Cola de Mono Is the Chilean Holiday Drink You Need to Finish Out 2020
If you’re a proud member of Team Eggnog, there’s another beverage that should be on your radar: Chile’s quintessential Christmas cocktail, the Cola de Mono. A White Russian-esque concoction made with aguardiente, milk, sugar, coffee, and winter spices like clove and cinnamon, the Cola de Mono (which means “monkey’s tail” in Spanish) is the holidays in a cup for Chileans. Traditionally prepared at home for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, each Chilean household has its own special version of the recipe, varying the amounts of each ingredient or adding different spices like nutmeg, vanilla, or cinnamon. There’s no singular way to make Cola de Mono; it just has to taste good to you and your (over the Chilean drinking age of 18) family, and there should be plenty to go around.
While the standard ingredients of milk, coffee, sugar, and spices are instantly recognizable, aguardiente may not ring a bell. Popular throughout Spain, Portugal, and Latin American countries, aguardiente is a clear, brandy-type liquor, distilled from different ingredients like sugar cane or fruits. In Chile, aguardiente is distilled from the left-over pulp, skin, and seeds of pressed wine grapes, and is generally over 45 percent ABV. If you can’t find aguardiente, you can sub in another similar spirit like vodka, brandy, or Chile’s national spirit, pisco.
Due to its strong alcohol content and sweet flavor profile, Cola de Mono is usually served in the evening during La Once, Chilean tea time, accompanied by other holiday treats like Pan de Pascua, a very dense, nutty fruitcake.
The exact origins and namesake of the Cola de Mono are unclear. One theory claims that it was invented at Santiago’s oldest restaurant, Confiteria Torres. They reportedly packaged their signature libation in recycled bottles of Anis del Mono, a Spanish liqueur with a long-tailed monkey on the label. But the most popular and widely-accepted origin story is that the Cola de Mono was invented at a high-society house party in the early 1900s. Then-President Pedro Montt was in attendance, but as he made attempts to leave, the other guests hid his prized Colt pistol to make him extend his stay. Montt agreed, but as all the wine had run out, someone added brandy to a pitcher of coffee and milk. The resulting drink was affectionately called the “Colt de Montt,” and over time, the name evolved into Cola de Mono. Montt was also sometimes referred to as “El Mono Montt” by his inner circle.
No matter its origins, the Cola de Mono is now an icon of Chilean holiday culture, one that has become a part of my own holiday traditions thanks to my marriage to a Chilean and my time spent living in Chile.
I first tried Cola de Mono several years ago during my first Christmas in Chile when my partner and I were still dating and I decided to spend the holidays with him and his family. Being in the southern hemisphere, Christmas falls in the middle of summer for Chileans, which was quite an adjustment for me, being used to cold, wintry Christmases. A few days after arriving, sweltering in the summer heat, I headed to the kitchen in search of something cool and refreshing.
Pulling open the refrigerator door, I came face to face with bottles upon bottles of a tawny, chocolate-milk-looking liquid that had been crammed into every available nook and cranny, packaged in every kind of container possible: repurposed wine bottles, plastic measuring carafes, pitchers. “What is this?” I asked my partner.
“Mi niña, that’s Cola de Mono! Pruébalo!” my mother-in-law gushed, pouring me a cup.
The rich, creamy texture instantly reminded me of eggnog: a welcome bit of nostalgia as eggnog isn’t common in Chile. Combined with the spices and sweetness, it tasted at once familiar yet new; a bridge between Christmases past and future, connecting my old holiday traditions and flavors with something new and different from my new family and home in Chile.
To make Cola de Mono at home, combine 4 cups of whole milk with half a cup of granulated sugar, half a cup of water, three cloves, two cinnamon sticks, one teaspoon nutmeg, and two teaspoons vanilla extract in a saucepan. Bring everything up to a gentle boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add in two to three tablespoons of instant coffee and simmer for two to three minutes. Cool the mixture to room temperature, pluck out the whole spices, and add a cup of aguardiente or the spirit of your choosing. Mix, chill, and enjoy the holiday drink the way Chileans do. Since every Chilean household has their own interpretation, the amounts listed above are not set in stone; feel free to experiment with different spices, portions, etc. depending on your preference.