The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2017

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may 2017  /  the tasting panel  /  61 cocktail. Around 1902, Cabrera said, the trio of ingredients was consumed dur- ing a spontaneous toast to the country's independence ("Viva Cuba Libre!"), and its name christened. It became popular at Bar Dos Hermanos, situated across from a port, and American sailors returned home with a thirst for the effervescent elixir. While the Cuba Libre/Rum and Coke may be the simplest and most ubiquitous Cuban drink, the Daiquiri is most important drink of the modern cocktail movement, declared Lermayer. Its combination of sweet, acid and spirit is also a lesson in balance and the foundation for all sours. First created in 1898 on Daiquiri Beach, a small town near Santiago de Cuba, by American mining engineer Jennings Cox, the Daiquiri became "bastardized" in the 1980s via frozen drink machines and artificial ingredients. "Nowadays it has resurged itself as a drink with integrity," Lermayer said. What makes a balanced Daiquiri so very difficult to achieve, explained Ford, is the varying sweetness levels in different rums. Bartenders judge other bartenders on their Daiquiris much the same way chefs judge each other on an omelet or risotto. Master it, Lermayer noted, and you can master the Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Whiskey Sour and Jack Rose. "If you can't master a Daiquiri as a bartender," Ford joked, "you have no right making a Banana Daiquiri." The cocktail stayed in Cuba, Brown said, until Rear Admiral Lucius W. Johnson brought it to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C. in 1909, after which it became a favorite of everyone from JFK to Ernest Hemingway. No mention of the Daiquiri is com- plete without including La Floridita, the beloved Havana bar frequented by guests including Hemingway. Constantino Ribalaigua Vert ("The King of the Daiquiri") began working as a bartender there in 1914 and became the owner in 1918. He developed six versions of the drink, Greene said, including the Hemingway Daiquiri (which sees the addition of maraschino and grapefruit), and the Papa Doble, a double-sized version requested by the author so he didn't have to keep ordering his favorite potable. Cuba's rich cocktail culture led to the creation of one of the world's earliest bartending organization, the Club de Cantineros de Cuba, founded in 1924 by Catalonian immigrants. "This was a grassroots organization that took tremendous pride in what they did," Lermayer noted. "It was a patriotic fraternal order to add professionalism to the job." It was also an extraordinary feat to standardize the bar industry across an entire country, he added. Before the Revolution, Cuba was considered a decadent playground and the "Paris of the Caribbean"; of course, much of that changed under Castro's rule. Today, with American travel restrictions loosening, more Americans are able to experience the country's bar culture. But though Cuban bartend- ers possess a high level of skill and technique, they don't have access to tools or quality ingredients beyond rum says Ford, often staring wonder-eyed at glassware and jiggers. (If you are ever visiting Cuba, he suggests bringing a suitcase filled with shakers, bar spoons and strainers for their bartenders.) Still, the future looks bright for cocktail collaboration. "In America, we try to teach bartenders about service, vulnerability, humility," Lermayer mused. "There, in Cuba, it is so natu- ral." Bartending, predicted Brown, may be our best shot at diplomacy. Julio Cabrera, face of the Cuban Cantinero movement in the United States; Philip Greene, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail; Simon Ford, co-owner of The 86 Spirits Company; John Lermayer, owner of Sweet Liberty; and Derek Brown, co-founder of Drink Company and Chief Spirits Advisor to the National Archives Foundation, pose for a group photo.

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