Like rum? Get into some Cuban cocktails this summer.

The Floridita bar building, which was Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar in Havana City

Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing youtube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at

While not all of us will have had the chance to visit Cuba, it will have been impossible to avoid Cuban drinks. Every bartender knows the Mojito Effect – when you send one out and 10 more are ordered instantly – and a knock-off Daiquiri has quenched many a thirst after a long shift. So how did this small island nation come to have such an outsized influence on the world of drinks?

“Cuban bartenders, known as cantineros, formed the Club de Cantineros in 1924 and one of their aims was to provide training that would allow them to compete with the interlopers from the States for jobs and safeguard their high standards of service.”

It can be easy to point to the influx of drinkers and bartenders from the States during Prohibition, but cocktails were already part of Cuban culture. The natural bounty of the island lends itself to cocktails – fresh fruits galore and, of course, sugar cane (ergo, rum). In fact, The Canchánchara, a mixture of rum, lime and honey (which could be seen as a forerunner to the Daiquiri), is said to have fuelled the fight for Cuban independence from the Spanish in the late 1860s. Even earlier than that a proto-Mojito was being formed. Aguardiente (a rough precursor to the refined rum we know now) was mixed with lime and sugar and used medicinally, including, apparently, by famed pirate Francis Drake during a brief and unsuccessful invasion attempt in the 1500s.

There was also a strong culture of hospitality in Cuba before it became a hedonistic playground for thirsty Americans. In fact, it has been argued that Prohibition was detrimental to homegrown bartending talent as many bars and hotels were bought up by US businesses that imported bartenders from the States. Cuban bartenders, known as cantineros, formed the Club de Cantineros in 1924 and one of their aims was to provide training that would allow them to compete with the interlopers from the States for jobs and safeguard their high standards of service.

In 1930 they published an official manual that contained many original Cuban cocktails alongside international classics. It is undoubtedly the case, though, that the exchange of ideas that happened in this time period really propelled Cuba to the forefront of cocktail culture. American classics were reimagined with local ingredients and tweaked to suit the weather – hello, frozen drinks – and palates on the island, and Cuban classics were introduced to a new audience.

When that new audience contains a voracious writer and imbiber like Hemingway, people are going to hear about your drinks. He, and other celebrities, amped up the glamour of the Cuban drinking scene. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, as relations cooled between Cuba and the US, a veil of mystique was drawn over the country. The stories became myths and legends and while some cocktails were firmly ingrained in the wider consciousness, others drifted into relative obscurity to wait patiently for rediscovery in the cocktail revival. Thankfully, that day came, and once again we can enjoy the nuanced deliciousness of an El Presidente or Hotel Nacional. Let’s just make sure to tip our caps to the ingenious cantineros we have to thank the next time we’re drinking one.

El Presidente
Often credited to a US bartender working in Cuba,
it has been suggested that this is more likely a drink
from a local cantinero. It is the only true blanc
vermouth classic - dry or sweet won’t do.
45ml Havana Club 3 year old
20ml blanc vermouth
10ml dry curacao/triple sec
5ml grenadine
Glass: coupe or martini
Garnish: orange twist
Add all your ingredients to a mixing glass,
fill with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled glass,
fold your orange zest over the top to
expel the oils and use to garnish.

The Mojito
An evolution of the aguardiente based drink called La Draque,
the modern Mojito is a true celebration of the light,
refined Cuban style of rum and was probably
concocted as Cuba’s answer to the Mint Julep.
60ml white rum
20ml fresh lime juice
20ml sugar syrup
6 – 8 mint leaves
Top with small splash soda water
Glass: highball
Garnish: mint sprig
Method: Add all of your ingredients except
the soda water to a highball glass.
Add crushed ice and churn, top with more crushed ice
and a splash of soda. Garnish with a mint sprig.
The Hemingway Daiquiri
The original Daiquiri was invented by an
American named Jennings Cox (although other examples of rum,
lime and sweetener preceded it), but it was picked up by famed
Havana bar La Floridita. Hemingway was a regular there and
asked for it with double the rum and no sugar.
Unsurprisingly this isn’t actually very delicious
so the bartenders at La Floridita tweaked it.
60ml white rum
15ml lime juice
15ml grapefruit juice
10ml maraschino liqueur
5ml sugar syrup (this is sacrilege to some
but I think it rounds the drink out)
Glass: coupe or martini
Garnish: maraschino cherry and a
grapefruit zest to twist and discard (optional)
Method: Add all ingredients to a shaker tin,
add ice and shake. Double strain into chilled glass
and sink cherry to the bottom.
Zest grapefruit over the top and discard.


Black Tears Cuban Spiced Rum:
Black Tears or Lagrimas Negras is the song that plays in every Cuban’s heart. Full on. Intensely passionate. Black Tears combines energy, passion and emotions of modern Cuba. Black Tears is crafted with Cuban rum and finds its uniqueness through its coffee, cacao and ’aji dulce’ pepper flavour profile, as well as its low sugar level, a mere 9 grams per litre. It’s Cuban/ 3two1 Drinks

Havana Club Anejo 3 Anos:
Havana Club is of the world’s cocktail bar staples due to its inherent quality and ability to used in a multitude of classic cocktail recipes. The 3 Year Old Añejo is a traditional white rum that is aged naturally for 3 years to enhance the intense aromas and flavours. It’s complexity making it perfect for use in either a Mojito or Daiquiri. Pernod Ricard