Winederlusting contributor Alyssa Ramos recently visited Cuba in 2015 not long after some of the travel restrictions had been lifted. Being of Cuban decent, she’d always had a desire to visit the island. Almost as if it were a movie scene, Alyssa discovered a hidden journal her grandmother wrote in 1992 describing her home town, Santiago de las Vegas. The idea to trace the story was pitched to Geo Chic Magazine, and before long she was on her way to write the story about following her grandma’s journal to see where she grew up! Along the way, she had a few Cuban cocktails to share with us!
When you think of Cuban Cocktails, what do you imagine yourself sipping on? Perhaps a rum and coke at the bar? Or maybe a casual cerveza on the beach? Well there are quite a few cocktails that are pretty popular in Cuba, and likewise, a few that are not!
While I was in Cuba for two weeks recently, I did some thorough research on the cocktails that were popular there, since my drink of choice, Chardonnay, was not abundant. But by the end of my trip, and even back home in LA, I find myself ordering a Cuba Libre sometimes over my typical wine!
Here are the Cocktails of Cuba, and the best places to order them!
In Spanish, Cuba Libre translates to “free Cuba” and is a term that was coined at the onset of the Revolution when the Revolution leaders thought they were “freeing the people” from a social class system.
At the bar, Cuba Libre translates to “rum and cola” which is usually made with Havana Club rum, Refresco cola, and a splash of fresh lime juice. My favorite Cuba Libres were the ones at any beach shack bar, and poolside at the Presidente Hotel.
Simply put, this is a more aggressive version of a Cuba Libre. It is made with añejo instead of regular rum, so it has a bit more of a kick to it. I discovered it while sitting on the beautiful rooftop restaurant of Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana Vieja – an old favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway’s that has breathtaking views of the city.
Daiquiris are not popular everywhere in Cuba, but at El Floridita, they are infamous. That’s because it’s another known Hemingway hot spot, where he made the notorious claim that the best daiquiris in the world were made.
Obviously I had to try one, and that first one was so good that I had two more! They aren’t blended with ice like you might imagine, but instead shaken and poured into a martini glass with a lime garnish.
Another classic Cuban drink that of course must be taste-tested if you’re visiting Cuba! The Hotel Nacional makes a mean muddled mojito for only about 6 CUC (around $6 USD), and offers a beautiful garden patio to sip it on.
If you walk further out back you can sip it at one of the tables that overlooks the ocean and the Malécon, where there’s likely to be a lot of people hanging out and having some drinks of their own.
According to the family I stayed with in Cuba, there are three common household beverages: water, refrescos, and cerveza. It is so common to drink beer as a beverage option at any point in the day, that you’ll actually see men and women walking around the streets drinking them.
You can get them for cheap at a store, and bring them to the Malécon to drink like the locals! It’s also probably the safest thing to drink, especially if you don’t have the stomach for cheap rum!
Malta is popular amongst the locals, but I thought it was pretty gross. It tastes kind of like a mixture between sweet tea and beer, which, is not what beer is supposed to taste like, but I guess it could be an acquired taste…or not.
Wine is not easy to find in Cuba, but being the wino that I am, I figured out how to find it anyway. You can definitely find red and white table wines at any upscale hotel or restaurant, although it might be a bit expensive, or only available if you buy the bottle.
I found good wine at a Paladores (house-restaurant) in Vedado called “Havana Mediterraneano”, and also at the Hotel Saratoga, and a restaurant called Restaurante del Oriente in Havana Vieja.
Most of the time I was there I would have a glass of wine at the Presidente Hotel because it was only 3 CUC per glass, but it pretty much tasted as cheap as it costs. In general, any international restaurant will have decent to good wines as well, just be willing to pay a little extra for them!