Cocktails

Best Bites: Get in the Spirit of the Season with This Luxurious Local Eggnog

Valentine’s eggnog is made with 12 ingredients, including five different spirits, homemade Mexican vanilla extract and local cream and eggs. Every glass gets a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg before getting served.
Valentine’s eggnog is made with 12 ingredients, including five different spirits, homemade Mexican vanilla extract and local cream and eggs. Every glass gets a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg before getting served. Georgann Yara
Welcome to Best Bites, a series where we celebrate not a whole restaurant or menu, but one specific and amazing dish. These bites have something to say and we are listening. Keep reading for dishes that are seriously worth the trek across metro Phoenix to find. Dig in!

When it comes to holiday cocktails, serving a traditional, cold glass of eggnog is a given.

But at Valentine, that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t supposed to be, anyway.

Proprietor Blaise Faber developed a recipe for the booze and dairy-laden concoction back in his Pizzeria Bianco days, when his cocktails crafted from homemade ingredients tied patrons over while they waited for those famous pies. He moved over to Bianco’s sister restaurant Tratto and regulars requested the eggnog, so he started making it there.

When Faber opened Valentine, the Melrose District eatery lauded for its southwest-driven dishes and cocktails that was named by Esquire among the best in the nation, he didn’t plan on offering eggnog.

But Faber’s seasonal libation developed a following that was persuasive.

“They’d ask, ‘When are you putting on the eggnog?’ And it’s like September or October,” Faber says. “We never intended to put it on here but it was such a popular draw for people.”

The eggnog is made once a week in a 12-quart batch, which amounts to 55 to 60 servings. It’s bottled and kept refrigerated. The large volume of alcohol makes it stable enough to last for weeks if not months. Not that it stays around for that long. The restaurant usually goes through the stash in the five days it’s open during the week.

Once all the ingredients are lined up, the actual process of making the eggnog takes about 45 minutes. Because it requires the whipping of eggs, cream, alcohol, and sugar that need to be thoroughly combined, it is best done big batch-style versus in single servings, Faber explains.

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Valentine bar manager Aiden Dunnigan strains the mixture to catch lumps, residual sugar and bits of the cream’s fat cap, yielding a creamy concoction.
Georgann Yara
On a recent Tuesday, bar manager Aiden Dunnigan was on eggnog duty. He started by breaking 48 eggs one by one into a large container. After adding cream and sugar, he used an immersion blender to blend until smooth. After adding the alcohol he blended again, and a final time after adding the other seasonings. Blending throughout the process ensures proper emulsification.

Next, Dunnigan strained the mixture through a double sieve to catch any lumps of residual sugar and bits of the cream’s fat cap, yielding a creamy concoction ready to be served with a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg per order.

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Valentine bar manager Aiden Dunnigan bottles the 12-quart batch that is stored in the refrigerator for the week. “The longer it sits, it’s like it’s aging. It becomes homogeneous and tastes so good,” Dunnigan says.
Georgann Yara
At Bianco and Tratto, Faber leaned on grappa and other Italian ingredients. But he had to get extra creative to stay true to Valentine’s Arizona-centric edge. He described it as achieving a balance between nostalgia for his customers and hitting all the marks to give it that Valentine character. And by using the highest-quality ingredients from Mexico and the desert southwest, Faber avoids the trappings of grocery store eggnog that exudes bubblegum faux sweetness.

The recipe list is 12 items long and boasts five different spirits including Mexican whisky and rum, Italian brandy and two of Faber’s personal favorites: Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth and Marco de Bartoli Sweet Marsala.

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Valentine co-owner and cocktail master Blaise Faber came up with the eggnog recipe that uses regional ingredients alongside European ones to give it the southwest character that the restaurant is known for. This includes Mexican whiskey and rum, and Mexican vanilla bean pods soaked in bourbon to make the vanilla extract.
Georgann Yara
The Carpano’s naturally spice-driven profile incorporates vanilla notes and perfectly reflects the season. To ensure he gets the all-important Marsala in time, Faber orders it four or five months in advance from a tiny distributor who ships it from an Italian maker on the island of Marsala that adheres to the “old way” of making it.

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“That ingredient on its own really makes the eggnog what it is,” Faber says of Marco de Bartoli Sweet Marsala.
Georgann Yara
“That ingredient on its own really makes the eggnog what it is,” Faber says.

These two ingredients also reflect Faber's personal affinity for vermouth and sweet wines, which influenced his passion for cocktail making. Faber uses them to replace most of the processed sugars that traditional eggnog calls for.

“If it has to have some sweetness, I prefer to give it that decadence. I would like it to be something more natural and residual grape sugar is a great way to do that,” Faber says.

Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, agave syrup, and homemade vanilla extract made by soaking Mexican vanilla bean pods in bourbon join the party. There’s also mesquite powder and Piloncillo, an unrefined whole cane sugar from Mexico that has a caramel taste comparable to dark brown sugar or molasses. Heavy cream from Superstition Farms and eggs from Two Wash Ranch bring home the luxe creaminess and local flavor.

The result is a luxurious, very grown-up, ultra-smooth, and creamy interpretation of a holiday classic. Despite all the alcohol that goes into making it, the eggnog lacks the bite or sting of a too-strong cocktail. It also hits all the key elements of vanilla and warming spices with delicate execution. In other words, it's the modern upgrade classic eggnog was waiting for.

“We do our best little spin on it that we can,” Faber says.

Valentine

4130 North Seventh Avenue
602-612-2961
valentinephx.com
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Georgann Yara is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who's also a proud equal opportunity eater. She loves all things Arizona, including the professional sports teams that continue to break her heart. Food, cocktails and cats dominate her IG.
Contact: Georgann Yara

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