Eggnog's easy, says barkeep who brought drink to craft cocktail world

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the Portland, Ore., bartender who helped carve a niche for eggnog in the craft cocktail scene, isn't a nog snob.

"I'll go to Starbucks once a year for an eggnog latte," he says. "I'm a fan. If I were to pooh-pooh that kind of stuff, it would be like saying I was into music and listing 10 kinds of music I didn't like. You either love it or you don't."

Since Morgenthaler put a tequila-sherry eggnog on the menu at Clyde Common five years ago, bars across the country have picked up the seasonal habit of serving refined nogs for the holidays. (The fun reliably ends on New Year's Eve, Morgenthaler says: "By January 1, everyone's committed to not drinking half-and-half and whole eggs until this time next year.")

In Charleston, The Gin Joint bases an eggnog on Brownswood Farm eggs, and Peninsula Grill serves a tweaked eggnog at its Champagne bar.

Still, Morgenthaler says drinkers shouldn't shy away from making homemade eggnogs. The process is simpler than some cookbooks would lead readers to think, he says.

"When I started looking at eggnog recipes to come up with my own, they all called for this really intricate method," he recalls. "I realized separating the eggs is getting it further from the (desired) texture."

Morgenthaler wanted a light, silky eggnog, not the goop that results from cooking eggs into a custard, or folding together beaten whites and yolks. He now makes eggnog, which he points out is a classic flip with added cream or milk, in a blender set at a very low speed.

"We make about two gallons, and we do the whole thing in a stand mixer," Morgenthaler says. "It's so easy."

(For home nog makers concerned about the salmonella risk posed by raw eggs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends using pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes. If the eggnog is being served to pregnant women, young children or elderly adults, starting with a cooked egg base is the safest bet.)

The most complicated part of eggnog-making is choosing the booze, says Morgenthaler, who developed his anejo tequila and Amontillado sherry recipe because he feared the eggnog he'd served in Eugene, Ore., would be too pedestrian for Portland's sophisticated drinkers. He planned to swap out the spirits each year, but the tequila-sherry combo proved too popular to replace.

"The real trick is to do it without slipping too far out into the weird zone," Morgenthaler says.

Fortified wines provide a good starting point: Charleston's beloved Madeira would definitely work in eggnog, he says.

"Imagine an aged rum and Madeira eggnog," he says. "It would be spectacular."

Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.

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