November 16: Havana

HavanaSo, a funny thing happened on the way to the founding of Havana, Cuba… The city was originally founded on either August 25, 1514 or 1515 on the banks of the Mayabeque River. However, the Spanish colonists, led by Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, had some trouble adjusting to the island and the settlement actually moved around several times. Finally, the present site of Havana, Cuba was settled today in 1519.

Of course, with all that said, Havana is one of the most important cities in drinking history. Before American Prohibition, Cubans were already experimenting with mixing rums with local fruit juices. However, when Prohibition took effect, many of America’s top bartenders sought refuge in Havana so they could continue to practice their art. In fact, special cruises from Florida to Havana and Pan-Am flights from New York to Havana were established so rich lushes could enjoy a proper drinking experience. In the years between Prohibition and the rise of Fidel Castro in 1959, Havana was probably the hottest cocktail city in the western hemisphere. There legendary bars Sloppy Joe’s and La Floridita fought for customers, including our old friend Ernest Hemingway, and invented or popularized many now classic cocktails including the following: the Mojito, the Daiquiri, the Cuba Libre, El Presidente and the Papa Doble.

So, what the hey, let’s make a Mojito. The origins of the Mojito can be traced back to a 19th century drink called El Draque (The Drake). The story goes that after the success of the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1586, Sir Francis Drake and his crew set sail for Havana. However, before they could get there, the crew came down with scurvy. It was well known amongst sailors that local indigenous tribes had remedies for tropical diseases. A small landing party went to consult with a coastal Cuban tribe, and returned with a recipe for a remedy; a potent mix of crude rum, mint, lime juice and sugarcane juice, thus such a mixture came to be known as El Draque. Although it’s not particularly clear where the name Mojito comes from, theories suggest that the name either comes from the Cuban seasoning made from limes called mojo, or the diminutive form of the word mojado (the Spanish word for “wet”.). Regardless of its origins, this remains an all-time classic cocktail.

Mojito

  • 2 ounces White Rum
  • 12 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup
  • club soda

Muddle the mint leaves and lime wedges together in a Collins glass. Add the sugar, ice, rum and club soda. Stir well and garnish with a sprig of mint and a lime wedge.

Tomorrow: The New York Jets, The Oakland Raiders and the little Swiss girl who took them both down.

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