What the Holy Trinity of Cuban Drinks says about Cubans

Every island has an indigenous drink, a drink that is original to that place. The Dominican Republic’s native drink is Mamajuana. Mexico’s drink is the margarita. The Bahama Mama comes to us by way of Jamaica – I kid – from the Bahamas. And Cuba is no exception.

I consider myself lucky to be Cuban. Being Cuban stands for a lot of things: hard work, struggle, survival, gusto, controversy. It also stands for the national drink trinity: The Mojito, The Daiquiri, and The Cuba Libre. That’s right – Cuba boasts the birth of three of the yummiest and most popular signature cocktails served at any bar.

When we were in Cuba this summer, I noticed how similar these drinks were (in rum count) and yet how each one represented something different about Cuban culture. Each drink a symbol of a characteristic, typical of many Cubans. Let’s take a look:

THE CUBA LIBRE

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What it represents: controversy

Like many things Cuban, it wouldn’t be a part of our history unless there was a disagreement around it. Just ask Husband – we Cubans like to argue. In the case of the Cuba Libre, there are a few. The first argument is that a rum and coke is not a Cuba Libre unless you’re using Cuban rum (example: Havana Club) and lime. Another debate is how the drink got its name. There are variations of the story dating back to Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders when soldiers of the Cuban Liberation Army expressed llantos – or cries of a Cuba Libre – a Free Cuba! But I’ve also heard that the name took ground when politics in Cuba grew more unstable and confining. Without full freedom of speech, one couldn’t go around demanding a Free Cuba!… but you could order one. Many used the drink’s name as a covert way to voice their opinion without repercussions, which I find both badass and funny. Give me a Cuba Libre! What?! I was just ordering a drink? The name has apparently continued to evolve with some Cuban exiles calling it a Mentiritaa little lie – a #kiddingnotkidding type joke and a way for them to oppose the Communist Castro rule. For some exiles, what is a Free Cuba if not a little lie?

Somewhere in Little Havana [Miami], cigar-smoking old men are loudly arguing about politics, slamming down their dominoes, and drinking a Cuba Libre. And all is right with the world.

 

THE DAIQUIRI

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What it represents: gusto

What was the first thing you ordered on vacation when you were old enough to order an alcoholic beverage? Yeah, me too. A daiquiri was definitely the first drink I ordered, and I have Cuba to thank for that.

Daiquiris, like Cubans, are fun and upbeat. Nothing can bring down a daiquiri… or a Cuban. Have you ever gone to a party where the bartender is mixing up daiquiris and not had a good time? Me neither. It’s impossible.

I learned from my visit to El Floridita, the birthplace of The Daiquiri, that the original daiquiri recipe was a lime daiquiri: the juice of two limes, a teaspoon of sugar, and white rum. First recorded by F. Scott Fitzgerald and named after the town, Daiquirí, in the province of Santiago, it was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway, the human form of a daiquiri: full of zest for life and gusto.

Even the bartenders can’t help but have fun making this drink, but not as much fun as I have drinking it.

 

THE MOJITO

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What it represents: hard work & struggle

Like The Daiquiri, mojitos were popularized by Hemingway at a different bar, El Bodeguito del Medio. Probably most like the Cuban people is The Mojito because who else but Cubans would have their national drink be such a laborious one. It isn’t a quick-make – it is for the patient and resolute. Cubans are known for being hard-working and mojitos are no exception; the struggle is real. The Mojito is a labor of love: muddling sugar and mint leaves, squeezing fresh lime. But as the saying goes – and as Cubans will tell you – hard work pays off. Mojitos are perhaps so enjoyable because you have to put in the work to reap the reward.

 –   –   –

For a place that has been stuck in time, where people struggle to find what they need, and ingredients are often rationed per month, Cubans really know how to make do with what little they have and I feel honored to stand among the greats.

What’s your rock’s signature cocktail?

 

 *Previously published on Drinking the Whole Bottle

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Jennifer Legra

About Jennifer Legra

Jen, an expert in The Art of Lunacy, decided three years ago she wanted to get married, have a baby, and move abroad. She discovered she was pregnant in February, got married in July, and moved to the Dominican Republic in August. In October, they had their first baby (yes, that is all in the same year!) and then had another baby 18 months later. Did she also mention she has two rescue poodles? She has a particularly strong dislike for insects of the flying nature and has what her husband calls “an irrational fear” of bugs trying to crawl into her hoo-ha… and also zombies… and natural disasters… basically many scary things. She loves being a mom, but blames much of her drinking on raising two small children in such a bloody hot climate. For this reason, she drinks a lot of Presidentes (the official beer of her rock), and visits many colmados since, well, that’s where they sell Presidentes. You can find her Drinking the Whole Bottle on her blog of the same name:www.drinkingthewholebottle.com. Her stories are real. The shamrock tattoo is magic marker.

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8 thoughts on “What the Holy Trinity of Cuban Drinks says about Cubans

  1. Looking to move to the islands this summer, but have no clue which one…we are looking at Roatan (maybe a little to primitive), Bonaire…any helpful hints for Women who live on the rock?

    • Hi KK, On our “Meet the Women” page, you can search for writers by island. I’d recommend checking out the posts of writers who live on rocks that you’re interested in to get a feel for if that place sounds like a good fit for you. Best wishes on your upcoming move! 🙂

  2. Enjoyed reading this, Jen. I’m also a Cuban from Miami who picked up the family and moved to a rock. We currently live in Nassau, The Bahamas and run John Watling’s Distillery. My husband is a rum expert/historian. Let me know if you ever need any details on the history of cocktails or spirits. Salud!

  3. Very interesting history. Thank you. We have, of course, the Bahama Mama here on Eleuthera, The Bahamas, but the most famous is the Goombay Smash. I’d love to say what exactly is in this calorie-laden, fruit, soda, and rum concoction. But I can’t. There are two ingredients I know for sure; rum, and Goombay soda. Goombay is a Bahamaian soft drink bottled in Nassau. It is 1000% sugar, and 1001% delicious, with hints of pineapple, coconut, and yum. Add in some rum (local Ricardo is delish, cheap, and won’t leave you with a headache), maybe some grenadine, some other things, a straw, and you’ve got yourself a Bahamian cocktail that will please them all. We may all get fat from the billion grams of sugar, but yum, it will be a delicious fat.

    As a mom of three living full time on a rock (Eleuthera, Bahamas), I save my Goombay Smashes for when guests visit, because dang. Those things make even my yoga pants tight. Yikes.

  4. Hi Jennifer,

    Love the article, thanks for sharing. Hailing from Curacao of course, we would say Blue Curacao and any cocktail made with this delicious liquor would be our drink. However we have a rum we call ‘rum bèrde’ or green rum, a rum invented by a bar owner on the island, just as famous as Cheers, and is called Netto Bar. The rum bèrde is 100% homegrown and made only in Curacao, I don’t exactly know how it’s made, only know that it contains ‘lara’, which actually is a failed Valencia orange project. It’s mixed with coconut water and is delicious. Salù.

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