As a kid I grew up sipping egg nog at Christmastime, the stuff from the container, not the homemade kind. With a dusting of nutmeg, the rich brew was kind of tasty, even better with a splash of rum. To tell the truth, I always thought that my brother, John, liked it better than I did. Sometimes I wish I grew up Puerto Rican, then I’d know how to dance, and, instead of store bought egg nog, I’d have had coquito. For those who haven’t heard of it, think of this festive libation as the love child of the piña colada and egg nog, that is if the pineapple gene was recessive.
Third generation barman Giuseppe González—the mastermind behind the Lower East Side’s Suffolk Arms—has spent more time behind the stick than I have at the bar and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on his home country’s national holiday drink. With the tropical weather we’ve been having coquito seems more appropriate than eggnog anyhow. Best of all you can make several bottles and lay in a supply for the upcoming New Year’s Eve festivities. Take it away Giuseppe!
Coquito. It’s basically three ingredients: Puerto Rican rum, evaporated milk and cream of coconut. Spice it how you want (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, etc). Simple. Work your way up and incorporate what you want. All variations should have something that resembles those three.
Lots of homies have asked me for my recipe for coquito. I fucking love it. It’s the national holiday drink of Puerto Rico and I feel incredibly honored to share what I know and a piece of my culture.
Here is some quick history. The most important ingredient is cream of coconut. Some of you might know it as Coco López, named for Ramón López Irizarry, an agriculture professor at the University of Puerto Rico. Basically funded by the Puerto Rican government, he was tasked with finding a use for these coconuts which at the time was difficult for three reasons: coconuts sour quickly, they are tough to shuck, and they oxidize to something unpalatable.
They could only be used fresh (which unless you had the space to store coconuts and a machete, made them virtually inaccessible to mass markets). Coconuts were not vastly available outside of island countries is my point. However, in 1954, he figured it out and made it commercially viable to sell inside and outside of the island. Puerto Ricans used it in a bunch of stuff, but it became popular globally because it was (and still is) a primary ingredient in something we love to this day: The piña colada.
You could make your own “cream of coconut” but its a major pain in the ass and literally takes a machete, a blender, lots of straining and days of patience. Also, “cream of coconut,” “coconut cream” and “coconut milk” are all vastly different and leads to lots of confusion. I won’t describe it. Just trust me. It’s really annoying. I am sure you can figure it out.
The next ingredient, evaporated milk, was used because it homogenizes easier and adds shelf stability (you don’t have to drink it all the same day it’s prepared). Nobody wants to waste the booze. The last ingredient is Puerto Rican rum because it was what available locally. That’s a no brainer.
As for a standard recipe, just fuck around with something that has those three. You are amazing bartenders. You are all sincerely dope and I think anything you make that resembles coquito is probably going to be dope (or doper than anything I could make). I also love seeing what people come up with because that’s where I can personally learn from your creativity. I’ve seen them all. It never gets old. Go for it.
What I am saying is, work through it, you will figure it out… You are awesome. If you want a baseline recipe, it can be found here.