Cuba Libre, two words that resonate like a cry for all Cubans. This cocktail is more than a century old, it symbolizes the loss of the island of Cuba by the Spanish Empire, which starts the last years of its undisputed reign on the world and on the seas, which began 4 centuries earlier in 1492 thanks to the discovery of the region by Christopher Columbus.
It also marks the end of the Cuban War of Independence that raged on the island between 1895 and 1898. This war opposed the Cuban liberation army (Ejército Libertador Cubano) led by the famous Simón Bolívar and assisted by the army of United States of America to the troops of the Spanish colonial empire of King Alfonso XIII. This war was the last Cuban uprising against the Spaniards.
The American soldiers then stationed in the capital of Havana used to consume local rum with lime and Coca-Cola, a relatively recent drink as it was invented in Bay City, Michigan a few years earlier in 1886 by the pharmacist John Pemberton.
What is the origin of Coca-Cola?
It was indeed at the end of the Civil War that veteran John Pemberton began to seek a solution to his addiction to morphine contracted after many pains and wounds of war. He then looked for a drink that could help him to gradually overcome his addiction. This is how he discovered the invention of a Corsican pharmacist Angelo Mariani installed in Atlanta, the French Wine Coca, a mixture of Bordeaux wine and coca leaf.
After the Atlanta Mayor’s referendum of November 25, 1885, on the banning of alcohol, John Pemberton developed a version of the alcohol-free French Wine Coca that marked the beginning of a business empire now known and appreciated all around the world.
What is the history of Cuba Libre?
With a dazzling success, Coca-Cola quickly became essential on all American tables and more particularly among soldiers, who used to drink it with their ration of whiskey. They adapted this mixed drink to Cuba by replacing the whiskey with rum produced on the island. The drink was prepared directly in a whiskey glass and legend has it that the phrase comes from an American soldier who ordered the cocktail and would have made a toast “Por Cuba Libre!” This sentence was known as a leitmotif among US troops. However, the name of Cuba Libre would be older since a water and brown sugar based drink bearing the same name had already been known on the island for a few years. Fausto Rodriguez, advertising manager for the Bacardi company, however, claimed to be present on the day of the creation of the cocktail. He was 14 years old at the time and worked for the signal corps of the US Army in Havana.
However, it was not until the American prohibition era in the 1920s that this cocktail became a real success. Cuba, then the backbone of the American mafia’s smuggling, became the main importer of illegal alcohol to the United States, and Cuba Libre became one of the most popular cocktails. In 1945, the famous group The Andrews Sisters had huge success with their cover of the calypso song “Rum and Coca-Cola” written by Lord Invader. Later, with the Americans landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the Cuba Libre started to become popular in Europe.
With the Cuban revolution of 1959 and the embargo imposed on Cuba by the Americans, making Cuba Libre became impossible as you could not find the two main ingredients in both countries at the same time. The importation of Bacardi was prohibited on one side and the Coca-Cola on the other.
Today, the recipe is precisely codified as are most cocktails. It uses white rum, usually Havana Club or Bacardi Gold, Coca-Cola, squeezed lime and ice cubes. According to Anthony Dias Blue, author of The Complete Book of Spirits (2004), Cuba Libre once contained a dose of gin, but this is no longer the case today.
Nowadays, every tourist who visits Cuba drinks Cuba Libre and if for them, this drink no longer represents the victory of Cubans over the Spanish, it nonetheless symbolizes festivities and pleasure. Cuba Libre is believed to be the second most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, its popularity is probably due to the low cost of the main ingredients and the simplicity of its preparation.
- 1½ oz. white cuban rum
- 4 oz. Coca-Cola (or more)
- 4 wedges lime (including one for decoration)
- Whole ice cubes (no crushed ice)
- Place a highball glass in the freezer 20 minutes before preparing the cocktail.
- Once the glass is cool, place whole ice cubes, up to 1 inch from the top.
- Pour the rum.
- Squeeze 3 wedges of lime by hand, directly into the glass, on the ice cubes, making sure not to squeeze juice outside of the glass. You can use a small funnel.
- Place one of the freshly squeezed wedges in the glass.
- Pour the Coca-Cola on the ice cubes until they are covered, filling almost all the way to the top.
- Decorate the Cuba Libre with the remaining unsqueezed lime quarter, cut in the middle and placed on the edge of the glass.