I’m not a big fan of rum, but I am a huge fan of badass women who swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. So, in honor of Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old woman who did just that this week, I decided to try The Old Cuban — a drink that can best be described as a mature mojito.
The Old Cuban is a “contemporary classic” cocktail created by another badass woman, Audrey Saunders, owner of the Pegu Club in Manhattan. Like the mojito, it’s made with muddled mint, lime, rum, and simple syrup, but it also features bitters, and a splash of champagne at the end (for the lady, of course). And it’s delicious.
I’ve adapted the recipe a bit from Saunders’ original. In place of simple syrup, I just used agave nectar (mostly because it was too hot to turn on the stove). And Saunders garnishes hers with a sugar-coated vanilla bean. That sounds great, but considering I didn’t even make my own simple syrup — perhaps the simplest thing to make, ever — I just used a little lime and mint.
This drink is generally served up, in a coupe or cocktail glass, but if you need a fancy stem like Nyad needs a shark cage, you can also have it in a rocks glass with ice. I won’t tell.
The Old Cuban
6 mint leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish
¾ ounce lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup or agave nectar
1 ½ ounces dark rum
A few dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces (give or take) Champagne
Lime and mint for garnish
Glassware: Coupe or cocktail glass
Method: Gently muddle the mint with the lime juice in a cocktail shaker or pint glass. If you don’t have a muddler, the end of a wooden spoon will do. Add the syrup, rum, and bitters, and fill with ice. Shake (or stir, if you’re using a pint glass) until the drink is well chilled, then strain it into a coupe or cocktail glass. Top it off with champagne and enjoy!
Note: To make the simple syrup (which I recommend, if it’s not too hot) combine, equal parts sugar and water on the stove until it reaches a boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before using. You can make a big batch of this stuff and it will keep for a really long time in a jar in the fridge. Then, you won’t have to use agave nectar next time you want to make a cocktail.
Old Cuban photograph by Emily Farris.