Does alcohol make eggnog last longer?

Eggnog is a popular holiday drink typically made with milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Many recipes also call for the addition of liquor, like brandy, rum, or whiskey. The alcohol adds flavor and a kick to the drink, but it also serves as a preservative to help extend the shelf life of eggnog. So does the addition of alcohol really make eggnog last longer? Let’s take a closer look at how eggnog is made, the role alcohol plays, and tips for safely storing it.

What’s in eggnog?

Eggnog is a rich, creamy drink that contains the following basic ingredients:

– Milk – Whole milk or a combination of milk and cream are used as the base. The high fat content of whole dairy provides rich texture.

– Eggs – Eggnog contains raw eggs, which impart thickening, emulsification, and additional richness.

– Sugar – Granulated sugar or simple syrup sweetens the drink.

– Spices – Nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and other baking spices add warmth and flavor.

– Alcohol (optional) – Brandy, rum, whiskey, or a combination are commonly added. The alcohol content typically ranges from about 5-30% of the total volume.

The role of alcohol

Adding alcohol like brandy or rum serves multiple functions in eggnog:

– Flavoring – The unique flavors of different spirits complement the other ingredients.

– Sweetness – Alcohol adds sweetness without adding more sugar.

– Preservative – Alcohol inhibits microbial growth, extending shelf life.

Let’s expand on that preservative effect further.

How alcohol preserves eggnog

There are a few reasons that adding alcohol helps eggnog last longer:

Alcohol controls microbial growth

Many microorganisms, like mold and bacteria, can grow in perishable foods and cause them to spoil faster. Alcohol has antimicrobial properties that slow that microbial growth in eggnog.

The alcohol concentration needs to be sufficiently high enough to inhibit most microbial growth, generally above 20% alcohol by volume. The exact minimum amount depends on factors like storage temperature.

This preservative effect is one of the key reasons alcoholic beverages have been used throughout human history. When added to eggnog, the alcohol helps slow spoilage.

Alcohol reduces available water

Microbes need sufficient available water to grow. Since alcohol mixes with water, it reduces the total available water in a solution. This creates a less hospitable environment for microbes.

Eggnog made with significant alcohol has less available water for potential spoilage microorganisms.

Alcohol lowers pH slightly

Many microorganisms grow best at neutral pH around 7. Adding an acidic alcohol like wine or cider at around pH 3.5 introduces more acid that lowers the overall pH slightly.

While eggnog is still near neutral pH, the small drop from alcohol can contribute to slowed microbial growth.

Alcohol denatures proteins

The ethanol in alcoholic beverages can alter the structures of proteins, including enzymes for metabolism, through a process called denaturing. This damages microbial cells and their ability to proliferate.

Over time, the enzymatic and protein changes make it more difficult for many microbes to thrive.

Effect of alcohol percentage on shelf life

Within limits, the more alcohol in eggnog, the longer it will last. Here are some general guidelines based on alcohol concentration:

No alcohol – 1 week

Unspiked homemade eggnog has the shortest shelf life. With its rich dairy and egg content, it should be refrigerated and consumed within 5-7 days.

5-10% alcohol – 2-3 weeks

A splash of brandy or spiced rum in the 10% range extends shelf life by slowing microbial growth. Consume within 2-3 weeks.

15-20% alcohol – 1 month

Eggnog with higher alcohol like wine or liquors in a classic Tom and Jerry recipe can last around 30 days refrigerated.

Over 20% alcohol – 2+ months

Very boozy eggnog with alcohol over 20% ABV can have a shelf life upwards of 2 months. The high alcohol content preserves it.

Commercial shelf-stable – 1 year

Commercially pasteurized eggnog is heated to kill microbes, then sealed. With 15-20% alcohol, it can last 12 months at room temperature unopened.

So while eggnog can last up to several weeks when unopened in the refrigerator, the specific shelf life depends on the amount of added alcohol.

Other factors affecting eggnog shelf life

While alcohol content has the biggest impact on extending shelf life, there are other factors at play too:

Storage temperature

Storing eggnog continuously refrigerated at around 4°C/40°F slows microbial growth significantly versus room temperature. Proper cold storage extends shelf life.


Heating eggnog to kill potential pathogenic microorganisms through pasteurization allows it to last longer. This extends refrigerated shelf life.

Container sealing

Keeping eggnog tightly sealed in an airtight container prevents contamination and alcohol evaporation over time. Proper sealing is key for long-term storage.

Mixing with milk vs. cream

The higher fat content of cream forms a richer, more protective emulsion than low fat milk. Cream-based eggnog may resist spoilage marginally longer.

Acidic liquids

Splashes of lemon juice or orange juice add acidity and flavor while potentially lowering pH slightly. Acidity improves stability.

Sugar and spices

Sugar binds water molecules while spices contain antimicrobial compounds. Together they can support longer eggnog shelf life.

How to tell if eggnog has gone bad

Watch for these signs that refrigerated eggnog has spoiled and should be discarded:

– Sour, curdled, or separated texture
– Changes from thick, creamy consistency
– Mold visible on surface
– Off odors like sour milk
– Changes in color or egg graying
– Fizzing, bubbling, or yeasty carbonation

When in doubt, throw it out

With perishable dairy and egg ingredients, it’s better to be safe and discard eggnog if any signs of spoilage arise. Don’t consume bad eggnog.

Does cooking eggs extend shelf life?

Raw eggs give eggnog a fresh, rich texture but increase the food safety risk. Cooking the eggs first improves safety. However, it doesn’t significantly extend the shelf life once mixed into eggnog. Extra caution is still required.

Pasteurized pre-made eggnog uses cooked eggs but still requires refrigeration and has a similar shelf life window. Ultimately, cooking eggs helps safety but not preservation.

Tips for longer lasting eggnog

Here are some tips for getting the most mileage out of your homemade or store-bought eggnog:

Start with fresh eggs and dairy

Don’t use old eggs or milk that may be nearing expiration. Fresher ingredients last longer.

Refrigerate immediately

Chill finished eggnog right away, ideally below 40°F. Don’t allow it to sit out.

Add sufficient alcohol

Spike with liquor, wine, or cocktail mixers at 15% alcohol or more.

Handle carefully

Avoid introducing contamination from utensils, fingers, pets, etc.

Keep tightly sealed

Store in an airtight bottle or jar with little headspace.

Never freeze

Freezing ruins the texture. Refrigeration is ideal.

Use clean utensils

Always use clean, dry spoons or cups to serve eggnog, never double dip or let sit out.

Watch closely for spoilage

Discard at the first signs of smell, taste, texture, or appearance issues.

Commercial shelf-stable eggnog

For longer shelf life with safer raw eggs, commercially pasteurized eggnog provides an option. Here are some notes:

– Shelf-stable, ready-to-serve eggnog can be stored for months unopened at room temperature.

– Once opened, it should be refrigerated and used within days like regular eggnog.

– When sealed, the commercial product lasts about 1 year thanks to pasteurization and added preservatives.

– Shaking the container well is important, as ingredients can settle.

– Refrigerating after opening is still needed to maintain quality.

Making eggnog last longer

Key takeaways

– Does alcohol extend eggnog shelf life? Yes, to 2+ months if over 20% ABV.

– Minimum alcohol needed for preservation is around 15-20%.

– Refrigeration at 40°F and proper sealing are also critical.

– Consume quickly once opened and at the first signs of spoilage.

– Cooked eggs improve safety but not shelf life.

– With the right precautions eggnog can last for months!

Eggnog Shelf Life Data

Type of Eggnog Shelf Life Refrigerated
Homemade, no alcohol 5-7 days
5-10% alcohol 2-3 weeks
15-20% alcohol 30 days
Over 20% alcohol 2+ months
Commercial shelf-stable 12 months unopened


Adding sufficient alcohol at 15-20% ABV or greater can effectively double or triple the shelf life of eggnog by inhibiting microbial growth. For food safety, eggnog should always be refrigerated and consumed quickly after opening. With the right precautions, spiked eggnog can last in the refrigerator for months thanks to the preservative power of alcohol. Just be sure to enjoy it responsibly!

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