Vol. 4, Issue 9, December 19, 2006
Nog Declared Extinct in Norway
A 38-day search has failed to find any nogs remaining in the wilds of Scandinavia, prompting scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to declare the diminutive animals functionally extinct.
"This is a particularly sad day for all the Scandinavian nations, as the nog has occupied a cherished and very special place in our holiday traditions for centuries," said Kristoffer Garsen, chair of the biology department at NUST. "We really have only ourselves to blame."
Mustela noggus, commonly known as the nog, was a very small member of the weasel family indigenous to Scandinavia. It was long considered a pest, being particularly attracted to the dried fish used as provisions by Vikings in the middle ages; to this day, the word "nogrin" is used in Swedish and Norwegian to mean describe nibbling or petty theft. However, it was the nog's attraction to alcohol which gave it such a prominent spot in Nordic culture.
"What would happen is that the nogs would fall into the barrels of mead and couldn't get out," said food anthropologist Gavin Stark. "The Vikings, ever thrifty, didn't want to waste the mead just because it had a bunch of drowned weasels floating around in it."
Over time, the fierce Scandinavian warriors came to relish the flavor imparted by the nogs, and the creatures became an essential part of the recipe. Eventually mead gave way to other spirits, but the nog remained a firm favorite of Norse drinkers everywhere. It was used in a variety of drinks, including beer, wine and aquavit; the most famous nog drink, however, was eggnog.
"Eggnog just isn't eggnog without a nog," complained Thor Larsen, 86, who runs the Freya Eggnog distillery in Oslo. "They've been scarce for a while; since the 80s, we've had to re-use them, dipping a single nog in multiple barrels. But it just isn't the same. The fur starts to turn strange after a few dozen dips."
The use of nog carcasses in eggnog is a primarily Scandinavian custom, as the animals were difficult to raise in captivity and didn't adapt well to the warmer climate of the New World. When the drink was exported to America in the early 1800s, brewers attempted to substitute the indigenous nutria for the nog, but desisted due to the "rancid aroma". Americans eventually added extra nutmeg to the recipe instead and called it a day.
Biologists will continue to search for the nog in the mountains of Norway and Sweden, hoping to draw any surviving animals from hiding with some particularly good beer. Until they find more, however, Scandinavians will have to learn to adapt.
"I've got three good nog carcasses locked in the safe," said Larsen. "They may not be fresh anymore, but I'll keep dipping them into our eggnog vats until the tails fall off and I can't scoop out what's left from the brew. It's the least I can do for my customers."