SANTIAGO – Cola de Mono, or “Monkey’s Tail” in English, is a typical drink few Chileans miss on Christmas Eve. It demands attention with its curious name and sweet taste. But who invented it and what does it have to do with monkeys?!
Cola de Mono (or “Colemono”, in Chileans’ fast accent) is one symbol of a merry Chilean Christmas. Bought ready-made at stores or fastidiously fashioned at home, the drink is both an alcoholic beverage and a sweet dessert to enjoy during the season.
It is made from brewing a mix of milk, coffee, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, and spirits. The type of alcohol varies. Many use Chilean aguardiente, but others use brandy, white rum, or even vodka. Seasonings also include ground nutmeg and clove. Cola de Mono, like revenge, is best served cold but for an entirely different reason: here, because it’s a refreshing intermission to Chile’s hot summer nights (no white Christmas for the southern hemisphere).
Colt … Cola, Montt … Monkey?!
What do monkeys have to do with Christmas? Cola de Mono — “Monkey’s Tail” in English — still confuses many, because there is no apparent connection between the sweet drink and the hairy primate.
The possibly “truest” origin story, however, comes from Professor Jaime Campusano, who wrote about this traditional drink in his book Chilenismos and Shilenismos.
According to Campusano in an interview with Publimetro, Cola de Mono was spontaneously born during former Chilean President Pedro Montt’s time in office, at the beginning of the 20th century.
During a trip to the United States, Montt stopped in Peru. There, his wife Sara del Campo Yávar created the drink from a Peruvian punch recipe. (So if the pisco war isn’t enough for you, if you dig deep enough this might be even more fuel for the Chile – Peru rivalry.)
Upon their subsequent arrival in the U.S., the U.S. president (Theodore Roosevelt) gave Montt a collection of Colt guns as a present. Montt and his wife then celebrated the gift by serving her new drink, and during the celebration attendants wondered aloud about it, but it was yet unnamed. It is said that at that moment someone came up with the idea to call it Colt de Montt — “Montt’s Colt,” in English — referring to the gift of guns.
Colt de Montt was quickly popularized in Chile upon Montt’s return, but the name, which did not sound much like Spanish, was quickly reshaped by the Chilean accent, ending up as — you guessed it — Cola de Mono.
🥑In CT Gastronomy: Cola de mono. A typical Chilean drink, mainly prepared during the Christmas season. It is made with schnapps, milk, coffee, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla.
Other Cola de Mono Origins
Campusano also suggested that other less colorful stories could be behind the name. For example, when Cola de Mono was first popularized, there was a kind of liquor with a monkey picture on the bottle. “The bottle was ideal to store the beverage,” Campos said. As a result, the “monkey bottles” started to be directly connected to the drink, and perhaps they originally gave it its name.
An even simpler origin story draw a connection between the brown color of the drink and a monkey’s fur.
Despite the many stories trying to make sense of the name, it remains a bit of an enigma. What is certain is that it is packed with flavor, sweetness, and Chilean Christmas spirit.
Camila Huecho is a journalism student at Universidad de La Frontera in Temuco, currently interning at Chile Today. As a freelance illustrator and Fellow at the Melton Foundation, she works to bring information and cultures together through communications and art.