Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


’TIS THE SEASON to be jolly. And, only in moderation, of course, alcoholic beverages comes to mind, especially their origins and etymology. Herewith, in no particular order, are several libations for the holidays and otherwise.

Eggnog. Truth be known, I’m not particularly fond of eggnog. However, it is a Christmas cheer and deserves some research here, if not actual imbibing on my part.


Eggnog. Image from (and recipes at)

According to The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971, Eggnog(g) is made with “hot beer, cider, wine or spirits.” Nog originally was strong ale. The OED’s first reference of eggnog is later than I would have guessed, 1825.

Not long afterward, December 23-25, 1826, the Eggnog Riot took place at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Whiskey was smuggled into the barracks for a Christmas party; 20 cadets and one enlisted man were court-martialed.

The kind on supermarket shelves is typically alcohol-free, though dark rum and brandy are added ingredients in Wife Dottie’s family version, not to excess, of course.

Eggnog might have evolved from a medieval libation called posset, a hot drink of curdled milk with wine or ale, often spiced. Hold the posset; but I would have the spices, please.

Mulled wine. Based on firsthand experience with Glühwein, its German version, mulled wine is a personal favorite. I think of it as posset sans curdled milk.


Mulled wine. Image and recipe from Ina Garten Food Network.

The OED cites Lovell writing in 1661 that mulled wine “loosenth the belly.” And I wish I knew how he meant that. The Romans spiced and heated wine during the 2nd century A.D., yet another sign of their elevated civilization.

A recipe is given in a 14th-century English cookbook, The Forme of Cury. (The word derives from French, cuire, to cook. The same root gives us “cuisine.”) Among the spices specified are cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom and grains of paradise (spykenard de Spayn, rosemary, can be substituted for this last one).

Authors of The Forme of Cury included the chief Master Cooks for King Richard II, the Richard in Shakespeare’s tetralogy covering him, Henry IV and Henry V. (Why a tetralogy? Because Henry IV got a Part 1 and a Part 2.)

Glögg. The Scandinavian version of mulled wine, glögg gets its name from the German glühwein.


Scandinavian glögg with its proper accompaniments. Image from Stockholm Our Way.

Like any mulled libation, its variations are many, but I like the addition of raisins and blanched almonds. These are strained out before serving the glögg. Then they’re served on the side. A great substitute for trail mix, I say.

Grog. Not specifically a holiday drink, I conclude with grog for two reasons. It resides in my head not far from glögg and it has an interesting history.


A rum line onboard ship: “The Queen God Bless Her.” Image from Military History Now.

Grog was the English sailor’s daily dose of watered spirits, usually rum, the watering inversely proportional to the generosity of the ship’s captain. Writes the OED, half-and-half was a commendable potion. Sailors were known to complain when they got “seven-water grog.” Once the benefits of citrus were recognized as preventing scurvy, lime was added as well. Hence the term “Limey” for a Brit sailor.


Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon, 1684 – 1757, English naval officer. Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1753.

The word grog (and groggy too) came from “Old Grog,” the nickname given to Admiral Edward Vernon, who ordered this daily ration of watered rum to Royal Navy sailors in 1740. In turn, he got his nickname from wearing coats of grogram, a cloth of silk, mohair and wool, often stiffened with gum. The OED gives grogram an earlier citation: 1562, as grograyn.

By the way, George Washington’s home Mount Vernon honors Admiral Vernon. The estate was given this name by George’s older half-brother Lawrence.


Mount Vernon, ancestral home of George Washington. Image from

Last, Admiral Vernon had mixed success in the War of Jenkin’s Ear and was later addressed by Hosier’s Ghost. However, I seem to be straying pretty far from holiday libations. Do enjoy yours in moderation. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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