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The Snowball

Modern, English

1 Part Advocaat
3 Parts Lemonade

Add ingredients to collins glass filled with ice, stir
Add squeeze of lime (optional)

* * *

I run with a tough crowd.  Bikers – British bikers, even.  When I’m in the UK, the place I call home is Ace Cafe.  If you’re into motorcycles at all, a mention of Ace should immediately elicit feelings of wanderlust – it is motorcycling’s equivalent to Graceland, a place to which all the faithful eventually make a pilgrimage.  And, if you at all recall the Mods and Rockers riots of the 60’s, Ace is where the Rockers got their start.  As I said, tough crowd those Rockers.  Every year, hundreds of thousands of them descend upon London for the Brighton Burn Up, named the best bike rally in the world.  I’ve been there, done that.  Did I mention the word “tough” yet?  Good – keep it in the front of your mind, because now I’m going to sell you on the Snowball.

No one quite seems to know when the Snowball got its start, but diffordsguide pins the date at around the 1940’s or 50’s.  It was in the 70’s that the Snowball really took off, and it certainly is a drink that seems tailor-made for the Ron Burgundy set.  Advocaat was cheap and easily available in bottle-form, and lemonade was as close as adding water to frozen concentrate (why make your own?) – or better yet, you could opt for 7UP.  Yeah, the Snowballs flowed (rolled?) freely in the 70’s, and since the drink was sweet and mostly mixer and eggs, it was perfect for your nan or even your child’s first sip of adult refreshment.  The Snowball offered something for everyone – those were good times, indeed.

But that’s not so much the case anymore – or, at least, it wasn’t up until about 2006.  Ask any Brit to name the worst drinks imaginable, and the Snowball would certainly make their list.  But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what “sundevilpeg”, a resident of the Internet, has to offer on the subject:

“That “snowball” cocktail was one of the worst things I have ever seen. As previously noted here, the English are notorious for coming up with perfectly awful cocktail recipes, but this one has to be the creme de la crap. Advokaat is a low-rent, high alcohol bottled egg nog, actually of Dutch invention (Advokaat translates to “egg cognac”). “Lemonade” to the Brits = 7-Up or Sprite. Mixed. On the rocks.”

To which, “freddi” replied:

“I came to the forum today in the hopes that someone would already have written that the “snowball” is actually a fabulous drink, not the vile concoction it appeared to be — and I see in the posts that it sounds even worse than it looked! If I walked into someone’s house and was served a sweet-sweet drink of lemonade/eggnog/grain alcohol … I’m not sure how long I would last!”

And these are, apparently, Americans who have never tried the drink; they’re just responding to its appearance on a famous television program.  But more on that in a moment.  For a great while, the sentiment in England wasn’t much different than what the Americans offer above.  Snowballs were antiquated drinks for the Miss Havishams of the world – little more than a too-cheap, too-sweet way to get drunk.  Were I to have wandered into Ace Cafe, sidled up to my biker brethren and ordered a Snowball – well, I don’t imagine I’d be here to write about it.  In 2006, however, all that began to change.

Revolutions often occur with the simplest of questions, such as when a Scottish bartender asked his contemporaries: “Does anyone else think that between us we could make something like advocaat popular?” That question and the subsequent BOLS Advocaat/Barbore Cocktail Competition begin to put Advocaat and, subsequently, the Snowball back on the map again.  Co-winner of the competition was our friend Adam Elmegirab (maker of Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters) for his Thundercaat (the recipe for which I’m saving for another post).  Belated congratulations, Adam, and many thanks to Philip Duff for illuminating this point in Advocaat history for us.

This is where the Snowball reached level ground for me.  See, on one side, I had the British bikers keeping me far away from the grandma drink, and on the other side, a gang of Scottish bartenders.  I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a fair fight.  All it took to tip the scales in favor of the Snowball was for a lovely, soft-spoken English woman to step into the fray.  A woman named Nigella.

In 2007, on a Christmas-themed program, host Nigella Lawson revealed to her viewers that her secret to starting a holiday party off right was to enjoy a Snowball before the guests arrived.  Over the holiday season, sales of Advocaat shot up 40 percent, and the Snowball had returned.  If the Young Turks of the Scottish bar scene were promoting it, and Nigella was drinking it, it must be good.  Well, not everyone felt that way – or continues to feel that way – as the forum posts above indicate; they are responses to Nigella’s episode.

After all, the naysayers have a point – eggs and lemonade don’t really sound appetizing together.  I felt the same way when I first stumbled upon the Snowball while doing our Jack Torrance research.  At first, the drink only occupied place-holder status on our Christmas list, but as we never recommend a drink that we haven’t tasted, I knew at some point, I’d have to man up.

Now this is the moment, America – the whole world, actually, but America in particular – where I am going to convince you to try a Snowball.  I say we grab the baton from our Scottish cousins and make the Snowball the hot “new” Christmas drink on these shores — and, I know just how to do it.  See, no matter how staunchly you oppose egg liqueur and its marriage to lemonade, I know exactly how to get you to drink a Snowball – not only drink a Snowball, but love a Snowball.  Crave one, even.  I know the magic phrase that will change your mind completely.

It tastes just like an Orange Julius.

More of a Lemon Julius, to be exact, and if that’s all I told you before sliding one in front of you, you would find it a revelation.  I did.  Honestly, I have never been more surprised by a drink – never would I have suspected the end result.  Sure it’s a sweet drink but there’s a place in this world for sweet drinks – just don’t have one before a steak dinner.  But at a Christmas party, it’s perfect.  Sweet, creamy, and citrusy – like a 50/50 bar in a glass.  It really is that good.  Now, I haven’t yet tried one with store-bought Advocaat and lemonade, but I plan to, just to see how far afield it is from the homemade.

Well the bell tolls, count me among those taking a stand for Advocaat and the Snowball.  Like the Munsingwear Penguin, I think it’s high time we delivered the Snowball from kitsch to cool.  Thanks to the good work of Adam Elmegirab and friends as well as Nigella, we’re on the right track.  Now, it’s our turn America — let’s show them that we’ve got the snowballs to finish the job.

For the Lemonade: I usually go a bit stronger on the lemon juice, but a 50/50 mixture of fresh squeezed lemon juice and rich simple syrup works very nicely here.  Top it with an equal amount of water – still or sparkling – and you’re good to go.

    Comments ( 10 )

  • Not sure about egg and fizzy lemon soda, but at least it sounds better than the Savoy Cocktail Book Snowball Cocktail.

    • If you tried that one, surely, you can give this a try, Erik. Or are you admitting that the Scots are tougher bartenders than those form The Bay? :)

      BTW – the Savoy Snowball Cocktail (for those with the book: Creme de Violette, Creme de Menthe, Anisette, Cream, Gin) reads as if only a brave soul would attempt. How was it?

  • A brave soul, or someone’s grandmother. Not quite as bad as you might think, but pretty awful.

  • Just saw a re-run of NL … and was thinking that it looked fun and festive … I was going to make it with a gourmet ready-made tart lemonade ??? Will let you know how it goes as soon as I can find the adovcaat.

    • If you click the Advocaat link on our post, it’ll take you to the recipe we use. Very easy to make (I usually make half a recipe), especially given your skills. I went with a sweeter lemonade mix here, but a little tartness may work. Think Orange Julius — tart would work there.

      Anxious to hear what you think should you try it.

  • Karl

    My wife has been making snowballs for a couple years thanks to Nigella. But she’s been using store-bought Bols Advocaat which is a measly 30 proof. After adding 3 parts lemonade you have a drink more suitable for children than adults. I’ve been telling her I’m certain this “cocktail” must be missing some key component. That’s how I came to your article. If I’m going to have to keep drinking these I need to convince her to use your formula.

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