This year’s holiday cocktail is actually sort of two cocktails. And by “sort of,” I mean that it’s two very, very different presentations of essentially the same idea. The first is a simple Black Walnut Brandy Manhattan. The second is essentially the same drink — but as eggnog, and with some added rum.
Both of these drinks are delicious, holiday-appropriate, and, even better, incredibly easy to make. The eggnog, in particular, will take you no more than 5 or 10 minutes to put together once your ingredients are gathered. (You will, however, need to make it several hours in advance of serving in order to allow it to chill.)
And since I gave you a list of ingredients last week, you should be all ready to go. Let’s make some drinks! Happy holidays, folks.
A Black Walnut Brandy Manhattan
Around this time of year, I often make a Black Walnut Brandy Manhattan. If you are a regular reader of this newsletter, you can probably imagine exactly what that looks like, right down to the specific bottle choices. (I published a very similar recipe with a rum base earlier this year.)
But just to spell it out: It’s a 2:1 Manhattan with brandy instead of rye as the base ingredient, and Fee Bros. Black Walnut Bitters in place of the usual Angostura Aromatic. Simple, seasonal, and deeply satisfying.
It looks like this:
Black Walnut Brandy Manhattan
2 dashes Fee Bros. Black Walnut Bitters
1 ounce sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge)
2 ounces E&J XO or VSOP brandy
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
Add ice, then stir until chilled.
Strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass.
Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry. (Include a scant barspoon of the syrup from the jar.)
A few notes on substitutions:
For the brandy: You can probably get away with the similarly inexpensive Paul Masson VSOP if you can’t find E&J. Just do not, under any circumstances, use the flavored/fruity stuff. Or use some fancy cognac if that’s all you have, though be warned that while it might taste better straight, even a fairly basic cognac is probably going to be a bit more complex and so will change the character of the drink.
For the vermouth: I like Dolin Rouge here because, as I wrote just over a year ago in a column on vermouth, it’s the “light” option of my three go-to vermouths, and the E&J brandy is relatively light-bodied as well. As a result, the vermouth doesn’t overtake the drink. But this will taste quite good with vanilla-forward Carpano Antica Formula too; just be warned that the bolder, heavier Carpano vermouth will dominate the drink somewhat.
For the bitters: If you can’t find Fee Bros. Black Walnut, or have allergies/issues with nuts, use Angostura Aromatic bitters. It’s not quite as distinctly a “holiday” drink, but it’s still pretty good.
This is not a terribly complex drink, but it’s a good one, and if you’re looking for something you can make and consume right now, without any waiting period, this is where you should start. You should also consider making one of these just so you understand how it functions inside the eggnog format.
Now Make It Eggnog
Speaking of which, let’s put the brandy Manhattan on hold for just a moment and think about eggnog.
Like most internet cocktail geeks, I’ve scanned a zillion recipes, and eventually I encountered Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Clyde Common Eggnog. I’m not the only one; you can find this eggnog on bar menus across the country, and online cocktail obsessives have adopted it as a seasonal favorite. I think it’s fair to say, has become one of the internet’s favorite eggnogs.
A big part of its appeal is its somewhat unusual booze base — a blend of aged tequila and sherry. That combo in an eggnog just sounds fascinating, although given how common it is for high-quality boozy eggnogs to be built on a foundation of sherry and/or dark, aged spirits, it’s probably a little more conventional than it might seem.
In any case, it works. I’ve made it several times, and it’s just great. As usual, Morgenthaler delivers. It’s quite easy to make, so you should definitely whip up a small batch if you’re interested.
But what piqued my interest in his post on the drink was his description of the origins — in particular his initial plan for it to be part of a line of novelty vermouths, built on unusual foundations like a Manhattan or the bitter, vegetal Cynar.
So what I thought was: What if I could turn my holiday-friendly Black Walnut Brandy Manhattan into the boozy base for an eggnog, making an even more holiday-tastic drink in the process? Maybe the vermouth would be weird, but vermouth, after all, isn’t entirely unlike sherry. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
So I played around with the recipe for a bit, adjusting some of the proportions, and over the course of several iterations, that’s what I did. It was pretty good — very good even. But I wanted something even more complex and multi-layered.
And then I had another idea: Lots of eggnogs are built on a base of brandy and rum. So why not turn the underlying cocktail in the eggnog into a split-base drink — just like the multi-spirit, split-base cocktails we’ve been looking at in the newsletter all month. (See how it’s all coming together?)
So I added some rum to the mix, and it got better. Finally, there was one more tiny addition. I made a version of this for a friend who has a nut allergy, so as noted previously, I substituted Angostura Bitters for the Black Walnut Bitters.
As it turned out, it was really, really good. There were, not surprisingly in retrospect, wintry baking spice notes that I just wasn’t getting from the Black Walnut Bitters. But I didn’t want to lose the Black Walnut, since it’s such a big part of what gives the booze mix its holiday flavor. So for the final version, I added a couple dashes of Angostura Aromatic to the mix. It was a clear improvement.
There’s a small lesson here, I think, which is that whenever possible you should always try to accommodate your friends, even if it means making a somewhat different drink than you had planned. Not only is it just a nice thing to do, you might learn something in the process, and maybe end up with better drinks.
Before we start, a few notes on prep: I like making this in a stand mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can easily use a basic blender. If you don’t have a blender, use a bowl and a whisk. Unlike many eggnog recipes, this version does not call for separating the egg whites from their yolks, which is one of the reasons I like it; I’m lazy, and this is easy. You just blend/whip/mix everything together.
Do make sure that you gather all ingredients and measuring tools before starting, as you need to whip this together quite quickly. You don’t want to have to stop in the middle of the process to scrounge up a necessary ingredient.
So here’s the drink, along with its overly long, overly descriptive — yet I hope enticing — name:
Black Walnut Brandy Rum Manhattan Eggnog
(a.k.a. Suderman’s Holiday Nog)
¾ cup white sugar
8 ounces/volume whole milk
8 ounces/volume heavy cream
4 ounces/volume sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge)
4 ounces/volume Jamaican rum (Appleton Estate Signature)
4 ounces/volume aged American brandy (E&J XO)
4 dashes Fee Bros. Black Walnut Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Aromatic bitters
Nutmeg and cinnamon to garnish
Crack all eggs into your mixer/blender bowl, then mix on medium/medium low for 60-90 seconds until thoroughly whipped.
Don’t stop mixing if using a blender/mixer. Add sugar and continue blending/mixing for another minute.
Add milk and cream, again without turning off the blender/mixer.
Add booze and bitters, again without turning off the blender/mixer.
Turn up the blender/mixer speed to medium high, then let blend for another one or two minutes. If you’re using a blender, you may need to put the cap on to prevent mess.
Once nog is thoroughly integrated — a consistent texture and color throughout — bottle swiftly, then chill immediately in the refrigerator. Please don’t let this sit out at a room temperature on the counter for an hour.
Let the eggnog sit and chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours, and ideally 24 hours, before consuming. You really need this to cool and settle a bit. Typically I take a small taste the evening I make it, but save main consumption for the days that follow.
Pour a 3-4 ounce portion into a small glass (I like a mini mason jar), then garnish with fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon.
A few notes on substitutions/modifications:
As with the initial version, if you are nut averse for whatever reason, feel free to use Angostura Aromatic only (just replace all the Black Walnut with Angostura — so six dashes of Ango). Like I said, it’s not quite the same, but it’s still really good.
There are probably other rum/brandy combos that work, and some folks recommend quite aggressive high-proof Jamaican rums like Smith & Cross for eggnog. There’s almost certainly a tasty version to be made with that bottle (or some other high funk Jamaican rum), but it’s sufficiently pushy that I think it would overtake this recipe as a 1:1 substitution for the Appleton. Also, part of what I like about the Appleton is its mellowness.
In theory, another sweet vermouth could work as well, and indeed I did try a version with the last few anounces of a bottle of Foro di Torino Rosso I was trying to use up. This was not bad, but it had at least one out-of-place flavor note. I liked the Dolin better. The Dolin integrated more cleanly with the other ingredients.
If you want a slightly thinner, less heavy drink, add an extra ounce or two of whole milk. Regular readers will not be surprised to find that I prefer a slightly heavier, thicker texture.
What Even Is Eggnog Anyway?
Now that you’ve seen the recipe, let’s discuss the structure a little bit. Eggnog is basically just a flip — a cocktail built around spirit(s), egg, and sugar — but with the addition of some sort of cream and/or milk.
One preferential difference: Unlike flips, which I make one at a time in a shaker, I tend not to like eggnogs that are shaken individually, even though there are high-quality recipes for this method. An individually shaken eggnog is chilled by shaking over ice, which adds dilution, which means you are getting a somewhat watery nog. If that’s what you like, go for it. But it’s not for me. I much prefer a dense, thick eggnog chilled in the fridge.
Inevitably, someone will ask me about aging eggnog. As my pal Jacob Grier wrote last year, lots of people age their eggnog in the refridgerator before consuming it. Six weeks is conventional, and a year is not uncommon. Back in 2019, Robert Simonson published a story in The New York Times about whiskey writer Aaron Goldfarb’s aged nog that mentioned Goldfarb had a batch that was five years old. It was, Goldfarb said at the time, for shock value.
Here is what I have to say about aging eggnog: I can’t really tell you anything about it, because I’ve never successfully kept a batch in the fridge for more than about two weeks. Over that amount of time, it does mellow and settle just a little bit, and I imagine the effect would be more powerful over time. As with any aged boozy product, aged eggnog tastes just a little more like itself. But mostly it just stays delicious, which is why I keep drinking it and serving it to friends. It never, ever lasts. But that’s because it’s good.
Happy holidays, folks.
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I’ve corrected this post to include the correct amounts of milk and cream.
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My wife and I just tried the Manhattan. Very nice. I cut back on the vermouth a bit because the E&J XO is a bit sweet -at least it comes off that way with all of the vanilla/oak. It's a very good brandy.
I'm with you on the aged eggnog. We'd need a lock on the fridge. Wife and daughter buy eggnog at the store. I make myself a flip.
Everyone, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Joyous Other Holidays you may celebrate, and many thanks for a fun year of cocktails.
Really enjoyed the Manhattan! I used Paul Masson VSOP and it worked really well. Thank you!