The Story Behind The Old Cuban
Often described as the love child of the Mojito and the French 75, the Old Cuban is a refreshing modern classic that combines dark rum, mint, and Champagne to create a marmalade-hued “Havana afternoon” in a glass.
The cocktail was invented by legendary bartender Audrey Saunders in 2001, a key player in the cocktail renaissance that was taking place in the early aughts. The drink debuted on the menu at New York’s Bemelmans Bar in 2002 and quickly became a favorite at Saunders' sadly now-shuttered Pegu Club after its doors opened in 2005. The bar served as the training ground for several bartenders who went on to open up other iconic NYC establishments, including Please Don’t Tell and Death & Co.
A glance at some of Saunders’ greatest hits suggests she has quite an affinity for mint, as it serves as the garnish and herbal backbone in her three most well-known cocktails: the French Pearl, the Gin Gin Mule, and, of course, the Old Cuban. In the latter, the cooling herb pierces the dryness of the Champagne and the tart sweetness of its rum-lime-syrup baseline. The bitters, meanwhile, add a final spiced seasoning.
When making this drink, be sure to double-strain to avoid pieces of bruised mint making their way into the glass. When garnishing, give the mint leaf a good smack between your hands to unleash the herb’s oils before placing atop the cocktail.