Spirit, sweetener, citrus, bitters. These elements form one of the great quartets of the cocktail canon. So many important drinks boil down to a meditation on this tried-and-true formula. And it works wonders when applied to the Cuba Libre, also known as the Rum and Coke.
As Brad Thomas Parsons points out in his book on bitters, the traditional build of a Cuba Libre doesn't call for the cocktail ingredient he holds so dear. But adding a few heavy dashes of Angostura, he found, improves on this simple classic highball.
By some accounts, the Cuba Libre ("free Cuba") was invented in Havana around the time of the Spanish-American War. Soldiers mixed local rum, lime, and newly imported Coca-Cola in celebration of the island.
The beauty of the Cuba Libre — well, one of several beautiful traits — is that, like other highballs, it's very easy to make. The drink is built in the glass over ice. Also quite beautiful is the way the vanilla sweetness of the cola works so well with the raw-sugarcane profile of the light rum, with the lime juice contributing brightness and the bitters adding depth.
The Cuba Libre
Juice from half a lime
Fill a tumbler or highball glass with ice. Dash ice cubes with bitters, stirring with a barspoon to coat. Add rum and lime juice, then top with cola. Stir briefly to combine ingredients. Garnish with a lime wheel.
In Bitters, Parsons makes an inventive suggestion for incorporating the Angostura into this drink. He recommends filling an ice cube tray with water and adding dashes of bitters before freezing. The result: bitters-flavored ice cubes.