‘Cuba’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘rum’, and Havana’s bars – and the cocktails born out of them – have played a massive role in the recent mixology revival.
Many of Cuba’s cocktails are now enjoyed all over the world, whether by the beach, in nightclubs, or in bars and restaurants. Some of these you might have heard of before, others less so.
1. The Mojito
One of the most famous Cuban drinks, and one of the most famous cocktails in the world, the Mojito is usually made with rum, sparkling water, sugar, lemon juice, ice, and mint.
In Havana, many bars will also add a splash of Angostura bitters to balance out the sweetness, while icing sugar is often mixed with mint leaves – rather than cane sugar – or some establishments simply use sugar syrup.
The Mojito was the favorite drink of author and Havana resident, Ernest Hemingway, and, thanks to its combination of sweet sugar, sharp citrus, and herbaceous mint, the mojito is a popular summer drink.
2. The Daiquiri
The Daiquiri was named after the rum-producing district in Cuba, and this cocktail is perhaps one of the best known around the world. It’s also the traditional drink of the renowned Floridita bar in Havana.
A Daiquiri is typically made with rum, citrus juice (usually lime juice), and sugar or another form of sweetener. It’s one of the six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury’s classic book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
There are many variations of the Daiquiri, such as the Daiquiri Floridita – which features less sugar and the addition of a maraschino liqueur – the Hemingway Daiquiri – similar to the Floridita but it also contains grapefruit juice – the Banana Daiquiri or Strawberry Daiquiri.
3. The Piña Colada
While the Piña Colada doesn’t originate from Cuba but from Puerto Rico, this refreshing drink is popular in Cuba and is a huge part of the traditional mixology of the island. In fact, you’ll find them in pretty much every bar in Cuba.
The Piña Colada is made with rum, cream of coconut or coconut milk, and pineapple juice, and it’s usually served either blended or shaken with ice.
It’s sometimes garnished with a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry, or both, and it’s the perfect way to relax on a hot, sultry day.
4. The Cuba Libre/ Cubata
Made from a refreshing blend of rum, Coca Cola, ice cubes, and a squeeze of lemon or lime, the Cuba Libre – which translates to “free Cuba” – became popular when bottled Coca Cola was first imported into the country from the U.S. after Cuba won independence in the Spanish-American war.
In Spain, it’s instead known as the Cubata, which is the name it is more commonly recognized by around the world.
While drink critics often consider the Cuba Libre mediocre, there’s no denying that the drink’s historical significance, its simplicity, and its accessibility make it a firm contender among Cuba’s most famous alcoholic drinks.
5. El Presidente
The El Presidente cocktail became popular in the 1920s and was named after former Cuban President, Gerardo Machado, who governed the country between 1925–1933.
This is a pretty special cocktail, as some mixologists believe it is the only bona fide classic cocktail that is supposed to use blanc vermouth (Chambéry vermouth) which is harder to find, and is frequently mismade with dry vermouth.
Today, the cocktail is most frequently made with rum, orange curaçao, vermouth, and grenadine and, as per tradition is served in a glass with cherries and orange peel.
Variations of the drink sometimes use other orange liqueurs rather than curaçao, however, as the drink is traditionally meant to be red in color, blue curaçao is generally avoided.
The red coloring is achieved by using red curaçao, or, when paler colors are used, the red comes from the grenadine.
6. The Saoco
The Saoco is a traditional Cuban cocktail which uses just a few ingredients: rum, coconut water, lime, sugar or honey, and ice.
Saocos were made by poor communities in Cuba who used their resourcefulness to make this refreshing drink out of whatever ingredients they had access to.
Havana Club 3 Años is the rum of choice for this cocktail and if you can carve into a green coconut to extract the juice when they are in season, you’ll get a true taste of an authentic Saoco, and can even serve the cocktail up in the empty shell of the coconut.
The Saoco is a refreshing and simple cocktail which has been made and enjoyed by generations of Cubans.