The History of the El Presidente Cocktail

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National Rum Day is quite possibly one of the very best reasons to drink rum. Our classic cocktail of the month is the El Presidente cocktail, because it is my favourite way to incorporate rum into my drinks.

El Presidente: A Cocktail Fit For a President

It is believed that the cocktail was created in Cuba during the prohibition years. While public drinking had been outlawed in the USA, it was still perfectly legal in the Caribbean, so many Americans would visit the islands with the sole intention of being able to enjoy a sociable cocktail. In fact, they would disembark from their cruise ships and ferries and be surrounded by locals trying to sell their fancy cocktail drinks to the thirsty tourists.

The El Presidente is thought to have originated in the Jockey Club in Havana, attributed to bartender Eddie Woelke, who named the drink after the Cuban president of the time, Gerardo Machado. A potent mix of rum, homemade grenadine, dry vermouth and curacao, it grew in popularity after prohibition had ended, spreading through bars in Florida before becoming a staple cocktail in the rest of America.

Another story suggests that the cocktail was actually created in 1913, in favour of President Mario Garcia Menocal. This tale comes from Bacardi, who insist that the original drink contained amber rum in the recipe. They say that the president was looking for a drink that was even more delicious than the Manhattan, and so the El Presidente was born. This version of the drink is made up of amber rum, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters.

In the 1950’s, all cocktails fell out of favour and the El Presidente all but disappeared. It is slowly starting to make a well-deserved come-back, so keep an eye out for it in your local bars.

Variations of El Presidente


While there are not very many variations on this drink, there is much discussion about the ingredients. Most bartenders prefer to use Bacardi as their white rum of choice, but Havana Club is a delicious alternative. Others prefer to use the amber rum mentioned above, which gives the drink an extra depth of flavour.

Some recipes call for more curacao, while others reduce the amount of vermouth. When mixing at home, we suggest playing with the amounts in order to get the balance that tests best to you. The grenadine is also worth paying attention to – homemade with pomegranate juice and sugar gives the drink a more authentic taste that is very different to the pre-mixed versions you’ll find in the shops.

So, lets raise a glass to one of the previous Cuban presidents!

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