The Old Cuban Cocktail

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.


21 thoughts on “The Old Cuban Cocktail

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  1. Hey Doug!
    Delightfull Picture for a great drink.
    During summer here in Brazil a caipirinha goes quite well but swizzles are always in season around our house. The Chartreuse Swizzle and The Queen´s park come to mind right now…
    Cheers,

    1. That reminds me that I haven’t had a caipirinha for months. But it was your mention of the Queen’s Park Swizzle that piqued my curiosity. I was unfamiliar with that cocktail. Google, of course, knows all about it, and led me to Rumdood’s writeup. It sounds delicious. I’m so glad the weekend is here! Thanks.

  2. Have to agree with the combination of summer and sours, and am tempted to experiment on a few friends with a few from this and your previous posts. Of course, summer cocktails put me in mind of those my mother and aunt used to drink as they sizzled in the sun in those pre-sunscreen days: sloe gin fizz (which I have to admit I have always thought of as ‘slow’), tom collins, screwball, pearl harbor…

    1. I haven’t had a Tom Collins for quite a while, that would be a pleasant addition to this weekend’s festivities. And I tried out the Queen’s Park Swizzle that Tony mentioned (above); that’s a nice way to cool a hot day, too—deserves some publicity.

      I hope your friends enjoy their sours!

  3. Don’t forget the the lime rickey and the highball! I believe July is Rickey month according to some barkeeps in DC? The highball as a very specific type of drink I remember my parents drinking. However, it seems to be more a category of drink….

    1. The recipe here is 1:1. I usually refer to 2:1 as “rich” simple syrup, but I’m thinking I should start specifying for each recipe, so readers don’t have to guess at my code words. Thanks for the idea.

      (For what it’s worth, I usually use 1:1. I like the “less water” concept of 2:1, but it’s so maddeningly slow to pour…)

    1. Oh, yeah, it’s delish. With the bitters and sparkling wine, it’s a bit darker and more complex than the mojito. Perhaps a drink for more of a thoughtful than a celebratory mood? Nah, works either way. Pilfer some mint from your mojito supply and give it a try.

    1. I’m flattered that you would ask, but I’m not the right guy. I could rattle off a great long list of period drinks (the “Drinks we make” link at the top of the page would be a starting point), but I’ve never been in the business, and have no idea how to make and serve those drinks in a profitable manner. (That’s the nice part about being a home bartender—profit margins don’t apply.) You should definitely find a local consultant who understands the business more than I do, and who has a good feel for your local market and your likely clientele.

      I’m impressed with your courage, good luck!

      1. Thanks for your reply, and also for your support. Would it be ok if I used some of your drink recipes and used different names for my bar?
        Also I really like the cocktail glass that your Cuban cocktail is shown in – do you know the manufacturer or brand?
        Happy holidays

        1. Hi, Frank, yes, you are welcome to use these recipes. In general, they’re tuned-up recountings of the classics, so the traditional names are important to the drinks. The only time I’d ever change the name is if I altered the recipe significantly, like adding additional ingredients or flavorings. There’s a lot of history in most of the cocktails I include here; I think that’s much of my fascination with them.

          That glass is Vera Wang Wedgwood.

  4. I was worried using Meyers (I had Koloa dark on hand! But worried it was too sweet)…fortunately the champagne we opened (Agrapart 2006) this New Years was delicious! One ounce of that in this cocktail and I was OVER THE MOON. What a drink. Many many thanks.

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