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Good Eats: School of Hard Nogs

Eggnog, Alton claims, has an undeserved bad reputation because of commercial products. He believes the real thing is Good Eats, and he sets out to prove it. Along the way, he visits a distillery to learn how they make whiskey, and explains the key techniques for making a good foam. Eggnog is, after all, a custard. First up, from the Good Drinks bar, Alton whips up a delicious cold Eggnog. Sadly, the Food Police know he used raw eggs and they don’t like that one bit. After they confiscate that eggnog, Alton heads to the kitchen to make a cooked version. It’s basically the same thing, but the yolk and daily come almost to a boil to bring those eggs just to 160º F. And with either one, Alton can make a delicious Eggnog Ice Cream.

Episode Info  

Episode number: 9x13
Production Number: EA0911
Airdate: Thursday December 01st, 2005

Writer: Alton Brown



The episode opens with Alton behind the Good Drinks bar. A cold and thirsty customer enters and Alton offers him something special from the back room: egg nog. When the visitor demurs claiming to dislike eggnog Alton assures him that’s because he’s never had real eggnog. Eggnog has a long history on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s easy, it’s delicious and it’s versatile. All of which makes it Good Eats...

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Episode Notes
  • The word nog was an Old English term for ale and a noggin was the cup from whence it was drunk.
  • In 1964 Congress granted bourbon the honor of being the official alcoholic beverage of the United States.
  • Modern eggnog descends from sack posset a strong, thick, English beverage of old.

The episode title is a play on the idiom "school of hard knocks" that refers to the education one gets from living as opposed to formal instruction - education that is sometimes unpleasant. Alton uses the same pun within the dialogue.

Locations: Maker's Mark Distillery (Loretto, Kentucky)

Episode Quotes
Alton: Go ahead – you can trust me – I’m a professional.

Alton: It’s got a long history on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s easy, it’s delicious, and it’s more versatile than a busload of Barrymores. If you ask me, that means that this stuff right here is seriously... (Good Eats theme plays)

Alton: Oh, Thing. You’ve really tied one on. And with my bourbon, no less!!

Alton: Now, this gentleman is Dave Pickerell. Hi, Dave, how are you?
Dave Pickerell: Nice to see you.
Alton: And he is the master distiller so I figure he should be able to answer this question: Dave, what happens inside these barrels?
Dave Pickerell: That’s where the whiskey matures.
Alton: You mean ages?
Dave Pickerell: No, there’s a difference between aging and maturity. Age is just an indicator of maturity.

Alton: Why do you burn up the inside of perfectly good barrels?
Dave Pickerell: What we’re trying to do is change it’s structure. Right behind the char you can see a reddish-brown line. That’s where all the wood sugars got hot enough to caramelize. That’s where all the caramel color and flavor comes from in bourbon.

Alton: When you beat egg whites, you are essentially unraveling protein strands and stretching them until they can literally reach out and hook up with other protein strands (Alton has donned rubber gloves, and reaches out to other gloved hands). This creates a stable superstructure for the bubble. If, however, egg yolks crash the party (here Alton rubs fat on his gloved hands) it’s a bad thing, because you see, egg yolks are mostly fat, and when the bonds try to form (he again grabs the other hands, but this time the fat makes his grip slip). Oops, sorry!

Food Police: Alton Brown, this is the Food Police!
Alton: Great Scott!
Food Police: Come out with your beverages up!
Alton: Why won’t you guys go pick on somebody else?!?
Food Police: We know you’ve been using raw eggs in there; we don’t like it one bit!
Alton: I used pasteurized shell eggs! They’re perfectly safe!
Food Police: Yeah, whatever. Put the egg nog in the bucket!!
Alton: Okay, okay! (Alton pours about half his eggnog in the bucket.) Now get out of here!
Food Police: Ah, ah... all of it, Brown!
Alton: Oh, bother! (Pours in the rest of the eggnog.) There! Stinkers! You stinky stinkers!
Food Police: Name caller.

Alton: Well, America, I hope that you’ve gained a little appreciation for the noble old nog. Not only is it historically significant, culinarily versatile and scientifically fascinating as a free-flowing, glowing nectar, well deserving of the title... Good Eats!

Cultural References
Alton describes eggnog as “more versatile than a busload of Barrymores.” He’s referring to a celebrated clan of American actors: Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, famous from the earliest days of film, through the next generation (John Drew Barrymore and several Colts mothered by Ethel) to the current generation, Drew Barrymore and the less well-known John Blyth Barrymore.

In this episode, Thing, revealed in “Behind the Eats” to be the son of Thing from The Addams Family (1964), gets into Alton’s supply of bourbon, forcing Alton to go in search of more. Thing appears whenever Alton needs “a hand.”

Episode References
The Good Drinks bar will return in “Raising the Bar.”

Another nice blend of science and cooking, as are the best of Alton's shows. Here one learns the basics of custards, for that is essentially what eggnog is, along with the key mistakes that ruin a custard and why they do. Knowledge gained from this episode is generally applicable in cooking.

Whether one is willing to take a chance on raw eggs is a matter of personal preference. Like a lot of enjoyable things, cold eggnog isn't without hazards, and there are certainly individuals who should avoid it. Anyone with a compromised immune system or certain other problems dealing with infection would be among those. And don't use raw eggs unless you trust the source implicitly. That lets out most mega-marts.

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