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If you’re looking to spice up your holiday, ignore store-bought eggnog and in favour of a Monkey’s Tail from Chile, a hawthorn berry-flavoured punch from Mexico, coconut and rum-drenched Puerto Rican Eggnog, or a dense Peruvian vanilla hot chocolate.
The Chilean Cola de Mono, or Monkey’s Tail, is a mix of aguardiente, milk, coffee, vanilla, and cloves. It’s traditionally served cold with Chile’s version of fruitcake, pan de pascua. Cola de Mono sometimes involves rum, but more often the alcohol of choice is either local brandy made from grape skins, pulp, stems and seeds, or Chilean Pisco. Though the origin of the drink’s name is obscure, one theory is that the booze in it will have you swinging from the ceiling like a monkey. A less entertaining theory has to do with a former Chilean president who particularly enjoyed the coffee-flavoured treat after a late-night party he was attending ran out of wine. Cola de mono is also much easier to make than eggnog because it’s egg-free, meaning there’s no way to accidentally scramble eggs into your nog. And if Chilean Aguardiente isn’t available, use Grappa or a Brandy with 45% to 55% alcohol content by volume. If you serve it, expect the night to be either very memorable or completely forgotten.
Moving north to Peru, chocolate reigns supreme. In the Peruvian version of drinking chocolate, vanilla and sweet and aromatic nutmeg flavour the intoxicating concoction. While seemingly counter-intuitive to favour a hot drink at Christmastime in South America when it’s the middle of summer, Peruvians rarely decline an opportunity for something sweet. Also, much of the country is high in the cold mountains, far from the tropical temperatures of Lima and the northern coastal paradise of Trujillo. The richer, creamier, and heavier the hot chocolate, the better; a spoon should stand unsupported in the beverage. After a good amount of sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and whipping cream, Peruvians see fit to add a dollop of butter, and maybe a splash of brandy to thin it out.
Continuing north, in Puerto Rico, Christmas means Coquito, or spiced coconut eggnog (in the picture above). Traditionally it’s made with real coconut and an illegal high-proof spirit called cañita or pitorro. Nowadays it’s made with Puerto Rican white rum, of which there’s enough selection without having to find an underground source of pitorro. Most recipes also replace fresh coconut milk and cream with canned for convenience, but if you feel like machete-ing your own coconut, make sure you’re sober.
In Mexico, Christmas beverages take a lighter, more refreshing turn. Mexican ponche, made with apples, sugar cane, prunes, hawthorn berries, and rum or brandy is sold at nighttime Christmas markets. It’s also offered along with delicate cinnamon and honey Buñuelos during the nine nights leading up to December 25th. Called the Posadas, these nightly celebrations start as religious ceremonies where a progression of people re-enact the story of Mary and Joseph looking for room at the inn. They walk the streets with candles on their way to a specific house where they sing a call-and-response song with the family inside. Once let in, there’s food and drink, most often ponche. Kids get a non-alcoholic version, as well as piñatas, perhaps to make up for the lack of rum. The small red-orange skinned Mexican hawthorn berry, or telecote, is crucial to the punch, and is combined with unrefined dark cane sugar, water, cinnamon, apples, oranges, and guava. Telecotes taste like a mix of apple and pear, but with a flesh that turns to custard while simmering in the punch. Mexicans often vary the recipe with prunes, raisins, and mouth-puckering tamarind, and even the alcohol isn’t set in stone—tequila works (as it usually does in Mexico) in a pinch.