You didn't think I was going to let the groundshaking end of the U.S. embargo against Cuba slip by without Remixing the Cuba Libre, did you? The mojito or the daiquiri may be more mixologically respected than the good old rum-and-Coke, but politically speaking, a Coca-Cola-based cocktail is much more symbolic of the deluge of American corporations now poised to sweep across our island neighbor after five decades of hands-off drama.
The next very obvious Remix move would be to start out with some fancy artisanal cola instead of Coke. However, to celebrate the flip in policy, I've flipped the drink: Rather than Cuba's most popular export (besides the Buena Vista Social Club), rum, I used a Kentucky bourbon; rather than America's most popular export (besides Michael Jordan), Coca-Cola, I used a Cuban soda called Materva.
Materva, a spicy amber-hued soft drink with a base of yerba mate, was bottled in Cuba from 1920 on, but during the revolution became a target of Communist attacks; the plant, like most Cuban business, was nationalized in 1960. In 1964, two Cuban soft drink bottlers – now relocated to Miami – started their business afresh on U.S. soil as the Cawy Bottling Co., re-creating traditional Cuban sodas for nostalgic Cuban expatriates. Outside Florida, Materva is not easy to find (though it can be ordered online), but in Orlando, it's easy enough to find at Publix. Next to it you'll usually see Matebeer, a similarly mate-based soft drink – it's not distributed by Cawy, but in my opinion it's a better cocktail bet, being just slightly less sweet, and it's what I chose for the final recipe.
Lime juice is a major presence in the Cuba Libre, but lime doesn't get along quite as well with bourbon as it does with rum, so I cut down its presence here and added a nice amount of bitters to cut the soda's sweetness instead. On my first iteration, I used Peychaud's, reasoning that New Orleans and Cuba had a long shared history, but it wasn't quite right. Angostura bitters sharpened the balance perfectly, however. Resolviendo, or as Tim Gunn puts it, make it work!
2 ounces white or gold rum
6 ounces Coca-Cola
Pour the rum and cola into an ice-filled glass. Slice open the lime, reserving a wedge for garnish, and squeeze at least a tablespoon of juice into the glass. Stir, garnish and serve.
2 ounces bourbon
6 ounces Materva or Matebeer
4 drops Angostura bitters
Pour the bourbon and soda into an ice-filled glass. Slice open the lime, reserving a wedge for garnish, and squeeze just a dash – aim for 1/4 teaspoon – of juice into the glass. Stir, top with four good dashes of bitters, garnish and serve.