Por Cuba Libre Part 2: Some Rums And Drinks.


I’ve never had any curiosity about Bacardi products. I don’t know if that comes from being turned off by the fluorescent breezer drinks at the grocery store, or the notion that anything produced in such leviathan-like proportions must of necessity be meh at best, and possibly even quite blah. However, after reading a history of the Bacardi family I grew a little intrigued, and I decided to educate myself by making cocktails keeping with Cuban drinkskultur. Please say hello to daiquiri, mojito and of course Cuba libre.  For this experiment I chose Bacardi rums from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Half a bottle only, because science does not preclude caution.
Half a bottle only, because science does not preclude caution.

The reviews for Bacardi Superior white rum are pretty abysmal, but I wanted to make up my own mind and taste the company’s cash cow. After all this is what the empire was pretty much built on. Plus how bad could it be mixed with coke? Still, to avoid being stuck with pricey paint thinner in case it really did prove awful, I (originally) got half a bottle only. Fun fact, this white rum is actually aged in wood, but the colour it acquires is filtered out prior to bottling.

To balance things out a little, I also got the Bacardi 8 years old. It’s certainly well priced for an older rum and the reviews are more promising. Yes, I will mix with aged rum, crazy right?


Contrary to the scotch industry, rum production is not, as far as I know, governed by any rules. This can leave the consumer with many pressing questions, like is there sugar or colorant added to the rum after distillation? An interesting test for such things is measuring the ABV of the liquid inside the bottle and comparing it to what is stated on the label.  A discrepancy is a good indicator of possible additives. According to one site, Bacardi 8 has a measured ABV of 37% while it states 40% on the bottle. Things that make you go hmmmm.

You probably know that Bacardi used to be all about Cuban rum. In fact it was almost synonymous with it until they were expropriated, without compensation, by Fidel’s government in 1960.  Afterwards the company’s production and presence in Cuba obviously ceased, and most of the family went into exile. The new rulers/dictators of Cuba kept on using the Bacardi distillery, as well as its stock of aging alcohol, and produced rums there under different names like Caney, and for a while Havana Club (a legal battle is still raging between Bacardi and the Cuban government over the use of that brand name in the U.S.). The new operators did try to use the name Bacardi as well, because of the very strong brand recognition, but international law happened. Today Bacardi has distilleries in several countries, the bottle of white rum above is Puerto Rican, while the Bacardi 8 is from The Bahamas.

An impromptu party happened and I had to replace the bottle of white (you know you are).
An impromptu party happened and I had to replace the bottle of white (you know who you are).

The romantically named Cuba libre is sometimes known by the less fancy moniker of rum and coke, and without the lime it’s exactly that. Not the greatest of drinks to be sure, but should you be stuck in a place of questionable booze and tepid flat beer, it’s a good back-up plan. Cola will mask, at least for a drink or two, even the nastiest of rums and you can heap ice into it, which is harder to do with beer. It’s perhaps the world’s most popular mixed drink, Bacardi estimates there are over 6 millions Cuba libres ordered every day.

You get a drink in a Styrofoam cup and odds are good it's going to be nasty and stomach burn inducing.
You get a drink in a Styrofoam cup and odds are good it’s going to be nasty and stomach burning if you drink more than a couple.

Essentially the stories of the Cuba libre’s  creation go back to the U.S. intervention in Cuba, after the declaration of war on Spain in 1898. Probably around 1900, because that’s when Coke became available on the island. A bartender, who had some on hand for his American military clients, mixed it with rum and while serving it made the toast Por Cuba libre!  In other versions it’s an army officer that mixes the drink. In both cases the tipple was appreciated (this was the old Coke, pre-1903, the one with actual cocaine in it), the toast was apparently repeated and the name stuck. There are places where this drink is called the mentiroso, the liar, because Cuba still isn’t free. Also, simply because I really want to go scuba diving soon and I’ve been looking at places in the Cayman islands, apparently it’s typical there to make this drink with dark rum and not white like in Cuba.

The Cuba libre did not become really popular in the United States until the Andrew Sisters’ 1945 hit “Rum and Coca-Cola”, a song which is basically about sex tourism. It was eventually banned by network radio, but that was for mentioning an alcoholic beverage, not multi-generational prostitution. Different times eh? Another legacy from the 1898 war with Spain is of course Guantanamo. The United States pretty much strong armed the Cubans into amending their constitution (the Platt amendment) with several clauses profitable to the U.S., and by “strong armed” I mean basically saying, do this or we’re not leaving the island.

The Cuba libre,  should be a stiffer drink than most places make it. Recipes call for a 2 to 1 ratio or even 1 to 1, with a quarter lime squeezed in and dropped. I’ll use 1 cola to 1 rum, in order to allow the liquor’s taste to come through a little more.

It's a very hard drink to screw up.
It’s a very hard drink to screw up.

Even at half and half, Coke has such a strong and sweet taste and Bacardi rums  so smooth, I don’t want to say expressionless but rather light in taste, that they are completely overpowered. To the point were it was difficult to tell which was which between the white and the aged rum.

Really easy to drink, very forgettable.
Really easy to drink, not memorable.

The beauty of this drink is that it’s extremely hard to mess up, and that’s where it stops. Once or twice a year I’ll admit to craving the taste of Coke with a bit of a spike in it, but next time I’ll have to give it a go with a much fuller bodied rum. For science reasons only.

Verdict: No point in dropping the more expensive 8 year old into this. A good option when you need to hide the taste of cheap booze or the beer is flat and warm.

The daiquiri is a drink that like the margarita suffered unduly from the adult slushy syndrome. It appears that it might have been  created roughly at the same time as the Cuba libre, at the end of the 19th century, by a group of Americans working in Cuba for U.S. mining interests. Tired of drinking always the same things (or running out of gin depending on who you ask), one of their numbers, usually identified as Jennings Cox, created the daiquiri and named it after the little town where they worked. Considering the ingredients it’s unlikely that mister Cox was the first to stir them together, but it is quite possible he was the first to put ice into it. As he served the “new” drink to other gringos who perhaps where unaware of the classic combo, after all we find the same ingredients in the Ti-Punch and I’m guessing in the precursor of the gimlet the original grog, it is plausible one of them asked what it was called and boom, the magic of creation is in the naming.

What you'll need.
What you’ll need.

Today, the man this drink is most associated with is Ernest Hemingway, who was a very big fan of those made by Constantino Ribalaigua at La Floridita in Havana, though he eventually got the recipe tweaked to his own tastes. However the drink really became popular stateside when it was revealed that it was JFK’s pre-dinner drink of choice. I’d be curious to know what rum he preferred and if that changed after the missile crisis.

The proportions I used, 1,5 rum, 0,75 lime, 0,25 sugar make for a classic apéritif drink, and with the lightness of the rums struck very close to the perfect, for our tastes (I had help), balance.

Chilled glasses, for we are not savage beasts.
Chilled glasses, for we are not savage beasts.

Once you have had a well made daiquiri, you get what the fuss is all about. In its simplicity, in the balance, the interplay of the rum, the tartness, the caress of sweetness, you get one of the big classic drinks. Without doubt it ranks in the top tier of cocktails, right along with the likes of the martini, manhattan and margarita.

Verdict: Surprisingly, both rums worked really well in this drink, but produced completely different cocktails. Bacardi white gets a ton of outright hate in some corners of the internet and granted, it’s far from an artisan craft product. That being said I don’t think it deserves the scorn heaped on it. In the daiquiri it allowed for the full taste of the lime’s essential oils and brought a greenish quality to the drink, with a great pre-dinner bite that opens up your appetite.


The daiquiri made with the 8 year old was a completely different beast, smoky, woody, very nice but thoroughly different. In a pinch I would say I preferred the cocktail made with the white rum, which comes as a surprise because I’ve always been a dark/anejo rum snob. The anejo daiquiri would however be a great after dinner or post sundown drink, something to sip while listening to the waves. With its more complex and less ethanol-kick-you-in-the-teeth character you can take a little bit more time with it and drink it slowly.

Because it has more complex flavours, you can sip it longer, even as it warms up a touch.
Because it has more complex flavours, you can sip it longer, even as it warms up a touch.

The mojito, was insanely trendy more than ten years ago, but its star seems to have waned a little since, in North America at least. One author speculates that its revival was linked to the Bond film of 2002, Die Another Day. Not impossible, Bond films have a long tradition of marketing liquor, but it’s interesting to note that Daniel Craig ordered a Mount Gay and soda in Casino Royal and that drink (though one of my favs) totally failed to make a come back. Too simple perhaps? Not sweet enough? In any case…Though trendsetters probably see the mojito as passé at this point, sort of like cosmos, it wouldn’t be surprising if hipsters brought it back next summer in an ironic sort of way. In fact I’m calling it, and that will be much to bartenders’ chagrin, since making the drink well takes way more time than most other drinks due to the mint muddle.


However, if like me you live in an area of the world when winter means digging your car out of the snow regularly, and also you have a fuck basket that’s empty when it comes to trends, the mojito is a good reminder of sunnier climes and more pleasant activities.

Am I atoning for some forgotten transgression?
Am I atoning for some forgotten transgression?
That's more like it.
That’s more like it.
A nice drink while filling out log books? Yes please.
A nice drink while filling out log books? Yes please.

Bodeguita Del Medio, or simply Bodeguita is the Havana establishment that is to the mojito as La Floridita is to the daiquiri: it is renowned for them and Ernest Hemingway (seeing a pattern?) drank some there. At least that’s what management and a possibly fake Hemingway epigraph proclaim. Ernest never mentions the mojito in his writings, and there does not seem to be any known credible sources that would attest to him being there. The bar certainly is close to La Floridita, so it is possible Hemingway could have popped in at one point or another. We can’t say either way for sure, there’s a PhD thesis in this I just know it.The story has not hurt business though, tourists flock there and the bar has been the haunt of many luminaries and some less savory characters as well. The mojito could have been created there, certainly its bartenders made the drink popular. On the other hand, some authors think the mojito was created during prohibition and might have been inspired by the mint julep, in which case the Bodeguita creation story is tougher to sell, especially since that bar (under a different name) opened in 1942 only. Controversy, controversy, let’s have a drink and mull it over.

I use simple syrup instead of sugar, and if you don’t have a muddling tool (or anything similar) you can slap the mint a few times, which will allow you to make dubious dad jokes. The important thing is not to pulverize the leaves. You want to release the aromas, not to end up with a spinach smile. The proportions were  0.5 sugar, 1 lime juice, 2.5 rum, 10 mint leaves (muddled or spanked), then I threw in the ice and splashed some soda water on top.


Verdict: Extremely disappointing.  As much as I wasn’t expecting much from the Cuba libre, I had high hopes for the mojito. Both white and aged rum versions were unfortunately completely unremarkable, a big let down. The rums were totally drowned by the water, which was a surprise since I used my regular amount. I’m not saying I poured the drinks down the kitchen sink, but they were very bland and forgettable. If using these rums for mojitos half the amount of soda you usually use.

Am I a wiser and better person for these tests? I think so (I did find out about the Monroe doctrine among other things), plus we certainly had a pleasant evening of testing. As for Bacardi products they have a good price point, I think the white is nowhere as bad as some reviewers would have you believe, but it is the mass produced vodka of rums, mix accordingly. The 8 year old brings many extra layers of taste and is quite sippable on its own and very well priced if not overly characterful.

I think I will have to try the same three drinks with something much stronger tasting next, maybe Appleton’s or something like that.

See you soon, and cheers in the meantime.

4 thoughts on “Por Cuba Libre Part 2: Some Rums And Drinks.”

  1. early morning… reading this as I’m waiting for work to begin… spring around the corner… don’t feel like working much no more… maybe skip it and go mix some “light and sunny” drinks…

    1. Right there with you buddy. Just pressed some fresh OJ and I’m thinking a splash of rum would do wonders. Alas duties…

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