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Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

1 oz
4 oz real sugar Coca-Cola
Lime Wedge

Pour rum and cola over ice in a rocks glass.
Squeeze lime wedge over glass and drop in.

* * *

The apocryphal origin story of the Cuba Libre tells us that it was invented at the turn of the 20th Century during the Spanish-American War.  An American officer wandered into a Havana bar and ordered the drink.  The story goes that it immediately caught on like wildfire.  Here’s why I find this hard to swallow.

I sit on a healthy collection of cocktail books spanning the years of the early 1800’s to the 1940’s.  Scouring them all — which I did — the first mention I find of the Cuba Libre is in the 1937 Coronation Edition of the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book (England), and then it merits a mention only in a “Supplementary List” of drinks not mentioned specifically in the book.  It doesn’t appear in the 1932-33 Sloppy Joe’s book nor the 1935 Bar La Florida book — and these were the places to drink in Havana.  It’s possible that the drink was just too simple to merit a recipe — which is a rationale I’d accept — but a large part of me finds it difficult that both of these books would include a Manhattan before their own namesake.

If credit for the drink’s popularity is to be assigned anywhere, it should be given to the Andrews Sisters and their 1945 hit “Rum and Coca-Cola”.  The breezy calypso rhythm captures exactly what makes the drink so effortlessly attractive.  Along our 12 Bottle Bar sojourn, we may encounter one or two drinks that are easier to build than the Cuba Libre, but they won’t be many.

I’ve included the Cuba Libre here primarily because it’s one of the yardsticks  by which Pusser’s measures itself.  Here’s their claim:

“As for a test of the rich flavor of Pusser’s vs. others: try pouring a measured one ounce of into a glass filled with ice and a measured 4-ounces of Coca Cola. Then do the same with any other rum, and taste the difference. It is immediate. You will find that Pusser’s is the only one whose full bouquet punches through the mix. The others, including the Mt. Gay, Appletons, Myers, the Bacardi’s and so forth, for the most part will have their taste buried in the Coke. Most will greatly sweeten the drink because of the extra sugar that will have been added to achieve smoothness. By comparison, Pusser’s is all natural. No sugar or flavoring agents have been added.”

From my exhaustive research, this is spot on.  Key to the combination is Coke made with real sugar — Mexican Coke, if you prefer.  Since rum is a sugar distillate and not a corn distillate, this little difference makes for a vastly superior beverage.  Sugar produces smaller bubbles and is less sweet than corn syrup, producing a drink that actually tastes like a drink, not a confection.

Musing: Maybe it’s just me, but I find it infinitely funny and ironic that a drink called a “Free Cuba” contains, by design, one part Cuban domestic product (rum) to four parts American capitalism (Coca-Cola).  I wonder if Castro thinks of this when he drinks them.