The Cocktail History of Cuba

Cuba as an island has one of the most mysterious, chaotic but never-the-less utmost important histories surrounding cocktail culture. This is the island that gave us the Mojito, the Daiquiri, El Presidente, El Nacional & the Canchanchara! In the last 150 years it has been the centre of political turmoil, mafia run gambling hotspot, a rum war & most importantly the birth of some of the most important aspects of bartending innovation past the Prohibition period. Here at Cocktails For You we've searched far & wide to give you some insight into one of the most important countries in the world in cocktail culture!

It always start with the American Prohibition

The following words are from 'asocialnomad'. It would be easy to think that cocktails didn’t exist in Cuba until after the Spanish-American war and the increased American influence in Cuba. Or that no one ever drank a daiquiri until Hemingway sat at the bar of El Floridita in Havana.

It’s true, that following prohibition the influx of American bartenders and tourists to Cuba increased phenomenally.  Cuba became the pleasure island for glamourous, perhaps even hedonistic tourism.  Cuban bartenders – cantineros – became skilled at changing recipes and cocktails to suit the palate of their new customers.

Cuba is located just 180 kilometres from the mainland USA, so a logical solution to those wanting an alcoholic drink in the Prohibition years. Prohibition in the USA was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, import, transport and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933.   Prior to the implementation of Prohibition many bars and hotels in Havana were acquired by American’s, shall we say, planning ahead.   American bartenders were hired and sent to Cuba.

This led to the formation of the Club de Cantineros in 1924, this association of Cuban bartenders had clear aims to train its members to compete with the influx of American bartenders.   The Cuban Bartenders Association, the Club de Cantaneros de Cuba still exists today, and it’s a member of the International Bartenders Association, the IBA.

The Cantaneros published magazines and in 1930 issued an official manual. While the manual is based on the 1914 “Drinks” by Jacques Straub, it has considerable additions – 60 – many of which were Cuban originals.

La Bodeguita Del Medio From a bohemian hub in the 1950s, then a regular restaurant mostly frequented by Cubans in the 1980s, to now being one of Havana’s main tourist attractions—the popularity of La Bodeguita del Medio has gone nothing but up since it was established in 1942.