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Fussell’s Famous “Fernog” Cocktail: An Eggnog-Inspired Drink Even Nog-Haters Enjoy

A Seattle bartender shares a coveted recipe that elevates the traditional ho-hum holiday drink.

December 8, 2016

Several summers ago I was sitting at the bar on Rich Fussell’s first day as a bartender at Bell + Whete, a gastropub in Belltown popular with the restaurant-industry crowd. The bar manager asked Fussell to come up with a drink on the spot during training. I don’t recall every ingredient he used, but he threw together a delicious concoction with gin and Crème de Violette and had me taste it. Suffice to say, he soon became my favorite slinger to visit after my own bartending shift ended in Belltown. When winter crept up, Fussell slipped me something he’d batched for the holiday season: an eggnog cocktail featuring Fernet Branca, the most popular of the bitter liqueurs. As a nod to the base spirit, he christened the drink “Fussell’s Fernog.”

Rich Fussell and his famous Fussell Fernog at The Whiskey Bar in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood.

When I pitched the idea of writing a holiday cocktail series for the month of December, Fussell’s Fernog immediately came to mind (I even attempted to replicate his recipe while visiting family in Colorado last Christmas, and it was quite the hit with those who tried it). Fussell and I met up at Whiskey Bar in Belltown, where he currently works, to talk about the inception of the Fernog and how one might make their own batch at home this holiday season.

Eggnogs are typically made with high-proof brandy, rum, or bourbon to shine through the sweetness of the drink, so casting Fernet in the starring role of the cocktail is an inspired choice. Like brandy, Fernet has a distilled grape base, but typically features the botanicals of myrrh, rhubarb, saffron, chamomile, cardamom and aloe.

Fernet Branca is typically served “neat” and consumed as a digestif.

“I once had some eggnog that somebody made at a party and it was disgusting,” Fussell said. “He had to use a turkey baster to try to serve it and there was this weird film on top. I’ve always loved eggnog growing up. It was my favorite part of the holidays. It’s why I was a fat little kid,” he said laughing. 

Fussell knew he could make a better eggnog than turkey-baster dude. He thought about the spices present in eggnog and realized that Fernet already embodied much of that.

“When I first made it, it was a bit too Fernet-y, and not smooth enough,” Fussell said. “That’s why I put some rum [caramelized, spiced, and dark] in there and mellowed it out with a bit of vanilla. I’ve been bartending on and off for 12 years, and still people come up to me like ‘you’re that guy that made that eggnog!’ I’ve never made something that was so enjoyed by everybody, which is really cool. A lot of people who didn’t like eggnog before really liked this.”

Eggnog was historically made for aristocrats in Britain, due to the high dairy prices. The drink came to America in the 18th century.

Fussell and I decided to take a break and walk down to Bell + Whete, where he promptly pointed to an unlabeled bottle sitting on the top shelf behind their bar. After a little schmoozing on Fussell’s part, the staff let us leave the restaurant with the prized bottle of booze. Turns out, Fussell has been aging a jug of last year’s Fernog on that very shelf since last Christmas.

“Aged eggnog is something that scares a lot of people,” Fussel said. “I have a hard time getting people to try it.”

While the chances of getting sick from freshly made nog are pretty slim, the chances of getting sick from well-aged nog are close to nonexistent due to the alcohol content killing any bacteria that could remain. The taste is something to write home about for the holidays, too. It’s even something you might consider gifting for the holidays. After almost a year of aging, I tasted flavors that were more vibrant and the texture was perfectly rich and creamy.  

Fussell can now be seen behind the rails of Whiskey Bar (Belltown) and Il Bistro (Pike’s Market). Both locations will feature Fussell’s famous Fernog on their drink list this season, and if you’re lucky (or brave) enough, he may even let you try a bit of last year’s vintage.

Fussell’s Famous Fernog

Ingredients

  • 2 gallons milk
  • 4 cinnammon sticks
  • 3 vanilla beans
  • 3 pods star anise
  • 10 cloves

Preparation

  1. Separately simmer the milk in the above spices for about an hour (not boiling).
  2. Remove from heat
  3. Separately beat in an equal ratio of egg yolk and sugar with an emulsifying blender depending on how thick you prefer your eggnog (the lowest setting on a standard blender will suffice if you don’t have an emulsifying blender).
  4. Let refrigerate overnight to allow the spices to infuse.
  5. Add the booze (amount depends on how “boozy” you want this to get) to taste the next day.
  6.  Garnish with freshly-grated nutmeg and keep refrigerated.

 


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James Germain

James Germain is a graduate from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs with a degree in English literature. He’s written for CultureMob and Vinyl District in Seattle and has been bartending and playing music for over 10 years. He’s currently the bar manager at Bitterroot in Ballard and enjoys listening to old jazz tunes at home and behind the bar.

More stories by James Germain

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It seems like half a recipe has only been listed, since only the spiced milk amounts have been included. Could the author guesstimate eggs, sugar, and alcohol and complete the recipe? Even a basic 2 eggs or a dozen would be a start...

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