The holiday season is that one magical time of year when stuffing bizarre science experiments involving booze and sugar down your throat is totally acceptable.
This brings us to the topic of eggnog, which is easily the most divisive of winter beverages aside from whatever strange alchemy Starbucks is crafting from burnt espresso and infuriatingly secular zeal.
On paper, it's your typical artery-clogging mouth-breather drink: egg yolk and heavy cream get swooshed around with enough sugar and spice to make Wilford Brimley uneasy.
As it turns out, eggnog is the perfect masking agent for the pungent burn of a fine brown liquor. This is no secret, of course, which explains why almost every purveyor of milk and milk substitutes offers their own prefabricated take on your weird transition lenses-wearing uncle's go-to method for getting clandestinely sloshed.
There's a lot of 'nog to slog through this holiday season, so it felt necessary to enlist the help of Appleton Estate rum, the preferred 'nog mixer of a friendly clerk at Hawthorne Liquor who called the Jamaican spirit a "safe bet and a good value" as far as dark, un-spiced rums go. We sampled every premixed 'nog variant available at a grocery or convenience store within a mile of the corner of SE 39th St. and Hawthorne Blvd.
Without further ado, here's a quick rundown of the cream of the crop.
1. New Seasons
You'll have to wait in line for ten minutes behind an Old Portlander who's paying for their chia seeds with loose change from a repurposed Nancy's Yogurt container to cop a box of this, but good lord is it worth it. Like the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls team, this is a glorious harmony of a few simple things going absolutely right. That first sip slowly segues from a milkshake-like texture to a smooth sweetness, then gently into the alcoholic warmth of the rum. The drinkability of this 'nog is downright dangerous, so consider yourself warned. This is a no nonsense 'nog that's perfect for enthusiasts and entry-level drinkers alike. Serve this with confidence and a stack of cheese from the discount remnant bin and you've got yourself one hell of a holiday party.
Tasting notes: "All I want in a 'nog." "A meal in a cup." "Rum flavor peeks through the sweet milkiness."
2. Mountain Dairy
A heftier dose of nutmeg appeared to be the appeal of this offering from Mountain Dairy, but second and third sips revealed a pleasing viscosity that proved to be a real game-changer in the long run for most 'nogs. If you're in the market for a reliable 'nog that's suitable for daily consumption, Mountain Dairy has you covered.
Tasting notes: "The Honda Accord of 'nog." "My uvula feels fuzzy." "Genuine viscosity."
Easily the thickest of entrants, Darigold's take on 'nog had a melted ice cream texture that made everyone feel a bit naughty for enjoying it as much as we did. This would absolutely taste better stoned, although the fake-looking yellow hue was a big turnoff.
Tasting notes: "I'd drink a pint of this with a straw behind a dumpster." "A fine mixing 'nog." "This is a great chaser for shitty cocaine you'd find at Rontoms."
This is the Kanye of 'nogs: in-your-face and almost more fun to argue about than consume. A heavy hand with the spices may be a bit much for the casual user, but serious 'nog enthusiasts with aspirations of moving on to the heavier shit will love the explosion of nutmeg and cinnamon that coats your mouth right out of the gate. A peppery aftertaste was the only knock on this variety, but a box of this alongside the New Seasons variety is about as good a spread in 'nog flavors any partygoer could ever ask for.
Tasting notes: "The cabernet of 'nog." "This altered the reality of my mouth." "This 'nog is trying too hard. It doesn't feel comfortable with itself."
5. So Delicious Coconut Holiday 'Nog
So Delicious offers the only non-dairy variety that could ever have any chance of fooling a purist. Given the use of coconut milk in the rich and creamy curries that make Indian food such a delight, this isn't much of a surprise. Keep a box of this on hand in case a vegan shows up, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised when this is all that's left in your fridge but you just have to have a swig of 'nog at 4 am.
Tasting notes: "I would accept someone lying to me and telling me this was real 'nog." "This is drinkable!" "A weird post-umami thing under my tongue."
6. Edaleen Dairy
If you're hard-up for 'nog in the middle of the night and are hoping 7-11 will pull through, an overpriced bottle of this yellow goop is probably what you'll get. The flavor and feel of 'nog is definitely there, but the viscosity and constant look of being unsettled was a big turnoff once it exited the bottle. You're better off adding rum to the original bottle, which no one will judge you for at a 7-11.
Tasting notes: "Weird separation- the texture overpowers the booze." "Exciting milk." "This is cheap-ass 'nog and I know it."
7. Organic Valley
Bachelors love Organic Valley's regular milk because of its impossibly long shelf life, but their 'nog wasn't much to write home about. It was hard to pin down what was missing, but the flavor and mouth-coating richness dissipated much faster than any other 'nog on the list. This is a "less is more" 'nog that's perfect for the weak in spirit who want to say they drank a glass of 'nog this year even though they had no intention of enjoying it. Bah humbug!
Tasting notes: "Texture was OK, but not much flavor." "Needs more yolk." "I like the brightness. This is a good hair of the dog 'nog."
8. Almond Breeze 'Nog
It turns out the flavor of almond milk and the flavors of a traditional 'nog are in stark opposition. The only way to make this drinkable is to add copious amounts of rum, but that logic could be applied to just about any other subpar beverage if that's the game you're playing. At its worst this tasted like drinking spicy chalk; at its best it tasted like nothing. Pass.
Tasting notes: "I guess I would like this is if I had to." "Like drinking nothing, but also hating nothing."
9. Califia Farms Holiday 'Nog
This highfalutin $6 jug of mystery tasted nothing like 'nog, but once you're over that it's certainly not the worst non-dairy holiday beverage in the world. Passing off a drink that tastes like an odd blend of perfume, Mr. Bubble mix and spring breeze-scented dryer sheets as 'nog is downright offensive, yet a bit of rebranding could yield a smash hit for Califia Farms amongst the yoga mom set that enjoys this brand of beverages oh so much.
Tasting notes: "Tastes like what I assume a pretty girl's shampoo tastes like. I wouldn't know!" "This is an affront to 'nog culture. I can't believe I let this into my house." "Floral, with a Mr. Bubble finish."
10. International Delight
We had to double- and triple-check the container to make sure we didn't accidentally buy a box of 'nog-flavored coffee creamer, which made us wonder what difference it would've made anyways. The only actual flavor we could pick out besides the rum was an artificial sweetener finish, raising concerns of why this product exists beyond acting as a thickening agent for that 8 am shot of booze a person whose life is slowly unraveling may have a hard time taking down without a little extra somethin' in their cup. You're better off with just about anything else from International Delight's rather impressive flavor portfolio in that case, but it is almost Christmas, so we won't judge.
Tasting notes: "There's no 'nog in this 'nog." "Artificial cinnamon flavor. No egg whatsoever." "Diet beverage mouthfeel."
11. Southern Comfort
We should've known better, but it was on sale for $1.69 and conveniently located next to the previously listed atrocity, so we couldn't help ourselves. This was already overpoweringly sweet without the recommended dose of SoCo, which is a genuine cause for concern regarding the blood sugar levels of anyone who buys a container of this wretched product and actually prepares it the "right" way. Avoid this at all costs.
Tasting notes: "Tastes like the silt at the bottom of a frozen Starbucks drink." "FAKE!" "This is terrible even without SoCo. Who would do this to themselves?"
12. Trader Joe's Light
We had every intention of sampling the original version of Trader Joe's 'nog, but we forgot to account for how the feverish cult-favorite status of this grocery store chain creates a perpetual state of scarcity for their hallowed seasonal items. I imagined the employee at the Alphabet District store was pointing to the phone making the universal "this guy is nuts" sign to whomever was standing nearby when she fielded my telephone inquiry regarding when they'd get more of the real shit in. We sampled the light variety anyways, hoping it would taste even remotely similar to what we wanted from the unattainable full-fat version. It did not. After checking the date twice to make sure it wasn't expired, we threw the entire box in the garbage anyways. Do not drink this under even the most dire of circumstances.
Tasting notes: "Pairs well with the piece of nicotine gum I just put in my mouth." "Why do the bubbles feel chunky?" "Might as well go with the non-dairy version."
13. Silk Original Soy Nog
The only thing that can possibly account for the popularity of this non-dairy nog variant is its ubiquity and the fact that most of its biggest fans haven't tasted dairy in years. Not a single aspect of drinking this was acceptable, with the texture being the biggest gross out for the group. You can do so much better than this, I promise.
Tasting notes: "Sour with an astringent finish," "Like that bilious morning puke when there's nothing solid left."
14. Silk Almond Nog
Pick your poison, Silk fans: this utterly flavorless waste of money, or the aforementioned goop that looks like something a monster from an 80's horror film would spew on the camera. It's a lose-lose either way, so you might as well give the So Delicious Coconut 'nog a try and hope for the best.
Tasting notes: "This is what you'd drink if you were cast in a commercial where you have to drink glass after glass of the stuff and had no idea when you were allowed to stop." "I'm feeling very bad for vegans right now."