Every year, a few days before Thanksgiving, the regulars show up at Ellis Island Casino & Brewery.
“They know the day and they’re here,” says Joe Pickett, brewmaster for Gary Ellis’ casino (hence the name), which sells just under a million glasses of beer a year. But when the regulars hit just before the holidays, it’s not for the stout, the all-natural root beer or Ellis Island’s justifiably famous karaoke. They come for an Ellis family recipe that’s been passed down for generations: ’Nog.
“Eight thousand eggs, 100 gallons of milk, 300 bottles of liquor, spices and other ingredients,” Pickett says, listing all the details he’ll give me on the well-guarded recipe that tastes more like the work of an expert mixologist than the stuff in the carton. That equation works out to 2,000 bottles a year, on sale ($29.99 bottle, $6 glass) at the casino and its affiliated Village Pubs from just before Thanksgiving until they sell out, usually sometime in January.
The potent concoction arrived in the Ellis family via boat when the casino owner’s grandfather learned it from a fellow passenger on his way from Italy to the United States to “live the American dream,” as Pickett puts it. In 1994, Ellis and Pickett decided it was time to give the rest of the world a try. At least, those over 21 years old.
“This is definitely not made for the children’s choir. Guaranteed, you drink a bottle it’ll leave you legless,” Pickett laughs, before saying exactly what I’m thinking: “It’s a perfect gift.”