At first glance, the Cuba Libre might appear to be nothing more than that bastion of sports bars and frat houses everywhere, the Rum-n-Coke. That’s probably because the two are largely identical, although the Cuba Libre contains actual lime juice and the Rum-n-Coke usually just has a sad-looking lime wedge—often so dry it could be used as a sponge—perched atop the glass.
Nonetheless, the Cuba Libre is an important part of cocktail history, and I’d be remiss not to cover it here. Still, it’s hard for me to even consider “spirit, soda, lime” as a cocktail, so in addition to the regular recipe, I’m going to give you my version. If you’ll forgive the hubris, I think you’ll find that the latter beats the former every day of the week.
The Cuba Libre was invented in Havana, Cuba’s capital, in the very early days of the twentieth century, as soldiers from the United States found themselves stationed in Cuba with plenty of time for R&R in the years immediately following the Spanish-American war. Cola had just come to the island, and at some point, someone had the bright idea to mix it with the local distilled liquor. Deliciousness ensued. The good people at Bacardi have an almost-surely apocryphal story involving a US military captain ordering the drink, a group of soldiers being intrigued enough to try a round themselves, and toasting with “¡Por Cuba Libre!” in celebration of the newly-liberated country.
By the 1930s, the drink was widespread through the south, but it took a 1945 song by The Andrews Sisters (called “Rum and Coca-Cola”) to popularize it throughout the country. Since then, by either name, it’s been a staple of just about every bar you could walk into, from absolute dives, to the highest-class joints. This long drink, typically served in a highball glass, contains a whopping twelve ounces of cola to about an ounce and a half of rum. In fact, here’s the official recipe:
That’s it. That’s the list. Pour over ice in a highball glass and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge. This is a fine summer sipping drink, and no one will look at you askance for imbibing it as is, but let’s take a look at my recipe, which brings the booze further to the front and adds a few ingredients for depth.
- 4 oz. Coca Cola
- 1.5 oz. Light Rum (Brugal is nice)
- .5 oz. Spiced Rum (I used Twenty Boat)
- .5 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- 1 tsp. Real Pomegranate Grenadine
- Dash Aromatic Bitters (Bittercube Jamaican #1)
Combine all ingredients except cola in a cocktail shaker over ice and short-shake (ie: shake for less time than you would a normal cocktail, since you’ll be further-diluting). Strain into a chilled double rocks glass with a single large ice cube, and top with cola. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Now, is that exactly a Cuba Libre? No. Which is why I included the true-blue recipe. But for my money, it’s a lot more interesting, and a lot more delicious. Give it a try; I think you’ll agree!
Liquors in parentheses are what I used when I made this recipe, and are included as suggestions.