If you're into thinkin' and drinkin'

Episode 9: The Little Lie – The Cuba Libre

I learned a lot this episode. With this mixed drink I learned more about Cuba, Coca-Cola, the Spanish American War and the Cuban Revolution and I learned that the standard rum and Coke originally had a different name.


Cuban Revolutionaries in Tampa.

The Cuba Libre is essentially a rum and Coke with lime juice added. I had no idea that this combination existed as a named cocktail previously. The tumultuous tale of how Cuba acquired its freedom…or almost acquired its freedom…must be told to get to the traditional story explaining the origins of the Cuba Libre. At the end of the Spanish American War in 1899 (we go into much more depth in the show) the United States was left with several new maritime colonies to manage including Cuba. It was this standing presence of U.S. soldiers on the island that made it possible for U.S. serviceman Captain Charles Russel to make a toast in a Havana bar “Por Cuba libre!”

Jose Marti

Jose Marti, Father of Cuban Independence

We 0ften regard heroic stories like this with a degree of skepticism. Unfortunately, there is usually very little we can do to verify their truth other than checking the circumstances. The circumstantial evidence itself is sound. There was, indeed, a Captain Russel who fought in the war and was stationed in Cuba and Coca-Cola was available in Cuba at the time. There is nothing in the story that is outwardly false and to some extent the verified unnecessary specifics suggest more value towards it being a genuine story.

Another interesting aspect of this cocktail is how the story about it kept growing after its inception. As American interests soured relations with the Cubans, the cocktail’s name became somewhat of a bitter pill so that now throughout the Caribbean the drink is known as La Mentirita which means “the little lie.”  Also, with the rise of Communism on Cuba, the focus for the drink has shifted and now the drink is used in toasts by Cuban dissidents in America as a political statement against Castro. Once again we see cocktails shifting to fit the culture that values them.

The drink is made thusly:

  • 2 oz rum
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Coca-Cola

The lime juice does make it more than a rum and coke, but we all agree it doesn’t make it incredibly better. Now, in my travels, I learned from another fellow that in South America they routinely add cinnamon to their Cuba Libres, so we tried that version as well. I have to admit after having the cinnamon added (traditionally they either sprinkle it on top or used a cinnamon stick to mix it) I don’t want to drink rum and cokes without adding cinnamon ever again. It changes it up so dramatically that it makes the beverage a whole new monster.

Cuba Libre Pic

Transition music: Cephalopod by Kevin MacLeod
Closing Music: I Don’t Want to Go to Cuba by MutantLab

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