In the Caribbean, the customary way of celebrating the holidays is with a thick and creamy cocktail made with several types of milk and brimming with rum.
The drink varies from nation to nation — cremas or kremas in Haiti, coquito in Puerto Rico and crema de vie in Cuba, to name a few. But the essential ingredients are the same: rum, evaporated and sweetened condensed milks, and spices like cinnamon. Coquito and cremas also contain coconut milk or coconut cream. Many of these drinks are bottled and given as gifts, or sold to family and friends, during the holidays.
You want “as much alcohol as possible,” but cushioned in the “blended comfort of all this other stuff so you don’t feel like you’re taking a shot,” said Debbie Quiñones of East Harlem, who co-runs Coquito Masters, an annual bracketed competition in New York City’s five boroughs. “I want to be seduced.”
Nadine Ducasse, of East Setauket, N.Y., won a cremas tasting competition with her brother, Raymond Ducasse, in 2021 at Bonbon Lakay in Flatbush, Brooklyn, with a drink that is made with cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise. She expects to make more than 500 bottles by mid-January. Dorty J. Fortune, an owner of Kremas Creole Premium in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, estimates she’ll deliver or ship more than 1,000 bottles this season, from September to January. People can add however much alcohol they’d like later.
Charlene Absalon, who lives on Long Island, first tried cremas when she was a teenager, but it wasn’t something she appreciated until her early 20s, when an aunt taught her to make it.
Ms. Absalon was captivated by the ease of the recipe, and in 2013, she started to make a bottled version. She has experimented with cremas flavors like pumpkin spice and crème brûlée. She uses Haitian vanilla beans and chocolate. She also sells ice cream and coffee creamers.
“It’s important for us to bring our culture, and what comes out of it, to the American forefront,” she said.
The history of these drinks and some of their ingredients is difficult to trace. What is clear is that the people who make the drinks throughout the Caribbean are loyal to their particular country’s rum, said Jeff Berry, the author of “Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean.”
“Even though the Caribbean is not very large, there’s a lot of differences between islands, so you have a vast flavor spectrum,” Mr. Berry said. “You can compare rum to wine.”
Jamaican rum uses a heavier molasses base, yielding a darker, denser and more flavorful liquor, Mr. Berry said. But rums from Cuba and Puerto Rico are typically more distilled, for a lighter flavor.
In Mission Viejo, Calif., Marta Darby and her four adult children gather to make dozens of bottles of crema de vie, a Cuban eggnog. She typically buys two gallons of rum, and cans of sweetened and evaporated milks by the case. She uses a recipe from a Cuban home economics book called “La Cocina en el Hogar.”
Ms. Darby’s children give the bottles away as gifts to friends and co-workers, but she said their efforts have an added purpose: “It’s just another way for me to anchor them into our Cuban traditions.”