Brandy, rum and bourbon, oh my; it’s Ellis Island’s Holiday Nog

It all started with a hand-scrawled recipe on a scrap of paper, and led — this year — to somewhere in the vicinity of 900 gallons of eggnog.

Ellis Island Casino & Brewery’s much-beloved Holiday Nog, which has been produced for 18 years, can be traced to owner Gary Ellis’ grandfather, Frank Alessio Sr. A native of Clarksburg, W.Va., he’d returned to visit family in Italy’s Calabria region when, on the return voyage, he encountered a Napa-bound fellow passenger who bragged about his eggnog. The man shared the recipe with Alessio, who brought it with him when he moved to Las Vegas in the ’50s. Ellis remembers that every few years he’d make the nog, which was always a hit.

Frank Sr. passed in the ’80s, and his widow found the tattered recipe in a box of papers. Ellis and his wife worked with it until they had a formula they liked. He would make it at home for friends, who would return with the containers for refills.

When Ellis opened Ellis Island in 1998, he took the recipe to his brewmaster and asked him what he thought. The first year, they made a couple of hundred bottles. This year they’re up to 5,000, which amounts to roughly 14,000 pasteurized eggs and 900 liters of premium liquor. And they have a record of selling out every year.

“It’s really grown in popularity, partly through the power of social media,” said Christina Ellis, Gary’s daughter and the property’s director of marketing. “And this year we released it earlier than we have, because 2020’s been a doozy and we wanted to make sure people had it for the whole holiday season.”

The family recipe is a secret, of course, although she would share that it contains brandy, rum and bourbon; it’s not for the faint of heart. It sells for $7 a glass or $35 a bottle at Ellis Island, the Village Pubs that are scattered across Southern Nevada and the family’s Silver Reef brewery, distillery and winery in St. George, where it was produced.

“It’s very popular,” Gary Ellis said in an interview three years ago. “This is one of the smallest promotions we do, but one of the most popular. We couldn’t stop making it now if we wanted to.”

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