8 oz Pusser’s Rum
30 oz Coconut Milk
14 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk
0.5 Cup Water
Pinch of Salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
Blend all ingredients together (in a blender)
Grate fresh nutmeg over each glass (a little cinnamon may be nice too)
* * *
It wasn’t tea that sent the American colonists to war with England; it was Rum.
A full ten years before the Tea Act – which would lead, ultimately, to the Boston Tea Party – the English Crown decided to tax sugar, and sugar, as the Colonists well knew, can be made into Rum. Life in Colonial America was short, hard, and dangerous, and alcohol was a staple of life. Colonists of the period seriously enjoyed their libations. But Rum was more than that.
New England made and exported Rum from West Indian molasses. In 1733, the British Parliament passed the Molasses Act, which prohibitively taxed the New England Rum-makers if they purchased molasses from anyone other than the British colonies in the West Indies. As this British molasses was far more expensive than the product from the French, Spanish, and Dutch islands, the Act threatened to destroy the entire New England economy (with the Middle Colonies falling in right behind). The New Englanders did the only thing they could – they generally ignored it. England followed in turn with the Sugar Act of 1764, which reduced the tax by half but also stringently enforced the collection of the tax and contained a whole lot of additional suspect language. It was time to take a stand. Sure, tea might have been the flashpoint – the straw and the camel, if you will – but the powder had been simmering for a decade… all because of Rum.
Of course, the American Revolution wasn’t the only major conflict where, in and amongst the sturm and drang, you would find Rum playing a major part. In 1830, Facundo Bacardi Massó emigrated from Spain to Cuba where he set about the task of “taming” the cheaply made Rum that was the hallmark of the age. Flash forward 125 years, and by the time Castro comes along, “Ron” Bacardi is a market leader (“Ron” being the Spanish word for Rum). The Bacardi family initially supported the Castro revolution until they realized that he was serious about that whole “nationalizing all of Cuba’s industries” thing. No one was going to take their Rum away, and so, they fled to Mexico and, more importantly for this story, to Puerto Rico, where Bacardi continues to be made today.
My mother’s ancestors also emigrated from Spain, but they had the good sense to steer clear of Cuba, settling directly in Puerto Rico instead. They too got into the Rum business. “Ron” Romaguera, named after the family Scion José, never became as big as Bacardi, but it was certainly a well-regarded local brand in its day.
As my father, who spent years lobbying on behalf of American businesses in the Caribbean, likes to point out, low grade trade warfare continues to simmer between American firms and the local Puerto Rican companies, which resent the massive US government subsidies that American Rum and sugar producers enjoy.
Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the Rum pie.
All of which is the long road to the point of this story – Coquito. To truly understand this drink – to appreciate that it’s more than just coconut and Rum – I think it’s important to get a flavor for the drama and history of its main spirit and how various events have shaped Puerto Rico into the leading rum manufacturing nation that it is today. Hence, the discourse above. Now, to the drink —
There is no obvious consensus on a recipe for the Coquito. The biggest points of contention seem to be the inclusion of whole eggs and/or egg yolks and the degree of sweetness, with some of the sweetest versions calling for Cream of Coconut (coconut milk with sugar), Sweetened Condensed Milk (more sugar), and Evaporated Milk. As David said to me when we were trying to sort out the various recipes, “I think this version would send a bull elephant into a diabetic coma.” The recipe we are using, from El Boricua, a Puerto Rican source, skips the eggs and derives its sweetness solely from condensed milk – and it’s plenty sweet enough. As for the eggs, many native Puerto Ricans (at least, those claiming to be so in various Internet forums) insist that the egg version is “Ponche”, while true Coquito is sans ouef. Who are we to argue?
While our choice of Rum may not traditionally Puerto Rican, Pusser’s has notes of pineapple and vanilla which complement the drink beautifully. However, if authenticity is your bag, seek out Ron del Barrilito, the closest thing to a 19th Century Rum currently being produced in Puerto Rico. One of Puerto Rico’s oldest and best brands, Ron del Barrilito is compared by many to a fine Cognac… high praise indeed.
You may be tempted to up the Rum here, and if you do (we advise against it), proceed with caution, adding only an ounce at a time — it can easily go all wrong. True, the drink is lighter than some, but the balance is perfect. In the first sip, you will not taste the Rum; with each subsequent sip, you’ll taste it a little more. Also, for best results, be sure to refrigerate the drink overnight and make sure to use freshly ground nutmeg.
Typically the thought of Christmas cocktails brings to mind Norman Rockwell, wooden sleds, kids and mittens, snowmen and caroling – all while Mom and Dad sip something warm (and most probably spiked) in the background. But folks celebrate Christmas in warmer climes as well, and it simply wouldn’t be fair to deny those sun lovers their rightful place in our pantheon of classic Christmas libations.
And so, we offer up Coquito – an eggnog variation you can enjoy while dangling your feet in the pristine Caribbean blue. Who’s to say that’s not the perfect way to spend Christmas?