There is a World of Holiday Drinks Beyond Eggnog (Really)
From spiced sake in Japan to Coquito in Puerto Rico, these festive drinks are a cause for celebration all on their own
In the United States, Eggnog is synonymous with the holidays. As soon as the Halloween candy is finished, you can find it in just about every grocery store. The drink, which likely dates back at least a couple of centuries, engenders such passionate fans that its ban even instigated a famous riot at West Point. And now, to satisfy holiday revelers there is even a wide variety of Eggnog flavors, including everything from pumpkin spice to caramel, as well as organic, “light” and lactose-free versions.
The U.S, however, is far from the only country that is passionate about cocktails this time of year. Around the world, from Japan to Puerto Rico to Mexico, there are traditional and delicious drinks that are key to holiday celebrations.
Here’s a look at what seven countries mix up for their year-end festivities. Cheers!
The end of the year in Norway, Sweden and across Scandinavia brings plenty of freezing temperatures and excuses to cozy up indoors. So it’s no surprise that big pots of warming Glögg are popular in the weeks before Christmas. At its heart, Glögg (pronounced gloo-gh) is essentially mulled wine, and resembles Germany’s traditional holiday Glühwein.
Glögg is flavored with spices like cinnamon sticks, cardamom and cloves, as well as citrus rind and sugar, and often incorporates almonds and raisins—though recipes vary from country to country and, likely, from household to household. Most notably, the festive Scandinavian drink is fortified with a spirit—typically caraway- or dill-flavored aquavit, though sometimes vodka or brandy is used instead.
Eggnog’s long history and enthusiastic fan base has inspired drinkers to look around the globe for other creamy and festive concoctions, including New Orleans Milk Punch and Puerto Rico’s coconutty Coquito.
“Coquito is one of those things that marks the start of the holidays,” says Roberto Berdecía, co-owner of acclaimed bars Jungle Bird and La Factoría in San Juan. “If you haven’t tasted Coquito [during] the holidays, you haven’t [really started] your Navidades.”
Berdecía’s version of the Coquito (below) is relatively simple to make and easy to pre-batch in the lead up to a holiday party. He says that the drink can not only be sipped over ice, but is also often served as a shot or as a sidecar to a beer.
“When people get together in a house and they are having fun, someone always pulls out a bottle of Coquito,” he says. “You will not necessarily know everyone, but after a night [of drinking Coquito] you will.”
While many places celebrate the New Year by popping bottles of Champagne, “in Japan, we traditionally drink sake on New Year’s Day with family,” says Kenta Goto, owner of New York’s famed Bar Goto. “The sake is often served in a set of lacquer sake cups and passed around to wish for health.”
This special New Year’s Day sake, he says, is called Otoso. Steeped with herbs and other ingredients, including cinnamon, rhubarb, ginger and peppers for a few hours, it is passed around in a set of small, medium and large sake cups called Sakazuki. This tradition dates back centuries, possibly to Japan’s Heian period, and is said to not only bring health to those who drink the Otoso in the coming year, but historically it’s also been used to ward off evil spirits.
On Christmas, Chileans enjoy a slice of pan de pascua, a sweet fruit cake, with a hearty glass of Cola de Mono (or Colemono for short). Translated, the name of the drink means “monkey’s tail.” While the origin of this concoction is a mystery, what can be confirmed is that it can be served hot or cold and is made of milk, spices (like cinnamon and nutmeg), coffee and liquor (typically aguardiente or pisco). Like any traditional holiday beverage, there are plenty of variations on the basic recipe that call for a range of spices and even eggs.
Enjoyed on islands throughout the Caribbean during the holiday season, sorrel is known for its intense ruby color and pungent flavor. This comes from the drink’s most important ingredient: the sepals of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower, which is referred to as “sorrel” across the region. To make Sorrel, spices like allspice berries, cinnamon and ginger are heated and steeped in water for an extended period of time. It’s then sweetened with sugar and fortified with wine or rum—or sometimes both. Sorrel can be served hot or cold and is enjoyed alongside traditional holiday dishes, like curried goat or ham and spiced fruit cake.
Headed to London for the holidays? You likely find the spiced, steamy Yuletide delicacy Wassail, or mulled cider. Dating back to Medieval times, the word “wassail” comes from ves heill, an Old Norse phrase that roughly translates to “be well.” The drink itself supposedly evolved from wassailing, a pagan tradition during which farmers and townspeople would gather in the orchards and drink to the health of their apple cider trees for the coming year’s harvest. This typically would happen on Twelfth Night and, naturally, include a wassail cup and plenty of rambunctious singing and toasting.
Today, “wassail” primarily refers to the rich and warming mulled apple cider enjoyed during the holiday season, but it can also refer to the glassware in which it’s served or, more likely, the toast that accompanies a swig of the drink. It’s made in much the same way as a traditional mulled wine would be (but with apple cider and/or ale), with plenty of baking spices, sugar, citrus and, depending on who’s serving, a bit of sherry or red wine.
“As with many Latin American countries, Mexico makes a bigger fuss for Noche Buena, A.K.A. Christmas Eve, than it does Christmas Day,” says top bartender Erick Castro, co-owner of San Diego bars Raised by Wolves and Polite Provisions. Festivities often last well past midnight, serving as the lead into the holiday, and include a feast of classic dishes like menudo, tamales and empanadas, along with glasses of Ponche Navideño.
While recipes vary depending on region and personal preferences, Castro says Ponche Navideño typically includes piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), baking spices, dried fruit, various winter fruit like tecojotes (“a tasty little fruit that looks like a little apple”), apples and citrus. Also, traditional in Ponche Navideño is aged rum.
“It is surprising for many outsiders that recipes very rarely call for tequila or mezcal, but instead call for aged rum or brandy,” says Castro. “But this makes sense as at most traditional Mexican festivities the tequila is being hoarded for shots and drinking straight.”
Below is an adaptation of Castro’s family recipe for Ponche Navideño—or, he says, an approximation of it as the recipe is a bit different each time: “I have seen everything from dates to pomegranate to grapefruit in it from years past, but it always seems to stick close to this,” he says.
- 15 oz Evaporated milk
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 3 Cloves
- 2 Star anise
- 15 oz Coconut cream
- 14 oz Condensed milk
- 12 oz Gold rum
- Vanilla extract
- Glass: Any
- Garnish: Ground cinnamon
Add the evaporated milk, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 star anise, 3 cloves to a small pot. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Do not let it boil
Filter the evaporated milk mixture into a blender. Add the coconut cream, condensed milk and rum. Blend until it is thoroughly mixed.
Add 2 dashes each of vanilla extract and bitters, or to taste. Blend to incorporate.
Funnel the mixture into empty bottles and let it chill in the fridge.
Shake well before serving and garnish with ground cinnamon.
- 28 oz Apples, chopped
- 14 oz peeled Tejocote (canned works well)
- 14 oz Oranges, sliced
- 2.5 oz Raisins
- 10.5 oz Pineapple, chopped
- 7 oz Brown sugar
- 7 oz Piloncillo
- .25 oz Black peppercorns
- .2 oz Whole cloves
- 7 Ceylon cinnamon sticks
- 4 Tamarind pods
- .33 oz Ginger, chopped
- 93 oz Water
- Aged rum
- Glass: Any
- Garnish: Fruit and spices
Add all the ingredients, except the rum, to a large pot and bring to boil. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. (This should evaporate some of the water while extracting the full flavor out of the fruit and spices.)
It is now ready to serve as is, if you would like it non-alcoholic. Or, you can add 1.5 oz of your favorite spirit to each glass. Aged rum is most traditional, but Cognac, tequila or mezcal all work well.
Garnish with the fruit and spices from the pot.