Why Cuban cocktails offer an insight into the country’s incredible history

Posted: 01-Nov-16 09:04

While we all love kicking back with a daiquiri in hand, less people appreciate quite how politically significant many of Havana’s legendary long drinks actually are. Would you believe Cuban rum actually started with a shocking reputation?

Why Cuban cocktails offer an insight into the country’s incredible history

Famous Cuban writer Fernando G Campoamor penned:

There never has been and never will be rum as good as ours.”

And Campoamor’s words were quoted in a recent Rough Guides online feature discussing the cultural significance of cocktails on the island. However, as the article is quick to then point out, this claim may not be completely true.

Cuba's famous Daiquiri cocktail in Havana's Malecon

Back in the 18th Century, Cuban rum actually came with something of an awful reputation, a result of the ruling Spanish empire being fearful of colonies producing better quality alcohol than the motherland. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, islands like Jamaica and Barbados were fine tuning their fermentation methods, but in Havana processes remained rudimentary at best, and limited to local consumption only.

By 1862 things were changing, dramatically. Don Facundo Bacardi, a Spanish immigrant, arrived in Santiago de Cuba, in the island’s south, and, making the most of more relaxed protectionist laws enforced by Madrid, began making a smoother, lighter rum using technology usually involved in cognac production. Bacardi was born, and soon being exported back to the home market, with sales of this and other luxury items on Cuba itself also increasing as Havana became one of the richest cities in the Americas.

Cuba Libre in Fabrica del Arte, Havana

Skip forward another few years and freedom was something on the lips of more and more Cubans, who looked to other former Spanish colonies that had already gained their independence. A series of uprisings led to the involvement of the Americans in a short-lived war, circa 1898, eventually ousting imperial rule and establishing a new Cuba, albeit one heavily influenced by the United States.

Migration into Cuba went through the roof at this point- an estimated 1 million Europeans would arrive between 1900 and 1950, including an engineer named Jennings Cox. Whilst entertaining friends one evening the gin bottles ran out, and, desperate to find a replacement, he reached for the Bacardi, mixing this with lime juice, sugar, and water, christening this a Daiquiri after a nearby town.

This may not have been the birth-proper of the drink, though. The British Royal Navy were swilling grog during the 1700s, which was a mixture of rum, lime juice, water and sugar- essentially the same drink. And many other Caribbean islands were also experimenting with similar combinations.

Recipes for Cuba's most famous cocktails

Nevertheless, what this does show is how the history of alcohol on Cuba can unveil near-forgotten parts of its fascinating history, and this is well before anyone comes to the invention of the Cuba libre, arguably the country’s most famous concoction, which required the American-made Coca Cola (or substitute)

Still, with so much booze involved you can forgive us for not including everything in one fell swoop.


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