Cocktails of the day: Coco de Água & Coquinha

It’s beginning to warm up, and thoughts of things tropical begin to enter my head.

I’ve been devouring Charles H. Baker Jr.’s two magnificent two-volume sets, The Gentleman’s Companion and The South American Gentleman’s Companion, shaking my head with wonder as I go along. This guy’s gig, from the 1920s to the 1950s, was to travel around the world several times, eating and drinking, and writing about it for Esquire, Town and Country and others. Where do I get a gig like this?

Each set of books is divided into a volume each on “Exotic Cookery” and “Exotic Drinking”, the latter taking a wee bit more of my attention in this regular feature. Between the two drinking volumes we’ve probably got about 400 recipes to work with, most of which I had never seen before. Oh, the fun we’ll have …

I was particularly struck by this first one, though. It seems a lot of effort for a little bit of drink, but I’m fascinated by it. It’s certainly easy enough, but it does involve a little more patience than most casual imbibers might be able to muster. I’m assuming that the best thing to use for this would be a good Brazilian cachaça.

COQUINHA, or CACHAÇA de COCO
from Furna de Onça Restaurant, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Take husked coconut, bore out 1 of the “eyes” in the “monkey’s face” you’ll find at 1 end. Pour-out water. Refill nut with any white rum like new Cuban or Key West aguardiente, or inexpensive white Puerto Rican or Cuban rum — NOT brown or Jamaica. Cork tightly with a soft-wood peg driven-into the shell firmly. Bury in ground, dig-up after 6 months to a year. Drink the stuff neat, out of small glass. Naturally the longer you leave it buried the more mellowed it gets. Cachaça is the Brazilian word for new white unaged rum. Coquinha has a ruddy amber color and a most unusual and pleasant taste.

Okay, quibble … cachaça technically isn’t rum, since rum is made from molasses and this stuff is distilled directly from sugar cane juice, but I suppose it’s an easy enough explanation for people who don’t want to sit and listen to cocktailians yammer on about ingredients and distillation. I’ll offer one more from Baker today, if you don’t necessarily want to wait 6 months to a year for your drink.

This one looks great … you put de lime in de coconut and drink ‘em both up!

COCO de ÁGUA
from Bélem, Brazil, at the Mouth of the Amazon.

We met an ex-American Red Cross nurse down there who ordered a drink mixed for us at Madame Garé’s French Restaurant — best food in town, we found — which will be possible to all readers who live in southern Florida, or any tropical region where you find coconuts. Actually this is no invention of Brazil, but is found all over thet West Indies and the Caribbean-Central American region. It is simple to do.

In highball glass put 3 or 4 lumps of ice, add 2 ounces of any good light rum (Jamaica won’t do too well), 2 teaspoons bar syrup or sugar, juice 1/2 lime, and stir well to chill. Add enough fresh coconut water almost to fill. Stir once again and cap with chilled club soda for a tang…

Both soda and lime juice are omitted in the usual simple local drink. You could use grenadine instead of sugar or syrup, for sweetening. This sugar dosage is, of course, to taste… We’ve tried this drink and think that fine-cracked ice chills it quicker and is more attractive than usual lumps of ice.

Ah, much better for those of us who want our cocktails NOW, Daddy! If you don’t want to pierce fresh coconuts, you can get canned coconut water (usually with young coconut flesh in it as well) of excellent quality at most Asian supermarkets, if you’ve got one in your area.