A century of cocktail art in Cuba

For a century, Cuba has been famous for cocktails like the daiquiri and mojito. This tradition, which has become an art, continues thanks to the return of tourism and the reopening of historic bars in Havana.

First it was Drake, a drink tasted at 16e A famous English personal in the early 20th century, then El Tren, an amazing mixture of gin, barley and hot watere century, but Cuban cocktail art really exploded a hundred years ago and has made the island famous ever since. The introduction of Prohibition in the United States in 1920, which banned the production and sale of alcohol until 1933, “represented a huge boom for Cuba, because drinking was prohibited in the United States (…) people began to come to Cuba.”, And Havana “became the capital of cocktail art,” said José Rafa Malen, 70, president of the Cuban Bartenders Association. “Bartenders came, bar owners came, some even opened bars,” he explains.

In 1924, the Cuban Barmen’s Club, the first in Latin America and the second in the world, was established. Another decisive element is the production of light rum, made from molasses on the island since 1862, which will be the basis for many cocktails. Moreover, the “natural daiquiri” was created for the first time in Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast of the island, the cradle of this light rum (40°).

The latter was later popularized in 1922 by the Spanish immigrant Emilio González, known as “Maragato” in the capital. The custodian of this whole tradition, José Rafa Malen, remembers the recipe: “Rum, lemon juice, sugar and an ice cube” are mixed vigorously, all served in a cocktail glass. A few years later, another Spanish migrant, Constantino Ribalaigua, known as “Constante,” added crushed ice and a drop of maraschino, a cherry-based liqueur.

Crushed ice, ‘a huge innovation’

Crushed ice, ideal for the tropical climate of the Caribbean’s largest island, “represented a huge innovation and immortalized the daiquiri,” says Alejandro Bolivar, 59, who has spent thirty years as a bartender at Floridita, one of Florida’s historic bars. central Havana and a favorite of American writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). Constante started as a waiter in 1914, before acquiring the company, which is now owned by the Cuban government. The no less famous Sloppy Joe’s, frequented by Hollywood stars until the 1950s, reopened in 2012 after decades of closure.

The daiquiri, whose name comes from an area near Santiago de Cuba, is today known as the island’s national cocktail, along with many others. Among them is the famous mojito, whose ancestor, according to some historians, is a drink combining eau-de-vie and vinegared mint leaves, which was used medicinally by the British privateer Francis Drake during his brief stay in Cuba in 1586. Cuban libre (rum, ice cream, cola and a drop of lemon), which appeared with the introduction of Coca-Cola in the country after gaining independence from the Spanish crown in 1902.

Saoco cocktails, Presidente, Ron Collins, Havana Special, Isla de Pinos, Mary Pickford, Mulata and others are added to the list of classics.

Saoco cocktails, Presidente, Ron Collins, Havana Special, Isla de Pinos, Mary Pickford, Mulata and many others expand the list of classics. But this did not stop the creation of new drinks: in 2003, the Cuban Sergio Serrano Rivero won the world cocktail championship with a drink called Adam and Eve (rum, apple liqueur, white vermouth, angostura).

As Cuba’s tourism booms, visitors flock again to Floridita’s small room, next to a bronze Hemingway leaning against the bar, where red-clad bartenders impress with the confidence of their gestures. “It’s so good, I love it,” Italian tourist Elena Seioscolo, 35, said as she tasted the daiquiri. “Actually, I want to do it again in Italy. Knowing how it was made to copy the original (…),” he says.

Ernest Hemingway, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, drank a daiquiri made at his request: sugar-free, a double dose of rum, grapefruit juice and a touch of maraschino, recalls Alejandro Bolívar. “Working at this bar is a source of pride for bartenders all over Cuba, that’s why I call it the ‘holy of holies,'” concludes Jose Rafa Malen.

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