Sip on the Spirits of Cuba With the Makers of NYC's Cienfuegos New Cocktail Book

Jane Danger and Alla LapushchikEXPAND
Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik
Gabi Porter

Now that the U.S. and Cuba have restored their ties, a growing number of Americans are interested in traveling to the largest country in the Caribbean. But with the remaining U.S. embargo on travel and business, it's much harder than we'd like to sip mojitos on the beach. Thankfully, the co-owners of one of the most colorful cocktail bars in the nation, Cienfuegos, have traveled to the island to bring the splash of flavor that characterizes Cuba's history and culture.

More than just a book of instructions for tropical drinks, Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks is a time capsule of the sophistication and vibrancy of Old Cuba, filled with scenery that details the inspiration behind its beloved cocktails. No longer is Cuba the forbidden fruit we've all been wanting to try, as the authors offer anecdotes that give readers a glimpse of Cuba's evolutionary cocktail history, including the famous bars and cantineros who were responsible for its rise. And since this book is written by NYC's elite in hospitality, there are plenty of notes, tips, and tricks to set you on the path to becoming a pro-mixologist

Authors Ravi DeRossi, Jane Danger, and Alla Lapushchik have compiled 100 recipes that feature Cuba's classic cocktails, such as the Cuba Libre, El Floridita Daiquirí, and Mojito; a bevy of punch recipes to be enjoyed by all, much like the ones featured at their bar in Manhattan's East Village; a spin on familiar favorites, such as the Isla Tea, Por Avion, and Rum Old Fashioned; and contemporary medleys, including the Havana Harbor Special, Imperial Fizz, and One Hundred Fires. 

Jane Danger discusses Cuba's cocktail history and culture, the similarities between the U.S. and Cuba's cocktail repertoire, and what makes Havana Club so special.

New Times: What is the most intriguing aspect of Cuba’s cocktail history?
Jane Danger: The stronghold Cuban cocktail bars have had on classic over the years is really interesting. When we in America went through prohibition, and some dark moments in our cocktails history, the Cuban bars were still perfecting all the classics they still make today.

Which historic bar in Cuba has the most influence on its cocktail culture?  
I would say El Floridita, as a historic bar, has had the most influence on cocktail culture, largely because of the innovative fortitude of Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the head bartender and owner. Many of his cocktails were developed for the specific palates of his regulars and are now classics. He was innovative in technique and a constant presence in the bar. That legacy has carried El Floridita's influence to the present.

Do Cuba and the U.S. have anything in common when it comes to cocktails?
Cuba and the U.S. have a lot in common when it comes to cocktails. The early development of cocktail culture in the U.S. and Cuba were parallel. When Prohibition came to the US shores, Cuba became the epicenter of cocktail culture for thirsty Americans. The paths diverged with time but in a lot of ways, today, we find ourselves with still a lot in common when it comes to cocktails. Cocktail culture in America went through a dark age of faster and sweeter which we only recently have come out of. Cuban cocktail culture skipped that period so we now find ourselves in a similar place again, with an eye towards the classics.

Can you explain the significance behind the punch bowl?
Punch bowls are significant because they created community over time. That's where people would meet in olden times, not at a coffee shop, but around a punch bowl. Today, it is more about celebrating and having a good time. It still brings people together.

What makes Havana Club different from other rums? Is it really the best?
Havana Club uses the best sugar cane and doesn't add extra sugar in after distillation. Adding extra sugar isn't against the rules, but you can change the flavors without adding age. It's definitely one of the best on the market, and it's arrival in America is very exciting. Hopefully, we will have bottles in the country soon, and everyone can give it a taste to decide for themselves!

What is your favorite recipe from Cuban Cocktails?
There are so many, it's hard to choose. Classic daiquiris are always a favorite. Simple, bright, and refreshing. If you've already had your fill of traditional Daiquiris, The Cienfuegos Shake is a delicious option. Fresh lime, sugar, mint, Angostura bitters, and aged rum. 

Cienfuegos ShakeEXPAND
Cienfuegos Shake
Gabi Porter

Cienfuegos Shake
Ingredients

  • 6 mint leaves
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz El Dorado 15 Year Old Rum
  • ½ oz Benedictine
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Method

In a shaker tin, muddle mint with simple syrup. Add remaining ingredients to the tin, shake with ice, and double strain into a chilled coupe.

Reprinted with permission from Cuban Cocktails published in 2015 by Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. © DeRossi Global LLC. Photography by Gabi Porter.

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