An aromatic Prohibition-era favorite
El Presidente was named in honor of an early 20th-century president of Cuba. Or maybe two different presidents (more about that in the Notes).
No need to worry about the name, though. What’s important to know is that this cocktail has a wonderful “nose,” with a slightly sweet flavor. It’s crisp and refreshing, a wonderful accompaniment to the savory appetizers you’ll be serving at warm-weather festivities.
And speaking of festivities, this Sunday is Father’s Day here in the US. Families will be gathering to toast the leader of the clan. So what could be more appropriate than a round of El Presidente Cocktails? Hail to the chief.
Recipe: El Presidente Cocktail
Back during the Prohibition era, Cuba was a favored playground for thirsty US citizens with the means to travel. They enjoyed the fun and sun, of course—Cuba had great beaches, restaurants, and entertainment. But it was the availability of booze that really drew Americans to the island.
Rum (especially white) is the liquor of choice in Cuba. So barkeeps served lots of rum-based drinks, many of which are still popular today. The Mojito came from Cuba, for example. As did the Daiquiri.
And of course El Presidente. There are a couple of different variations on this cocktail (see Notes), but the classic combines white rum with dry vermouth and orange curaçao. We like the version that cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich mixes, so that’s what you find here.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 1½ ounces white rum (see Notes)
- ¾ ounce dry vermouth (French vermouth—the white stuff)
- ½ ounce orange curaçao (see Notes)
- 1 dash grenadine, preferably Homemade (see Notes)
- garnish of an orange or lemon twist or peel (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir briskly until well chilled (20 to 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably once that has been chilled. Garnish (if desired) and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking can introduce small bubbles, which make a drink cloudy. This isn’t a problem when the ingredients are opaque (think citrus juice), but it can be unattractive when the ingredients are clear.
- When garnishing, it’s best to hold the citrus over each drink as you trim off a twist or peel. When you cut into the citrus, you’ll release some of its oils—and by holding the citrus over the drink as you do so, you’ll let the oils impart additional flavor and fragrance.
- Bacardi is the most popular brand of white rum in the US. It originally was distilled in Cuba, but moved its production to Puerto Rico after Fidel Castro’s government seized its Cuban assets.
- The Cuban distillery that used to produce Bacardi rum now makes a brand called Havana Club, which is marketed in most of the world except the US (because of a decades-long US trade embargo with Cuba—which finally appears to be in the process of ending). We’ve never tasted Havana Club (because it can’t be sold legally in the US), but many people say it’s better than Bacardi. If it’s available in your market, we say give it a try.
- BTW, if any of our readers have done a taste test between Bacardi and Havana Club, we’d love to hear your opinion on the two.
- Orange curaçao is an orange-flavored liqueur (similar to triple sec, but sweeter). Grand Marnier is a form of orange curaçao, and it works well in this drink. A somewhat cheaper alternative is the orange curaçao produced by Marie Brizard (that’s what we use in this drink).
- Our usual reminder: This blog is noncommercial and we’re not compensated for suggesting brands. We recommend only what we like and buy with our own money.
- Real grenadine is made from pomegranate juice and sugar (and sometimes orange blossom water). The brand of commercial “grenadine” you’re most likely to find at your local supermarket or liquor store (Rose’s) contains no pomegranate, just artificial flavors and coloring. We advise you to stay away from this, and instead make your own Homemade Grenadine. It takes just minutes, and you’ll be happy you did.
- Some recipes increase the amount of orange curaçao in this drink to ¾ ounce. That’s too sweet for us, but you might like it.
- Other recipes reduce the amount of dry vermouth to ½ ounce (while also keeping the orange curaçao at ½ ounce). This tastes unbalanced to us, but again you might like it.
- Some recipes use amber rum instead of white in this cocktail. We prefer white, but the amber rums do have additional flavor (and often some age to them), so that’s worth an experiment.
- The folks at Bacardi claim that amber rum was used in the original El Presidente Cocktail—which they say was created to honor President Mario García Menocal, who presided over Cuba from 1913 to 1921. Supposedly, Menocal wanted a cocktail that would surpass the Manhattan, which uses sweet (red) vermouth. So his version of El Presidente contains 2 parts gold (amber) rum, 1 part sweet (red) vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters. We’re not really sure who created this version of the drink, or when.
- But apparently the “classic” El Presidente (similar to the one we feature in this post) was created by Eddie Woelke at the Jockey Club in Havana, probably during the mid-1920s. He was said to have named it after then-president of Cuba Gerardo Machado, who served from 1925 to 1933.
“Such a swell drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “One of many that originated in Cuba.”
“Yeah, it would be fun to drink this at the source,” I said. “In Old Havana.”
“Well, it looks like travel restrictions to Cuba are easing for US citizens,” said Mrs K R. “Take a look at this article in the The New York Times.”
“Hmm,” I said, reading over her shoulder. “It says that beach holidays aren’t OK. But trips with an educational purpose make the grade.”
“Well, researching classic cocktails at their source is certainly educational,” said Mrs K R.
“We’d have to maintain a pretty full itinerary, though,” I said. “The article says no downtime is permitted for idle sightseeing.”
“Hey, no problem,” said Mrs K R. “We could easily spend a whole week in restaurants and lounges, researching authentic food and drink. We could learn all about classic Cuban dishes. You know—black bean soup, roast pork, arroz con pollo.”
“True, we could get months’ worth of recipes,” I said.
“And we’d be doing it all for the blog,” said Mrs K R. “It would be a service to our readers! Selfless of us, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “And don’t forget that Ernest Hemingway had a house in Cuba. He spent a time lot of time there.”
“And everywhere he went, he visited bars—lots and lots of bars,” said Mrs K R.
“Heck, tracking down all his old haunts could take a month, maybe two,” I said.
“With no downtime to worry about,” said Mrs K R. “Just hot, thirsty work.”
“That sounds like some serious education,” I said. “And of course we’d publish all our research on the blog. With pictures.”
“Right,” said Mrs K R. “Many shots of empty plates and glasses. Just to prove how diligently we worked.”
That’s my Mrs K R—always a tireless worker. With such a reverence for learning.
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