Let’s face it: eggnog you buy at a store will never be as good as homemade, whether it’s ladled from a punch bowl at your Aunt Mildred’s annual Ugly Sweater party, or bottled for months only to emerge, butterfly like, with a stronger, better flavor.
With that acknowledged, there are plenty of reasons to not make your own. Time, or lack thereof. No suitably festive punch bowl. Not wanting to buy and carefully separate a dozen eggs only to face a house of people with concerns about drinking raw egg. Luckily, grocery stores in the Bay Area are filled with premade nogs for your seasonal pleasure, with options traditional, as close to boozy as possible without actually containing any alcohol, and dairy free.
Here’s a roundup of six of the best looking eggnogs at Berkeley Bowl. Four are local to the Bay Area, one’s from Humboldt, and one is from Bakersfield. Let us know if we missed your favorite in the comments!
Humboldt Creamery advertises their eggnog as a more natural option than their competitors: it’s organic, antibiotic free and doesn’t contain carrageenan, a semi-controversial stabilizer and thickener made from seaweed. It’s definitely better than many of the alternatives, with a thinner texture, clean, mildly sweet flavor and with a balanced spice profile. The short ingredient list, free from many of the stabilizers and colorants of other options, helps it taste more--for back of a better word--“real” than several alternatives on the shelf. There’s also less of the sharpness and overwhelming sweetness of other options.
Farms in Berkeley...producing eggnog? It’s true. Berkeley Farms offers a middle of the road eggnog, with a sharp aftertaste (perhaps trying to approximate a boozy kick?) and a few muted brown flecks included seemingly as an afterthought. It’s creamy, very sweet, and altogether mediocre with one notable thing about it: its addition of turmeric will temporarily stain your sink yellow.
Bud’s Eggnog is a Bay Area staple that promotes its civic pride well, from the illustration of a cable car on the front to its ode to of San Francisco’s food culture on the back. This ultra-pasteurized nog is fairly mellow, with less sharpness than Berkeley Farms. It has a strong vanilla flavor and thick texture. If you prefer your nog to taste like melted vanilla ice cream, this one’s for you.
With their almond milk-based nog, Bakersfield’s Califia Farms (no relation to Wiz) tackles the difficult task of transforming quite possibly the most dairy-filled drink into a vegan beverage. Like Humboldt Creamery, Califia also promotes its lack of carrageenan, and goes a step farther: this is the only eggnog I’ve ever seen that makes health claims. “Less sugar, no saturated fat and only 50 calories!” the label proclaims.
At first glance, it seems like a good approximation of traditional nog. A hearty amount of nutmeg settles at the bottom, and when shaken up and poured into a glass, it smells like the rich, slightly spiced and decidedly dairy-filled drink you’re used to. The illusion shatters when tasted. It’s a bizarre combination of a creamy texture and a bitter, almost lemony flavor. Your impression of it will depend on your tolerance of fake tasting almond beverages and how strong your desire is for dairy-free, soy-free eggnog.
Sonoma County’s Clover offers their take on nog with a carton featuring their pun-loving anthropomorphized mascot Clo sporting a cheery Santa hat. It’s an interesting entry into the nog Olympics: there’s a mild nutmeg flavor, but it mainly tastes and smells like just like a particularly good tasting milk, with a sweet cream flavor and thinner texture that most.
Straus Family Creamery
I'll get straight to it: this was hands down the best tasting eggnog. Like Clover, you can tell it’s made from quality dairy. When you smell it, there’s a sweet dairy flavor that evokes Straus' bucolic pasture raised cows. It has a lot of authentic tasting nutmeg that collects at the bottom of the bottle, and a velvety, rich texture. It feels decadent, like any self-respecting holiday drink should. Yes, you’ll pay a seemingly exorbitant amount for it--closer to $10 than $5-- but remember those adorable happy cows and the short ingredient list--just organic milk, cream, sugar, egg yolk and nutmeg. (And besides, you can return the glass bottle for a deposit.)