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    Cuban Cocktails in Années Folles Europe

    | By François Monti

    Pedro Chicote at the bar

    Let’s have a quick look at the little doses of Cuba we found in some of the most famous cocktail books of the ‘années folles

    The story often goes that Americans influenced Cuban bartending during prohibition and then Cuban bartenders had a huge impact on American drinking culture. Although there are still things to be said about this line of thought, let’s just focus on something else today: Cuban influence on Europe. Obviously the traffic between the Caribbean and the old continent did not happen in a one way street: the first generation of Cantineros were all of Spanish origin (Maragato, Ribalaigua, Boadas…) and one of Havana’s most famous bartenders in the 20’s was a Brit called Fred Kaufman. But little people seem to realise how fast some Cuban cocktails made their way to France, the United Kingdom or the old colonial power, Spain. So let’s have a quick look at the little doses of Cuba we found in some of the most famous cocktail books of the ‘années folles’. 

    First, special mention should be made of one iconic drink. Although sometimes misspelled, the Daiquiri is in most books. As early as 1922, we find this great cocktail in two seminal volumes: Robert Vermeire’s ‘Cocktails – How to Mix Them’ and Harry McElhone’s ‘ABC of Cocktails’. Interesting fact: after the Civil War, Spain faced huge shortages and the new regime blocked imports. As a result, rum was hard to come by. In Pedro Talavera’s 1940 ‘Cock-Tails’, the Dacqueri (sic) is prepared with 30 ml of rum and… 30 ml of gin, the only spirit easy to get hold of as it was produced locally. 

    In the UK, the legendary Savoy book penned by Harry Craddock in 1930 features at least 5 Cuban cocktails. Besides the Daiquiri (Craddock lets the reader decide between lemon or lime juice - limes were not as ubiquitous then as now), we’re surprised to find the Maragato Special, a cocktail invented by and named after the man thought to have popularized the Daiquiri in Havana, and a pitch perfect Mary Pickford. The last two Cuban drinks are, however, shadows of their glorious selves: the Fairbanks (for Douglas Fairbanks) loses the lime juice and gets an hefty dose of French vermouth while the Presidente is nothing more than a mixture of orange juice and rum. Of course, one can forgive Craddock: in 1930, sharing exact recipes over the ocean was nothing less than a miracle! 

    In fact, it might take 8 years for some news to travel: fast forward to 1938, in France, with ‘Cocktails’ (another very original title) by Jean Lupoiu. Lupoiu only includes 3 Cuban drinks (Daiquiri, Presidente, Mary Pickford) but all of them are perfect. Had he travelled to Cuba or did some tourists bring back copies of the Floridita or Sloppy Joe’s famous leaflets? Your call… 

    Finally, let’s move back in time and see what Pedro Chicote had to say in the books he published from 1927 to 1933. Chicote was the most famous Spanish bartender. He was to Madrid what Constantino Ribalaigua was to Havana. Actually, the last important visit Constante received at Floridita before his untimely death is sometimes said to have been that of Chicote… Back in the late twenties, though, Chicote’s Cuban receptors might not have been set on the perfect frequency: the Mary Pickford lost its pineapple juice (yuck) and the Douglas Fairbanks became an equal parts mix of gin and apricot brandy (double yuck). But he was probably the first in Europe to publish recipes for two of the biggest success stories of Cuban mixology: the Cuba Libre and… the Mojito Criollo. To this day, they remain two of the most popular drinks in Spain… and the world. 

    Cuba produced many great drinks. The European consensus in the thirties was that there were 4 classics: Daiquiri, Presidente, Mary Pickford and the Douglas Fairbanks. The Mojito was already raising its minty head. The question we ask today is what will Europeans bring to Cuba next June at the Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix? We just can’t wait to find out what today’s Craddocks and Chicotes come up with.