BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Top Nog

What is it about the holiday season that incites us to cast all common sense aside and engage in otherwise inadvisable behavior, with childlike glee, no less? Whether that means racing outside into giant piles of freezing snow, risking frostbite to all appendages without a second thought, or racking up credit card bills for the sake of tree dressings and silly ornamentation used only once a year, we all write off these aberrations as all part of a collective Christmas madness shared throughout society. What causes you to throw out the rule book and deviate from standard operations? What touch of insanity do you entertain to make it really feel like the holidays are here? For me, that would be buying every single vegan nog option available across three towns for the sake of comparison.

Yes indeed, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: The great Nog-Off of 2017, pitting past industry heavy weights against startups and newbies to determine which eggless nog reigns supreme. This round was the most impressive yet, bringing in no less that nine different beverages vying for the title of Top Nog.

Time is of the essence, with each of these elusive elixirs produced for a very limited time during the most festive of days, so let’s pour a glass and get started, shall we?

It was an extremely difficult, close race to judge, but last place was obvious right away. Sorry, not sorry, but Rice Dream Rice Nog will never be welcome at my holiday party. Inexplicably pink and quite watery, it utilizes aggressive sweetness to compensate for a distinct lack of flavor. Granted, it’s not outright dreadful, but not even close to “authentic” nog. On the plus side, the rice base will appeal to those with severe allergies, and the aseptic, shelf-stable carton means it will keep well… Possibly for years… Much like an unwanted fruitcake.

That said, this came as no surprise. My greatest disappointment was actually the second to last place finisher, the highly esteemed MALK Pecan MALK Nog. Tawny brown, it stood out with a distinctive darkness in a sea of pastel hues, owing to a unique blend of maple syrup and whole pecans as a base. The bottle isn’t kidding when it admonishes the drinker to shake “super” well; no stabilizers or fillers means that this stuff separates, which I can certainly appreciate from a stance of ingredient integrity and a commitment to quality. Scented strongly of cinnamon, the overall impression was surprisingly light, dangerously drinkable- Smooth and sweet, but not particularly thick or rich. Sadly, this made it more reminiscent of horchata than eggnog. It just couldn’t cut the mustard for that full-bodied eggless experience.

From there, things improve drastically. Luckily, you can’t go too far wrong with most selections available Nationwide, and in fact a number of these cartons could be interchanged without any guests being being the wiser.

Califia Holiday Nog and Silk Nog Original pull in the next rank up, tied for their close flavor profiles and consistencies. Silk is perhaps a touch sweeter, if anything. Though the former is almond-based and the later soy, both have a smooth, creamy pour equivalent to the average, slightly richer non-dairy milk. There’s a distinctive brightness at first sip that defies definition; almost like undefinable spice or burst of acidity, but without warmth or sharpness. Fine as an everyday, everyman sort of nog, a hit of bourbon or brandy would be a welcome addition to make things a bit more festive. Fairly neutral, without explicit nutmeg nor eggy notes, either would be inoffensive, if undistinguished, offerings on the drink buffet.

Fresh on the market, Trader Joe’s Almond Nog has already taken Instagram by storm, right along with the impressive array of new vegan options that seem to crop up on each new trip to the store. Smooth and mellow, creamy, and boasting a balanced sweetness, this blend presents a harmonious middle of the road option that should please all who imbibe. Satisfingly in thick, not overbearing nor weighed down by gums, a light hand on the spicing and very subtle nutty undertone explains why dairy-free drinkers are delighted by this new choice. No one would mistake it for the traditional brew, but no one would complain about the substitution, either.

Moving on up, it’s with sadness and joy that I must report that previous grand champion So Delicious Seasonal Coconut Holiday Nog has been dethroned! It’s a sad blow to the superlative brand, but a boon to veganism that there are even greater choices to pick from now. Still a genuinely delicious selection, true to the name, the coconut base is definitely rich, decadent, and bold. That said, it was all love and sweetness on the first sip, and then… A startling aftertaste of old latex bandaids came to the fore. Off-putting, upsetting, to say the least, this mysterious sour note almost put it on the naught list this year. Such missteps would certainly be forgiven with a splash of booze to smooth things over, but otherwise it was fabulous!

Another fresh face on the scene is making a big splash, pulling in a top spot with an unconventional flaxseed fixation. Good Karma Holiday Nog is the one and only flax nog on earth, to my knowledge. Glowing with the palest complexion of pastel yellow, the flavor profile is defined by a restrained sweetness, a bare hint of spice, and a subtle nutty, pleasantly grassy aftertaste. Smooth and creamy, but slightly sticky, it lingers on the palate in an indulgent sort of way that belies its impressively light calorie load.

In a big upset, my mainstream market nog of choice this year turned out to be Classic Almond Breeze Almondmilk Nog. Curiously absent from the official brand website and difficult to track down, it was a sleeper hit. So easy to drink, creamy and cool, it makes no bones about the almond base with an attempt to cover up the nutty influence, incorporating it harmoniously within the overall beverage instead. Vanilla plays a more prominent role in this blend, and although I do wish there was more nutmeg sparkling throughout the mix, this was the bottle I ultimately wanted more of when all were drained.

But that’s not the end of the story. There was one clear, standout winner here, rising far above the ranks of these more attainable options. The crown is well deserved, for its genuinely egg-like richness, sheer decadence, and clear holiday spirit. Though you may need to special-order it online, the efforts would be worthwhile for a true nog lover. The Urban Remedy No Egg Nog is in a class all its own. Rich and filling, with a clean finish, it has a very different texture from the rest of the pack, without gums or stabilizers. Though easily the most indulgent option available, it’s arguably the most healthy, owing to its simple, natural ingredients; whole almonds, cashews, and dates join forces in this nutmeg-centric and boldly spiced beverage that drinks like a meal. A considerable sprinkle of salt boosts the flavor up to eleven, making it entirely crave-worthy on a whole new level. This is what the holiday season is all about: a rare, special treat that breaks through the typical structure of one’s daily life, or daily diet, as it were. You wouldn’t drink it everyday, but you’ll miss it dearly when it’s gone.

To all those unfortunately out of driving or delivery range, the sweet folks at Urban Remedy have a generous holiday present to share. You can actually scope out their unique recipe, posted for all to enjoy and freely imbibe.

If all that noggin’ around doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will.

So, how did your favorites stack up? Do you agree with the 2017 Nog-Off results, or are you willing to pick a fight for your own personal winner? More importantly though, did I miss any other contenders for the next round?

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Nog-Off!

Eggnog: Beaten eggs and cream whisked together into a frothy amalgamation of dairy, sweetened with a heavy hand, spiked with nearly equal parts hard liquor and perhaps brightened with a pinch of nutmeg. Now doesn’t that just sound delicious? Like some bizarre protein shake for alcoholics, it sounds like a beverage created to cause as much pain as the intoxicating additions might be intended to ease. The butt of many jokes and great animosity from detractors, it’s hard to imagine how it was first created, and furthermore, deemed edible. Having felt no compulsion to imbibe for the first 20 years of my life, I will say upfront right now, I have never had “real” eggnog. However, it took going vegan for me to try it at all, and that’s what started the love affair.

Subtract all those nasty bits, remove the alcohol, and you have a whole different beverage, quite literally. Without the fangs, it’s really a sweet, cuddly creature that’s easy to enjoy and hard to feel guilty about. Zero cholesterol and lower calorie counts are a factor luring many non-vegans to the eggless nog party, too. However what counts more than the numbers is the taste, if you ask me. This year, we have more options than ever to fulfill our noggy needs, and after years of plotting a grand show-down, I’m proud to announce the first ever unofficial Vegan Nog-Off! A head-to-head battle between the non-dairy nogs on the market, fighting to the death until the strongest nog is revealed. Okay, nothing quite so dramatic, but just image how exciting that could be!

To understand this sudden 180 degree turn from disgust to adoration, we must first go back in time a bit. Back to the days when Vitasoy still distributed soy milk in the US, and produced the most irresistible seasonal beverage of all, Holly Nog (scroll down to see nog info). I was hooked, no turning back, and couldn’t slurp that sweet nectar down fast enough. My stock pile would hit at least a dozen cartons by the end of December, but would hardly survive January. When Vitasoy pulled back from the US market, I was devastated, but simultaneously inspired to find an equally satisfying replacement. Thus began my eggless nog journey to find the best alternate option.

[If you live in Canada though, you’re in luck- Holly Nog is still available in your neck of the woods! The nog pictured above was smuggled over the border thanks to the lovely, generous, and incredibly thoughtful Marika; I couldn’t have dreamed of a sweeter holiday gift!]

For American folk like myself, we currently have a grand total of four vegan nog options for this year of 2011; two soy, one coconut, and one rice. The question is, which one is best? The completely unscientific breakdown is as follows, starting with my least favorite and ending with the top nog.

Rice Nog by Rice Dream. This nog is no newcomer to the marketplace, so unfortunately, I already knew I hated it. However, it seems I had forgotten just how much I hated it. Pouring weakly from the carton as a pale shade of pepto-bismal-pink, it’s readily apparent that the consistency is the thinnest of the bunch. Slightly dusty at first taste, with a nice touch of grit at the bottom and an undeniable cereal flavor, this is an option only to reinforce negative nog stereotypes. Avoid at all costs.

Soy Nog by Earth Balance. Upon first whiff, I could have sworn I detected a hint of lemon drink mix powder. Confused but undeterred, I came to enjoy the smooth texture, ranking just a hair thicker than standard soy milk. Appropriately sweet but without much of a spice flavor anywhere to be found, it was quite alright… Until I stopped drinking. At first, I wrote it off as being a bad batch, but 3 cartons later (yes, I am a glutton for punishment, or perhaps, just a glutton), the strange aftertaste of dirt remained. Very subtle, easy to overlook when spiked with some potent spirits, but something I found a bit off-putting.

Silk Nog by Silk. A classic that’s been around the block and back, this staple still endures and ranks highly among the dairy-free and eggless crowds. Sweet enough to be considered dessert, it’s a mild but highly drinkable treat. Thick enough to coat the palate briefly but resist a cloying stickiness, it’s something you don’t need to hide behind other drinks on the holiday party buffet table. I personally wish it had a better punch of spice, but such a complaint can easily be corrected with just a pinch of nutmeg upon serving. Not a bad option at all, with the bonus of being the most widely distributed and easily attainable vegan nog in the US.

Coconut Nog by So Delicious. The winner of the round. It may not be for everyone though, due to the subtle but easily recognizable hint of coconut flavor that hits you initially. That impression does fade as you continue to imbibe, and by then, you’ll find yourself hooked by the sweet, custard-like flavor. Thick like a melted milkshake, this nog has a certain richness that the others lack, bringing it closer to the original decadent inspiration. Granted, it does have a more tropical, almost banana-like flavor, which may horrify true nog drinkers, but for this vegan who’s never had the original, it simply tastes like the holiday spirit, if it were condensed into a drinkable format.

Making your own eggless nog is generally recommended over any store-bought options, due to the ability to adapt and adjust flavors to your own tastes, but we finally have a few strong offerings for the lazy, rushed, or merely curious vegans among us. Congratulations, So Delicious– It really is the year of the coconut!