Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Cuba Libre Cocktail

Cuba Libre Cocktail with Lime Garnish, on black acrylic

AKA Rum and Coke, this highball will slake your summer thirst

“Cuba Libre!” (Free Cuba!) was the battle cry of the Cuban Liberation Army during the country’s War of Independence (which became known as the Spanish-American War when the US intervened in 1898).  This rallying cry bequeathed its name to one of the world’s most famous drinks — one that many of us just call Rum and Coke. 

The Cuba Libre is often the first mixed drink that people sample in their youth.  Problem is, those college dorm bartenders tend to just pour glasses of rum and top them up with Coke — none of that fancy measuring!  And they generally leave out a key ingredient:  lime juice.  Which is a shame, because citrus takes the Cuba Libre to a whole ‘nother — and better — level. 

Lime adds a tingle of tropical delight that makes the Cuba Libre an excellent choice for long, slow sipping.  The drink is a tasty way to battle the hot afternoons we’re experiencing now in the US.  You can even skip the booze (but keep the lime) for a wonderfully tasty mocktail — perfect for youngsters, not to mention designated drivers.

So mix up a Cuba Libre — and free yourself from the summer heat.


Cuba Libre Cocktail in tall glass with straws and lime garnish

Recipe:  The Cuba Libre Cocktail

When making a Cuba Libre, the biggest decision involves how much lime juice to use.  Many recipes call for just the amount of juice that can be squeezed from a lime wedge.  Way too little in my opinion!  I prefer at least the juice from half a lime (but limes vary in size, so let’s say ½ ounce).  I often make this drink with a full ounce of lime juice, because I like citrus so well.  But that’s me — you should adjust to your own taste.

The next decision involves what kind of cola to use.  Coke or competitor?  Sweetened or sugarfree?  Well, I think Coca-Cola has the perfect flavor profile for this drink, so I suggest going with that.  And artificially sweetened soft drinks taste “off” in cocktails, so stick with the sugared version.  You’ll get a much better drink if you do.

This recipe takes a few minutes to prepare, and serves 1.

Ingredients
  • ½ - 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice (see discussion in recipe headnote)
  • 2 - 3 dashes Angostura bitters (optional, and not traditional; see Notes)
  • 1½ - 2 ounces light (white) rum (I use the smaller quantity if drinking these in the sun; may substitute an amber or dark rum, see Notes)
  • 3 - 4 ounces Coca-Cola
  • lime wheel or slice for garnish (optional; some prefer to add a squeezed lime half to the drink as a garnish)
Procedure
  1. Fill a tall (Collins) glass with ice cubes.  A large rocks (Old-Fashioned) glass works, too.  Add freshly squeezed lime juice and Angostura bitters (if using). 
  2. Add rum, then top with Coca-Cola.  Stir briefly to combine ingredients, and garnish with a lime wheel or slice.  Serve with or without straws.
Cuba Libre Cocktail in tall glass with lime garnish

Notes
  • This drink traditionally is made with light (white) rum.  Any decent brand will work.  In the US, Bacardi rum is available just about everywhere, and it works fine in this cocktail. 
  • We can’t buy Cuban-made rum in the US because of a trade embargo.  But if you can buy it where you live, I’d recommend trying it in this drink.
  • Although not traditional, an amber or dark rum makes a nice change of pace in this cocktail. 
  • I’m not a fan of spiced rums, but some people swear by them in this drink. 
  • Coca-Cola is an extraordinarily good mixer (as is lime juice).  So you can use a variety of different rums in this drink, depending on your mood.
  • Speaking of Coke, the full-sugar version has much more flavor than the diet iterations.  Yes, Coke carries calories (about 50 if you use 4 ounces in this drink).  So don’t use too much.  We find it easier to avoid overindulging if we buy small quantities.  Here at Kitchen Riffs central, we buy Coke in 8-ounce containers.  Yes, it’s much more expensive per ounce than those giant bottles.  But we’re not tempted to drink as much.  If we drink Coke “neat,” an 8-ounce bottle is more than enough.  After that, our palates just tire of the flavor.  BTW, I used a bottle in one of the pictures in this post because they photograph better, but it’s a bit cheaper if you buy the small cans.
  • We all know that Coca-Cola originally included cocaine.  But the company started to phase out that, um, ingredient in 1903.  So probably no one alive today has ever tasted Coke in its original, high-octane glory.
  • The original Cuba Libre recipe did not contain Angostura bitters.  But cocktail maestro David Wondrich swears that bitters combine beautifully with Coke — and I agree.  So do try this drink with bitters sometime (it’s a revelation).
  • Paul Harrington offers an interesting variation on this drink.  He specifies 1½ ounces light rum, ½ ounce gin, ¾ ounce lime juice, and 2 ounces Angostura bitters.  He shakes these together, then pours the mixture into an ice-filled tall glass and tops with 3 ounces of Coca-Cola.  There’s a quick stir to blend, then a garnish of lime.
  • There’s also a version of this drink that is served “up” (i.e., chilled but without ice) in a cocktail glass.  To make it, combine 1 ounce light rum, ½ ounce 151-proof rum (Lemon Hart, if you can get it), 1 ounce Coca-Cola, ½ ounce fresh lime juice, and ½ teaspoon simple syrup or sugar.  Shake in an ice-filled shaker, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lime wheel or slice.
  • In some parts of the world, the Cuba Libre is made without lime juice (and in those cases it's usually called Rum and Coke).  But you really owe it to yourself to add that hit of citrus.  It makes a much better drink, IMO, and it's the original recipe.  OK, I may have said that already.
Cuba Libre Cocktail in tall glass with straws and lime garnish, with Coca-Cola bottle

Elixir of Liberation

Cocktail romantics like to claim exotic origins for their favorite drinks.  And with a resounding name like “Cuba Libre,” this one is just begging for some myth making.  So of course, some people insist that the drink was invented by Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War — while they were enjoying some off-duty moments at a bar in Old Havana, you see. 

Problem is, the Rough Riders left Cuba in 1898, but Coca-Cola probably didn’t become available there until 1900.  Oops.  Of course, some diehards maintain that the Rough Riders actually carried bottles of Coke with them during the war, and used it to make the first Cuba Libres.  Strikes me as farfetched, but whatever.

In any case, it’s pretty clear that the Cuba Libre — like the Classic Daiquiri and the Mojito Cocktail — did originate in Cuba, probably sometime around 1900. The drink’s popularity then spread quickly throughout North America and the rest of the world.

By the Second World War, the Cuba Libre was among the most popular drinks in the US.  In 1945, the Andrews Sisters even had a hit song called “Rum and Coca Cola” — and it was no doubt popular in part because lots of folks were enjoying the drink of the same name.  (The song’s lyrics were also a tad risqué, but the Andrews girls claimed not to notice.)

Then as now, many young adults probably launched their drinking careers with a Cuba Libre.  With its mix of sugary soft drink and demon rum, it’s sort of halfway between youth and adulthood.  But being kids, most novice drinkers just combine rum and Coke, ignoring the lime.  Callow youth:  They’re stunting their growth.

Well, time to put away childish things.  Man up!  Add some lime juice.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Classic Daiquiri
Mojito Cocktail
Tequila Sunrise
Mai Tai
Planter's Punch
Piña Colada
Gin Rickey
Pimm's Cup
Bacardi Cocktail
Cocktail Basics

88 comments:

  1. We used to down cuba libres like it was the last day here, but you´re so right about leaving the lime out! I still love a good one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Paula, this really is a fun - and easy! - drink. But as you say, don't leave the lime out! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  2. Hmm, I never thought of a rum and coke as the same as a Cuba Libre; without the lime it's just a soda with booze. With the lime it's a cocktail!

    One of my classic favorites...but ONLY with the 'real thing.' You know what I'm talking about. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Barb, I expect at many places these days if you ask for a rum and coke, that's what you'll get - no lime (or maybe a bit of lime garnish). Not a classic Cuba Libre for sure; but leaving out the lime has just become the lazy man's way of mixing the drink, alas. And one does need the real thing! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  3. Oh my. I had these in Mexico, and I completely forgot about them. Thanks for reminding me!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi CHef Mimi, happy to oblige! Now go mix yourself one - with lime, of course. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  4. I used to live near a restaurant called Cuba Libre (in Philadelphia) and they made one of the best Cuba Libre's I've ever had (not surprised lol!). Great photos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Alyssa, I'm not surprised they made a great Cuba Libre! They'd probably have been out of business otherwise! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

      Delete
  5. I had one of these in Cuba - just for the fun of it. I haven't had one since - I must! (for old times' sake)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Maureen, worth trying again! It's a pretty good combo, and more subtle than you might think. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  6. This is such a handsome drink. Well, when I was younger at the age when we all thought we were invincible, My buddies and I used to drink Rum and Coke a lot. But whenever there wasn'tt enough money to buy more Rum, the name of the drink became more like "Coke and Rum." Hahaha! Good fun memories. Thank you, John! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ray, Coke and Rum sounds like a fine drink! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  7. Oh yum I drank these in Cuba! A really lovely cocktail, now I need a beach lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Natalie, yeah, I need a beach too! And one of these, of course. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  8. Let's see - what did a good southern girl always have stashed in her dorm room? Bottles of Coca Cola and a bottle of Bacardi rum! :) We just called it rum and coke but then without the lime, I guess that's exactly what it was. One of my college roommates still drinks it to this day. You have to know that you now have me craving the real thing with lime. Now just need to pick up some bottled coke from Costco. It's made in Mexico and is so much better than the Coke made in the states. Apparently it's made with pure cane syrup. No artificial sweeteners for me. :) Thanks for the inspiration John!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi MJ, probably these days if you ask for a rum and coke, that's what you'll get - so many people have forgotten that originally the drink included lime. But it's so much better with the lime! And now that you're out of college, you can afford it! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  9. Rum & Coke is one of my father-in-law favoriate drinks , when out he tells the waiter / waitress how he wants his . .. well lo & behold you posted rum / coke , I made him one this evening saying it was a new drink , Dad took a sip and said dang Nee this drink is a 'Cuba Libra Cocktail' ,I sshowed him the post and bookmarked it as one of his favoriates places ...thanks for sharing :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nee, your father-in-law sounds like a good sort! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  10. A true oldie but goodie. I think we all grew up with rum and Coke as our gateway cocktail. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carolyn, it really remains a goodie. Not one I'd want all the time, but really so nice every time I have one. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  11. Rum and coke - now we are talking. Next time I will add the lime and think about the bitters.
    I know that coke used to contain cocaine and also used to be sold as a headache remedy. In fact, it is the one thing that takes away my tension headaches when all pills fail to do the job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Suzanne, definitely try the lime - it adds another dimension, and one I think you'll like. I like the bitters too, but I'm a bit less sure that you'll like those. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  12. That is one kicked up rum and coke! My husband and I always debate on the issue of limes in the rum and cokes and now I can give him proof. You must have limes after all you don't want scurvy.....Have a super week and take care, BAM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bam, I always find that avoiding scurvy is a good practice. ;-) You can tell your husband he's wrong! Although the way the drink has evolved, lots of people skip the lime when they make this drink. But IMO that's like skipping the dry vermouth when you make a martini - the vermouth adds complexity and flavor, just like the lime does here. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  13. I never knew a Cuba Libre was basically a rum and coke! A GOOD rum and coke!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Liz, it certainly started out as the same thing, although one could argue these days they're different; but they shouldn't be! The lime really makes a difference. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  14. Hi John, great posting & excellent photography skill. Arhhh... I love rum and coca cola, one my all time favorite. When drink this cocktail must listen to The Andrews sisters "Rum And Coca Cola" song. :)

    Have a great week ahead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amelia, that Andrews sister song is a hoot! And I agree this is a great drink. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

      Delete
  15. I've had Rum with Lime, Pepsi with Lemon and yes, Rum and Coke but, I've never had a "true" Cuba Libre Cocktail. That will be changing ASAP!

    Cheers John!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Louise, it's worth trying the real thing! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  16. Hey John ... You do know it's National Tequila Day, right?

    :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi CJ, ;-) the national this or that days have gotten kinda ridiculous, haven't they? Strange they wouldn't make tequila day May 5, which is when most of the US has tequila on the brain. I think my favorite national day is December 30th - National Bicarbonate of Soda Day. Still trying to figure out a recipe for that one. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  17. gorgeous clicks for a refreshingly zingy sip, what we loved about this is the angostura bitters and lime really add a great depth of flavor, thanks for sharing
    HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kumar, this is indeed a zingy sip, and the bitters do add some nice depth of flavor. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  18. Oh now there is where I have been going wrong! I have never been a fan of rum and coke but perhaps it is because I have never tried it with lime. Thanks for sharing... Is it Friday yet ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gourmet Getaways, it's definitely the lime that makes all the difference. ;-) And it can be Friday if you want it to be! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  19. I always felt so mature when I asked for a cuba libre when I probably wasn't even 21. Just having coke made it special because we didn't keep that in our house! But lime definitely works and gives it that certain cache. As does that glass in the top picture. Totally love that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Abbe, we almost never had soda when I was little, so Coke was always a big deal, too. And that glass in the top picture is probably even older than the invention of the Cuba Libre - it's an oldie. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  20. I love the idea of adding a bit of Angostura to the classic Cuba Libre, it gives such a nice touch.
    The pictures are gorgeous, just looking at them is already refreshing :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Daniela, the bitters really do add a nice ping! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

      Delete
  21. There's nothing like a good cocktail mid-week. Just to take the heat off :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kiran, it's really important to take that mid-week heat off. ;-) And this one will do the job. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  22. I'm always thirsty every time I visit here. Love this cocktail and the photos! Well done John!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anne, sorry about that thirst thing! The Summer Sippin' Series is a lot of fun, isn't it? ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

      Delete
  23. Had a bad rum and coke experience in college but I enjoyed you story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Debra, too bad about that! But I suspect you aren't alone. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  24. Lovin' all the cocktails. Never tried a rum and coke with lime. Gotta try this one. Great photos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bill, try it this way and you'll be wondering where the lime was all your life. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  25. Replies
    1. Hi cquek, I hear it calling "cquek, cquek" too! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  26. I haven't had one of these since a trip to Mexico. Thanks for reminding me!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Chef Mimi, having one of these is a lot cheaper than another trip to Mexico! Think of this drink as a moveable Mexico. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  27. Huh, I had no idea rum and coke was an actual measured drink, let alone with lime! Last time I had one it was a 20oz Coke, drank to the top of the label and filled with Bacardi 151. In my defense I was ~22. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bob, a lot of people never measure any drinks! But most of them are better if you stick to some sort of ratio (although Coke is a pretty forgiving mixer). Good thing you diluted the Bacardi 151 with all that Coke - otherwise you could have set your drink on fire! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  28. I really appreciate all the history you provide behind your recipes. It makes it so interesting and really sets your blog apart from others. I don't drink pop and haven't in a decade, but I'll just take the lime and rum :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Laura, lime and rum combine quite well! ;-) Thanks for your kind words, and comment.

      Delete
  29. Looks incredibly refreshing John! I love citrus in my coke too so I can something imagine what this tastes like! Beautiful colour!

    Nazneen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nazneen, citrus and Coke is a nice combo, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  30. Now this looks like quite the drink! So much better than the "cheap" version offered during my younger years :) Thank you for sharing it with us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Monet, during our younger years I guess the cheap versions were probably more affordable to most of us! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  31. Rum and coke a classic drink. I don't think I have had it with the lime before, sounds great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Dawn, it's terrific with the lime - well worth trying, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  32. I used to drink quite a bit of whisky coke in my college years when I gwent out with all the friends to clubbing (that sounds like so long ago! haha..) But I think I'll like your version with dark rum and lime juice even better. Way more sophisticated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amy, do try rum with coke - the flavor blends better than whiskey, IMO. And the lime adds some wowzer to the drink! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  33. Another gorgeous looking drink! Love the lime addition

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ashley, the lime really boosts the flavor of the drink! Truly nice. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  34. An interesting name... Unfortunately, I am not a big fan of this cocktail as I cannot stand Coca-Cola.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rosa, definitely not the drink for you, in that case! I used to hate Coke when I was a kid, though I like it OK now. But I rarely drink it outside of a cocktail! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  35. That first glass is gorgeous. I would love a set of those! This is a great sounding cocktail and I definitely agree - rum and coke is raised to a much higher level with a squirt of lime xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Charlie, I'm really lucky to have those glasses - they're from my great grandmother. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  36. Wow, the photography is amazing John! And I could easily slip down one of these in this summer heat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Yvonne, this is a great summer sipper, that's for sure. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

      Delete
  37. I'm loving your line-up of cocktails...keep them coming!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Erina, cocktails are so much fun to write about - all of that history (a lot of it probably made up!). Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  38. You reminded me of the day I came home with a bottle of vodka, so proud I was going to make a cuba libre... "But that's with rum...". Oops!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Alex, well, I guess vodka and Coke isn't a bad drink either. ;-) Really funny story - thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  39. Wish I could create such stunning,sexy beverage pictures ! What kind of particles your camera made of?! - You're a magician, John :)
    (Many thanks for dropping a kind comment over my guest-post at Maureen's blog)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nusrat, happy to leave that comment - that was a great guest post. And glad you like the photos! They're loads of fun to take, and coming from such an accomplished photographer, that compliment means quite a bit. Thanks for that, and the comment.

      Delete
  40. Need to check out Angostura. My first hangover was caused by a good amount of coke and dark rum mixture. haha, I am so sure that lime would have made it all better! ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Helene, the lime will do the trick! It really does add a nice flavor note. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  41. It appears that my earlier comment didn't go through...hopefully today it will. This is my husbsand's cocktail of choice. He uses Barcardi Limón for extra flavor even though it isn't authentic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Karen, sorry about your earlier comment! Blogging software can be weird sometimes - I know I lose comments on various sites, too. I can see using Barcardi Limón (or at least I think I can; I've never tried it), though I wonder how that'd play with the lime juice. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  42. As a person who's not much a drinker, I have been learning a lot about drinks from you! ;) Really, it's been a great education as I can learn about history, the name of origin and all the ingredients that goes to the drinks. I'd love to drink this. Wow I haven't seen the classic coca cola bottle for a long time. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nami, check your supermarket for that Coke bottle - they carry them. They won't have many because most people buy huge quantities of Coke, and these are only 8 ounce bottles. Anyway, this is a perfect drink for someone who doesn't drink much - just cut way, way back on the rum, or even eliminate it entirely! The drink won't be quite the same, of course, but you'll be enjoying the lime, which really is much of the job of the drink, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  43. Made a few of these the other night after seeing this post. I used Mexican coke for real sugar. But wow the lime really did elevate this drink from more than a rum and coke, I was quite surprised. Will make one tomorrow night for national rum day too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi JcobCrim, isn't the lime so nice in this? Great way to celebrate National Rum Day! I'm glad you like it, and thanks so much for letting me know.

      Delete
  44. This is really similar to something I used to drink back in the day. Love your presentation as always mister. No one does cocktails like you do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kim, it's a really fun drink! So sorry you can't have alcohol these days, but with this one the Coke and lime is almost as good. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

      Delete