Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Clash of the Eggnogs: A Holiday Taste Test

Being the jolly curmudgeon that I am, the Christmas season—for me, at least—shouldn't start until (a) it's December, and (b) we've seen snow at least once. There is to be no dancing or prancing in Jingle Bell Square until the air is sufficiently frosty. Figgy pudding is out of the question so long as there's still leftover turkey and stuffing in the fridge. And if I see someone hauling out the holly before Thanksgiving, it makes me want to haul out the shotgun and take aim at their festive inflatable reindeer.

"Humbug," I say. And also, "bah."

Then my wife came home with eggnog as it snowed on Halloween.

Technically, the eggnog came a little sooner, and the snow a little later, but the point is that someone decided that the official beverage of the holiday season (along with snow!) should be available in October. And my wife, who likes eggnog more than she likes my perfectly reasonable decree that the most wonderful time of the year only lasts 2-3 weeks in December, has kept our home stocked with the hit-or-miss libation ever since.

Fortunately for me, she likes to try different brands and varieties. Perhaps you recall my white cheddar burger showdown? Well, for your consideration, here's a review of the many flavors of eggnog (and near-eggnog beverages) that have passed through our fridge this holiday and pre-holiday season:

Stop & Shop Egg Nog
Purchased from: Stop & Shop
Don't let the generic name fool you—take a chance on the ridiculous holiday cow. Striking a satisfyingly sweet balance between eggy and creamy, this is the drink to which other eggnogs should aspire. There's nothing particularly notable about this one, other than that it's good, plain and simple. It doesn't go overboard with its flavor and consistency; by being relatively average, it ends up being above average, if that makes any sense. And if it doesn't make sense, read on, and you'll find how individuality is not necessarily a trait to be coveted in eggnogs.

Verdict: 4/5: Easily drinkable, filling but not heavy, and flat-out tasty.


Tuscan Holiday Eggnog
Purchased from: PathMark
It's...eggnog. Pretty much what I think of when I think eggnog. Coats your throat without being overly thick; more eggy than creamy; has that faint smell of "holiday spices," whatever those are.

Verdict: 3/5: It's fine. It's eggnog.


Borden Eggnog
Purchased from: Stop & Shop
Wait...Borden!? The cheese people?? And it comes in an unrefrigerated box?? There was no way this would be any good.

And it wasn't. It was tolerable at first; nothing more or less than creamy egg glop. No "holiday spices" to speak of. And yes, I did refrigerate it first. After a few sips, that "processed, out-of-a-box" smell quickly gave way to something more foul, like the eggnog had started to spoil in the ninety seconds it had been in my glass.

The texture is what finally got to me—this eggnog is nearly gag-inducingly thick to begin with, but as it coated my throat more and more, it reached a point where it felt like drinking egg-flavored plastic cheese. You know what I mean by "plastic cheese," right? Processed cheese singles...like the kind Borden makes.

Verdict: 0/5: I got through half of the half-glass I'd poured myself before giving up, and I still feel a little sick.


Hood Caramel Eggnog
Purchased from: PathMark
My wife says this one tastes nothing like caramel and everything like melted whipped cream, which is a total fib—the caramel taste here is almost brutish at first. You can smell it: it's like slightly burnt caramel. As far as consistency goes, the melted whipped cream comparison isn't too far off, and I suppose it does taste a bit like whipped cream...buried under layers of caramel that do seem to mellow the more you consume. Whatever it tastes like, it certainly isn't traditional eggnog—though that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Verdict: 3/5: It's pleasant enough. I don't mind caramel, but it's never been a selling point for me, so this is probably the highest score a 'nog like this could get.


Market Pantry Red Chocolate Velvet Holiday Milk
Purchased from: Target
This one was simply too ridiculous to pass up. Red Chocolate Velvet Holiday Milk?? Preposterous.

Delicious.

It was like drinking chocolate pudding with the consistency of Hershey's Milkshake—the latter being my all-time favorite premixed chocolate beverage out of a can, bottle, or carton (at least, until they seemingly changed the recipe a few years ago). This was rich, creamy, chocolatey, velvety, and satisfyingly desserty. Easily a contender for best premixed chocolate beverage I've had.

Verdict: 5/5: If "easily a contender for best premixed chocolate beverage I've had" isn't an endorsement, I don't know what is.


Cream-O-Land Holiday Style Eggnog
Purchased from: Local farmers' market
Look at that carton design. My wife says you can't go wrong with the holiday cow, and I'd say that's true. Though I'm a little suspicious of the "Holiday Style" descriptor; it's sort of like saying "Holiday Style Christmas Carols" or "Lawyer Style Subpoenas."

If you were to take Hood Caramel Eggnog and remove the caramel flavor, this is pretty much what you'd get. Impressively smooth, pleasantly creamy, and not all that eggy. Not unlike drinking melted eggnog-flavored whipped cream.

Verdict: 3/5: Enjoyable, but perhaps too light for its own good; feels like there's something missing. Perhaps that caramel eggnog left more of an impression than I thought.


Farmland Dairies Premium Eggnog
Purchased from: CVS
I see you, impostor holiday cow. You think you're all festive, but in fact, you are not. Do I see a Santa hat? Do I see a wreath in your mouth? No. Where is your holiday style, cow?

I tried valiantly to peg the unusual aroma wafting up from this 'nog, and the closest I could get was "faintly egg-scented garbage masked by cleaning solution" before my wife suggested it smelled like alcohol. Amaretto, Kahlúa, or Bailey's, to be specific. Clearly, I have no idea what I'm talking about. This 'nog is reasonably thick, and the taste is on the eggier side, to be sure, but still creamy. My wife says it gives the impression of being spiked, without actually being spiked. My wife also says she should write her own reviews of these eggnogs.

Verdict: 2/5: This eggnog confuses me. You'll probably like it more if you like the taste of...what did my wife call it, "alcohol"?...but I can do without that.


Dairy Fresh Chocolate Truffle
Purchased from: ShopRite
Chocolate truffle, eh? Well, Dairy Fresh does not disappoint. Another viscous delight in the same puddingy vein as Market Pantry's Red Velvet Holiday Milk, though the first sip or two reminded me of regular chocolate milk—at least, the way I make regular chocolate milk, which is chocolate syrup and possibly a splash of milk. This really does taste and feel like a melted chocolate truffle.

Verdict: 4/5: Not quite decadent, per se, but certainly more of a dessert than a beverage proper. And a very tasty dessert at that.


Organic Valley Organic Eggnog
Purchased from: ShopRite
Finally. While Tuscan Holiday Eggnog is what I expect when I have eggnog, Redundant Valley Eggnog is what I hope for when I have eggnog. It's like drinking milk, but thicker, and more on the vanilla ice cream side of dairy flavors. The ingredients list suggests that "organic fair trade nutmeg" is the source of the hint those elusive holiday spices here.

Verdict: 4/5: Delightful. I don't know whether the "organic" bit is what makes the difference, but I certainly wouldn't mind more eggnogs like this.


Hood Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Eggnog
Purchased from: ShopRite
So far, I am very impressed with Hood's ability to accurately convey what their eggnogs taste like. (Or, conversely, succeed at making their eggnogs taste like what they want to name them.) This one is nothing short of liquid sugar cookie. I'm beginning to think that "eggnog" is just a code word for specialty beverages that would otherwise be too novel for most people to take a chance on.

Verdict: 5/5: It's just as desserty as the Dairy Fresh Chocolate Truffle, but not so thick and rich that it strays from being a traditional beverage. Addictive.


Dairy Fresh Red Velvet
Purchased from: ShopRite
Is there actually a market for more than one brand of red velvet holiday beverage? Perhaps...but as far as I'm concerned, not while Market Pantry is still in business. This one actually tastes like red velvet cake, which puts it at a disadvantage—I'll eat red velvet cake, but I'm not a fan. Excessive frosting usually ruins a cake for me, and red velvet anything (at least in my experience) is characterized by excessive frosting—even when it's poured into a cup. There's enough of that essence of red velvet (both in smell and taste) to give the impression of the cake portion of this equation, but it's that too-sweet frosting flavor that wants to run the show here.

Verdict: 2/5: If you're a fan of red velvet, bump that score up a point. For me, it's too much like the frosting and not enough like the cake.


Turkey Hill Egg Nog
Purchased from: ShopRite
It's...eggnog. Think Tuscan Holiday Eggnog, but switch out the "holiday spices" for a stronger scent of egg.

Verdict: 2/5: This one's pretty average as far as eggnogs go, but the smell matters a great deal now that I'm an eggnog snob.


So Delicious Dairy Free Nog Coconut Nog Milk Beverage
Purchased from: Stop & Shop
Well, it's about time that someone 'fesses up that there is, in fact, no egg in their eggnog. So, it's just called nog. The Ferengi would be proud. I would be proud, too, except (a) I can't deal with the ridiculously long and silly name, and (b) it's not very good! I am perhaps not the right audience for this drink, because I like my dairy, and I've always found coconut milk to be a little too strong for my tastes. The texture and flavor are that of a milkshake made of coconut pudding and coconut milk that's somehow non-dairy.

Verdict: 1/5: If you're lactose-intolerant or cuckoo for coconuts, give this an extra point or two; I, for one, could not stop making faces while drinking this. I think using the Scotty glass was appropriate for this one.


Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
Purchased from: ShopRite
If you would've asked me last year which brand of eggnog was the best, I would've told you without hesitation that it was Southern Comfort. After consuming more eggnog in the past few months that I've consumed in the last decade, I'm not so sure anymore. This is a proper eggnog—thick, balanced evenly between creamy and eggy, gently wafting "holiday spices" into the nostrils as the glass is drawn near to the nose (or mouth, or however you drink your eggnog)—but after my experiences this season, I've concluded that I'd rather have an improper eggnog that makes little or no attempt to live up to the "egg" part of its namesake.

Don't get me wrong—Southern Comfort is good, and it's still one of the best eggnogs around. I suspect that I'm simply suffering from overexposure, and it doesn't help that I had this directly after a glass of the So Not Delicious Absurdly Convoluted Title Coconut Milk Drink Beverage Nog.

Verdict: 4/5: A hearty, quality eggnog. Be sure to keep an eye out for the vanilla-flavored variant; I couldn't find it this year, but that extra touch of creamy sweetness makes this eggnog even better.


Closing Thoughts

Folks, I am officially eggnogged out...and I haven't even scratched the surface of what's out there. Hood alone has a few more special flavors to try, and that's to say nothing of all the regional brands and offerings from local dairy farms.

To recap, here's the list from best to worst:

Highly recommended:
- Hood Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Eggnog
- Market Pantry Red Chocolate Velvet Holiday Milk

Recommended:
- Dairy Fresh Chocolate Truffle
- Stop & Shop Egg Nog
- Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
- Organic Valley Organic Eggnog

Pretty decent:
- Cream-O-Land Holiday Style Eggnog
- Hood Caramel Eggnog
- Tuscan Holiday Eggnog

Probably not worth it:
- Dairy Fresh Red Velvet
- Farmland Dairies Premium Eggnog
- Turkey Hill Egg Nog

Definitely not worth it:
- So Delicious Dairy Free Nog Coconut Nog Milk Beverage

BLEAUGH—for the person on your Naughty list this Christmas:
- Borden Eggnog

We'd love to hear from you if you've got a different opinion on these drinks, some recommendations of your own, or some horror stories about eggnogs and "holiday milks" to avoid. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and happy...erm...eggnog consumption.

2 comments:

zharth said...

I'm kind of a poor fan of eggnog to start with - I like to have a little bit just to get in the holiday spirit, but after that I'm basically done.

So the only eggnog I've tried this season was the sugar cookie eggnog - but let me tell you, it was delicious! Like drinking liquid sugar cookies - just like you said - and I love sugar cookies! Definitely recommended.

That Dairy Fresh Chocolate Truffle looks really good, though. I might have to look for it. I loves me some chocolate.

Flashman85 said...

I'm not sure whether I'm more of a fan of eggnog now, having sampled some I actually like, or whether I'm completely sick of the stuff. Guess I'll need to wait until next year to find out. The non-nogs were fun to discover, though, and my wife recommends mixing the Chocolate Truffle with a bit of milk if it's too rich to start with.

Good to hear from ya!