Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Old New England Egg Nog

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.




Buying tips, techniques, and recipes, no matter how you like them.

It's office holiday party season, which presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities here at world headquarters of Will Gordon Industries. The party has to be held on a weekday afternoon, because that's when I was able to secure the most favorable rate for the venue (my kitchen, which is reserved for soup-making on nights and weekends throughout the winter), which means I will be the sole attendee.

I'm sure Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily would love to attend after spending the whole year cable-bill-paying her way to the top of the company, but she has to work elsewhere on weekdays, so it will just be me. The good news is obvious: total control of the music, the dress code, and the meats on sticks. But while I look forward to a feast of Talking Heads, sweatpants, and ham befitting a mogul of my stature, I also realize there are some dark linings to the silver cloud of a one-person office party.

Since Will Gordon Industries doesn't have any employees, we don't have any pregnant employees, which means there's no one to suck up to for spare drink tickets the week before the party. I suppose it's easier to just help myself to all the Schlitz I can stash inside Emily's Cold Storage Box for Yogurt, Coke Zero, and Other Stupid Crap Crowding the Yogurt and Coke Zero, but that's so much less festive than scurrying around panicked that I won't be able to get drunk enough to endure my own company.

Since I'll be casually dressed and wasted by 3:30, there's a high probability of a sexual harassment incident, and while I appreciate that being alone reduces the risk of litigation, it also takes some of the spark out of the scandal. I might not even bother. Another thing I like to do at holiday parties is steal the coats of people with better taste and higher outerwear budgets than my own; Emily leaves some good stuff unattended in the closet all day, but none of it fits.

But I intend to make the most of this party, so even though it may lack traditional staples such as decorations and guests, I am determined to serve myself eggnog even though I'm not usually into holiday-themed drinking. I make a big deal out of drinking as many bird-named bourbons as possible every Thanksgiving in order to assemble a sort of booze turducken in my liver, but that barely counts, since I drink bird-named bourbon on every other holiday, too.

But since the festivity's going to come up a little short in some other departments, I'm going to make sure that everyone attending the Will Gordon Industries One-Man Holiday Bacchanal has unfettered access to the most iconic winter holiday beverage, whether the host and guest of honor likes it or not.

I'm not opposed to eggnog, per se, but I haven't had much of it as an adult, and on the surface it doesn't seem like my kind of drink. I have not drank an ounce of straight milk since I gained total dietary autonomy at age 5. Leandra's cereal column is one of my favorite Serious Eats features, but I always come away feeling like an oddball and it's time I share my secret: I eat Grape-Nuts dry, and if I could I'd eat them drier.

I like the more popular milk derivatives, such as ice cream and cheese and so on, because I'm not crazy, but I don't eat much of that, either. I live a pretty low-dairy life, and it's rare that an alcohol drink makes me think, "Not bad, but it could use another 300 calories, and some nutmeg," so while I'm totally game for eggnog, I don't really know where to start.

I hear the best stuff is homemade, and I don't doubt that, but there's no way I'll have the time and energy to devote to such a task on party day. I was going to just add whatever hooch was lying around to the winner of the Serious Eats taste test of grocery store brands, but then I saw the results and decided none of them were deserving of my hard-earned alcohol.

So I ended up with an $8 bottle of Old New England Egg Nog. The label says it's "freshly made," which of course means absolutely nothing, and also that it contains "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Rum, Brandy, and Blended Whiskey," which could potentially mean it's more of a Long Island Iced Egg Nog than an Old New England one, but since it's 30 proof, the long list of alcohols is more distracting than alluring. Why bother?

It pours an appropriate pale beige, and it's quite a bit thinner than I expected. The relative thinness and the pleasant rum-nutmeg smell made me optimistic that I might be able to power through the whole bottle by myself, but it was not to be. The spices are fairly subdued and pose no major problems, and the dairy element—whatever shelf-stable thing it might be—has a smooth, understated sweetness that's not nearly as aggressive as it could have been.

But Old New England Egg Nog has the same fatal flaw as most other inexpensive premixed drinks: crappy alcohol. This tastes about twice as strong as it is, with a fierce boozy bite that doesn't belong in a creamy, spicy, wine-strength drink full of potential masking agents.