As we continue our survey of festive treats from around the world in the run-up to Christmas, we’re shifting our attention this week from the dinner table to the drinks cabinet. Cola de mono – also shortened to colemono in its native Chile – is what we think the lovechild of an eggnog and a White Russian would look like: a creamy, spicy beverage with a coffee kick and a brandy warmer.
In line with other rich, high-calorie festive comestibles, the recipe for cola de mono reads like a fantasy wishlist of full-bodied ingredients that rolls dessert, coffee and a digestive into one very filling Christmas toast. Cola de mono is not for everyone, but if you do like it, you’re likely to love it.
Cola de Mono: How the President’s Gun Became the Monkey’s Tail
There’s some debate in Chile about the etymology of cola de mono: after all what does a primate’s tail have to do with a milky Christmas brew? The simplest theory attributes the drink’s name to its color – monkey brown – though, we’re not sold. Slightly more believable is the suggestion that the name cola de mono stuck after the drink was originally distributed in bottles recycled from a Spanish drink called Anis de Mono, whose label featured a monkey with a long tail.
However, our favorite tale as to the origins of cola de mono’s name refer to Pedro Montt, who was the president of Chile from 1906 to 1910. One night, president Montt was at a party that no one wanted him to leave, possibly on account of inclement weather. When he asked for his trusty Colt pistol to be brought to him so he could go home, the hosts pretended they couldn’t find it, in order to eke out the fiesta a little longer. Montt did not like to travel without his Colt.
As with the best of college parties, once all the wine and spirits were used up, revelers were inspired to knock together a drink from pretty much anything they could find lying around: some brandy, milk and coffee dregs came to hand and were mixed together with a little sugar and so was born the colt de Montt. Which, after several rounds of the drink supposedly eroded to cola de mono at the slip of brandy-loosened tongues.
Eggnog Goes South
The origins of the drink itself are a little more complex. Cola de mono’s similarity to other milky drinks in neighboring countries suggests that the evolution of the drink can be traced up through Central America’s rompope, Guatemala’s salcaja and Puerto Rico’s coquito. There are some suggestions that the drink was brought over there by the Spanish, but it seems more likely that it traveled south from Northern America, where eggnog was rife.
Rompope was probably first brewed in Mexico in the 17th century by nuns at the Santa Clara convent in Puebla. The convent frequently received and entertained local and visiting dignitaries, and so it would not have been unusual for them to mix up such a rich drink for their guests. Apparently, the nuns were sometimes even allowed to partake of their own home-made brew, which contained egg yolks, milk, brandy and spices.
Before Eggnog, There Was Posset
Eggnog itself became popular with the North American settlers, while legends of George Washington’s love of the creamy concoction abound. It’s thought that this eggnog of the new Americans was an update of an old medieval drink from the British Isles called posset. Posset was a sort of custard in between a drink and a dessert that was made from curdled milk and most often an alcohol called sack, which is a sweet ale similar to sherry, though wine and ale were also used. Prescribed to King Charles I by his physician, posset was said to have medicinal properties, a fact reinforced by Shakespeare who also made mention of the drink’s more entertaining effects in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
With the prevalence of dairy farming in the New World, ingredients like eggs and milk were less of a luxury than they had been in the settlers’ old European homes. This goes some way to explaining how eggnog took off in the new colonies. Wine and ale were replaced in the making of the drink by rum, which was a lot more prevalent. Often distilled at home with molasses from the British Islands in the Caribbean, it was far cheaper for Americans than imported brandies.
About the Recipe
While eggnog can still be mixed with anything from cognac to tequila, for your cola de mono, we recommend using a brandy like pisco or something similar. In Chile, aguardiente – an anise-flavored liquor made from sugar cane that’s considered Colombia’s national drink – is often used, but we preferred to go with a more subtle flavor of alcohol.
Cola de mono is often made without eggs, but we decided to add them for the rich texture they give the drink. As far as hazards of cola de mono go, we are personally most concerned with the morning-after effects of too much monkey tail the night before. As such, we will practice self-restraint. However, there have also been some salmonella issues related with drinks from the eggnog family. This recipe does involve heating up the eggs, so there should be no issues. If you are still concerned, we suggest buying pasteurized eggs and following good safety guidelines.
Prepare Your Ingredients
This is a really simple drink to prepare and shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes or so, which means, if you have all the ingredients already in your kitchen cabinets, you can shoot out a cola de mono on the spur of the moment. Though preferably not at the end of a long party when there’s nothing else left to drink.
Collect all the spices and separate out the egg yolks.
First, whisk your milk. This is an important step as whisking milk until frothy before heating breaks down the protein that causes it to scald. Pour the whisked milk into a saucepan along with the cloves, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, orange essence and ground nutmeg. Set to a medium-high heat.
After a couple of minutes, dissolve the instant coffee into the milk while it’s warming up, and continue to heat.
Beat the yolks in a bowl for about a minute. When the milk starts to boil, lower the heat to the minimum and remove one ladle of the milk. Add the hot milk to the yolk mixture and keep beating. This will raise the temperature of the eggs gradually before putting them in the hot milk, in order to avoid them scrambling on contact. Add the yolk and milk mixture to the milk on the heat, stir and allow to thicken.
Then add the vanilla and any additional spices or sugar, according to how sweet you like it. You’ll be surprised that you might need more as some flavor can be lost during cooking.Now strain the liquid through a sieve and let it cool completely. This particular nog is a drink served cold.Serve with or without ice. And no matter how good it tastes, try and drink in moderation!
Our Take on the Recipe
As we mentioned above, we decided to go with a source recipe that made the cola de mono with eggs, as we were going for the thicker eggnog-like mixture. If you prefer to make your monkey tail more liquid, or you just don’t like eggs, then by all means omit them from the recipe.
We also substituted orange zest for orange essence, since zest can carry a certain bitterness we wanted to avoid in our drink.
We found our cola de mono to have a very straightforward flavor, and we thought that perhaps it might be an idea to get a little more adventurous with the spices in future. Why not add anise, cardamom or mace, for example? We also think that perhaps substituting the brandy for a more interesting liquor like Grand Marnier or Cointreau might deepen the orange flavor, which we liked.
Our other note concerned the treatment of the eggs when adding them to the hot liquid – it’s important to always temper the eggs during this process so that they don’t heat up too quickly and coagulate right away. Heating them slowly and carefully with the spoonful of milk before adding them to the saucepan will make for the delicious smooth consistency of a perfect cola de mono.
Cola de Mono
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1¼ cups pisco or other brandy
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 cloves
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 stick cinnamon
- A few drops of orange flavoring essence
- 3 tablespoons instant coffee
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
Step 1: Whisk the Milk
- Whisk the milk until frothy, then pour into a saucepan along with the, cloves, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, orange essence and ground nutmeg. Set to a medium-high heat.
- After a couple of minutes, dissolve the instant coffee into the milk while it’s warming up, and continue to heat.
Step 2: Gradually Introduce Eggs to Heat
- Beat the yolks in a bowl for about a minute
- When the milk starts to boil, lower the heat to the minimum and remove one ladle of the milk.
- Add the hot milk to the yolk mixture and keep beating.
- Add the yolk and milk mixture to the milk on the heat, stir and allow to thicken.
- Take the heat to medium and allow to cook for another five minutes or so.
Step 3: Remove Heat and Add the Liquor
- Now take the pot off the heat and allow to cool.
- Add the pisco and the vanilla, and any more spices or sugar, according to taste.
- Strain out any lumps or bits in the liquid and serve with ice once completely cooled.