As a world-class jazz double bassist, composer and band leader, Charles Mingus is one of the most celebrated figures in American music. He was well-known as a bon vivant and his larger than life physical stature towered over the bandstand and fellow musicians alike. His zeal for parties and drink were just as legendary as his sometimes caustic temperament that led him to occasionally punch fellow musicians and sometimes even lay into patrons. He was the Ron Artest of the jazz world—a brilliant artist that sometimes had trouble at the seams of life.
But even The Angry Man of Jazz felt the yuletide spirit—or spirits, if you will—according to biographer Janet Coleman. Apparently Mingus had a top secret eggnog recipe that was second to none. In his later years, Mingus finally passed on his formula to Coleman, who published the recipe in her book co-authored by Al Young, Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs.
“Mingus’s holiday eggnog was a concoction so delicious and mind-blowing, you would do anything to make sure that you saw him at Christmas. Over the phone once, he gave me the recipe.” – Janet Coleman
Unsurprisingly, the recipe calls for enough alcohol to put down an elephant. It being the festive season, I decided to exercise some really poor judgment, make a batch and have my more-gullible friends drink it with me.
* Separate one egg for one person. Each person gets an egg.
* Two sugars for each egg, each person.
* One shot of rum, one shot of brandy per person.
* Put all the yolks into one big pan, with some milk.
* That’s where the 151 proof rum goes. Put it in gradually or it’ll burn the eggs,
* OK. The whites are separate and the cream is separate.
* In another pot- depending on how many people- put in one shot of each, rum and brandy. (This is after you whip your whites and your cream.)
* Pour it over the top of the milk and yolks.
* One teaspoon of sugar. Brandy and rum.
* Actually you mix it all together.
* Yes, a lot of nutmeg. Fresh nutmeg. And stir it up.
* You don’t need ice cream unless you’ve got people coming and you need to keep it cold. Vanilla ice cream. You can use eggnog. I use vanilla ice cream.
* Right, taste for flavor. Bourbon? I use Jamaica Rum in there. Jamaican Rums. Or I’ll put rye in it. Scotch. It depends.
See, it depends on how drunk I get while I’m tasting it.
The secret in Mingus’ recipe is just the completely ridiculous amount of hooch mixed in there. If you do the math, it works out to one shot of 151 rum and one shot of bourbon per glass of nog, and it starts to make sense why Charles was so popular during the holidays.
Having never made eggnog before, a much more experienced cook suggested I consult Alton Brown’s recipe for the holes in the Mingus’ version. Brown’s recipe calls for a paltry half shot of bourbon per person. But then again, he’s probably never shot shotguns inside his apartment either.
I suggest opening the kitchen window while making the stuff. When I mixed the alcohol into the egg yolks and milk it made the entire apartment smell like the inside of creepy Uncle Benny’s conversion van. Ventilation is your friend.
It was clear the stuff was going to punch like a velvet-gloved gorilla, but the entire time I spent making it, I continued to wonder if it would actually be any good to drink. Legions of elite musicians and friends didn’t just rave about Mingus’ eggnog solely because it would get them loaded, did they?
After a quick chill in the fridge, the eggnog had settled with a cappuccino-like frothy texture on top. I ladled it out in some high balls. With the cream and whipped egg whites, the silken booze went down entirely too easily and only a hint of 151 lingered. Not even 15 minutes in and I had swilled the entire glass without effort and found myself with a rather wonderful light headed sensation, as did my compatriots.
Having two glasses seemed completely ill advised, but a tasty idea that a man like Charles Mingus would likely encourage. I’m sure he spent many a late night at his place, knocking back nog and holding impromptu jam sessions until everyone was too blasted to play.
In the pantheon of eggnog, Mingus’ version is irritating cousin or awful brother-in-law you can’t stand to be under the same roof with but still find a way to love, if only during the holidays. Just put on The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and have a couple glasses with them this season and everybody wins.