The 12 Drinks of Christmas – Third Drink

In a lot of ways Christmas is sort of the season finale. Sure, New Year’s is coming, but that is more of an epilogue or the first episode of the next season depending on how you approach it and how much you have to drink that evening. The season of giving really is a time for remembrance, a time to look backward, not just at the ghosts of Christmas past, but the entire year. A time to remember the little wins and losses that pass the time, that make our memories, that make us who we are. We are going much further back for this evening’s exploration of the spirits of the season disguised as a history lesson. So in that spirit, please join me for the third of The 12 Drinks of Christmas. Sing along at home, if you like, because, “For the third drink of Christmas, Uncle Monkey made for me, a Lemon Syllabub”.

That’s right, we are going all the way back to colonial days for tonight’s drink. To be fair, this one was requested back in the summer and I begged off figuring that we’d be back to a more normal world by the time the holidays rolled around, but here we are still making a drink a day, for posterity. The syllabub is generally made as a punch, like Egg Nog or Coquito, but it is much older than either of those. It originates in the 16th century, first appearing in print in 1537. To be fair, that reference was probably to the dessert version, which appears to predate the drink, slightly. Honestly, the difference between the drink and the dessert is a matter of form and consistency, the ingredients are mostly the same, with the dessert whipped longer to give a thicker consistency and sometimes with gelatin added. For those drink historians out there, yes it is also similar in form to a posset, but those were traditionally served warm and often had eggs added. 

To make our quick and easy single serving version we are going to forgo the old wine and sherry versions and do something slightly more modern, as they would have in Colonial America, featuring rum. Grab your tins and pop in 1.5 ounces of lemon infused rum, I took the easy route and used Bacardi Limon; 1 ounce of heavy cream, 1/4 ounce of Rich Honey Syrup, I made mine with some honey aged in used Corsair Triple Smoke Barrels; 1/2 an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1/8 of a teaspoon of lemon zest. Seal your tins and give that a good dry shake to the beat of something old and English, maybe “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” a wonderful little ditty that first pops up in the 16th century, allegedly, and which is the only Christmas carol mentioned by name in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, a story most effectively performed by Michael Caine and some rats, apparently. Bearing in mind that some pressure will have built up in your tins, gently part them and add some artisanal ice before going with a second shake to chill the drink. When you have done so, strain into something tapered, assuming you don’t have an actual syllabub glass passed down through your family from generation to generation, in which case, use that, carefully. No matter the vessel, grate some fresh nutmeg atop before serving.

This is very nice and somewhat surprising. A lovely creamy lemon feel, sort of like a more acidic, drinkable lemon cream pie with lots of fresh whipped cream. Very nice indeed. It has the most wonderful mouthfeel, which is to be expected. The citric acid in the lemon juice begins curdling the heavy cream immediately, so when you shake it up, breaking those protein bonds, you get this really lovely, light and frothy mixture. It doesn’t feel particularly holidayesque to me, but then I am not a 16th century gentleman and am not accustomed to their ways. I also bathe regularly, brush my teeth and don’t owe my place in the world to any particular ancestor or the fact that I own land. So, I am ok with not fully understanding or appreciating the ways and mores of these merry gentleman of yore.

This was a traditional English holiday drink used to toast good fortune, since cream was a bit of a luxury for many people. After it made its way to the colonies, the drink slowly evolved as those troublesome colonials made it their own. Some of the changes were subtle, like swapping in brandy or rum for the wine. Others were more substantial as farmers began adding eggs to the mixture to help it froth more, to increase the nutritional value, and, let’s be honest, to show the neighbors that they could afford to be free with their abundance of eggs. Eventually, this extravagance led to the drink we know today as Egg Nog, for better or worse. So there you go a little history for you and a chance to enjoy the drink George Washington often served at Mount Vernon. Unlike so many of these heirloom recipes this one is actually quite good. I went through a period of making vintage and heirloom holiday treats using ingredients and methods of their time. As anyone who sampled those culinary wonders can attest, there is a reason many of these recipes were lost to time. Not in this case, though, the syllabub is an excellent addition to your bar that is fun to say, especially after a few of them. Maybe next year we can do a Wild Turkey Syllabubba to celebrate a very precedented and normal, even boring, holiday season. Y’all stay safe, stay hydrated and stay festive.