OK, who out there is a United States Marine—active, reserve or former? If you are and you’re a certain age, you know about Happy Hour on Friday nights. For those of you who were not lucky enough to serve your country as a Marine, I will explain that Happy Hour was that time of the week when you took off your pack to gather at the officer or NCO club and discuss the problems of the world while tippling your favorite drink. It was a time to relax.
In the early part of my Marine Corps career, there were several go-to drinks, but the spirit drink most called for was the Cuba Libre. It’s a very simple drink, with only two ingredients and a garnish, but it cut the week’s field dust very nicely, regardless of where you were in the world.
The Cuba Libre originated in Cuba at the end of the Cuban War of Independence (February 24, 1895-February 15, 1898). The exact location and date for the beginning of the cocktail have been suggested as Havana, Cuba, in 1900. We know it could not have been prior to this because Coca-Cola, one of the two ingredients, was not introduced to Cuba until 1899.
Now I am not sure, but I think I was sitting in the officer’s club at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, back in 1965, pondering the question of how the Cuba Libre became so popular with Marines. I’m sure that I remembered from my Marine Corps history class that on July 10, 1898, a Marine battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert Huntington, successfully defeated the Spanish forces and took control of the city of Guantanamo Bay, and later (July 14) they took Cuzco Well, Guantanamo’s source of fresh water. By this time the war was labeled the Spanish-American War which ended on August 13, 1898. Guantanamo Bay has remained a Navy-Marine Corps base to this day.
So, why all this history? I am trying to make a case that the Marine Corps was there at the birthing of the Cuba Libre. It’s a natural assumption, although based only on geographic and time proximity, that Marines would have taken to the drink and passed it on down through the years to me in 1965 and to me at this moment.
You can make one of these simple but elegant cocktails by following these directions.
2 oz Aged white rum
1 oz Fresh lime juice
4 oz Coca-Cola
1/2 lime hull
Squeeze the lime juice in a separate glass. Put the hull in a Collins glass or tumbler and muddle to release the oil. Next, fill the glass with ice cubes and add the rum, lime juice, and Coca-Cola. Stir to blend and add additional ice or Coke as needed.
You can see from the picture above that I used Silver Rum from Bear Creek Distillery in Denver Colorado. Distillery co-owner and Head Distiller, Jay Johnson, says that this rum is made from a wash of evaporated cane juice, and I can say it blends very well with Coke and lime.
The Rocky Mountain region, however, is rich with rum producers. In our Guidebook to Whiskey and Other Distilled Spirits in Colorado, New Mexico & Wyoming, we feature twenty-three producers of fine rums. All this thinking is making me thirsty, so if you don’t mind I will close now and head for the bar to make myself a Cuba Libre.