Cocktail #30: Cuba Libre

With this past weekend's passing of Cuba's brutal dictator/revolutionary leader (depending on your philosophy; or perhaps both) Fidel Castro, it seemed an opportune time to tackle the incredibly simple cocktail, the Cuba Libre.

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!


Cocktail #29: Mauna Kea Mist

It's been a rough couple of weeks, given the fact that ~45% of the population voted for a racist, misogynistic, lazy know-nothing for president. While I find myself in a constant state of low-level rage, the moments away from the computer or phone screen, away from social media, are increasingly pleasant. I know we mustn't ignore what is happening in our country, but after 6+ months of digesting so much news and following the election so closely, only to witness this awful outcome, it's nice to have a break. And one thing I love about tiki is its escapism. The creator of the wonderful site Critiki briefly touched on this in a recent post. There is work to be done and fights to fight, but right now, I need a little escape. Which leads me to our next drink ...

The Mauna Kea Mist (even it's name sounds relaxing) is a drink found in Jeff Berry's Intoxica! and it hails from the Gang Plank Lounge of the Ship's Tavern Restaurant at the Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii, circa 1960s.

Here's what you do:

1.00 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
0.50 oz. sweet and sour (I made my own from scratch for a previous cocktail - super easy)
0.50 oz. half & half
0.50 oz. coconut cream
0.50 oz. light Puerto Rican rum (I was out so I used Bacardi gold)
0.75 oz. Grand Marnier (I was lucky enough to find an airplane bottle size at Binny's so I wouldn't have to drop the cash on a full bottle that I won't use very often)

Blend with a cup of crushed ice until slushy. Pour into a chimney glass. Add crushed ice to fill. Garnish with an orange slice and an orchid (lacking an orchid, I simply stuck a cocktail cherry to the orange using a cocktail sword).

True to its name, origin, and ingredients, this is a lovely cocktail. It's heavy on the pineapple and coconut, so I might reduce those slightly next time. The Grand Marnier comes through just slightly, with a subtle bitter orange note. The half and half combines with the coconut cream to make this a lovely creamy, frothy drink. Put down the phone, turn off the TV and computer, blend one up, and float off to the warm breezes of Waikiki ...

To help get  you in the mood, I'll leave you with a track from this wonderful LP I recently found used. It's "On the Beach at Waikiki / Hawaiian War Chant / My Honolulu Tomboy" by Andre Kostelanetz. Cheers, and hang in there.


Cocktail #28: Captain's Blood

I was going to skip a week given the horrific result of the US election. I'm not sure anyone's in the mood to read about tiki drinks or crazy garnishes. But, perhaps you are in the mood to drink. I'm not going to let that orange piece of garbage disrupt the things that I enjoy doing, so -- onward!

I've been devouring the New York Times over the last few months, including some non-political content. They have a wonderful recipe site and app, and there are a lot of cocktails as well as food on the site. I recently came across this cocktail, the Captain's Blood, in Rosie Schaap's latest column, and while it may not exactly be considered a "tiki drink," its simplicity and riff on the classic daiquiri intrigued me. I didn't have it in me to do a whole big complicated one this week, so this seemed to fit the bill.  Schaap is their occasional drinks writer (and has also written a wonderful book called "Drinking With Men," which I highly recommend). Here's the Captain's Blood:

1 ½ ounce Jamaican dark rum (I ended up using a slightly lighter Barbados rum from Mount Gay; Myers's or another darker Jamaican rum probably would have been a little better)
¼ ounce falernum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
½ teaspoon superfine sugar (or more to taste; I ended up using 1/4 oz. simple syrup instead)
Lime wheel or wedge for garnish

Not a lot to expound on for this cocktail. It goes down very easily, and I found Schaap's portions just right. As she notes, you can play around with the sugar / citrus portions if you like a drink on the more tart or sweet side, but for me this was just right.

The falernum and the Angostura bitters add nice slightly spicy notes to it to take the edge of the tartness. Bottom line: really nice, simple cocktail that will go down easily.

It's going to be a rough four years ahead of us. In the meantime, let's take a moment to remember at least one good thing that this country was capable of. Perhaps it can be again. Cheers.


Cocktail #27: Blue Hawaii

If one word could sum up the last 12 months as it relates to politics in the USA (and about 45% of the population of our country), I think it would be deplorable. This Tuesday is, at least, a pause in the insanity (though with all of the damage that Trump has done to the body politic, the insanity will undoubtedly continue, no matter what happens). The last couple months for me have been filled with fitful nights of sleep, and a constant low-level (and ever heightening) anxiety. I'll be glad when this is over.

Back in 2008 on Election Night my wife and I had friends over to watch the returns as we rooted for Obama. To pay homage to his heritage, as well as the color that has come to symbolize democrats, we made a version of the Blue Hawaii, way before I had any appreciation for proper tiki drinks. So it seemed appropriate on this Sunday before the 2016 election, that I revisit the Blue Hawaii - again to honor probably the best president I will see in my lifetime, and also to root for blue.

As my favorite, now retired from blogging, political writers used to say, "know hope."

Ok, we're going to need this. Let's get into the drink.

The Blue Hawaii was invented by the famous bartender of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Harry Yee, in 1957. A sales rep for a new Blue Curacao liqueur asked Yee to create a cocktail that featured it, and after experimentation he came up with this gem. I found a recipe for the Blue Hawaii in Jeff Berry's Grog Log which I modified slightly with some attributes of this recipe from Modern Tiki. Berry's is probably the most historically accurate so here it is:

2.00 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
1.00 oz. sweet and sour mix (I made mine from scratch, recipe here)
0.75. oz. blue Curacao
0.50 teaspoon cream of half and half
1.50 oz. vodka

His only instruction is, "mix everything in a tall glass packed with crushed ice."

Since I'm not a huge fan of cocktails with vodka as the only spirit, I decided to go with the Modern Tiki version where they do split of 0.75 oz. light rum and 0.75 oz. vodka. If I were to make this again, I would stick with Berry's 2.00 oz. pineapple juice instead of the 3.00 oz. Modern Tiki used. Also, I shook everything with lots of crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and poured it unstrained into a Pilsner glass (though a Hurricane glass would probably be more appropriate). I added ice as needed. I garnished with a pineapple wedge, three pineapple leaves, and an umbrella.

Blue Curacao gets a bit of a bad rap, especially in today's world of "craft, grain-to-glass" cocktail snobbery. But what the hell? Blue drinks are ridiculous and fun. Is this bottle of Blue Curacao going to last me the next 20 years? Probably. But once in a while it's fun to whip up something that the characters in the Fifth Element would have been drinking. And what is tiki if not fun?

As for the taste - like I said, I would have held back a bit on the pineapple juice, but otherwise, this drink was absolutely wonderful. Sweet, fruity, frothy - this is absolutely a cocktail that you would drink at some Disney resort, and it goes down so, so easy. It's not complex, it's easy to make, and your guests would love it if you served this at your election night gathering. Grab that $10 bottle of Blue Curacao at the supermarket and mix one up for Tuesday night.

Hopefully we will be celebrating, and not drowning our sorrows.

Know Hope.