Editor’s Note: Food enthusiast Matthew Wexler, an NYC-based freelance writer and private chef at Good Commons, a boutique retreat center located in Plymouth, VT, joins us this week with this special report on a very unique holiday cocktail.
I am a seasonal drinker. If it’s 90 degrees and stifling outside, there is nothing more satisfying than a Hendrick’s gin and tonic. When the whether chills and the leaves crisp to burnt oranges and reds, that’s how I like to see my cocktail — in the form of a Manhattan on the rocks. So when Daisy Martinez tipped me off about the annual coquito competition and tasting at El Museo del Barrio this past weekend, I had my jingle bells on in a heartbeat. Never mind that this Puerto Rican holiday favorite was completely new to my drinking repertoire, I had a good feeling that both cocktail and culture would welcome me with open arms. For those unfamiliar with said cocktail, International Coquito Federation Founder and President, Debbie Quiñones, gave me the low-down:
“I was introduced to the drink by a family friend, and when she passed I was desperate for coquito. I started inviting family and friends over for Coquito parties, and with this inspiration and enthusiasm, we decided to form the International Coquito Federation and take it to another level.”
The Coquito competition blew up last year, when more than 700 thirsty tasters showed up at Museo del Barrio, and reportedly, attendees were so coo-coo for coquito that the police were called to keep things under control. So what is in this magical ambrosia that elicits such heartfelt madness?
According to Quiñones, a traditional coquito consists of condensed milk, evaporated milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut cream and/or milk; eggs are optional. Oh, and “as much rum as you can possibly put into it without knocking somebody out.”
So my expectations were pretty high as the tasting began. To ensure unbiased results, the seven finalists’ recipes were dispersed from identical pitchers and tasters were asked to rate both flavor and consistency. I was sold form my first-ever sip of coquito, cool and creamy on the palette with a kick of cinnamon spice at the end. Wow. But there were six more to go, each one with distinct flavor profiles. My favorites were those that had some substance, most likely from the addition of eggs, cooked in a fashion similar to sabayon. Others tended to be a bit milky or gritty from ground nuts or shredded coconut. An unusual interpretation was a chocolate coquito, which I found delightful, although some old-timers nearby dismissed it as too experimental.
After an hour of intense drinking and a quick empanada break at the museum’s café, it was time for the results. Coming in first place was the defending champion Zoraida Graciani, pictured below with her husband Rafael and Debbie Quiñones. Her legendary coquito is pending licensing, so you should see it on the market sometime soon. Until then, you can always make your own — check out the classic recipe over at allrecipes.com.