I wouldn't necessarily call this a "tiki drink" but it does contain elements of what evolved into tiki drinks and exotic cocktails - rum, sweet (Coca-Cola), and sour (lime juice). Jeff Berry delves deep into the history of the Cuba Libre in his wonderful book, Potions of the Caribbean. It was a favorite of the infamous drunk, and alleged rapist Errol Flynn. Berry notes that "the drink was born sometime on or after 1900, the year the Coca-Cola Company first started exporting to Cuba. Legend has it that a U.S. civil servant drinking at the American Bar in Havana asked the bartender to combine Cuba's favorite spirit with America's favorite soft drink ... which some rubbernecking Signal Corpsmen then ordered, liked, and christened with a toast to a free Cuba: "Por Cuba libre!" Berry goes on to describe the more likely and less glamourous origin story for this drink - most likely that a broke soldier used some Coca-Cola to mask whatever rotgut he had on hand.
The Cuba Libre didn't start to make the rounds on bar menus in Cuba until the 1950s, when post-war tourism to Cuba was starting to peak. And as Berry notes, the "hit Andrews Sisters song, 'Rum and Coca-Cola' sealed the deal' for its popularity after World War II.
The recipe Berry provides is the version "as served throughout Havana, then and now." He also says he feels that this drink is at worst "a waste of good rum" and at best "a waste of good cola." He's probably right. Nevertheless, here's how to make a Havana Cuba Libre, the way it is made at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana:
2.00 oz. white Cuban rum (I'm not aware of any actual Cuban rum being imported into the states at the moment; Berry notes that Bacardi 1909 is a good stand-in. When I saw this bottle of Havana Club [made in Puerto Rico] I figured it would be good enough)
4.00 oz. chilled Coca-Cola (I used the closest to the original I could find - "Mexican Coke" that uses sugar instead of HFCS)
0.75 oz. fresh lime juice
Pre-shake the rum and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a tall glass over fresh ice, then add cola and garnish with a lime.
|via Flickr user Alan Mays. A souvenir post card from 1937, Sloppy Joe's Bar, Havana, Cuba|
I wasn't expecting much, but this was actually simple and pleasant. I hadn't had full-sugar, non-diet Coke in a long time, so the sweetness was almost a bit much. But the lime juice tempered the sweetness a bit. The rum was mostly lost in this drink, which is probably why it was so popular with tourists drinking a rum drink for the first time in the 1950s - you mostly just taste the Coke. But what the hell ... I enjoyed learning about the history of this simple cocktail, and honestly this is a pretty nice way to cool off on a warm day. Just don't waste good rum on it!
While mixing this sucker up, I played some Xavier Cugat. Here are two tracks from "Cugi's Cocktails" that should get you going should you decide to partake - "Cuba Libre" and "Rum and Coca-Cola"! Enjoy!