Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Cuba Libre!

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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Cuba Libre!

Not the most dangerous looking cocktail I've photgraphed, but looks are deceiving.

Matthew Hooper

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Today, I’m making a nice, simple, easy classic: the Cuba Libre. Spiced rum and cola — what’s not to love? And now, in classic Hooper tradition, I’m going to make it more complicated. Let’s have some fun. Here’s the recipe.

Cuba Libre

2 oz Homemade Spiced Rum

1 oz Triple Sec

½ oz lime juice

2 shakes orange bitters

Mexican Coca-Cola

Shake all ingredients but the cola and strain into a pint glass with ice. Top with cola. Garnish with a generous lime wedge.

House Spiced Rum

1 bottle Mount Gay, Pusser's, or Goslings Rum

4 tsp vanilla extract

5 inches of orange peel (no pith, please)

6 allspice berries

3 small cinnamon sticks (2 inches)

3 whole cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

10 whole black peppercorns

2 slices fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Let rest at least 72 hours in a cool, dark place. Strain into a bottle for later use.

The Cuba Libre is basically a rum and Coke with a generous hit of lime juice. According to tradition, it dates back to the 1900s, when an American soldier stationed in Havana added some cola and lime to his rum and exclaimed, “Cuba Libre!” The name stuck, and so did the drink. Bacardi promoted this cocktail forever. Americans love their soda and booze cocktails.

This classic will never go out of style.

In my time behind the stick, I’ve gotten more calls for a Captain Morgan and Coke than any other rum brand. Personally, I consider this a shame. Captain Morgan doesn’t have much of a pedigree, as rums go. It was invented in the ‘80s, doesn’t use a very good rum as a base spirit, and doesn’t even taste like spice very much. If you taste it neat, you’ll probably get some vanilla notes and not much else. Vanilla and cola do go together nicely, but I prefer my spiced rum to be, well, spicy. I’ve adapted this spiced rum recipe from the Cates' version in Smuggler’s Cove. (This is an amazing tiki cocktail book and it’s on sale now, just saying.) Every spice that plays well with rum is in this bottle. Save this one for Christmas; it’ll be fantastic with eggnog. (Hold that thought for later.)

One surprising revelation from this experiment is that cola is, by itself, rather spicy. With the right combination of spices, you can pull apart humble Coca-Cola and find the cola nut, ginger, and orange notes that lurk in this ubiquitous beverage. It’ll open up your humble Coca-Cola in a brand new way.

Let’s talk ingredients:

Spiced rum: If you aren’t a fan of waiting three days for your rum and Coke, I’d recommend another dark rum like Pussers or Gosling’s. Bacardi is a natural choice. I’m not sure that any bottled spiced rum on the market will be great here. I’d be tempted to try Bacardi’s own spiced rum, simply because I know the pedigree of the rum involved. Most spiced rums will provide vanilla and cherry notes, but not much else. We can do better, if we spend the time.

Triple sec: I like to use a little triple sec to broaden the citrus notes in any cocktail involving lemon or lime. I’m currently using Juarez triple sec. Tequila brands are starting to make their own triple secs. Apparently, they want to sell all the margarita ingredients. I haven’t found anything remarkable yet, but it’s interesting to try.

Orange bitters: Some more orange spice notes here, to balance out the lime and sweet cola.

Lime juice: Always fresh. You can go up to a full ounce of juice if you’d prefer. I like lime juice a lot, so I always go big here.

Cola: I taste-tested several brands of cola. Fentiman’s has some peculiar herbal notes I can’t quite identify. It tastes like a soda that wants to be cola, but doesn’t want to hang with the riff-raff. Not a fan. I have no idea what Moxie soda is, but it’s not cola and it’s not good. In the end, I settled on classic Mexican Coca-Cola for the mixer. Mexican cola uses cane syrup instead of corn syrup as its sweetener, which lets it marry up with rum much better. You don’t need a great deal of soda in your glass. I use less than a third of a bottle when I make this drink. However, the soda is the primary sweetener in the drink. You don’t want to go too light on the cola, or the cocktail won’t balance. I keep the bottle close at hand and refill my glass as I drink. It’s a great way to liberate a summer evening from the cares of the week. Jarritos makes a cola flavor, and there’s also the Mexicana agave cola. If you encounter another Mexican-made cola or a locally bottled cola sweetened without corn syrup, it’s worth a shot.

If you’re looking for an NA option, lime and cola all by themselves work just fine. I’d urge you to explore some of the smaller soda makers and see what you like. If Moxie and lime are your thing, by all means enjoy it. It’s your cocktail and your summer. Enjoy it.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Matthew Hooper
Matthew Hooper, aka Samurai Grog, turned 50 in 2021 and decided to have a midlife crisis by leaving a boring sales and marketing job to tend bar at the local country club. He's never been happier. He's also a fencer, a dad, a husband, and a punk music fan. Overall, he's way cooler than he ever thought he could be when he was 16. 

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