The Old Cuban

Many will note that this drink looks like a mojito with the inclusion of bitters, yet one can say it is a more sophisticated version, not only on account of the bitters, but through the use of chilled champagne rather than soda water. 

Created by Audrey Saunder’s of the Pegu Club in New York, this drink traditionally features a sugared-vanilla-bean garnish and is served in a champagne coupe.  However, what brought my attention to the drink was actually the serving style at Anvil in Houston: they fashion the beverage as a tall / long drink, something to be sipped upon as the night progresses.  In a collins glass, garnished with mint and ice, you get a true sense of what this drink is a deconstruction and variation upon: the mojito.  Since the aesthetic is reminiscent of that ever so popular cocktail, the bartenders are able to make a drink that appeals to the “mojito crowd,” and slowly bring drinkers to understand other cocktails like the Queen’s Park Swizzle.  Or at least that was what I observed as Mindy Kucan gracefully guided hordes of screaming and thirsty WASP women from requesting dirty martinis to ending up enjoying Brambles and Swizzles.

In its’ original form, the drink is still quite fashionable and breathes an air of sophistication that is impossible to capture in a tall drink, especially one linked with the working class.  But beyond that, the cocktail, thanks to the inclusion of the bitters, something which is able to be included in a mojito but many times left out because they seek a simple clear color that brings about a sense of purity and light effervescence, thrusts this cocktails flavor profile from mediocre and simplistic to a complex and delightful one with baking spice notes.  Furthermore, the addition of turbinado syrup helps bridge the gap between the the bitters and rum: while not specifically called for in Audrey’s original recipe, the idea to add in that raw sugar flavor is not unheard of, seeing as the practice is done both at Anvil and Caña Rum Bar.

Audrey calls for Bacardi 8 in this cocktail.  While Bacardi 8 is the most appropriate rum since it is the requested rum of the creator, any other gold rum could do just fine.  Surprisingly though, the drink works exceptionally well with just Bacardi, the pure and simple stuff that many people consider the bane of rum.  At least it does when juxtaposed against a Spanish Cava rather than a Champagne.  The Cava helps bring out the floral notes, those that are minutely there in that Bacardi, and furthermore gives it a lovely place to play as the medium between the citrus and the mint.   Of course, then again, we are leaving out the Moet & Chandon which is explicitly called for by Audrey, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.

If the sugar coated bean is not available, the drink is still quite good without the garnish.  But as a final touch, I would dust the champagne coupe before the cocktail is added with the oils from some mint by slapping a sprig against the outside of the glass in order to get those sweet aromatic flavors to come through further.  It helps bring the sense of freshness that is missing from the color back to the equation.  Plus, what is better than receiving a cocktail and already savoring the aroma prior to having the drink in front of you?

Old Cuban

1 1/2 ounces Bacardi 8 anejo rum (or any other medium bodied gold rum)
3/4 ounce simple syrup (try Depaz / turbinado)
1/2 – 3/4 ounce lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6 mint leaves
Sparkling wine
Muddling the lime juice, syrup and leaves at the bottom of a mixing glass, add in the rum, bitters and ice;  shake the drink, fine straining it into a chilled champagne coupe making sure to leave a bit of room.  Top up with a little champagne.  Add a sugared vanilla bean for the garnish.

Bolton, Ross.  2008.  Bar Florida Cocktails.  Originally published 1935.   Scotts Valley: CreateSpace.

Regan, Gary.  2003.  The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft.  New York: Random House.