Salud/Cheers: a taste of Cuban cocktails!

Having spent close to a month in Havana in July, I saw many a cocktail list, and noted that these separated standard and traditional cocktails from Cuban cocktails. My focus in this report is on Cuban cocktails. The majority of these have rum at the heart, the national alcoholic beverage of Cuba.

I had learnt that Bacardi rum originated in Cuba, but due to political reasons the company moved to the Bahamas. The brand is no longer sold in Cuba, it being predominantly Havana Club (there are 3,  7, and 15 year aged variants), as well as Ron Santiago de Cuba, Santero Aguardiente De Cuba, Legendario Ron Dorado, and Legendario Elixer De Cuba rums which are available. Locals will drink cheaper rums. 

I learnt that Cuban rums are lighter than those from Jamaica, Barbados, and Puerto Rico. Also, that Havana Club 3 year old is the ‘hallmark’ of Cuban rum, is ‘iconic’, its three year old white rum unique in not having been copied by any other distillery. It has hints of vanilla, caramelised pear, and smoked oak, and regarded as being perfect to make a Mojito. The 7 year old variant of this brand should not go into cocktails, and should be savoured neat. It has flavour notes of Cuban tobacco, sweet fruits, and vanilla. The 15 year variant is a limited edition, and costs about $200 per bottle. Some rum brands contain Aguardiente too, a sugar base mixed with vegetables or fruits, and its name means ‘fire water’. 

Wikipedia describes rum and its production as follows: 

Rum is a distilled alcoholic drink made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice, through a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels.

The majority of the world’s rum production occurs in the Caribbean and Latin America. Rum is also produced in numerous other countries.

Rums are produced in various grades. Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, whereas “golden” and “dark” rums were typically consumed straight or neat, iced (“on the rocks“), or used for cooking, but are now commonly consumed with mixers. Premium rums are also available, made to be consumed either straight or iced.

Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies as well as in The Maritimes and Newfoundland. This drink has famous associations with the Royal Navy(where it was mixed with water or beer to make grog) and piracy (where it was consumed as bumbo). Rum has also served as a popular medium of economic exchange, used to help fund enterprises such as slavery (see Triangular trade), organized crime, and military insurgencies (e.g., the American Revolution and Australia’s Rum Rebellion).‘

Cuban cocktails 

#. Mojito:  sugar, mint leaves, lime juice, ice, and rum. This is one of the two standard cocktails drunk by tourists in Havana, and strongly associated with Cuba, although not unique to the country. (Photograph above)

#   Daiquiri : before learning to drink it, I had to learn to say it correctly: die-kiri phonetically. It is synonymous with author Ernest Hemingway and El Floridita in Havana, where a strawberry daiquiri is served, at 6 CUCs (R90), but it does come with live Cuban music and the bestest fried banana chips. It is made with white rum, lime juice, and sugar or syrup. Hemingway loved his daiquiris with grapefruit, maraschino liqueur, and no sugar. Frozen daiquiris are made with pulverised ice. 

#  Cuba Libre : also known as Cubata, this cocktail is made by adding Coca Cola to rum, with a squeeze of lemon

#.  Piña Colada : It is not Cuban in origin, but has been adopted as a Cuban cocktail. It is a mix of white rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk (left, made for me by Alain Barrios Chávez, Manager of the San Lazaro 115 BnB in Havana). 

#   Cubanita : rum, tomato juice, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish sauce, celery salt and black pepper, 

#.  President : Black vermouth, white rum, grenadine, ice chips, served with cherries and orange peel. 

#.  Saoco: Coconut milk and rum, served in a coconut half. 

#.  Cuban Ginger: ideally made with a 7 year old Havana Club, to which is added apple liqueur and alcoholic ginger ale.

#.  Havana loco: rum and fresh fruit  (right, the best pineapple juice I drank in Havana was at VanVan Bar and Restaurant)

#.  Cream de Vie: Condensed milk, syrup, egg yolk, vanilla, and rum. 


I have written a number of posts about Cuba, including important guidelines to visiting the country, the top 21 things to see and do in Havana, the footprint of Ernest Hemingway in Havana, Salsa music and dancing, Cuban cigars, and more: 

Hola, an Introduction to Havana and to Cuba!

Ernest Hemingway: an earnest author as well as drinker, a man’s man, who has left his mark on Cuba!

My Top 21 recommendations for what to see and do in Havana, Cuba!

Habanos cigars from Cuba: how they are made, and how to smoke them!

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein


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