Drink of the Week: The Pilar Old Cuban

The Pilar Old Cuban.A really topnotch new brand of dark rum, fresh lime juice, a little sweetness, some fresh mint leaves, champagne…what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, really. Nothing at all. It’s just…

I have to be honest with you — I don’t really feel like I’ve nailed this week’s drink, not quite. Yes, it’s refreshing and fairly well balanced, it’s base spirit is kind of spectacular, easily one of the best products I’ve ever been lucky enough to get for free. However, the final flavor profile just didn’t wow me as much as you’d expect, especially given how good the main ingredient really is and, really, how sound this recipe — a variation of a drink that’s been around for awhile — really seemed on paper.

At the same time, I have a confession to make, but we’ll get to that in the post-recipe section of this post.

The Pilar Old Cuban

2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6-8 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces brut champagne/dry sparkling white wine

Muddle the mint leaves lightly in a cocktail shaker. Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters (very important or this drink will come out way too sweet…I know because I forgot them on my first attempt at this drink), lots of ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain into an extra large cocktail glass (double strain if you’re fussy about bits of mint leaf getting into the drink). Top off with two ounces of cold champagne/sparkling white wine. Toast the real life elderly Cuban person of your choice. Mine would be the late Ruben Gonzalez, the wonderful, gentlemanly pianist featured in Wim Wenders’ 1998 music documentary, “The Buena Vista Social Club.”

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Today’s cocktail appears to be a variation of a drink reportedly invented by famed bartender Audrey Saunders, which features a premium rum from a far better known brand and is simply known as The Old Cuban. As mentioned above, the base spirit in today’s drink is the truly extraordinary Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum, which is dynamite stuff. This very flavorful expression, which has strong hints of vanilla and a lot of molasses to it, makes a truly fantastic Old Fashioned. It’s got so much natural flavor and sweetness that you can make that drink with just 1/2 a teaspoon of raw sugar.

Nevertheless,  I chose to make the Pilar Old Cuban instead. If I really did make a mistake on this version that kept it out of the cocktail stratosphere, I’d hazard a guess that it was — and here’s my confession — my use of a pretty darn cheap champagne to finish off the drink.

Yes, I ignored the obvious disapproval of a local liquor purveyor who tried to steer me towards a $12.00 bottle of bubbly. I simply wasn’t in the mood to spend that kind of a money on an ingredient that wasn’t even really the star of the show and it’s not like I’d get to use the unused champagne on future cocktails. So, I went with a $5.00 brand that you may well have consumed at a not-too-upscale champagne brunch.  Maybe that’s what did it, or rather, didn’t quite do it.

So, it’s possible I missed the point here. Try this drink with a really good brand of champagne, especially if you’re going to be opening a bottle of the stuff anyway. You can experiment with a little less simple syrup, or try it with superfine sugar instead, maybe just a tablespoon full or slightly more. Or, you could just listen to the beautiful playing piano playing of the later Mr. Gonzalez, which makes everything perfect.

  

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Drink of the Week: El Presidente

El PresidenteThe name of today’s DOTW notwithstanding, this post is not brought to you by the ongoing Republican primary or anything else happening in the world of U.S. or Latin American politics. Instead, we all should thank the good people of Denizen Rum. As always, I appreciate the free bottle but I also appreciate the very reasonable price tag for a fifth which, depending on taxes in your area, might give you enough change from a $20.00 for a Double-Double at In ‘n Out. That’s something because this is tasty stuff, a bit more sophisticated and complex than your standard Bacardi, but in the friendliest way.

On to the cocktail, which was supposedly invented by a Yankee bartender working in Cuba. As per Wayne Curtis, back when little Fidel Castro was not even old enough for his first game of sandlot baseball, Cuba’s somewhat beleaguered President Gerardo Machado, offered one of these to our own el presidente, Republican Calvin Coolidge. Silent Cal remembered that there was this thing called prohibition going on and politely declined.

Nice story, but my first attempt at the drink seemed to explain why El Presidente has become a relic stateside. I found the classical recipes to be sweet to the point of being cloying — and that’s something considering my sweet tooth.

I therefore followed the lead of booze blogger Matt Robold and halved one sweet ingredient, orange curacao, at his suggestion. I liked that version better but I decided to also halve the amount of grenadine he suggested. I found something close to perfection when made with the Denizen rum. This version works slightly less well with plain old Bacardi, but it’s still very nice.

El Presidente (impeached, but not deposed)

1.5 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce orange curacao
1/4 teaspoon grenadine
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. If you want to be traditional, stir for a very long time over crushed or cracked ice, or you can do like I do and shake it vigorously, though the drink might not look as pretty if you do. Your call.

Strain into our old friend, the chilled martini/cocktail glass. Fire up original mambo king Perez Prado on the music player of your choice, imagine a day when Cuban cigars are no longer contraband, and have a sip.

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If you want to go more traditional/way sweeter, the classic version offered by cocktail super-historian David Wondrich simply doubles the amount of curacao, and I think 1/4 of a teaspoon is probably the same as the “dash” of grenadine he suggests. I will say that, while I loved my version of the drink, at no point was I able to achieve the orange color the drink has in most (but not all) photos. Mine was more of a pale pinkish hue somewhat as you see above, even with just a tiny amount of very sweet, very red grenadine. It tasted amazing, so I can live with that.

One quick suggestion, if you are determined to go with the full 1/2 ounce of orange sweet stuff, you might do as some have suggested and substitute Cointreau for the curacao. It’s not bad.

 

  

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