El Presidente: The Exquisite Cocktail That Neither Communists Nor Capitalists Could Kill

Categories: Beverages, Booze

Photos by John Kiely
One of the best cocktails ever, and also one of the worst.

If you make it with the right spirits, the El Presidente cocktail is sophisticated, light and dreamy. It's every bit as elegant as a Martini, and better-tasting if you're not a lover of gin.

If you make the El Presidente with lesser brands of liquor, it tastes like hairspray. Sadly, this elite cocktail fell victim to political idealism and the search for a cheap buck, but recent cocktail trends will bring it back.

The drink was born when the enemies of fun and luxury enacted Prohibition in 1919. Much of the thriving American cocktail culture, and a lot of bartending talent, went overseas to Europe and Cuba. One of those bartenders, Eddie Woelke, working at the Jockey Club in Havana, put together an improbable mix of white rum, French dry vermouth, orange curaçao and grenadine, and named it in honor of Presidente Gerardo Machado, who governed Cuba through the years of Prohibition.

The drink became the favorite of the Cuban upper classes, much like a Martini or a Southside in America. The main ingredient, Bacardi rum, was one of the finest in the world, unlike the mass-market Bacardi white rum we find in stores today.

What happened to Bacardi light rum? More enemies of fun and luxury, led by Fidel Castro, put many Cuban businessmen in front of a firing squad, which convinced the family of Facundo Bacardi to move operations to Puerto Rico. What happened next, we're not sure, but Wayne Curtis, rum expert and the author of "And a Bottle of Rum," bemoans this loss in Lost Magazine:

Yes, this would have been the original rum in El Presidente -- Bacardi was omnipresent in Havana during Prohibition -- but the company has lost either the will or the way to make an exceptional rum. I've sipped Bacardi white that was distilled in 1925, and, my friend, I'm here to tell you that the Bacardi of today does not even live in the same neighborhood.

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