The drink was created in Cuba in the early 1900s, but its exact origins are not known with certainty. It became popular shortly after 1900, when bottled Coca-Cola was first imported into Cuba from the United States. It is associated with the heavy U.S. presence in Cuba following the Spanish–American War of 1898; the drink's traditional name, "Cuba Libre" (Free Cuba), was the slogan of the Cuban independence movement.
The Cuba Libre is sometimes said to have been created during the Spanish–American War. However, this predates the first distribution of Coca-Cola to Cuba in 1900. A drink called a "Cuba Libre" was indeed known in 1898, but this was a mix of water and brown sugar.
Fausto Rodriguez, a Bacardi advertising executive, claimed to have been present when the drink was first poured, and produced a notarized affidavit to that effect in 1965. According to Rodriguez, this took place in August 1900, when he was a 14-year-old messenger working for a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Havana. One day at a local bar, Rodriguez's employer ordered Bacardi rum mixed with Coca-Cola. This intrigued a nearby group of American soldiers, who ordered a round for themselves, giving birth to a popular new drink. Bacardi published Rodriguez's affidavit in a Life magazine ad in 1966. However, his status as a Bacardi executive has led some commenters to doubt the veracity of his story. Another story states that the drink was first created in 1902 at Havana's Restaurant La Florida to celebrate the anniversary of Cuban independence.
The drink caught on due to the
pervasiveness of its ingredients. Havana was already known for its iced drinks
in the 19th century, as it was one of the few warm-weather cities that had abundant
stores of ice shipped down from colder regions. Bacardi and other Cuban rums
also boomed after independence brought in large numbers of foreign tourists and
investors, as well as new opportunities for exporting alcohol. Light rums such
as Bacardi became favored for cocktails, as they were considered to mix better
than harsher dark rums. Coca-Cola had been a common mixer in the United States
ever since it was first bottled in 1886, and it became a ubiquitous drink in
many countries after it was first exported in 1900.
Rum and Coke quickly spread from Cuba to the United States. In the early 20th century the cocktail, like Coca-Cola itself, was most popular in the Southern United States. During the Prohibition era from 1922–1933, Coca-Cola became a favored mixer for disguising the taste of low-quality rums, as well as other liquors. In 1921 H. L. Mencken jokingly wrote of a South Carolina variant called the "jump stiddy", which consisted of Coca-Cola mixed with denatured alcohol drained from automobile radiators. After Prohibition, rum and Coke became prevalent in the Northern and Western U.S. as well, and in high-brow as well as low-brow circles.
Rum and Coke achieved a new level of
popularity during World War II. Starting in 1940, the United States established
a series of outposts among the British West Indies to defend against the German
Navy. Their presence created cross-cultural demand, with American servicemen
and the locals developing tastes for each other's products. In particular,
American military personnel took to Caribbean rum due to its inexpensiveness,
while Coca-Cola became especially prevalent in the islands thanks to the
company shipping it out with the military. Within the United States, imported
rum became increasingly popular, as government quotas for industrial alcohol
reduced the output of American distillers of domestic liquors. In 1943, Lord
Invader's Calypso song "Rum and Coca-Cola" drew further attention to
the drink in Trinidad. In 1945, the Andrews Sisters had a major hit with a
version of the song (plagiarized by Morey Amsterdam), which further boosted the
drink's popularity. The drink is also featured prominently in the Canadian
mockumentary television show "Trailer Park Boys" as one of the main
characters: Julian's drink of choice.
and additional ingredients, but the main ingredients are always rum and cola. The
International Bartenders Association recipe calls for 5 centiliters of light
rum, 12 cl of cola, and 1 cl of fresh lime juice on ice. However, any amount
and proportion of rum and cola may be used. Additionally, while light rum is
traditional, dark rums and other varieties are also common. Different colas are
also often used; in fact, in Cuba, Coca-Cola has not been imported since the
U.S. embargo of 1960, so the domestic TuKola
is used in Cuba Libres.
Lime is traditionally included,
though it is often left out, especially when the order is for "rum and
Coke". Some early recipes called for lime juice to be mixed in, though
others included lime only as a garnish. Other early recipes called for
additional ingredients such as gin and bitters. Some sources consider lime
essential for a drink to be a true Cuba Libre, which they distinguish from a
mere "rum and Coke". However, lime is frequently included even in
orders for "rum and Coke".
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