History of the Cuba Libre Cocktail

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A drink that celebrated the end of war and oppression in Cuba, the Cuba Libre is light, delicious and timeless. In an era where gin is king and vodka rules, the traditional rum, cola and lime has never lost its appeal. So how did this drink come to be one of the most popular cocktails in the world?

Who Invented the Cuba Libre?

The Cuba Libre is first thought to have been invented in the American Bar, Havana. The year was 1902 and Cuba had just won independence from Spain. All around, soldiers were singing, dancing and drinking, with chants of ‘Cuba Libre’ or ‘Free Cuba’ filling the air. Captain Russell headed to the bar and ordered a rum, cola and lime. The name for this new cocktail was obvious.

This story was corroborated by Fausto Rodriguez in 1965. The native Cuban man claimed to have
been working for Russell at the time the drink was ordered and insisted that
his version of events was true. Further evidence points to the fact that
Coca-Cola had begun trading on the island for the first time earlier that year.
The natives were mixing all kinds of cola-based concoctions at the time. The
Cuba Libre was one that stuck.

Variations of the Cuba Libre

The original rum used was Bacardi Carta de Oro, and Cuban rums are still preferred for a real
authentic taste. Coca-Cola is, of course, the cola of choice, and the drink
should be finished with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a lime garnish.

Obvious and regularly used variations tend to start with the choice of rum and cola. Bacardi is often switched for a spiced rum and the cola used is usually whatever is readily available. The real discussion comes around the lime, however. Should it be simply squeezed and left, or muddled for a deeper flavour? In a 1939 book called the Gentlemen’s Companion, the writer complains that the Cuba Libre was sloppily created and without imagination. He claims that the original drink is too sweet and that the lime should be muddled in order to extract the fruits’ oils that would help to tone down the sugar.

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Another option is the Cuba Pintada, which uses rum and club soda, with a tiny splash of cola to give
the drink that deeper brown colour. The Cuba Campechana, meanwhile, uses both
mixers in equal quantities.

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Bartender's top tip

Ice plays a crucial role in cocktails, not just for chilling but also for dilution, which can help meld flavors together smoothly. Use large, clear ice cubes or spheres for spirits-forward drinks like Old Fashioneds, as they melt slower and dilute the drink less. For more refreshing, highball-style drinks, ensure your ice is fresh and plentiful to keep the drink cold and vibrant.

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