With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, we thought it would be fun to recall a strange drinking tradition that captivated New Jersey and the Nation throughout much of the 20th Century. “What do ya want, an egg in your beer?” Seems like an odd question, but for much of the 1900s, most people perfectly understood what this meant —and many even thought it a scrumptious idea. The practice became so popular, it even entered the American lexicon as a common expression. Read on to learn all about this strange drinking practice and how it impacted our great state of New Jersey.
Egg in Your Beer: The Origin Story
An “Egg in your Beer” is exactly what it sounds like. In the 1800s, beer was not considered an intoxicant — as opposed to hard liquor. At a time when water sources were regularly contaminated, beer was often a saver option (as many Hoboken residents learned during the recent Hoboken Water Crisis).
The “Egg in your Beer” craze first spread across the United States from northeastern Pennsylvania. As Mark A. Noon writes in Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery:
In mining towns in northeastern Pennsylvania, bars would open as early as 5:00 in the morning to accommodate the crowd gathering to order what they called a “Miner’s Breakfast”: two raw eggs cracked into a beer, and a shot of whiskey on the side.
Much like Pennsylvania beach-goers in the summer, the “Egg in your Beer” tradition traveled from PA to NJ — but unlike PA motorists, this import was heartily welcomed.
Read More: Your Guide to Breweries + Outdoor Beer Gardens in Hudson County
From Drink to Slang
The drink became so popular, it even entered common, American slang. By 1971, many NJ residents had forgotten about the practice, but were still familiar with the expression, so The Central New Jersey Home News elucidated its readers:
The phrase, “egg in one’s beer,” according to the American Thesaurus of Slang, is a term generally meaning “too much of a good thing.”
Thus, the popular question, “What do you want, egg in your beer?” would seem to say, “Do you (or, why do you) want too much of a good thing?”
NJ News Reports + Commercials
The “Egg in your Beer” expression and practice were both eagerly gulped up by NJ newspapers and advertisements.
In December of 1957, Wechsler’s advertised their annual “Christmas Shopping Night for men only” where patrons could buy novelty “Egg in your Beer” glasses at $1.98 each.
^ The Herald-News 3 December 1957
Likewise, the Arnold Constable Gift Shop in Hackensack also promoted an “Egg in your Beer” set, “for the man who’d like to have everything!”
^ The Record 13 December 1957
Ridgewood realtors used the expression to push properties, as seen in this April 25th, 1954 advertisement in The Sunday News:
^ The Sunday News 25 April 1954
Camden’s Courier-Post warned its readers that while drinking egg in your beer is perfectly commonplace, it is not a good idea to add egg in beer to clean furniture.
^ Courier-Post 19 April 1960
Even Hoboken’s revered Stevens Institute of Technology used the expression in a 1933 publication of the school’s alumni magazine the Indicator. When depression-era employees demanded a pay increase, the Indicator wrote: “What do you expect, Carl? Egg in your beer?” Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for “Egg in Beer” uses Stevens’ 1933 Indicator as the primary example to define the expression.
Egg in Other Drinks?
Of course, we don’t blink an eye when cocktails use egg whites. Egg whites don’t change the flavor of the drink, but they create a foamy, silky texture — which aficionados say elevates the drinking experience. Gin Fizzes, Gin Sours, and the Pink Lady are all fashionable cocktails that often include egg whites.
^ Pink Lady
Many Puerto Ricans will be quick to point out that their traditional Christmas drink, Coquito, requires egg yolk — as does other Christmas drinks, like eggnog.
Still, something feels different about cracking an egg and pouring the contents into a beer.
See More: Montclair Brewery: A Place of Community + Delicious Beer
The phrase picked up renewed interest in 2011 when Mets manager, Terry Collins, used the expression to deride shortstop Jose Reyes’ extended bereavement leave: “He had three days off, what the hell you want, eggs in your beer?” Terry quipped, to the confusion of teammates and sports analysts everywhere, prompting a series of articles nationwide.
^ Terry Collins
Whether you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Soda Bread, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Whisky, or Guinness, make sure you celebrate responsibly!
NOTE: Hoboken Girl does not condone excessive drinking, and consuming raw eggs may expose one to salmonella. If you or your loved ones suffer from alcohol addiction, Hoboken has an Alcoholics Anonymous Resource Center called “Hoboken Path to Serenity” located at 57 8th Street which meets weekly on Fridays from 8PM-9PM. Call 1-800-839-1686 (all calls are 100% confidential).