stray from traditional recipes, thanks to off-the-wall ingredients like hibiscus, matcha and pumpkin spice. Riffing on classic cocktails is a fun way for bartenders to stretch their creative muscles, although eggnog — like famous egg-and-cream cocktail the Ramos Gin Fizz — can be a pain to make because of the raw egg, which requires a lot of shaking, and the cream, which makes a mess.
But all that work is clearly worth it. I tried the first eggnog on the menu a couple of weeks ago, called the Raven's Nog, that assistant bar manager Christopher Gaspar made with Sacred Bonded Brandy, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, hibiscus, cinnamon, cream and a whole egg and marveled at the way the pomegranate in particular added an almost Fruity Pebbles-like element to the delicate drink, without making it too sweet.
For Gaspar, making cocktails is truly a work of art, and he came up with the idea for the Raven's Nog with a little help from one of America's most famous poets.
"I really wanted to make an eggnog that was purple or red, and one ingredient that immediately came to mind was pomegranate," he says. "Pomegranate is associated with misfortune, and so is the raven. I then remembered 'The Raven' by Edgar Allan Poe and did a little research on him to further connect my ingredients. It turns out that Poe loved brandy and eggnog. In order to get a little more color, I created a hibiscus and cinnamon syrup."
Additionally on special this year is Meglen's Green Eggs and Nog, available the week before Christmas, with Monkey Shoulder Scotch and a matcha green tea liqueur he made from Hendrick's Gin. Bartender Kendall Joyner also has crafted the Ugg Nog with Remy Martin VSOP Cognac and pumpkin spice syrup.
Meglen's version isn't the first time I've seen matcha (powdered green tea leaves) go into eggnog. Last week, the W Austin launched a Grinch-themed holiday pop-up bar called the Who-tel Bar, where a cognac-based eggnog (on nitro, no less, for extra creaminess) gets its minty color from matcha powder. Matcha's initial vegetal flavor and lingering sweetness lend it well to eggnog.
Clearly, there's more to eggnog than meets the tongue if it's done right. Thanks to the creative bartenders at Peche's Warehouse District bar, you just might find it's a brilliant holiday drink worth a fresh taste, and then another.
"I’m lucky enough to have a platform to showcase my inspirations," Gaspar says.