Creative Ways To Upgrade Your Eggnog This Holiday Season

Eggnog comes under various aliases, but each references a velvety smooth drink that is traditionally served chilled. As the name suggests, a typical version is based of eggs, along with cream, milk, and a heap of sweet spices. As a rule, eggnog also incorporates a splash of liquor — traditionalists rely mostly on brandy and rum due to their multi-layered profile. The combination results in a frothy, custard-like beverage oozing warmth and flavor.

Eggnog is almost exclusive to the Christmas season. The richness of the drink perfectly aligns with the festive period when everything is supposed to be a tad more indulgent. It is served at parties, home gatherings, or Christmas markets. This is a nostalgic drink, but one that will never go out of style.

In its classic form, eggnog is immensely charming and attractive, but there are ways to make it even better. This list of upgrades offers many creative opportunities that can boost and give your eggnog more character, flair, and body. It is a valuable resource for eggnog novices who have yet to fall in love with this classic, but it is also designed for all die-hard eggnog fans who want to bring their favorite drink to another level.

Brighten it up with citrus flavors

Citrus fruits are synonymous with winter. It's when these bright, zesty fruits come around in their juiciest form, and pairing them with winter beverages somehow seems natural. Adding citrus zest to a warm mug of mulled wine has become standard, but we must have missed the brilliant idea of replicating the same aromatic partnership with eggnog.

There are several ways to incorporate citrus into eggnog. The easiest way is to use strips of the peel to add flavor to the base, but make sure not to use the white pith, as it might impart an unpleasant bitter note, and don't forget to remove the rind before serving. You could also add a splash of citrus juice to the milky base or use finely grated citrus zest and sprinkle on top as a garnish. If you opt for zest, check that your citruses come from a trusted source and wash them well. You can use the processed and prepacked zest, but the freshly grated version is superior and it will deliver clean and bright aromas.

Eggnog would work best with sweet citruses, and oranges are ideal here as they also agree well with classic eggnog spices. If you want a similar sweet kick, go with mandarins or clementines, but lemons would also make an excellent addition if you wish for an extra dose of brightness.

There are other ways to spike eggnog besides rum and brandy

Eggnog can come in a nonalcoholic form, but if you decide to go with the spiked version, you'll probably see rum or brandy featured as the two most common options for traditional recipes. Though there is nothing wrong with the two — they deliver plenty of fruity aromatics and character — it would be a shame not to experiment with many other boozy drinks that can give your classic eggnog a new, refreshed look.

Bourbon will give your eggnog another dimension with vanilla-like notes and a touch of sweetness that will go well with a custard-like base. Whiskey, especially Scotch, with its muscular backbone, will enhance the body and give the drink a serious profile, ideal for those who enjoy bold and strong drinks. If you want to go a different route, vodka or tequila would be interesting options for clean, crisp flavors and toned-down sweetness, but make sure to adjust the sugar to get a balanced drink. Other creative takes include a splash of creamy liqueurs such as Baileys or Kahlúa that instantly amp up the creaminess and deliver nutty and coffee-like notes. Using a combination of spirits and liqueurs is also acceptable.

Regardless of which alcohol you choose, the quality is nonnegotiable. Alcohol makes a large part of the blend and will always come through, so pick refined spirits for the best-tasting eggnog.

Experiment with different spices

People tend to go classic with the spices they add to eggnog. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves are the typical, tried-and-tested favorites, but the world of spices is filled with different options that will easily upgrade your average eggnog into a new holiday favorite.

Cardamom is an excellent alternative that will deliver complex aromas with a distinctive mix of peppery, minty, and almost lemony notes that have the power to brighten all the creamy sweetness. Allspice is an excellent choice as it has a unique aroma reminiscent of a blend of spices traditionally used for eggnog. Other options are warming spices usually used for chai masala such as star anise, which adds a hearty licorice note or ground ginger with its refreshing, spicy kick. You can use these separately or choose the packed blends for the ultimate aromatic complexity.

Remember that you do not have to decide on a single spice. The greatest thing about making homemade eggnog is that you can adjust everything to your taste and create a spice combination with traditional and unconventional options, resulting in a signature eggnog with a unique spice twist.

Mix with coffee for the creamiest caffeine kick

Eggnog may be a Christmas tradition ideal for cozy days when you have time to lounge around, but if you are craving some caffeine to get you through, adding coffee to the mix will create an equally indulgent drink with even more complexity and an uplifting zing.

This quirky fusion can be made with any coffee; instant or filter is fine, but espresso is perhaps the best option. Just make sure to brew it strong, as it will mellow with all the creaminess from the eggnog. You can use store-bought or homemade eggnog, but make sure to adjust the sweetness accordingly so you don't end up with a sugar bomb. If you are using a nonalcoholic nog, you can easily spike it, and if you want an additional alcoholic coffee kick, use coffee-flavored Kahlúa.

To make this eggnog coffee extra luscious, top it with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and finish with some freshly grated nutmeg.

Turn it into luscious pumpkin eggnog

Pumpkin eggnog is the embodiment of the two coziest seasons. Eggnog is the king of winter, while pumpkin dominates fall, and the two make the ultimate comforting drink.

To make pumpkin nog, you will start with a creamy pumpkin purée. It is perfectly acceptable to use canned pumpkin, but if you have time and an extra pumpkin lying around, bake it and turn it into a creamy mash. Pumpkin and eggnog go together well as they share similar flavor and texture. Adding pumpkin will amp up creaminess, so you'll end up with a smoother and more luscious eggnog version. Of course, flavor will also get an extra boost, as the earthy sweetness of the pumpkin will create a beautiful depth of flavor. Eggnog can be made at home, but store-bought will also work. If you have the nonalcoholic version, you can spike it up with brandy or rum, and don't forget about spices. Cinnamon or nutmeg are traditional options, but you can also use a classic pumpkin spice blend.

A heap of whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon is all this drink needs. Serve it chilled or warm; it will be equally good.

Add a tropical twist with coconut

The next upgrade finds inspiration in coquito, the ultra-creamy Puerto Rican cocktail that shares many similarities with eggnog but includes coconut for some exotic tropical flair.

At its core, coquito blends coconut milk with rum and baking spices to create an aromatic, creamy tipple. In many ways, coquito is similar to eggnog but usually skips the eggs, though they are sometimes incorporated into the blend. In a classic eggnog, you can swap part of regular milk with coconut for a subtle coconut note or add cream of coconut to enhance the flavor. Rum is the preferred liquor for this eggnog version, as the two are traditional drinking partners, and coconut could potentially clash with other spirits. If you want to mimic coquito, use cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg to spice it up, but feel free to play with other favorites. Coconut usually marries well with all warming spices, so you can't go wrong here.

This version is best garnished with some toasted coconut. Sprinkle on top of the drink or use it to coat the rim.

Peppermint will make it extra festive

If you think eggnog needs a component to brighten its bold and heavy character, peppermint is the go-to solution. It gives the eggnog a new dimension and makes it taste fresh and zingy. Of course, the combination also produces a perfect Christmas drink. Make sure to add some candy canes as garnish or crush them and coat the rim of the glass for an extra holiday cheer.

There are multiple ways to upgrade a traditional nog with herbal peppermint flavors. The easiest route is peppermint extract, which you can add to your classic recipe without messing up the ratio. If you want cleaner and more refined peppermint flavors, opt for the traditional mint liqueur that is typically labeled as crème de menthe. These liqueurs can vary in quality, but the finest examples will provide nuanced flavor and aromas reminiscent of real mint sans the artificial notes. If you use the liqueur, add it slowly and taste as you go, as it can be quite potent. Though peppermint is a lovely flavor, if you go overboard, it will take over the entire drink.

Blend it with hot chocolate for the perfect winter drink

Another combination made in holiday heaven is the mix of smooth eggnog with thick hot chocolate. Two American wintertime favorites create a quirky and fun fusion that lets both elements show off their best qualities, making a drink that could easily fall into the dessert section.

The most straightforward version can be made by melting chocolate with milk before adding the mix to beaten eggs — resulting in a lavish drink with a dense and velvety smooth texture. Though chocolate will dominate, the drink will be accentuated by warm and subtly spicy eggnog aromas. A slightly easier version, but with less complexity, can be made with the addition of chocolate syrup.

Dark chocolate is the recommended variety for this eggnog version, as it does not require any adjustments. If you are a white chocolate fan, you can freely use it, but make sure to adjust the overall sweetness. This chocolate upgrade will create a decadent drink that requires a dollop of whipped cream. Ideally, sprinkle some cocoa powder on top for a touch of chocolatey bitterness.

Condensed milk will add sweetness and caramel-like notes

This upgrade again looks up to coquito for inspiration, but this time you'll want to recreate its dense, velvety, smooth texture and distinctive flavor that displays toffee-like qualities. And the right way to incorporate these into your eggnog is to add condensed or evaporated milk.

Condensed and evaporated milk are very convenient ingredients. Essentially, they are made with milk that is cooked down so the water partially evaporates, creating a glossy, dense milky cream that is ready to be used in drinks or desserts. Apart from the silky texture, they also impart unique caramel notes, which taste great with milk and eggs. Though you can easily make both types at home, grabbing a can is way easier and fuss-free.

Evaporated milk does not include added sugar, but condensed milk is predominantly sweetened, so use it warily, thinking of the sugar that you already have in your eggnog. If you are making everything from scratch, the ratio will be much easier to perfect, but with store-bought products, you might have to experiment more to get satisfactory results that won't resemble sickly syrupy nogs. Or simply use only evaporated milk.

Bananas will amp up creaminess and flavor

Bananas are perhaps the most unconventional upgrade, but this ubiquitous fruit has the texture and flavor that would blend perfectly with eggnog. The easiest method is to mash or purée bananas and then incorporate them into the eggnog base. It would be best to blend the whole mixture, as no one wants to find chunks in a drink that is meant to be super smooth. If this is too much trouble, and you are a real banana fan, add a splash of banana liqueur or banana syrup. These probably have more concentrated flavors, so add them gradually and do not allow the banana aroma to become dominant.

This banana upgrade would work perfectly with coconut, preferably also partnered with rum, to create an utterly decadent Christmas special that will transport you directly to the Caribbean. Chocolate would also be a foolproof addition to this combination, either as an ingredient inside the blend or as a simple sprinkle of cocoa on top. Kids would probably like this version, so make sure you also make an additional nonalcoholic alternative.

Use liqueurs for a deep nutty character

Nuts and eggnog are two Christmas staples that would marry well in any combination. However, the gritty texture of most nuts does not agree well with the smooth mouthfeel you want in your eggnog. The solution here is to use nut-based or nut-flavored liqueurs. This is the best way to add rich, nutty notes while keeping the texture intact.

Hazelnut would perfectly fit in the eggnog profile, and if you want the best option, go for Frangelico, an Italian liqueur that will infuse the drink with a medley of sweet, nutty, and spicy nuances. For a more assertive option, look for Disaronno. This full-bodied Italian liqueur is packed with strong aromas and flavors reminiscent of almonds and marzipan. In a blend with eggnog, Disaronno would create a sturdy, grown-up cocktail that perfectly balances sweetness and potent almond bitterness.

If you don't want an alcohol-laced drink, experiment with plant-based milk made from nuts. These might not be able to deliver ample flavors, but they can provide a pleasant background with subtle nutty nuances.

Caramel is the perfect partner for eggnog

Caramel is one of the best models of dessert alchemy and how heat can transform a few simple ingredients into the world's finest confectionery. Though caramel transcends seasons and has become a year-round ingredient, it has a distinctive soothing element ideal for winter and plenty of cheer for the holiday season. Caramel's versatile nature works with various desserts, but the liquid consistency also makes it suitable for drinks, and we can't think of a better partner for the gooey caramel than a cup of custardy eggnog.

Caramel has a robust, deep, and complex flavor. The sweetness is blended with toffee, nutty, and caramelized nuances, creating a fantastic flavor consonance with eggnog. You can swirl a couple of spoonfuls of caramel into the eggnog, but make sure to blend it nicely, especially if the nog is chilled.

Homemade caramel sauce is always the superior choice, but the store-bought version is perfectly acceptable, albeit slightly one-dimensional. If you do not want a massive caramel character, even a drizzle on top of the drink would be a fitting upgrade. The adventurous drinkers should try to toy with salted caramel, which will create a whole new flavor profile. Remember that caramel is very sweet, so adjust the sugar accordingly.

Make it fizzy

Though wine is not something we traditionally use as the alcohol of choice in classic eggnog, one type can transform your eggnog for the better and amp up the festive factor. We can all agree that the texture of eggnog is one of its most attractive features, but if you want to add more creativity to the eggnog game, try adding sparkling wine to the mix.

Though the idea sounds questionable, there is a good reason why eggnog would benefit from a splash of sparkling wine. The bubbles inside the wines are tiny but powerful and can break through all the richness and creaminess, ultimately making eggnog more delicate in flavor and providing a much lighter mouthfeel. Not to mention that sparkling wine perfectly fits the festive mood, making the combination ideal for a glitzy Christmas party.

You don't have to go with the most expensive labels in this combo. You need the wine for its texture, so choose medium-range bottles with plenty of uniform bubbles that can hold up against the creaminess.