Mightier than a mere rum and coke, the Cuba Libre is a classic cocktail built for sipping outside in the heat. A perfectly executed rendition can have you dancing in the street like nobody’s watching.
Born in the early 20th century in the wake of the Spanish-American war, the Cuba Libre is a victory lap of sorts, celebrating independence. Part of its popularity was due to the introduction of Coca-Cola to the island nation at about the same time. Legend has it that the first batch was mixed in 1900 at a bar in Havana. Some American soldiers down the bar caught wind of the refreshing beverage and gave it a spin.
It’s been wildly popular ever since, in nations well beyond just the States and Cuba. Somewhat ironically, since the embargo era began in the late 1950s, it’s been nearly impossible for Cubans to get their hands on Coke and for Americans to procure Cuban rum. Assembling a truly authentic version of the drink — one that celebrates genuine independence — requires some illicit activity. That, or rum from elsewhere in the Caribbean.
But the best versions free themselves from the shackles of mega brand sodas and boring rums. Instead, go with slightly different variations and a ton of citrus. At least that’s what Alicia Perry would do. She has one of the highest cocktail IQs in the business and runs the show at esteemed San Diego bar Polite Provisions. We picked her brain about making the ideal Cuba Libre.
In terms of rum, she prefers Havana Club 7-Year, with its notes of banana bread, dark caramel, and toffee. Beyond that, it’s all about Mexican coke and plenty of fresh lime. Perry likes her rum in a tall glass with well-muddled lime wedges. “It’s essentially the same method one would utilize to prepare a caipirinha,” she says.
“I top off with the Mexican Coke, and enjoy with a lime wedge,” she says, an important caveat given that particular version of Coke’s sugarcane core (not all Cokes are the same, it turns out). She loves the way the rum stands up to the heavy zest, too. “I end up squeezing the lime garnish at some point, possibly overkill to some, but thoroughly enjoyed by me.”
So, ready a cigar, find some decent rum, and settle into the lovely lifestyle that is governed by the Cuba Libre.
As the folks at Death & Co. suggest, a little lime can go a long way in this definitive drink. “It’s an inspired choice, because lime peel is a key ingredient in most colas, so the juice draws that flavor out of the cola while also cutting through its sweetness,” reads Cocktail Codex. That, and the sugarcane makeup of rum works beautifully with the subtle spice of the soda.
- 2 oz white rum (we suggest Diplomatico Planas)
- .25 oz fresh lime juice
- 4 oz cold Coca-Cola
- 1 lime wedge for garnish
Method: Pour the rum into a highball glass, then add 3 ice cubes. Stir for 3 seconds. Add the lime juice and cola and stir once. Garnish with the lime wedge.
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