Cuban rum drinks are famous around the world, with Cuban rum being recognized as some of the best, if not, the best in the world. Combine that with some of the freshest sugar cane and fruits in the Caribbean, and you have the perfect recipes for the best Cuban cocktails. Many of Cuba’s cocktails are famous around the world – but none taste as good as drinking them in their birthplace – here’s all you need to know about classic Cuban cocktails – their history and ingredients and the best Cuban cocktail recipes around.
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Most Cuban alcoholic drinks contain rum and the country is famous for the cocktail. Cuba and Cuban cocktails are known the world around for their taste – and here you’ll find out more about some of the history behind the Cuban cocktails and how they’ve impacted the country.
The History of Cuban Cocktails
It would be easy to think that cocktails didn’t exist in Cuba until after the Spanish-American war and the increased American influence in Cuba. Or that no one ever drank a daiquiri until Hemingway sat at the bar of El Floridita in Havana.
It’s true, that following prohibition the influx of American bartenders and tourists to Cuba increased phenomenally. Cuba became the pleasure island for glamourous, perhaps even hedonistic tourism. Cuban bartenders – cantineros – became skilled at changing recipes and cocktails to suit the palate of their new customers.
Cuba is located just 180 kilometres from the mainland USA, so a logical solution to those wanting an alcoholic drink in the Prohibition years. Prohibition in the USA was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, import, transport and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933. Before the implementation of Prohibition many bars and hotels in Havana were acquired by American’s, shall we say, planning ahead. American bartenders were hired and sent to Cuba.
This led to the formation of the Club de Cantaneros in 1924, this association of Cuban bartenders had clear aims to train its members to compete with the influx of American bartenders. The Cuban Bartenders Association, the Club de Cantaneros de Cuba still exists today, and it’s a member of the International Bartenders Association, the IBA.
The Cantaneros published magazines and in 1930 issued an official manual – you can see a digital copy here. While the manual is based on the 1914 “Drinks” by Jacques Straub, it has considerable additions – 60 – many of which were Cuban originals.
Learn to make Cuban cocktails
There are several cocktail making classes that you can book for your trip to Cuba. The Cuban App, A La Mesa is an excellent resource for this. You can book (and pay) online and reduce your requirement to carry and changes cash in Cuba.
You can also, however, buy some of the best cocktail recipe books – and bring back that Havana Club from your visit to experiment with.
Best Cuban Cocktail Recipe Books
Try these 3 Cuban Cocktail books for awesome Cuban drink recipes and further reading.
- Spirit of the Cane – a history of sugar cane and cocktails in Cuba – read now
- Explore the Golden Age of Cuban Cocktails here
- More than 100 Cuban cocktail recipes from one of the most famous Cuban bartenders – get it here
You’ll want to try and plan your activities before you get to Cuba – because, even with our guide to the internet in Cuba, it’s not always easy to get online!
Where to Drink Cocktails in Cuba
While there are a variety of bars certainly in Havana that will claim to have the best cocktails – and we’ve detailed later in this article which ones they are and where you can find them – some of the best places to drink cocktails will be at your Casa Particular, or in the small out of the way bar that you find in the backstreets.
There are a few activities that you can organize BEFORE you get to Cuba – and combine experiencing seeing some of Cuba along with the great taste of Cuban cocktails.
- Take a guided Cocktail Tour of Havana! Get to know the history of the cocktail bars AND the cocktails with this locals guided tour. Book your place now!
- Combine a photo tour of Havana with cocktails on a terrace to watch the sunset. It doesn’t get much better than this. Check details and book now!
- If you like Cuban food and cocktails, then this Cuban cooking class and cocktail making experience is for you. Run from Varadero you’ll learn to make (and drink) 3 Cuban cocktails and several Cuban specialities. Book your place now
The Cuban Canchanchara Cocktail
You won’t find this cocktail in many places outside of Trinidad, Cuba, but it’s worth making the pilgrimage to try it. This is the oldest Cuban cocktail. Read more about Trinidad here.
Canchanchara Cocktail History
The Canchanchara is believed to have been invented by Cuban Mambises fighting against the Spanish for independence in 1869. It contains ingredients that would have been readily available to the freedom fighters, it was originally drunk as a warming drink to ward off the cold of the morning. Combining a rough sugar cane alcohol, honey to sweeten it and widely available citrus fruits. Of course today it’s served iced, with rum rather than rough alcohol.
Where to get the best Canchanara in Cuba
You’ll need to go to Trinidad, Cuba for the best Canchanchara cocktails. The La Canchanchara bar is famous for serving Canchancharas in handle-less pots.
The Canchanchara Bar is located at 90 Calle Real del Jigüe, Trinidad 62600, Cuba.
Cuban Canchanchara Recipe
The Cuban Canchanara combines the very best of Cuba’s natural resources – rum, lime and honey.
Canchanchara Ingredients (for one cocktail)
- 50 ml of rum – best rum is 7 year aged
- 20ml of mixed honey and warm water (50-50)
- 50 ml of sparkling water
- 5 ml of fresh lime juice
- 1 lime wedge
- 3 ice cubes
How to make a Canchanchara
- Pour rum, honey mix and lime juice into a glass.
- Mix until the honey dissolves.
- Add the sparkling water and ice cubes.
- Garnish with a lime Drink.
Few drinks epitomize a country, and this is one. A fresh mix of mint, lime, sparkling water and sugar. Refreshing and sophisticated.
Cuban mojito history
The most popular legend of the creation of the mojito ascribes it to legendary adventurer (or pirate, depending on your reading of history) Sir Francis Drake. Following Drake’s successful pillaging of Cartagena de Indias in 1586, Drake sailed towards Cuba, but scurvy and Dysnetry stopped all but a small group going ashore. Local Indian inhabitants provided the ingredients for effective medicine. The combination of a rough sugar cane liquor, lime and sugar cane juice combined to form “El Draque”. Rum was added as it became popularly available to sailors and mint helped to hide the raw taste of the alcohol. While the name mojito wasn’t given at this time, this is the basis of the current mojito.
The mojito reputedly began to gain in popularity after author, Ernest Hemingway presented it as one of his favourite drinks. (He appeared to drink a lot and not just mojitos though).
Where to get the best mojito in Cuba
La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana lays claim to being Hemingway’s favourite watering hole for mojitos and does a roaring tourist trade in providing mojitos. You can find La Bodeguita del Medio at Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba
We firmly believe that the best mojito in Cuba will be in the small out of the way place that you go to. Ours were in a casa particular in a small town 15 miles from Varadero, where our host prepared them as we say and watched the sunset over the Caribbean sea. (Read our guide to Casa Particulars and find the best in Cuba!) We had equally good mojitos sitting on a wall at the front of a tumbledown house with friendly locals in Baracoa, in the far east of Cuba.
Cuban Mojito Recipe
The best mojito recipes combine fresh mint, white rum, lime juice and sparkling water. You can replace the sugar with sugar syrup if you wish.
Mojito Ingredients (for one cocktail)
- 45 ml of white rum
- 2 teaspoons of white sugar
- ½ lime (juiced)
- 2 sprigs of mint (about 10-12 leaves)
- 90 ml of sparkling water
- 3 ice cubes
How to Make a Mojito
- Mix sugar and lime juice with a spoon in the glass you want to serve the cocktail in
- Muddle the mint sprigs in with the lime and sugar. If you don’t have a muddler, use a spoon
- Add the rum and mix again.
- Add the ice cubes
- Top up with sparkling water
- Serve with a sprig of mint
The Cuban daiquiri isn’t the sugar-loaded blended ice drink beloved of beach resorts, it’s a sophisticated, cocktail with a well-documented history. It’s probably the most well known Cuban cocktail of white rum and lime.
Cuban daiquiri history
The classic daiquiri takes its name from the mining town, mine and beach of the same name- Daiquiri in the southeast of Cuba. It is closely related to the Canchanchara, but credit for its invention goes to an American by the name of Jennings Stockton Cox. Following the Spanish-American War, which ended with Roosevelt’s victory in 1898, the Americans began to exploit the natural resources of Cuba. An iron ore mine was opened in the southeast of Cuba and Cox’s men began to work it. Cuba, however, came with a significant threat of Yellow Fever, so salaries were high, and compensation also included a monthly ratio of the local rum. While Cox is credited with inventing the Daiquiri there are two different legends as to how it actually happened.
- The daiquiri was created to protect the workers against Yellow Fever, as the ingredients of rum, lime and sugar were thought to protect against it.
- Cox ran out of gin at a party of fellow Americans and mixed the concoction to mask the taste of the rum he subsequently served
Whichever story you want to believe the recipe is in no doubt, having been recorded in Cox’s personal diary at the time.
The daiquiri received further prominence and notoriety at the hands of barman Constante Ribalaigua created different varieties in the now, El Floridita, where one, the Hemingway, was patronised by Papa himself.
Where to get the best daiquiri in Cuba
It’s hard to mention daiquiri and not come up with El Floridita in Old Havana. Beloved of author Ernest Hemingway, who had a specific version of the cocktail named after him. El Floridita, is, however, a tourist hotspot and generally extremely crowded. If you have the determination to outstay the crowds you’ll find El Floridita in Old Havana.
Cuban Daiquiri Recipe
The simplicity of the recipe for daiquiri makes it a firm favourite. Just 3 ingredients, rum, sugar syrup and lime.
Daiquiri Ingredients (for one cocktail)
- 2 teaspoons of white sugar (or sugar syrup can also be used)
- ½ lime, juiced
- 50 ml white rum
- 3 ice cubes
How to Make a Daiquiri
- Put the sugar and lime juice in a cocktail shaker and shake
- Add rum and ice cubes
- Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds
- Strain, to keep the ice out of the glass and pour.
Additions for the Hemingway Daiquiri Recipe
The Hemingway Daiquiri follows the same mixology but adds 5ml of maraschino liqueur and 35 ml of fresh grapefruit juice.
The exotic-sounding Cuba Libre is just as well known outside of Latin American circles as the rum and coke, but the Cuba Libre comes with a twist, as well as sounding somewhat more stylish.
Cuba Libre history
The origins of the Cuba Libre date back to the American occupation of Cuba following the Spanish American war. Its creation is recorded in the Bacardi rum archives, which state that Cuba libre was first requested by a Captain Russell when soldiers were celebrating the end of the war at the American Bar in Havana. He asked, the tale goes, for a rum, coke and lime, as chants rose amongst the Americans and Cuba to celebrate a free Cuba – “Por Cuba Libre”
Where to get the best Cuba Libre in Cuba
We found our best Cuba Libre at the Rum Museum in Santiago de Cuba! (Museo del Ron – 103 Peralejo, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba)
Cuba Libre Recipe
The Cuba Libre is NOT just a rum and coke. The essential squeeze of lime irons out the sweetness of the coca-cola for full Cuban authenticity.
Cuba Libre Ingredients (for one cocktail)
- 50 ml rum
- 100 ml cola
- 1 large lime wedge
- 3 ice cubes
How to make a Cuba Libre
- Fill your glass with the ice
- Add rum
- Top up with coke – no more than 100 ml
- Squeeze the lime. Garnish with a further lime wedge.
For more on Cuban Cocktail History
For more on Cuban cocktails and their history – check out the Museo del Ron in Santiago – a small entrance fee and a free tasting and also the experiences available at the Havana Club Museum in Havana.
What’s your favourite Cuban cocktail? And where’s your favourite place to drink Cuban cocktails? What alternative recipes would you like to share?