The name Cuba Libre was created to celebrate a Free Cuba, but the official recipe is made with one important ingredient from the United States.
The Revolution May Not be Televised, but it will be Delicious!
There's just something exotic about the island nation of Cuba. Hemingway loved it, and he lived there for 20 years. It was America's playground in the 1950's and it knew how to have a good time. I can't speak about Cuba today, but it seems there will always be a desire to travel somewhere with sun and white beaches.
Legend has it that this Cuban cocktail was invented in the early 1900s by a U.S. Army Captain to celebrate the independence of Cuba from Spanish rule after the Spanish-American war. It was simply a combination of local white rum and good old US of A Coca-Cola, along with fresh local fruit juice. Everyone agreed that this cocktail was a winner as they drank and shouted, "Por Cuba Libre," meaning "To a free Cuba!" Soon it became a favorite at the American Club in Havana as well as at the Havana Club itself, and was thought of as the national drink of Cuba by the Cuban people.
The drink migrated north to America during Prohibition. It became popular because the sweet Coca-Cola was easy to mix with and covered up lesser, cheap rums. American servicemen stationed in the Caribbean brought this drink home with them, and it became a favorite -- especially in the US South.
The Cuban Revolution of the late '50's and the political strife of the early '60's brought the party to a close. It also ushered in an era of mutual suspicion and near-war between the US and Cuba. Soon, trade embargoes were enacted by both countries, and one another's products were no longer allowed. The Bacardi company had to flee to Puerto Rico and later moved to America, but they managed to save their secret recipe and continue to make delicious rum in the process. They tell a very interesting story of their company and family history here. Cubans were no longer able to get Coca-Cola syrup, but they made do with local tuKola and other local rums.
Basic Ingredients for the Authentic Cuba Libre Recipe
It may sound easy, but the quality of the ingredients you use has a huge impact on the flavor of this cocktail. That's why I like a nice classic rum like Bacardi for this simple cocktail. It just seems to make the best Cuba Libre because it is a little sweet with hints of vanilla and mixes with the sweetness of the cola so well. First thing, start with fresh ice cubes and fresh-squeezed lime juice.
- White rum, like Bacardi Light rum, works great and is easy to find at most grocery stores and local liquor stores (if you can find it, Cuban rum is great, too. Or just about any of the rums from the various Caribbean islands work. But do stay away from the dark rum.)
- A generous squeeze of lime juice and a lime wedge
A Word About Coca-Cola
The Coca-Cola you use will determine whether you get an authentic-tasting drink. The year 1980 not only brought an end to what most people consider to be mid century modern, it was also when Coca-Cola switched from using cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their soft drinks. Other soda makers soon followed suit. Their thinking was that it would be cheaper to use home grown corn rather than expensive and labor-intensive sugar cane. Besides, people couldn't really taste the difference, right?
But our south-of-the-border neighbors in Mexico did not make that changeover, and have continued to use cane sugar to make their Coca-Cola. Fortunately it is available in most U.S. grocery stores.
The cane sugar flavor of the cola along with the sweet finish of the white rum make this drink delicious from start to finish.
Bar Tools Needed for a Cuba Libre Cocktail
Mixing up a Cuba Libre is pretty easy. You'll need the following tools:
- Bar spoon
- Bar knife
- Cutting board
How to Make This Easy Cuba Libre Drink
This is is so easy, you don't even need any real recipe. Just do the following:
- Pour the white rum into a large glass, like a highball glass or a Tom Collins glass, filled with fresh ice.
- Add in the Coca-Cola.
- Squeeze in the fresh lime juice or pour directly into the glass.
- Give it a few stirs with the bar spoon.
- Add some lime peel or a wedge of lime for garnish.
Tips for Success
It's easy to mix up a Cuba Libre. Keep these things in mind and you'll have a fun, refreshing cocktail:
- Always squeeze fresh lime juice rather than use something sweet that comes from a bottle, or worse yet, a plastic lime. The drink will have a more crisp, natural flavor. First time mixing one up, you may want to go easy on the lime juice, as it can be a bit tart.
- Use a white rum like Bacardi rum because it stands up to the Coca-Cola and creates a more balanced drink than a gold rum. While I like to mix with Bacardi, you can choose another Caribbean rum, but it may not have the consistency of this ever popular brand. Also, some American distillers are making good rums such as Wicked Dolphin brand from Florida.
- Use Mexican Coke made with sugar cane rather than American Coke made with high fructose corn syrup for the authentic sweetness of the original drink. American drinkers will notice the difference.
Frequently Asked Questions
A quality light rum like Bacardi is always a go-to for me when I mix this popular drink. I've read that some people think that a Cuban rum like Havana Club will take this cocktail to the next level, but for me it was hard to find so I stuck to the basics. I've also seen on the distiller's site that they recommend using their Carta de Oro Bacardi rum for an improved Cuba Libre. Having tried it a few times with aged rum, I will stick with the light rum since I prefer the taste of the original version.
There are different colas you could use. In fact, any of the soft drinks made from kola nuts will work just fine. I know that some people looking for healthy recipes will substitute Diet Coke, which is fine. Keep in mind that it will change the taste of the cocktail from the classic combination of rum and Coke. I've even seen people substitute ginger ale in their cocktail recipes. To me that is not a Cuba Libre, but to each their own.
I really love a properly mixed Cuba Libre or a classic Daiquiri on a hot day. If you like classic Cuban cocktails, don't forget about the Mojito or the El Presidente. Have you tried either of these drinks recipes? Any thoughts on the ingredients that you prefer?
Before you go, did you try this cocktail? Why not leave a comment in the comments section along with a rating? I always appreciate hearing from you and getting your feedback.
The Cuba Libre Cocktail is a Revolution in Good Taste
- 2 Ounces White Rum
- ¼ - ½ Ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 6-8 Ounces Mexican Coca-Cola
- Lime garnishes
- Place a scoop of fresh ice in a mug or highball glass.
- Pour in all ingredients and stir until mixed.
- Add lime wheels or wedges for garnish.