Mmmm. Alcoholic beverages. Who doesn’t love an alcoholic beverage, especially on a holiday?
Me. I don’t like alcoholic beverages.
Me aside, the answer would be most people. Come Christmas you get a lot of creamy, milk-based alcoholic beverages. Eggnog, ponche, rompope, coquito, etc. Chile has one too.
Since Chile is a largely Catholic country, Christmas holds a special place on the calendar. It’s a time to get together with friends and family, eat, drink, and generally celebrate. The only equivalents would be New Year’s Day and September 18th (Chilean Independence Day). Since Christmas falls during the height of summer, the holiday has been adapted to fit the climate and culture of Chile.
Let me voice some of the obvious questions that are running through your mind right now.
Do Chileans eat fresh vegetable salads during Christmas dinner? Of course they do. Does Santa wear shorts? Ya darn tootin’. Is their milk-based alcoholic beverage of choice served cold?
If you read through American blogs or recipe sites, Chilean cola de mono (which literally translates to “tail of the monkey”) is touted as “Chilean eggnog.” That’s untrue. They both contain milk and alcohol and have a creamy color but the similarities end there. The ingredients and resulting taste and consistency of cola de mono are enough to make it clear that they are not the same drink. One is not the other.
The main ingredients for cola de mono are milk, coffee, sugar, and aguardiente, a clear, grape-based 50 proof grain alcohol produced in Chile. Baking spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon, are optional but recommended. There are those that like to include whiskey, vodka, and other spirits in their punch while others enjoy substituting condensed milk for regular milk.
Cola de mono gets the most table time in northern Chile and, for whatever reason, the drink only holds real sway at Christmas and New Year’s. Manufacturers have done their best to change that but they’re kind of fighting a losing battle. Cola de mono has become a significant part of Chilean Christmas. Only residents of port towns like Valparaíso and San Antonio drink it out of season. For example, Dieciocheras (national holidays) are traditionally a time for chicha (a slightly alcoholic fruit punch) but you’re likely to find one or two San Antonians with a cola de mono in hand.
The only definitive information I could dig up about cola de mono’s origins is that it’s linked to Santiago. After that, everything’s a little hazy.
Let’s start with the name cola de mono.
There are several theories about how the name came to be. The story with no evidence whatsoever is that it will have you swinging from the rafters like a monkey, hence “monkey’s tail.”
Pretty sure the person made that up. A for effort though.
Another tale (lol get it) concerns the original packaging of the manufactured cola de mono. It’s possible that the early 20th century manufacturers of cola de mono originally used anisette (aniseed liqueur) in addition to or instead of the traditional brandy when mixing up a batch. The most popular anisette was a Spanish brand called Anís de Juliano, also called Anís de Mono cause of the big ol’ monkey on the label. Since the manufacturers had all those leftover bottles, they decided to use them to store and sell their alcoholic beverage. The bottled drink soon earned the name of cola de mono because of the monkey on the bottles.
There’s not much evidence for the use of anisette so the manufacturers could have just used the empty bottles to package the drinks. Still earned it the name cola de mono, though.
In his book “Diccionario de Chilenismos y otras Voces y Locuciones Viciosas,” Chilean author Manuel Antonio Romón says it got it’s name because the coffee brown color of the drink reminded people of the color of a monkey’s tail. Again, this story is unlikely. Most origin stories imply that a person or persons of elevated status invented cola de mono. It’s doubtful that the elite of early 20th century Chile knew the most common color of a monkey’s tail.
One last name story, which doesn’t even explain the whole name, but ok. Since the drink is served cold, there is speculation that the word cola is a bastardization of the English word “cold.”
Name aside, where did this concoction come from? The most popular theories have to do with Don Pedro Montt Montt, president of Chile from 1906 to 1910. Also, that’s not a typo, that’s his name.
These theories aren’t backed up by much historical fact. We can presume they’re popular because they promote a sense of nationalism. However, well-known historian Bellarmine Torres Vergara supports the next anecdote despite lack of evidence.
One night, President Montt was at a party held in his honor by the wealthy widow Dona Filomena Cortés Bascuñán. Dona Filomena loved to give refined and exquisite banquets and this one was no exception. The guests arrived, eager for a good (drunk) time. At the time, the custom was for guests to turn in their weapons to an attendant at the door. That way, if anyone got rip-roaring drunk and a fight broke out, no one would die. So everyone, including the President, handed over his or her gun.
Eventually, the President said to himself, “It’s late, I’m tired, I’m going home.” He turned to the host and her guests and announced, “It’s late, I’m tired, I’m going home.” He went to the gun attendant and demanded to have his Colt revolver returned immediately so he could leave. Only his friends weren’t down with that. For one thing, it was raining. For another, they wanted to get more drunker (yes, that was on purpose). They told the attendant to lie and say the gun had gone astray. Clearly, the President couldn’t leave without his gun so his friends encouraged him to stay until it was recovered.
But then everyone was like “Now what?” cause all the wine and liquor had been consumed. They needed something to keep the party lubricated so they trooped into the kitchen where they discovered a pitcher of cold café con leche (coffee with milk) and a bottle of aguardiente. The café con leche and aguardiente were mixed together, along with sugar and baking spices. It was immediately named Colt Montt in reference to the President’s hidden revolver, which eventually morphed in cola de mono.
Another version of the same story ends with, “The President’s nickname was ‘El mono Montt’ and that’s where the name comes from.” Not sure how plausible that one is since 1. Where did the cola (tail) come from? and 2. Why would you nickname your president “El mono”?
Still another President Montt story has him traveling to Europe where he tasted a delicious punch. He brought home the recipe, as well as Colt weapons as gifts for his officers, and it was adapted to fit Chilean tastes. A variation says an employee or cook found the recipe and spread it around. Either way, it was named Colt Montt in honor of the gifts he brought home with him.
WAIT, DON’T GO! I’m not done yet.
The final chapter of the “President Montt had something to do with cola de mono”story is far less jolly. In 1901 there was a debate between Montt and his opponent, Germán Riesco. Riesco won the debate and to celebrate, he and his supporters went to an ice cream parlor on Calle San Pablo in Santiago (a man after my own heart). The owner produced his signature drink, melted coffee ice cream mixed with milk and brandy. The supporters christened the drink “la cola de Montt” (Montt’s tail). Ya know, as in “running away with your tail between your legs.”
Then Montt won the election and Riesco & Co. were sad.
All these stories sound like Montt was the weird kid at school that nobody liked or understood so they picked on him by calling him names and hiding his stuff but then he persevered by beating the popular kid at the school election and his life turned into a teen movie about the underdog coming out on top.
Now that we all have warm fuzzies, let’s move on to a slightly more factual origin story.
In his book “Apuntes para la Historia de la Cocina Chilena,” Eugenio Pereira Salas says the creator of cola de mono was Juana Flores, the wife of a merchant living in Santiago at the turn of the century. Their home was situated on calle San Diego in the neighborhood of Plaza de Almagro right next to an Uruguayan bar and facing a restaurant called Coq Hardi (yes, the location of her home is important). She wanted to create an alternative to the popular but “evil” alcoholic punches so adored by her countrymen. She combined coffee with milk and vanilla but, alas, it too became evil. She later died of a broken heart in her calle San Diego home.
I’m not sure how that’s relevant.
So why is the location of her home important? Because both the Uruguayan bar and the restaurant actually existed. The house was there, in its original state, until the 80s when a huge demolition project wiped out a bunch of buildings in the area. Plus, there was a local store nearby called Cola de Mono that was featured in a 1963 issue of On Tour which many people suspect was Juana Flores’.
The other story is that Dona Flores’ husband invented the drink. He wanted to name it colemono and threw a fit when everyone ended up called it cola de mono.
Whatever the real story, the general consensus is the drink was invented by those of aristocratic (or at least elevated) status and slowly worked its way down to more “common” society because it was easy to make and the ingredients were cheap.
The recipe for the drink has been relatively unchanged – milk, brandy, coffee, sugar, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon – but there were (and are) bars and restaurants in Chile that liked to change it up a bit. One famous variation was from a bar called Fuente Franco Suiza in the 1970s. They called theirs Gorilla Glue and I have no idea what was in it.
The most sought after cola de mono was from La Bahía in Monjitas. La Bahía guarded their recipe jealously until they had to close their doors in 1963. At a special farewell dinner, the barman, Gerardo Ruiz Rivera, revealed the recipe included nutmeg, vanilla, and lemon peel, thus ending the 25-year-old mystery.
These days, many drinking establishments support drinking cola de mono year round but, as is the case with the commercial produced drink, it just isn’t working. Chileans like to keep their cola de mono a Christmas tradition, along with going to midnight mass and coming home to a huge family meal. They gorge on roast turkey, beef, or chicken, maybe salmon and shrimp, fresh vegetable salads, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, carrots, green beans, avocados, celery, and fresh bread. There’s Pan de Pasqua, a Christmas bread with nuts, raisins, candied fruits, and spices, and Stollen in southern Chile. Desserts range from Bûche de Noël to Black Forest cake to berry trifles.
And to accompany all this, several glasses of cold cola de mono with a cinnamon stick. Because what’s Christmas without a creamy glass of the worst hangover ever?
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
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-Bowler, Gerald. “Chile.” The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Toronto: M&S, 2000. 42. Print.
-Caskey, Liz. “Cola de Mono: Chile’s Version of Eggnog.” Eat Wine by Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences. Liz Caskey, 23 Dec. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <eatwineblog.com/2011/12/23/cola-de-mono-chile’s-version-of-eggnog/>.
-Crump, William D.. “South America.” The Christmas Encyclopedia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. 266. Print.
-Culture and Customs of Chile. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. 79. Print.
-Janer, Zilkia. “Glossary.” Latino Food Culture. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2008. 150. Print.
-URBATORIVM. Christian Salazar Naudón, 2 Dec. 2008. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://urbatorium.blogspot.com/2008/12/el-cola-de-mono-la-tradicional-y.html>.
-”Nuestro.cl / Cola de mono: la bebida de montt.” Nuestro.cl / el sitio del patrimonio cultural chileno. Corporación Patrimonio Cultural de Chile, 1 Dec. 2003. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://www.nuestro.cl/notas/rescate/colamono_origen.htm>.