Confession: I absolutely hate eggnog.
In my mind, eggnog is the bland and lackluster version of its significantly more charismatic Puerto Rican cousin: The coquito.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, a coquito is a rich and deliciously creamy cocktail prepared with coconut milk, coconut cream, condensed milk, and rum (preferably Puerto Rican)—in addition to other spices such as masala chai, cinnamon, star anise, or whatever you may fancy.
There aren’t many strict rules about what you can (or can’t) add, which just makes it far more interesting and versatile. And much like eggnog, it’s traditionally consumed during the holidays—althought I drink it all year, even when it’s 85 degrees outside.
But as much as I love coquito, my limited cocktail-making skills prevent me from coming up with a decent and drinkable batch. And to be perfectly honest, preparing quality coquito takes significantly more time than I have the patience for.
So last year, after an intense weeks-long craving that was about to drive my husband mad, I scoured the web and social media for a quick coquito fix. And that’s how I found The Coquito Shop, a small Brooklyn-based operation run by Dirty French bartender Tony Del Pino.
The process was simple enough: You email, DM, text Del Pino your order and he will personally deliver your package within a few days. And let me tell you: each of the flavors I ordered (original, bustelo, and chocolate) were superb—and excellent value for money at $90 for three bottles.
“Every coquito maker has their own recipe with ‘secret’ spices passed down from their abuela or family member,” Del Pino explains. “Everyone claims to have the best coquito. But for The Coquito Shop, I come at it through the lens of a mixologist with 10-plus years of experience crafting cocktails. I utilize techniques that are going to extract as much flavor as possible from the ingredients. I probably went through a dozen different recipes. I still tinker here and there because I’m also pursuing perfection.”
Del Pino started making the drink for friends, coworkers, and family a few years ago—mainly for the holidays. “Coquito for me is nostalgic. The first place that my mind goes to is to my abuela’s house in Brooklyn,” he says. “I have many memories of my family traveling from all over the borough to end up in this home to spend time with each another. It was celebratory. It was cathartic. There were laughs, tears, food, and dancing. There was a sense of community. That’s the energy I want my coquito to embody.”
His recipes were so good that they started asking him if he ever considered selling his creations. “So I decided from there to make a business out of it. This was winter of 2018,” Del Pino says. “Who wouldn’t want a few extra bucks for some Christmas shopping?”
From then on, Del Pino—who works four days a week at the restaurant—started taking orders by way of social media and would batch around a dozen bottles on Sunday to readily have stock on hand. To work around his day job, he makes his deliveries Mondays through Thursdays—usually asking clients to place their orders at least 48 hours ahead of time.
But 2020 was when Del Pino took his coquito game to the next level: “The pandemic is what pushed me to offer it during the off seasons. I was furloughed from Dirty French and I had plenty of time on my hands. After one month I needed to be out of the home more, safely of course, and I needed to bring in more income,” he says. “I figured: Why not, let’s give it a go. I was curious to find out if there are others out there who would want to enjoy it all year round like I do. The initial response was phenomenal, and I rode a wonderful wave through the end of the year. People were home but still wanted to experience delicious beverage. People wanted a bit of cheer and happiness in their life. I think it was a perfect storm to propel the business.”