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Use Your Noggin 

Two styles of organic eggnog ennoble season's oddest tipple

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Like ugly sweaters and fruitcake, the lurid yellow, seasonal dairy product eggnog is kitschy holiday fun, ha ha—but isn't it a mucilaginous mix of artificial colorings and flavors of which a self-respecting palate can't bear a second sip? Not necessarily.

Clover Sonoma sticks to a traditional formula—by which I mean the supermarket tradition of added thickeners and colorants—for its organic eggnog, albeit all those additives are organic, including "organic eggnog flavor extract" (who knew?), which must account for the distinctive, eggnoggy aroma and slightly boozy taste, even before the stuff is spiked. This omelette-hued drink satisfies a nostalgic hankering for such eggnog of post-war yore, with the added reassurance for both teetotalers and imbibers of organic certification and no icky artificial colors. Try serving it cool, as with the heated version one risks swearing off the stuff forever. This was priced at $4.99 per quart.

Straus Family Creamery goes further with its organic eggnog, which was introduced back in 2004, eschewing emulsifiers and relying only on the quality of five ingredients—milk, cream, cane sugar, egg yolks and nutmeg—to deliver the gloppy cheer the category demands. Like a Bond martini, eggnog is best shaken, not stirred—especially so with Straus' eggnog, whose nutmeg wants a little help getting off the bottom of the jar and into the action. Then it's like a nutmeg milkshake: not too thin, not gloppy, and the cream is as fresh-scented as the morning dew rising above a green, West Marin pasture.

However, this one benefits from a little booze—a little more than my first trial, in fact, as it tends to bury the more subtle notes of the bottle of Korbel VSOP brandy that I only chose because the regular brandy, $5 cheaper, had been plucked entirely from the shelf space next to it. Try a 2–1 or even 1–1 mix with a quality brandy. Not a milk glass full, folks, a four-ounce drink. This was priced at $6.39 per quart, plus a refundable $2 bottle deposit.

But what could be more wholesome than homemade nog? My final experiment should not, the food-safety types recommend, be repeated at home without first pasteurizing the egg yolk. Anyway, I took a shortcut: one egg yolk, three ounces of half-and-half and a generous shot of brandy plus nutmeg and cinnamon, shaken with ice, produced a reasonable facsimile of the Straus style, until a second sip fell cold and hard on the palate, reminding me of the cruel winter chill in the air and revealing this recipe's omission: don't forget the sugar, and use whole cream.

Lucky for the palate and winter cheer, that Korbel VSOP brandy, by the way, is fine sipping all on its own. Rustically wood-spiced (reminiscent of some farmhouse Armagnacs I've sampled) but smooth-sipping, with notes of cinnamon and something like burnt Chardonnay, this is the deal of the season at $15.

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