These days, it’s hard to find a bar or restaurant that doesn’t have a cocktail menu packed with original creations. Budding mixologists the world-over are vying to innovate and leave a lasting mark on bartending culture. But what does it take for a new cocktail to transcend from a one-off recipe to a modern classic?
It takes someone like Audrey Saunders, owner and founder of Pegu Club in New York City, and a drink like the Old Cuban.
The Old Cuban was invented by Saunders in 2001, and quickly made its way into bar books across America. Like all great classic cocktails, the recipe is deceptively simple, requiring just rum, sparkling wine, lime, mint and bitters. It shares heritage with two other better-known classics, the storied Mojito and French 75, a gin- and sparkling wine-based drink.
Aged rum provides more depth to this drink than your standard white-rum Mojito, while a dash of bitters balances the sweetness. And then there’s Saunders’s masterstroke, swapping the Mojito’s ordinary sparkling water for sparkling wine.
Pegu Club has been at the forefront of modern cocktail culture since Saunders opened the venue in 2005. Important to note was her insistence on double-straining for quality and consistency—this, at a time in bar culture when a majority of New York City was still trying to remember how to make an Old Fashioned. The extra attention to detail ensures a cocktail with a crisp hit of mint, without any fear of getting muddled leaves stuck between your teeth.
So, whether you’re looking for a new way to punch up brunch, something to sip in the sun or just want to upgrade your cocktail game with a modern classic, here’s how to make an Old Cuban.
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- 6–8 mint leaves
- 1 ½ ounces aged rum (like Bacardi Reserva Ocho)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 ounces sparkling wine
- Mint sprig, for garnish
Combine lime juice, simple syrup, bitters and mint leaves in mixing tin without ice. Gently muddle mint using muddler or flat back of bar spoon. Add rum, bitters and fill with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled. Double-strain through fine-mesh strainer into chilled coupe glass. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with mint sprig.
Note: Saunders’s original Pegu Club recipe called for a sugar-coated vanilla bean as garnish, but we’re opting for a sprig of mint here for simplicity.