Cuba Libre, mojito, daiquiri… How did the cocktail become one of Cuba’s emblems?

The introduction of prohibition in the United States in 1920, which prohibits the production and sale of alcohol Until 1933, “It represented a huge boom for Cuba, because alcohol was banned in the United States (…) people started coming to Cuba”and became Havana “the capital of cocktail art”says José Rafa Malen, 70, president of the Cuban Bartenders Association. “Barmen came, bar owners came, some even opened their own bars” explains on the spot.

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In 1924, the Cuban Bartenders Club was founded, first in Latin America, second in the world. Another crucial element, Light rum production on the island since 1862, made from molasses and will be the base for many cocktails. The “natural daiquiri” was created for the first time in Santiago de Cuba (southeast), the cradle of this light rum (40 degrees). The latter was later popularized in the capital in 1922 by the Spanish immigrant Emilio González, known as Maragato. The custodian of all this tradition, José Rafa Malen, recalls the recipe: “rum, lemon juice, sugar and an ice cube”, 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, ideal for the tropical climate of the Caribbean’s largest island, “represented a huge innovation and immortalized the daiquiri”, says Alejandro Bolivar, 59, thirty of whom work as bartenders at Floridita, one of the historic bars in 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. Not far away, Sloppy Joe’s, frequented by Hollywood stars until the 1950s, reopened in 2012 after decades of closure.

These new cocktails expand the list of classics

The daiquiri, whose name comes from an area near Santiago de Cuba, is now known as the island’s national cocktail, along with dozens of others. Among them, the famous mojito is a drink that combines sweet water and crushed mint leaves, which some historians believe its ancestor was used medicinally by British privateer Francis Drake (1540-1496) during a brief stay in Cuba. In 1586. Or even the Cuban libre (rum, ice cream, Coca-Cola and a splash of lemon), which appeared in 1902 with the introduction of Coca-Cola in the country after gaining independence from the Kingdom of Spain.

Cocktails hello, the president, ron collins, specific to air, Pino Island, Mary Pickford, mulatto… expand the list of classics. But this does not prevent the creation of new drinks: Cuba in 2003 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 are flocking back to Floridita’s small room, next to a bronze Hemingway leaning against the bar, where red-robed bartenders marvel at the confidence of their gestures. “She’s so good, I love her”Elena Seioscolo, a 35-year-old Italian tourist, enjoys a daiquiri. “Actually, I want to do it again in Italy. To know how to copy the original (…)», he says. The American writer, winner 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 Bolivar. “Working at this bar is a source of pride for bartenders all over Cuba, so I call it the holy of holies”concludes José Rafa Malen.

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