Happy Hour History: The Cuba Libre

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Commonly known in the US as a Rum & Coke, the Cuba Libre was invented in Havana around 1900. Like the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, a true Cuba Libre is only supposed to be made with a specific brand of rum (Bacardi). However, unlike the Gosling family, the Bacardi people are a bit more laid back about enforcing it.

While the origins of the Cuba Libre are the matter of some debate, all parties acknowledge its connection to the Spanish-American War. Bacardi proudly touts the cocktail’s history on its website, writing that it first appeared in 1898 when then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders arrived in Cuba during the island’s war for independence. The American forces also allegedly brought along a supply of Coca-Cola, which soon became a popular beverage among Cubans.

The legend continues that in August 1900, while celebrating victory at the American Bar in Havana, one Captain Russell of the United States Army Signal Corps, ordered a Bacardi with Coke and a lime. Other soldiers followed suit, and soon everyone was enjoying the new cocktail. In keeping with the celebratory spirit, Russell proposed a toast, “¡Por Cuba libre!” in celebration of a free Cuba. The rest is marketing…err…history.

Bacardi also made a commercial in which a Rough Rider encounters a sexy lady in the jungle — as you often do during bloody wars for independence — who shows him how just they drink their Coke in Cuba.

But not so fast. According to Wikipedia Coke was not available in Cuba until 1900. And while it seems plausible that American troops would have brought some along even if it were not technically being distributed for sale, the ad is still anachronistic since the Rough Riders left in 1898. But whatever. I mean, did you see that ad?

Cuba Libre Recipe

2 oz. Bacardi rum
2 lime wedges
Coca-Cola — Full disclosure: I used Pepsi because, as Todd Barry reminds us, IT DOESN’T F—KING MATTER!

Directions: Fill a highball glass with ice. Squeeze the limes into the glass, and toss them in too. Add the rum, top with chilled cola (bottled is preferable, according to Bacardi), and stir.

Enjoy while listening to this.

Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/jimsabataso @JimSabataso.

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