Much of Cuba’s history can be found in the tale of Cuban rum. From the original aguardiente to the modern light-aged rums, its development has tracked the island’s economic and cultural shifts. Throughout much of that time, the name Havana Club has been closely associated with these distinctive rums from the Caribbean. It was a symbol of Cuban distilling and culture that helped the country overcome adversity and gain international renown. Keeping that in mind, we provide three cocktails that showcase the history of Cuban rum and feature Havana Club as their central ingredient.
Hecho en Cuba
Arriving in Cuba in the early 16th century, sugarcane was transformed into rum in the form of pot-distilled aguardiente, which means “firewater” in Spanish. This followed the universal law that humans will distill alcohol from whatever is available to them. At first, Cuba’s rum output was lower than that of neighboring Barbados and Jamaica. The Spanish monarchy banned rum manufacturing in the region for a long time because they were afraid that the new cane liquor would hurt sales of their wine and brandy. Based on this, we may say with considerable assurance that the original Cuban rums were excellent.
By the turn of the nineteenth century, the sugar trade had taken off. Cane replaced tobacco and coffee on island plantations. The islanders saw a gap in the market and put money into the machinery and facilities needed to produce rum. A huge, contemporary distillery at Cárdenas, in the northern part of the island, was constructed during this period and served as the original residence of Havana Club. With the introduction of column stills, the first producers of Cuban rum started to carve out a refined style that was uniquely theirs. An essential sign of the nation that may have been as the initial screams for independence sounded out across Cuba was the booming industries.
The significance of Cuban rum was magnified when the Ten Years War (1868–1878) broke out. Drinking it before battle and toasting the idea of an independent Cuba was a way for the islanders to strengthen their nationhood, which was still in its early stages.
During this time, the rebel fighters’ favorite cocktail—a strengthening mixture of rum, lime juice, and honey—became popular across the nation. The rebels drank this precursor to the daiquiri as it arrived because it came before modern developments like the ice machine and the Boston shaker. Here is a recipe for a more contemporary take on the classic that is ideal for serving chilled in the morning or as a cocktail to kick off the evening. The key is to use high-quality honey and, naturally, the correct rum. An appropriate homage to the early history of Cuban rum, the fragrant and grassy Havana Club Professional Edition D has a significant amount of fresh aguardiente:
- 50ml Havana Club Professional Edition D
- 20ml fresh Lime Juice
- 20ml Honey Syrup
Make a honey syrup by mixing equal parts hot water and honey. After dissolving all ingredients, let the mixture cool to room temperature and stir. Pour into an ice-filled tumbler and top with a lime slice after shaking with a generous amount of ice.
The newly formed Cuban Republic was a boomtown for rum manufacturing. Elegant rum was produced using column stills, charcoal filtration, and refill casks, which were well-received by thirsty island tourists. Rum from Cuba has already gained a reputation for excellence in the early 20th century. When, seemingly out of nowhere, ordering a stiff drink in the US became significantly more difficult, this stellar reputation became crucial.
A coalition of organizations, including the KKK, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Anti-Saloon League, effectively outlawed alcohol “for beverage purposes” after years of lobbying. Although it was a gloomy day for Americans on January 17, 1920, Cuban rum entered a new age. Adapting modern cocktail recipes to local ingredients and weather conditions was a common practice among cantineros. As a result of the influx of thirsty tourists, Cuban creations such as the Mojito, Daiquiri, and El Presidente—a Manhattan-type drink—became famous around the world in Havana.
- 60ml Havana Club 7-Year-Old Rum
- 20ml sweet white vermouth
- 2 bar spoons triple sec
- 1 bar spoon grenadine
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Orange for garnish
The first step is to freeze a cocktail. Next, throw everything into a mixing glass with some ice. Give it a good stir to cool and combine. Adjust the dilution according to your taste. Pour into a glass that has been frozen, and top with a twist of orange for garnish.
The Hemingway Daiquiri
Even after prohibition was lifted, Cuban cocktail culture maintained its reputation as a top-tier phenomenon. The Canchánchara was the progenitor of many of the famous scene cocktails; it was a cocktail that relied on the chemically balanced combination of mild rum and lime juice. The original Daiquiri stands tallest of all. The classic recipe calls for just three ingredients—rum, citrus juice, and a touch of sugar—but it’s open to new interpretations like any other classic drink.
It was re-mixed at bars all around the nation for decades, and some of the more famous versions went on to become drinking history. Mr. Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, who was famous for hunting, fighting, and publishing the occasional narrative here and there, was its biggest fan and hence the inspiration for this one’s moniker.
From 1940 onward, Hemingway experienced sporadic stays in Cuba. While on the island, he could alleviate his bad mood and deteriorating health by fishing and drinking rum in the pleasant weather. At this time, he supposedly relished nothing more than hanging out at El Floridita in Old Havana, where he would order a double daiquiri (a grapefruit juice and Italian Maraschino liqueur king-sized drink) and be considered perfect.
He felt the beverage had less of an impact on his diabetes because it did not include any sugar. Liquor and grapefruits are quite sugary, but Hemingway, the genius, either didn’t realize this or refused to acknowledge it.
The classic Daiquiri recipe calls for Havana Club 3-Year-Old Rum, and it does not disappoint. The fresh-cane grassiness, vanilla, and citrus peel aromas beautifully complement the bitter grapefruit and botanical funky maraschino.
- 100ml Havana 3-Year-Old Rum
- 30ml lime juice
- 30ml grapefruit juice
- 25ml Maraschino liqueur
This dish makes plenty for two people because it is double the usual serving size. Get the outside of the shaker icy by shaking all the ingredients with ice. Serve garnish-free after a fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Just one short year following the Cuban Revolution, in 1960, Hemingway departed Cuba. He only met Fidel Castro once before making his final trip to the US, contrary to what many have indicated afterward. There was talk of fishing. El Floridita’s Papa Doble still flows, and revolutionary Cuba has recognized its link to the great novelist.
A Look at Cuban Rum’s Potential
There is a lot to be happy about right now for those who enjoy Cuban rum. Around the world, you may find new brands that are experimenting with different takes on that signature light, dry style at stores and pubs. It appears that relations between the United States and Cuba, which have been chilly since the Cold War, are now warming up. As a result, Cuba might now be able to sell rum to its biggest and closest market, which the embargo has prevented. Although it is still far from definite, this would mark the beginning of a new era for Cuban distilling, ushering in an abundance of Cuban rum and, therefore, exciting new ways to enjoy it.