The Cuba Libre is a simple drink, best drunk by the water — it's for getting one's buzz on and telling lies.
Back when I was behind the bar — in the before times — I had a regular who we knew as Captain Jim. Jim was tall, American, and getting on in years. You could tell he was slowed by chemotherapy for leukaemia if you really looked, but you didn’t — he had the kind of blue-eyed sparkle which told you that he had caused his share of mischief.
He’d sit at the corner of the bar, coming in around 2pm on the days he knew I was working. If he came in and I wasn’t working, he’d get a drink and go; the days I was working, he’d have three or four, and sit out on the balcony overlooking Darling Harbour. He’d light a cigar and look out at the boats and the water and the shape of the Sydney skyline.
He told me once that he had been a Navy SEAL; told me that his two sons were both paramedics back in the States. And when his buddies came to town, they’d spend the night in the bars, “getting drunk and telling lies.” That was the whole point of the thing to him.
He’d only have three or four drinks, he said — just enough to get a buzz on. He didn’t like it when the place was busy. He used to run a place on the Caribbean island of St Maarten — the Dutch side, he said — after he’d left the SEALs.
Why am I telling you this? Well, what he’d drink was a Cuba Libre. He’d never order it that way — he’d order a Bacardi. Not a Bacardi and Coke, but a Bacardi, four or five fingers of the stuff in a tall glass, filled with ice, a splash of Coke and a squeeze of lime.
He said he ordered it that way because on St Maarten, the most expensive ingredient in the drink wasn’t the booze — it was the cola.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe he was just getting a buzz on and telling lies.
What I do know is true is that you want a dry, punchy style of white rum for this drink; the sweetness of the Cola will do the heavy lifting of balancing the acidity from the lime juice, and you want the rum to shine through.
If you find yourself near some water and some boats, a bright sun in the sky above, and this drink in your hand? As Jim would say: You’re doing ok, my friend.
- 60ml white rum
- juice of half a lime
- cola to top
- In a tall glass, add the rum and lime juice.
- Fill with ice, then add the cola.
- Garnish with a wedge of lime.