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Cuba meets Chambéry: El Presidente

Middle photo by Stu Mullenberg

“This is the ‘Martini’ of Cuba and, to me, a lot better than our own,” Victor Bergeron boldly declared in “Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink” (1946). He was referring to El Presidente, a cocktail that emerged in Havana around 1915 as an apparent tribute to Cuban President and tippler Mario García Menocal. The British-American writer Basil Woon called it “the aristocrat of cocktails” in his gossipy 1928 book, “When It's Cocktail Time in Cuba,” about prominent Americans who frequented the island to escape the drudgery of Prohibition.

So what makes El Presidente so regal? The harmonic interplay between good white rum and vermouth de Chambéry, accented with orange Curaçao and grenadine. Let there be no confusion: While many El Presidente recipes call simply for “French vermouth,” what they leave out is the fact that the original concoction is based on a specific French vermouth, vermouth blanc—the clear, sweet, herbaceous variety that put the Alpine town of Chambéry on the map—rather than the more ubiquitous dry vermouth that made the Martini famous.

When the El Presidente recipe first appeared in the “Manual del Cantinero” by John B. Escalante, Dolin and Comoz, the inventors of the style, were both exporters of vermouth de Chambéry to Cuba. Either one works beautifully in this recipe, with Comoz yielding a slightly drier version.

El Presidente Cocktail 

Stir with ice:

1.5 oz light rum

1.5 oz Comoz Vermouth Blanc or Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry

1 bar spoon orange curaçao

1 bar spoon grenadine

Strain into a coupe.

Garnish with orange peel.

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