“I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.”
– US President Woodrow Wilson
Capítulo número cuatro, amigos. Today’s installment from the ongoing “Drinks We Drank at Drink” series features the “El Presidente”.
The bachelor, for whom we can thank for our debaucherous trip to Boston, is a rum man. As such, it was requested that a cocktail be brought to him that was to be made with rum and was to be made strong. With these criteria the bartender went to work making an El Presidente, one of the few classic stirred rum-based drinks in existence.
It would seem that the Presidente to which this cocktail owes its name is most likely Mario García Menocal, who was in office from 1913 to 1921. In his first term as the president of Cuba, Menocal made a name for himself by implementing fiscal and trade policies that facilitated foreign business investment from American corporations. In 1916 he was “reelected”, defeating Alfredo Zayas, the liberal candidate, in an election torn by strife and marred by fraud. Apparently more votes were cast than there were qualified voters – whoops. Unsurprisingly, the liberals took objection to this discrepancy, lost their shit, and revolted. Menocal got on the horn to US President Woodrow Wilson and requested arms and Marines, which he duly received – Wilson was a fan of Menocal for reasons threefold: 1) he was good for US business interests; 2) he was more likely to support the Allied forces in the midst of WWI; and 3) he was devilishly handsome. Besides, Woodrow had to keep up the proud tradition of American hegemony. Starswipe to a few weeks later and Menocal’s forces had crushed the uprising. American troops remained in Cuba until 1923, no doubt sipping on delicious Daiquiris, Mojitos, and the subject of this post: El Presidentes (actually, come to think of it, they’re still there…)
Some sources claim that the cocktail was actually named after President Gerardo Machado, but this claim doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny given that the first description of the cocktail was found in the New York Evening Telegram in 1919 – six years previous to Machado’s presidency.
Or perhaps the cocktail was renamed after whoever happened to be president at the time to, ya know, not cast any doubt that the bartender’s loyalties may not lie with the current government – the drinking public of Cuba blind to the name change: “…this cocktail has always been named after Muchado…¿estás loco?” Ha. That, of course, is complete and utter conjecture.
Anyhoo, enough poli-cocktail punditry – vamos a chupar!
Add everything to a mixing glass, followed by enough ice to fill the glass ¾ full. Stir for about 30 seconds or so and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Since Canada is not imposing an utterly farcical embargo against Cuba, Havana Club is readily available in my neck of the woods. Which is good, because it’s cheap and delicious. As for the two vermouths, let me explain: The recipe traditionally called for “French” vermouth, which almost always means “dry”. But if we dig a wee bit deeper, we find that the earliest Cuban recipe for El Presidente, published in the 1924 Manuel del Cantinero by León Pujol and Oscar Muñiz, specifies Vermouth de Chambery. “Great,” I thought – “I’ve a bottle of Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery.” But, as David Wondrich has discovered, the signature style of vermouth that Chambery was known for at the time was not dry, but rather semi-dry – so-called Vermouth Blanc. Now, the blanc version of Dolin isn’t available here in Ontario, however Martini Bianco is. So why didn’t I just sub in the Italian and call it a day? Good question: I don’t know what came over me – I just thought I’d split the difference between the two and was curious to see how the combination fared.
Ay! Not bad. Maybe I’ve just become accustomed to a winter of whisk(e)y-based drinks, but the flavours offered by El Presidente took me a bit off guard at first. The chocolate, banana and oaky spice notes from the rum intermingle with the rich apple and honey flavours of the vermouth bianco. The dry vermouth pipes in with hints of herbs and grass, but these are mostly masked by the complex orange flavours of the Grand Marnier. I detect a slightest bit of tartness from the grenadine on the finish.
In 1949 the El Presidente was described in Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts as “an elixir of jaded gullets”. I can see what they meant – it’s simultaneously rich and light, delivering multiple layers of flavours from start to finish.
I think I’ll have another. Viva Cuba.