Since traveling to Cuba in 2017, I’ve often revisited the cocktails I enjoyed while I was there. While many people associate Cuba with cigars, its rum is also notable. With a perfect climate for growing sugar cane, it comes as no surprise that this island nation produces some of the best rums in the world. The Cuban rum process typically uses molasses as the base which creates a rich, smoky flavor. They are perfect for all the drinks from Cuba that feature rum. There are quite a few cocktails that are widely know that were invented in Cuba: the daiquiri, the mojito, and the Cuba Libre. You’ll also find plenty of others on menus in Cuba from Havana to Cienfuegos. Since ingredients can be difficult to acquire, you’ll find the Cuban drinks to be fairly simple, swapping out one ingredient for another.
Drinks from Cuba
Perhaps one of my all-time favorite cocktails is the Daiquiri. Not only is it fun to say and spell, but it’s three-ingredient construction lends itself to really featuring the flavors of the rum you use. The recipe is similar to that of a perfect Tommy’s margarita. To make add two ounces of rum to an ounce of fresh-squeezed lime juice and a half ounce of agave or simple syrup and shake with ice. Serve up (without ice) with a lime wheel garnish.
2. Hemingway Daiquiri
While it doesn’t appear terribly different than a classic Daiquiri, the Hemingway Daiquiri brings in a couple of additional ingredients. Said to be a favorite of author Ernest Hemingway, who spent time in Havana, Cuba writing and drinking, this version is an incredible cousin to an already great drink. Hemingway was rumored to put away about a dozen of these at a time, even having them delivered to the house where he worked (pictured above).
- 2 oz white rum
- 0.75 oz fresh grapefruit juice
- 0.75 oz fresh lime juice
- 0.5 oz Luxardo or maraschino liqueur
- Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice.
- Shake for 20-30 seconds and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Drinking a real mojito in Havana was one of my favorite memories of that trip. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba has a beautiful lawn overlooking the water in Havana. All day long they make up batches of mojitos for thirsty tourists. I enjoyed every sip and I am pretty sure I had a second one. The last mojito I made at home was for a blog post about citrus cocktails. If you don’t want to use finger limes, just muddle half a lime with your mint instead.
Mojito with Finger Limes
- 2 finger limes
- 2 oz unaged rum
- 0.5 oz simple syrup
- 8 mint leaves
- 4 oz Topo Chico (or other sparkling mineral water)
- Cut the finger limes in half and squeeze the lime caviar into a collins glass. Add mint leaves and muddle together.
- Add rum and simple syrup and stir. Add ice and Topo Chico to the mix in the glass and stir.
- Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!
4. Cuba Libre
The Cuba Libre is another traditional cocktail found everywhere. Mix cola, lime, and rum and you’re in business! While you may find an official recipe, I never once saw the ingredients for this classic drink from Cuba measured. At mealtimes, it sometimes became a game to see how many times the waiter would come back and “top up” your Coke with more rum. I have also come across some suggestions that a Cuba Libre is simply a rum and coke, leaving out the lime altogether.
5. Canchanchara (or Cancha)
The traditional drink of Trinidad, Cuba is the Canchanchara. It’s made of honey, lime, rum and ice. It’s typically served in a pottery cup like this one. It was invented to withstand the difficulties of the 10 Years’ War of Cuban Independence. You’ll find both the traditional version and a lighter version which tops the drink with sparkling water. To make the traditional version you dissolve a tablespoon of honey into 2 ounces of rum and the juice from one small lime. Once the mixture is smooth, add ice and serve. You can make this simpler by making a honey simple syrup, 2:1 honey to water ahead of time. Use a quarter to a half ounce of it, depending on how sweet you like your drink.
6. The Saoco
This is like the Cuban highball. The drink is not sweet but is very balanced. If you like a sweeter cocktail you could add a little splash of simple syrup or use a sweetened coconut water. It’s the perfect drink to quench your thirst after a day of sightseeing.
- 1.5 oz rum
- 3 oz coconut water (fresh is best if you have it)
- 0.75 oz lime juice
- Add all ingredients to a glass with a small amount of ice and stir.
- Garnish with a lime wedge.
7. Havana Loco
If two-ingredient cocktails are your thing, the Havana Loco is perfect for you. It’s simply rum and orange juice. The measurements are up to you. A perfect Cuban breakfast or brunch cocktail.
As with other drinks, the Cojito is identical to the Mojito except you add coconut-flavored rum. If you like a more tropical flavor in your cocktails, this one is a perfect summer sipper. You still use the white rum but just half as much. So make the Mojito using an ounce of white rum and an ounce of coconut-flavored rum. If you don’t want to buy and store a full bottle of coconut-flavored rum, buy airplane-sized bottles of it.
9. El Presidente
The reason I was able to travel to Cuba was because I took a college class on the History and Culture of Cuba. I also did a bunch of reading about what the country was like before Americans weren’t allowed to visit freely. One book I found really fascinating is about organized crime, political corruption, opulent nightlife, and the Revolution. The El Presidente cocktail was named in celebration of Gerardo Machado (who was the Cuban president). He allowed Americans to come to Cuba and indulge in all the things they were missing back home during Prohibition in the 1930s. It was a wild time and the drink still stands today.
- 1.25 oz rum
- 0.5 oz Lillet blanc
- 0.25 oz triple sec
- 1 barspoon grenadine
- Add ingredients to a mixing glass with ice.
- Stir until chilled and strain into a martini or Nick and Nora glass.
- Garnish with an orange peel if you have one.
The Cubanita is a staple of Cuban cocktails. This drink is identical in every way to a traditional Bloody Mary but uses rum instead of vodka. (I know you’re surprised!) I think the character and flavor of the rum adds a lot to this already busy and flavorful drink.
- 2 oz white rum
- 3.5 oz tomato juice (or bloody Mary mix)
- 0.5 oz fresh lemon juice
- 5 dashes hot pepper sauce like Tabasco
- 5 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pinch pepper
- 1 wedge lime
- Add all ingredients, except lime wedge, to a shaker with ice.
- Shake well, 20-30 seconds, and strain into a highball glass with ice.
- Squeeze in the lime and use the remaining fruit for garnish.
11. Culto a la Vida (Cult of Life)
This final drink from Cuba combines dark rum and cranberry juice. It’s a casual cocktail, so not the prettiest picture, so I will let you imagine it. The flavors work well together and it’s another easy drink to make. It’s a perfect cocktail for the pool or a picnic.
Cult of Life
- 1.5 oz dark rum
- 0.5 oz fresh lime juice
- 6 oz cranberry juice
- 1 tsp simple syrup
- Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake 20-30 seconds and strain into a glass with ice. Any glass will do!
What Rum to Use When Making Cuban Cocktails
Not to get political, but the U.S. Trade Embargo on Cuba has prevented Cuba from exporting its rum to the United States since 1962. So if you are abroad, definitely buy some duty-free Cuban rum, as the best drinks from Cuba feature local ingredients. I use Havana Club most, but if you can’t find it, here are some others I would recommend:
- Bacardi White Rum – this rum originated in Cuba and is the closest you’ll find to Havana Club, plus it is very affordable
- The Real McCoy – although it’s from Barbados, it is a lovely charcoal filtered rum aged for three years that will work well in any of these drinks
- Plantation 3 Stars – this rum is a blend of rums from Barbados, Trinidad, and Jamaica and is perfect for any of these drinks from Cuba
- Flor de Caña White Rum – this Nicaraguan rum is so lovely in any cocktail and it’s affordable
I hope you found some drinks that will transport you to Cuba while home or that you’ll be able to get to Cuba soon. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and it’s changing quickly as the world discovers all it has to offer. Cheers!