Cocktails, like everything else in this world, have a long drawn history with periods of both light and dark.
And perhaps the darkest hour for all cocktail enthusiasts and aspiring barmen was the Prohibition Act in the United States, during the early half of the 1900’s.
During this phase, there was a vehement ban on the production, sale, import and transport of alcoholic beverages. The iron grip of the police force ensured nobody was spared, and left the now not-so-merry folk with much to desire.
Many Americans, mostly those living on the coastlines, found solace on the shores of the Caribbean Islands – most famously, Cuba. This sudden boom in business meant that the Cubans had to adapt quickly, and started experimenting with a lot of their drinks to keep up with the demand and tastes of their new customers.
Havana, the capital, came to be known as “the Paris of the Caribbean”, and witnessed the birth of many of the classic cocktails we know today.
Rum was the staple alcohol of the Caribbean, but the rustic and crude flavour wasn’t the first choice for the gringos. They couldn’t complain, though – with Prohibition, the times were hard, and such luxuries scarce!
So by 1924, the professional barmen of Cuba had created the “Club des Cantineros”, or the Club of the Barmen, in Spanish. By the 1930’s, legendary bars like the La Floridita and Sloppy Joe came into existence.
And with them, came written records and recipes of cocktails such as the Mojito, the Daiquri, the El Presidente, the Mary Pickford, and the most modest, yet the most tragic of them all, the Cuba Libre.
Contrary to what the name suggests though, the “Liberation of Cuba” is probably the simplest cocktail you’ll ever come across. Rum, Cola and lime. Instant heaven.
The history behind it though, is as complex as it is mysterious.
In the late 1890’s Cuba was in turmoil of its War for Independence. Cuba, then occupied by Spain, saw large number of American troops set camp during Spanish – American War.
The American’s brought with them one crucial element to the cocktail in question – Cola.
Legend says that one afternoon, a tired Captain of the army walked into the bar and ordered for a Bacardi, and due to the sweltering weather, added Coca Cola with ice, and a squeeze of lime. The Captain was so impressed by his creation that he cried out aloud “Por Cuba Libre”, the battle cry of the Cuban liberation forces.
It is interesting to note how the story unfolds from then on. The harmonious marriage of two major brands of the world – Bacardi and Coca Cola, with the help of impressive marketing strategies and advertisements, cemented the recipe of the cocktail from simple rum and cola to what it is today.
The irony however lies in the fact that this very drink isn’t available now in the country of its origin.
Due to problems with the Castro government, Don Facundo Bacardi shifted his distillery to Puerto Rico in the 1960’s. As a result, the Castro Government banned the sale of Bacardi in Cuba, and came up with its own white rum – Havana Club.
The story with Coca Cola isn’t very different, either. After being the first country outside of the US to bottle it in 1906, Cuba hasn’t seen a bottle of Coca Cola since 1962, when the US declared its trade embargo, and Fidel Castro seized all private assets of the company in Cuba.
No article about Rum and Coke is complete without mentioning the champion of Indians everywhere, our very own Old Monk.
Old Monk Coke is probably the first drink of millions of people all over the country, and there’s a reason for its success – it works.
And now you know how the Rum and Coke came into existence, and how you can take something as simple as that, add a few splashes of lime to it, and transform it into something magical. It’s literally that simple. Try it the next time.
May every Rum and Coke you drink hence be a tribute to that blessed, unnamed Captain, and may every first sip be preceded by a respectful, reverent toast, “Viva Cuba Libre!”