Long live the Cuba Libre!
There are various versions of how the original Cuba Libre came about. The highball cocktail with rum, Coke, fresh lime and sometimes a dash of bitters is, however, inextricably linked with Cuba's fight for independence against Spain.
The independence movement's slogan at the time was Cuba libre, literally, free Cuba.
Most likely the original Cuba Libre was invented during the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898) as a non-alcoholic mix of water and brown sugar. In 1900, Coca-Cola was distributed from the US to Cuba and it didn't take long for the locals to add rum to celebrate their newly won freedom.
Fausto Rodriguez, then a messenger boy for the US army and later a Bacardi executive, claims the drink was first poured in 1900 when his boss ordered a Bacardi and Coke. A different account suggests the drink was created in Havana's famous bar, El Floridita (where Hemingway hung out), to celebrate the anniversary of independence in 1902.
What is clear is that the drink took off. First in the US during Prohibition when Coca-Cola became the mixer of choice for its ability to disguise the taste of bootlegged rums. Then travel and cultural exchanges during World War II saw the Cuba Libre expand globally and reach dizzying popularity.
At the end of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) the US placed an embargo against Cuba and prohibited the importation of products including -- shock horror -- its rum. Naturally, Cuba retaliated by banning US imports.
A Cuba Libre made from one part communism and four parts capitalism? Not a merry mix.
By then though the drink was well and truly entrenched in global drinking culture. Weirdly, despite its major global popularity, rum and Coke still gets a bad rap. It's often criticised for being boring, mediocre and a lazy person's drink.
Which is what leads me to house-made cola. I was recently invited by the bar manager of Bread and Butter, David, to try his house-made cola with Soltera Blanco -- a wholly artisan version of a Cuba Libre. It was a delight to discover that artisan cola, while reminiscent of the original, could be so herbaceous and fresh -- and so perfect to mix with a light rum.
Here's how you can make your own:
- 1 litre water
- 1 lime zest and juice
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- 2 orange zest and juice
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tbs of bitter dried orange peel
- 2 tsp of coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp finely grated nutmeg
- 500g - 1kg brown sugar (up to your sweet tooth!)
- Combine the water, lemon zest (not pith), lime zest, orange zest, cinnamon, bitter orange peel, coriander seed, nutmeg in a pot. Gently bring to the boil. Take off the heat and stir in the sugar. Bring back to a boil and boil for 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon, lime, and orange juices. Let cool completely allowing all the goodies to really release their flavour, then strain. This syrup should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
- To serve, mix equal parts syrup and soda water (or adjust to taste).
In a tall glass full of ice, mix 45ml Soltera Blanco with 150ml of cola and squeeze of fresh lime (not too much, the syrup is also zesty). If your syrup is light on sugar, you may wish to add a little more. ¡Salud!
Please enjoy cheerfully and responsibly.