The inception of what we often refer to as rum and Coke can be traced back to Havana in 1900, post the Spanish-American War. While precise origins of the Cuba Libre are shrouded in ambiguity, a common trait in cocktail history, it is said that a captain in the American army crafted the Cuba Libre to commemorate Cuba's liberation from Spain after the war.
Bacardi, which exited Cuba amid Fidel Castro's ascent, and Havana Club, co-owned by the Cuban government and Pernod Ricard, present conflicting narratives about the drink's genesis. Bacardi asserts itself not only as the appropriate rum for this blend but as the very catalyst behind the nomenclature "Cuba Libre." According to the company's narrative, Bacardi rum satisfied the celebratory cravings of Cuban independence in the backdrop of the Spanish-American War.
This discord is predictable, given the prolonged trademark disputes and other conflicts between the two companies spanning decades. Notably, Cuban Havana Club faces an import ban in the United States, while Bacardi fiercely competes with the Cuban brand by marketing its own Havana Club rum in the States.
Be that as it may, Cuba Libre is so much more than the simple rum and Coke. It is a drinkable ode to Cuban independence, and more importantly, a marriage of an US import (Coca-Cola) and Caribbean spirits.
In the 19th century, Havana had already established a reputation for its chilled beverages. Distinguished among warm-weather cities, it benefited from plentiful shipments of ice transported from colder regions. But this new concoction comprising local white rum, Bacardi, Coca-Cola from the good old U.S. of A, and a splash of fresh local fruit juice, was an instant raging success among Cubans.
In its 1900 iteration, it likely incorporated even a touch of gin into the blend, as suggested by Anthony Dias Blue in his 2004 work, The Complete Book of Spirits. This inclusion of gin and bitters gains additional context when you factor in that Coca-Cola, prior to 1903, contained cocaine, and wasn’t as cloyingly sweet. Hence the final concoction echoed the flavours of European bitters.
Following its inception, the Cuba Libre swiftly gained popularity, becoming a widely enjoyed concoction amid Cuba's decades of glamour and turmoil. As Prohibition took hold in the United States, the drink journeyed northward. Its appeal stemmed from the seamless mixing capabilities of sweet Coca-Cola, effectively concealing the qualities of lower-grade, more affordable rums. The American military personnel stationed in the Caribbean introduced this drink stateside, solidifying its status as the alcohol of choice, particularly in the southern regions of the United States.
The late '50s Cuban Revolution and subsequent early '60s political turmoil marked the end of the camaraderie. This period also initiated an era characterised by mutual distrust and near-conflict between the United States and Cuba. Subsequently, both nations imposed trade embargoes, prohibiting the exchange of their respective products. The American embargo compelled Coca-Cola to completely sever business ties with Cuba.
Fill a highball glass with ice, add rum and Coca-Cola.
Garnish with a lime wedge. Squeeze the lime into your drink, if desired.