Traditional holiday beverages from around the world

holiday beveragesAmericans aren’t very creative when it comes to traditional holiday beverages (do, however, look for my upcoming story on Boulder’s banging mixology scene, which includes some killer contemporary winter cocktails). Historically, though, we’re more of an eggnog/mulled cider/hot chocolate kind of society.

I’m not knocking our Christmas beverages of choice. Properly made, they’re delicious, and certainly festive. But some countries really know how to roll when it comes to holiday imbibing (especially Latin America. One word: rum.).

Below, a compilation of some of the more interesting boozy holiday beverages from around the world that can be easily recreated in your own kitchen. Online recipes abound, and all of these are (almost) as tasty sans alcohol.

Coquito: Puerto Ricans are great because they’re not afraid to embrace their love of saturated fats (lard, coconut milk, etc.) or rum. In case you’ve been living under a rock, coconut is the new fat du jour (read more about its health attributes here). Everything in moderation, including moderation, as I always say.

Coquito recipes vary, but in general, this rich, blended Christmas concoction is a froth of spiced rum, condensed milk, coconut milk or cream of coconut, vanilla, and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some versions may include ginger or ground nuts, but it’s always served chilled, in a small glass. Heavy, yes, but both sexy and satisfying. Add some eggs, and you’ll have ponche, the Venezuelan or Dominican version of eggnog.

Mulled wine: Variations on this warm, spiced, sugared, and otherwise enhanced wine (usually red) are served throughout Europe. There’s Nordic gløgg redolent of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and bitter orange (and perhaps a helping of aquavit). It’s very similar to German glühwein made with lemon, cinnamon sticks, cardamom or ginger, and cloves; in Alsace (the French region bordering Germany), they also add vanilla bean.

In Bulgaria, greyano vino contains honey, peppercorns, and often, apple or citrus. Polish grzane wino is more of a traditional mulled wine, but they also make grzane piwo, in which mulled beer (try a Hefeweizen or Belgian ale which are lighter and sweeter) is substituted for the wine. Na zdrowie (“To your health”)!

[Photo credit: Flicker user Akane86]holiday beveragesPonche Navideño: Not to be confused with those other luscious ponches, this Mexican version is made with sugar cane, apples and/or pears or citrus, raisins, prunes, and tejocotes–an indigenous fruit used by the Aztecs, who called them texocotl. Add tequila, brandy, or rum; heat, and instant fiesta. At Christmastime, ponche vendors can be found on the street, ladling out cupfuls of good cheer.

Another popular Mexican holiday beverage is champurrado, a version of atole (warmed cornmeal thinned to a pourable consistency) flavored with chocolate. It tastes much better than it sounds, and is delicious on a chilly day.

Sorrel Punch: This Jamaican Christmas drink is made from the petals of a species of hibiscus (jamaica in Latin America), locally known as sorrel. In Australia it’s known as rosella, and where it makes a lovely, delicate, fruity red jam. This isn’t the same plant Americans know as sorrel or French sorrel. That’s a bitter wild green, which would make for a truly revolting cocktail, unless you’re one of those people who find wheat grass juice “refreshing.”

Dried hibiscus buds can be purchased at Hispanic or Caribbean markets; the recipe varies, but it’s usually some combination of the flowers, sugar, smashed fresh ginger, water, lime juice, and rum (dark is more traditional than light). Mix, stir, turn on your light box (fellow Seattleites know what I’m talking about), and crank your fave reggae CD. It ain’t the islands but it’s a nice change of pace from all that mulled wine.
holiday beverages
Wassail: Did any American not grow up hearing about or actually going “wassailing,” aka carolling? This mulled British cider is synonymous with knocking on stranger’s doors and breaking into song. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to hit the wassail bowl after mandatory childhood post-carolling; parents should remember that singing in public is the worst possible form of torture for a geeky, tone-deaf pre-teen. Wassail has been a Christmas classic across the pond for centuries, so I’m sure generations of British children suffered the same fate.

Cola de mono: Although Chile is better known for its pisco sours (Peru also claims this libation as its own, but both countries produce it and they’re still duking it out over who actually invented this potent grape brandy) and wine, Christmastime means a glass of “monkey’s tail.” Combine aguardiente (sub pisco or a neutral firewater) with milk, coffee, vanilla bean, and cloves. I have no idea what this has to do with the tail of a monkey, but it’s a cute name. Uh, bottom’s up.

[Photo credit: eggnog, Flicker user elana’s pantry; wassail, Flicker user jeremytarling]

Removing Red Wine Stains

Put your Paws Up for the holidays this year

While the rest of the world is trekking out to Rockefeller Center to see the tree or hanging around Times Square while waiting for the ball’s big drop, head the other way. “The Last Best Christmas Vacation” package from the Paws Up resort in Montana pulls together everything you’d want in a traditional winter holiday celebration … along with the luxurious touch that you’d expect at a remote, upscale and high-touch destination.

From December 22 – 29, 2009, you can hole up in one of the Paws Up villas, dash off on snowmobiles or push yourself along on cross-country skis, while the world continues its rush without dragging you along. As part of this six-day/five-night package, you’ll also be able to enjoy sleigh rides and an old-fashioned tree-trimming party. The basics are covered, too, such as breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, a half-day winter adventure, a decorated Christmas tree (and some egg nog, of course!), nightly ice skating and an open fire nearby. If you have some talent, take part in the Gingerbread house building contest … while wearing the Paws Up wrangler stockings you’ll be given.

Christmas Eve, of course, is when the magic will happen. A special menu will be put together in Pomp, the Paws Up restaurant, and the highlight of the party for the kids will be a special visit from Santa Claus.

So, put civilization behind you this December, and create a vacation experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Enjoy nature, and frolic in the snow … and eat, sleep and relax at a resort that will positively blow your mind.

Eggnog: Where does it come from?

I’ve long been a fan of spiced ‘nog. It’s one of the creamiest, best tastes in the world. For over 300 years, eggnog has been a Christmas staple, and I just had to get to the bottom of the mystery of ‘why’? What I discovered in my research of the origin of eggnog was quite startling. While ‘nog definitely came from Europe circa early 17th century, the term “eggnog” and the etymology of the word is perhaps the more interesting story.

The original eggnog was a mixture of milk, egg, spices, and wine (in parts of Europe like France), beer (in England), or sherry (in Spain). The alcoholic portion of the drink depends on how you interpret the “nog” in the name. That is because “nog” could mean the Old English term for a strong beer, or it could be interpreted from Middle English as “noggin,” the wooden mug that the drink was served in.
It seems quite unusual (and kind of unappetizing) to me that, before it arrived on America’s shores, eggnog was made with wine, beer, or sherry. Americans — the drunks that we are — decided to spike the drink with more concentrated spirits such as rum and brandy. Our first President, George Washington, would make the drink so strong that only the burliest of drinkers could handle it. The term for rum is actually “grog,” but “eggrog” doesn’t sound very good at all, now, does it? (It makes me think of a lumpy, spiked oatmeal — yuck!) Americans also boil their eggnog so as to avoid getting salmonella from the raw egg.

Even more variations of traditional eggnog are popping up around the globe. In Louisiana, they replace the rum with bourbon. In Puerto Rico, they add coconut milk. In Mexico, it’s a hard drink, as it’s mixed with grain alcohol. In Peru, it’s made with “pisco,” a local brandy.

Whatever the form or unique flavor, drinking eggnog is a Christmas tradition because of its warming effect and generally sweet, smooth, and spicy taste which make it a perfect holiday drink.

[Information was gathered from Wikipedia, About.com, and TheKitchenProject.com]