Ah, the mystique of Cuban rum. The fact that Cuban products have long been contraband in the United States makes the country’s rum (and cigars) even more appealing.
And as we're just back from Havana, we can tell you this: It's possible to drink very well in Cuba. While the higher-end, longer-aged rums are best sipped neat, many drinks that Americans know and love like the mojito and the daiquiri, originated on the island.
There are several main brands you'll see, but there's no disputing that Havana Club is king of them all. (Pro tip: You can buy Havana Club in basically any country but the United States, so you don't have to go to Cuba to taste it.) Assuming you can't get your hands on Havana Club (cough, Duty Free), swap in another good white rum, like Brugal Extra Dry or Flor de Caña 4 Year.
Easy: Ron Collins
Of course, the easiest rum cocktail of all is the Cuba Libre—that is, rum and Coke, squeeze of lime. But we think you can figure out that recipe by yourself. (Hint: It involves rum. … And Coke.)
The Ron Collins though, is almost as simple. A simple and refreshing combo of rum, citrus, sugar, and soda, you'll see folks drinking these all over Cuba,
NOTE: In general, a Collins has lemon juice, but in Cuba, they're using limón— lemon, lime, either makes an easy-drinking cocktail.
Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of white rum, 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar, and top with club soda and stir. Garnish with some lemon wheels and serve.
We hate to say it, but if you order a mojito in the States, you're probably not making your bartender very happy. All that muddling, shaking and straining out those teeny mint bits is a pain in the neck. But in Cuba, making a mojito is a quicker, simpler process. Fresh herbs are a scarce commodity, so there's just one sprig of mint, which doesn't get muddled, and the whole drink gets built right in the glass. Easy.
Instructions: In a Collins glass, add 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar, 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice, and 1 1/2 ounce of white rum. Stick in a whole long sprig of mint, the top leaves sticking out of the glass. Add ice, then fill it with club soda and stir. Top with a dash of Angostura bitters, if you're so inclined.
Advanced: Cuban-Style Daiquiri
When you order a straight-up daiquiri in Cuba, it's an interesting one. You don’t get the cocktail-bar version—rum, fresh lime, and sugar. You don’t get the "Hemingway Daiquiri," with grapefruit and maraschino liqueur. And you don’t get the by-the-beach, from-a-mix frozen daiquiri that dominates at most mediocre beach resorts.
What you get is something in between all three: a frozen drink made with white rum, fresh lime juice, a little sugar, and cherry-flavored maraschino liqueur. NOTE: Using a high-quality maraschino like Luxardo will make this the best frozen daiquiri you've ever had.)
Instructions: Pour 2 ounces of white rum, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, 1/2 ounce of maraschino, and 2 teaspoons of sugar in a blender. Add about 1 cup of ice and blend until very slushy. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry.