You could think of the Old Cuban as a Mojito for grown-ups—more refined, more complex, and more sophisticated than the popular, tall summer drink. It starts with the same set of fundamental flavors—rum, sugar, mint, lime, soda—but expands on them to arrive at a delicious and memorable cocktail.

There is one non-Mojito ingredient: Angostura bitters. My Bride normally reviles bitters in her cocktails, but it turns out that she actually likes this drink. This is the first time—ever—that she has smiled upon a cocktail containing bitters. I don’t know if it’s the mint, or the mix of flavors in our Jamaican rum, or the sugar—something in this blend makes bitters acceptable to her palate; I am pleased, and astonished.

The Old Cuban Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Old Cuban Cocktail

I first learned of the Old Cuban from Johnny Michaels at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis. It is a modern cocktail, heavily blogged a few years ago after Audrey Saunders of New York’s Pegu Club invented it. (So I wonder: who or what was the old Cuban she was thinking of when she named this drink?)

Here’s the way the recipe works for me:

The Old Cuban Cocktail

  • 1½ oz dark rum (Smith and Cross)
  • 1 oz simple sugar (Demerara)
  • ¾ oz fresh lime juice
  • 1–2 dashes Angostura bitters, to taste
  • 6 leaves of fresh mint
  • sparkling wine to top (champagne, cava or prosecco)

Muddle mint and juiced lime hulls lightly. Add rum, syrup, bitters and lime juice. Shake until well chilled. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top up with champagne or prosecco. Garnish with mint or sugared vanilla.

Ms. Saunders originally spec’d the Old Cuban with Bacardi 8 rum. Having none, I opted for Smith and Cross Navy strength, which turned out to be a delightful choice. Michaels uses Mount Gay, which also works very well.

I have made the drink with both white simple syrup and Demerara syrup; both work, but the Demerara is my favorite. An ounce looks like a lot of sweetener, but it works quite well in the Old Cuban.

Muddle this drink gently—mint will get very bitter if you mash it too much. When I make Old Cubans for myself, I use about four leaves; others enjoy six or eight. And of course, it depends on what kind of mint you’re growing. (No, I have no idea what kind of mint I’m growing…)

Champagne is the original topper for the Old Cuban—Dale DeGroff refers to the drink as a “champagne Mojito”—but prosecco is the usual summer bubbly in our house, and its light crispness works well here. A cava is also a good choice. (If you don’t happen to have champagne about, it’s worth trying this recipe “unsparkled.” It makes what might be considered a pimped-out Daiquiri. The flavors are a bit more concentrated, and hold together quite nicely. Just don’t try to call it an Old Cuban. No sparkle, no Old Cuban…)

Summer drinks seem to follow the classic sours pattern for me—whiskey sour, Daiquiri, Pegu Club, Aviation, and so forth—and now the Old Cuban has certainly joined the short list. I’m interested to hear about your summer cocktails of choice—Sours? Tall drinks? Gin and Tonic? Stick to the ice cold Martini? I welcome your comments and ideas.