A Visit from Dionysus

Christmas is my favorite holiday, by which I mean Christmas Eve is my favorite holiday. We have very specific and glorious annual traditions, the most important of which (in my opinion) is stuffing our faces full of king crab legs, twice-baked potatoes, and my Mom’s homemade caesar salad.

We also decorate our tree on Christmas Eve, in the morning. Like many families, we listen to Christmas music. Like some families, we drink spiked eggnog.

Culinary anthropologists (which is a much better name than booze historians, by the way) believe modern day eggnog descended from a thick, medieval concoction called Posset (hot milk and booze enhanced with spices). Egg-based drinks found their true popularity in the American colonies, however, when pretty much everyone (including children) had access to cows, chickens, and brown liquor. Robert will be pleased to know that bourbon is considered the modern eggnog spirit of choice. Rum was the liquor of choice in colonial days.

There are several excellent recipes for homemade eggnog out there, but we usually buy ours. The ratio for our spiked eggnog is half whole milk to half eggnog, to cut some of the richness out, and one and a half to two shots of the brown liquor of your choice. As I alluded, Robert likes bourbon, the rest of my family likes Irish whiskey, and I like Scotch. What’s the difference? As I’ve mentioned in the past, for a whisky to call itself bourbon, its mash must contain at least 51 percent corn. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, put into the barrel at 125 proof or less, and it must not contain any additives. The distillate must be aged in a new charred oak barrel.
 
The main difference between scotch and whisky is geographic. Scotch is made in Scotland, while bourbon is made in the USA, generally in Kentucky, and Irish whiskey is made in Ireland. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from corn. If you’re in England and ask for a whisky, you’ll get Scotch. But in Ireland, you’ll get Irish whiskey not whisky. Never whisky. From a flavor profile perspecitve, Scotch generally has a peaty quality to it, which I enjoy, whereas Irish whiskey does not. Irish whiskey has a smooth finish compared to the smoky, earthy overtones common to Scotch. This is because peat is rarely used in the malting process for Irish whiskey but almost always used for Scotch. Peated single malt Irish whiskey is available, if you like smokiness, and Irish products, and are looking for something a little bit different. Similarly, unpeated Scotch is also available. Try Glengoyne or Bruichladdich.
 
Take Your Pick
 
Everyone gets nutmeg on top except for Robert, who doesn’t like it.
 
Also, since we were off of work for a few days, I wrote a poem for you. Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem Twas the Night before Christmas (also called A Visit from St. Nicholas) in 1822. It is the tradition in many families, including ours, to read the poem every Christmas Eve. Here’s my version.
 
A Visit from Dionysus – Adapted from Twas the Night before Christmas
Twas two days after Christmas
When all through the house
Not a single bottle was uncorked
Not even a Faust
The Excedrin® was open to deal with the wear
We prayed St. Bibiana soon would be there
 
Just two nights before
Nestled snug in our bed
Visions of Matriarch danced through my head
While I dreamt of Bond, Rob dreamt of Van Winkle
His eyelids were closed but imagine the twinkle
 
When from down in the cellar there arose such a clatter
We sprang from our bed to see what was the matter
Down two flights of stairs we flew like a flash
We tore open the door, incensed and brash
 
The gleam of new bottles on substantial oak racks
Were very confusing, we demanded the facts
Where did these come from? The Littorai? The Cakebread?
We were stricken by confusion, excitement, and dread
 
When what to our wondering eyes should appear
But an imposing figure, armed with liquor and beer
Wielding a fennel staff, tipped with a pine cone
The stranger announced what we should have known
“I am the god of the harvest, winemaking, and wine
Some call me Bacchus, come pray at my shrine”
 
He was dressed all in velvet, from his head to his feet
He carried provisions including wine grapes and wheat
A half-case of champagne he had flung on his back
We anxiously strained to peek in his pack
 
His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples how merry
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry
His wide smiling mouth was stained purple like ours
From hours upon hours haunting urban wine bars
 
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a humungous round gut
Perhaps only rivaled by the size of his butt
 
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old god
And we laughed at his antics, feeling lucky and awed
A wink of his eye and a twist of a cork
He wanted to know, could we spare any pork?
 
After filling his belly he went straight to his work
He filled all our glasses, then turned with a jerk
Laying his finger aside of his nose
He then gave a nod, “another round, I propose”
 
After several more hours Dionysys took leave
Not before recommending water with Aleve®
We heard him exclaim, ‘ere he left the cellar
“The company was good, but the red wine was stellar”
 

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