Back to Charles Baker: A Toast to the Cuba LIbre

And with a year a half sojourn from writing, back to Mr. Charles Baker. Let's ease back in with a tried and true quaff. The Cuba Libre is a nice easy little number when made right. But the wheels can easily fall off, if not paying attention. First off, what is the difference between and a rum and coke and a Cuba Libre. Well, to some there is no differentiation. For me personally, I make a rum and coke with a lime wedge, automatically, and no lime juice. But when I am making a Cuba Libre, I add lime juice to the drink, and include the lime wedge as a garnish. As a rum and coke is a high ball, it should be a harmonious creation shared between the two elements. Unfortunately in modern times as few restaurants, bars or homes boast proper high ball glasses, a rum and coke consists of more coke, with the rum in the background, if it can be tasted at all. A Cuba Libre should be balanced between more elements, as the lime becomes an important player. Making sure the drink is ice cold is just as important as the lime juice to keep the sweetness at bay. Thus, crushed ice works. The rum should be strong enough to really stand out and a dark rum does this better than a light one.

Cuba Libre (adapted from Charles Baker)

1 large jigger Bacardi d'oro (2 ounces Havana Club rum)
juice of a small lime (3/4 ounce lime juice, or to taste)
spent lime shell
Coke to fill (Mexican Coke)

Muddle lime shell, rum, and lime juice in a Collins glass (to get the oils from the peel)
Add crushed or cracked ice, top with coke.

I had never thought to actually keep the lime wedge in to help add space, thus naturally minimizing the amount of soda. And it creates a stunning look as well. All in all, using Baker's recipe helped me to rediscover the joys of the Cuba Libre--all molasses, but bright with lime juice.

Since the next drink in Baker's compendium is linked to the Cuba Libre, why not handle two birds with one post. In Baker's drink, the main difference involves swapping out rum for sloe gin. I was skeptical at first, not only by pairing sloe gin and coke, but also by the proportions. Baker calls for a whopping three ounces of sloe gin. While he states clearly that an imported sloe gin is pivotal, who knows what that meant in the 1940s. And while we are lucky enough today to have dry sloe gins, countless sweet ones have dominated the market for years.

Cuba Reforme (adapted from Charles Baker)

2 jiggers sloe gin (3 ounces Plymouth sloe gin)
juice and spiral peel of a lime (1 ounce lime juice plus spent lime shell)
Coke to fill (Mexican Coke)

Combine lime juice spiral and sloe gin in a goblet (Muddle lime shell, sloe gin and lime juice in a large Collins or water glass)
Add crushed or cracked ice, top with coke.

In Baker's original he calls for a large goblet instead of a Collins. It makes sense--more ice means a colder drink and this one needs to be ice cold to stay balanced. It is surprisingly delicious--the way the tart sloe gin works with the sweetness of the coke, and the lime chills any lingering doubts about this being a sweet affair at all. Refreshing, with a subtle berry tartness, and yet the molasses comes still through. On a hot day, this would be a very refreshing bracer that is easy to make but different enough to stay interesting.


Reimagining the Lucien Gaudin Cocktail

I remember the first time I ran across the Lucien Gaudin cocktail. It was years ago now, when I first acquired my copy of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. I was newly obsessed with Campari drinks--not that this has changed over time--and this one seemed like one that I needed to try. I did, but the cocktail failed to make an impression. It was fine, just not memorable.

When people talk about the Lucien Gaudin cocktail, they usually focus on the man, Lucien Gaudin. Yes, he was a fencer, but not just your average fencer. He dominated the sport and is still tied as the record holder for best Olympics performance in French history for his performance in the 1920, '24, 1and '28 Olympics. While all of this is incredibly impressive and worthy of remembrance, I would wager that the reason why most cocktail writers focus so much attention on the man and not the cocktail is because the drink fails to impress on its own merits.

The Lucien Gaudin cocktail was first printed in an obscure French drinks manual, Cocktails des Paris, published in 1929. Its creation is credited to a man named Charlie of Cheval-Pie, who won the cup of honor for the drink in 1929. A couple tomes after that remember it, but not many. Until Ted Haigh brought it back, this drink seemed destined to be forgotten.

I have revisited the drink several times over the years. I have never been able to crack the mystery of why this drink has come back from the depths of cocktail history.  I have tried making it with different products to find that perfect harmony. I have swapped out the Campari for Luxardo bitter. I have utilized myriad gins and vermouth. I have even used different curacaos instead of Cointreau and changed the proportions. Nothing seemed to matter. The drink just falls flat for me, its flavors muddied. Recently I saw a variation online that made me want to revisit the Lucien Gaudin. Boy, was I glad that I did.

Lucien Gaudin (variation by Ken Gray, NYC)

1 1/2 ounces Old Tom Gin
1/2 ounce Luxardo bitter
1/2 ounce Giffard Curacao
1/2 ounce cocchi americano

Stir ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The changes aren't really that monumental--a softer gin, and a bittersweet fortified wine. These two new ingredients alter the drink from forgettable to delicious. Instead of straying into the hard to conquer land of dry and herbal, the roundness of the combination of tom gin and cocchi makes the the Campari and orange liqueur pop. The end result is balanced and tasty--a drink worthy of remembering.