Whereas in the rest of the world, history is moved along by great and sometimes, evil, men around momentous events, in the Caribbean, history seems shaped, or at least often reflected, in food and drink.
The introduction of sugar cane to Cuba by the big conquistador himself, Christopher Columbus set in motion a historical path of monoculture and economic dependency whose effects are still felt today. On the other hand, having all that sugar cane lying around inspired the locals to produce the first rather raw and unpalatable rums. Don Facundo Bacardí Massó figured out how to refine and distill rum into the tasty liquor we know today. Bacardí and it's famous bat logo became synonymous with rum and begat a number of historic drinks, including the mojito, the daiqirí and the cuba libre.
Cuba libre is the real name of what anglos refer to simply and descriptively as rum and coke. The simple conflation of those two national beverage staples is not only rife with powerful symbolism, but its origin is a reflection of the history of Cuba and the United States. Picture this, it is 1900, and the world is poised at the brink of modernity. Teddy Roosevelt has led his rough riders to victory in what John Hay characterized as a "splendid little war", the Spanish-American War, propelling the United States onto super power status by appropriating by the sword what little Spain had left of colonial possesions. Cubans were so fed up of the spaniards who had on several occasions squashed their attempts to gain independence that they welcomed the americans as liberators.
Cuba is now overrun with american soldiers, assorted businessmen, adventurers etc., who are sampling the local good life in Havana's bars and restaurants. A 1965 trademark infringement lawsuit brought by Bacardí against a company that had called itself Cuba-Libre Products picks up the thread of the story:
"FAUSTO RODRIGUEZ, being duly sworn, deposes and says: In 1899 I was employed as a messenger in the office of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. I became friendly with a Mr. (name blacked out), who worked in the office of the Chief Signal Officer. One afternoon, in August, 1900, I went with him to the (name blacked out) Bar, and he drank Bacardi rum and Coca-Cola. I just drank Coca-Cola, being only 14 years old. On that occasion, there was a group of soldiers at the bar, and one of them asked Mr. name blacked out what he was drinking. He told them it was Bacardi and Coca-Cola and suggested they try it, which they did. The soldiers liked it. They ordered another round and toasted Mr. (name blacked out) as the inventor of a great drink. The drink has remained popular to the present time."
It is important to mention that Mr. Rodriguez had been employed in New York as a publicist for Bacardí and was known in the industry as Mr. Bacardí. No matter who is telling the story or where it is set (the majority set it at the Bar Americano on Calle Neptuno in Old Havana) it ends with all the soldiers toasting to "Cuba Libre!" (free Cuba). The story may be fabricated, like the Spanish-American War was pushed by the jingoistic yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst, but the drink is simplicity itself in how it joins the two cultures.
- 2 oz light rum (dark rum makes the coke froth too much)
- The juice of half a lime
- Coca Cola (the use of any other cola is an abomination)
Pour lime juice into a highball glass over ice cubes. Add rum, fill with cola, stir, garnish with a lime wedge and serve.
The Spirit of the Bat, Alejandro Benes, http://www.rum.cz/galery/cam/cu/bacardi/history2.htm, 9/4/2004
Cuba Libre - Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuba_Libre, 9/6/2004
History of the Rum Drink Cuba Libre, http://cuban-exile.com/doc_226-250/doc0240.html, 9/6/2004