Updated: Jul 6, 2020
The Oro Cubano is a cocktail I created for Pouring Ribbons' Cuba 1958 menu.
The English translation, Cuban Gold, seemed an appropriate name for this Gold Rush-inspired cocktail built around the flavors of golden, Cuban honey.
The honey-producing bees in the Santiago region of Cuba primarily feed on pollen from coffee and cocoa flowers. These food sources imbue the bees' honey with a rich smokiness. I wanted to capture the subtleties of this unique agricultural product to create something that spoke of the terroir of the region.
The result is a honeyed whiskey sour, simultaneously dry and rich with bitter coffee notes, an underlying hint of dark chocolate, and a wisp of smoke.
Oro Cubano recipe
2 oz Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz Wildflower Honey Syrup
.25 oz J. Rieger Caffe Amaro
2 tsp Ron Pampero Anniversario Rum
1 tsp Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao
Garnish: Grated Coffee Bean
Build the cocktail in your tin, shake, and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Use a microplane grater to grate a fine, fresh dusting of coffee.
The inspiration to riff on a Gold Rush came from the symbolic parallel between the California Gold Rush and the conditions that led to the Cuban Revolution. The common thread: greed and exploitation.
“Cuba had a one-crop economy (sugar cane) whose domestic market was constricted. United States monopolies like Bethlehem Steel Corporation and Speyer gained control over the country's entire financial system, all electric power production and the majority of industry was dominated by US companies.
US monopolies owned 25% of the best land in Cuba. 90% of the country's raw sugar and tobacco exports was exported to the US.
In 1956, US owned companies controlled 90% of the telephone and electric services, about 50% in public service railways, and roughly 40% in raw sugar production according to a report published by the Department of Commerce .
The gains from these investments were reaped by American businessmen leading to discontent among the Cuban people.” -Wikipedia, Economy of Cuba
Joaquín Simó very intentionally chose Cuba 1958 for the second half of Pouring Ribbons' Time and Place menu theme (NYC 1983 was the first part). I imagine a big part of that had to do with him being half Cuban, but I always found the timing interesting.
At the time, Blacktail, the Dead Rabbit group's colonial Cuban themed bar (with the Christopher Columbus mural on the back bar), was racking up press and industry awards. Bacardi was infiltrating back bars with their own Havana Club brand rum, which should not be confused with the original Cuban rum (that's a different story/rant for a different day). The Trump Administration scrapped every bit of progress made by the Obama Administration to open US borders to Cuba and lift decades-old trade embargoes.
To be clear, I don't believe Simó's intention was to be political or antithetical. Still, I couldn't help but draw the parallels between appropriation and exploitation of Cuban culture then and now. He wanted a menu dear to his heart, one where he could create drinks that captured the spirit of family members (Manguito) or the pastries of his youth (Pastalito). However, he was also looking to educate his staff and guests about Cuban culture beyond Mojitos and sandwiches.
2 oz Bourbon
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz Honey Syrup
The Gold Rush, and honeyed sours in general, are a fun category of cocktail because of the variance in different kinds of honey. Raw honey can capture elements of its region's terroir. By drawing inspiration from honey produced in the Santiago region of Cuba, a product unavailable in the US because of trade embargoes, I had all I needed to nudge this Gold Rush in the right direction.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
This is easily one of my top three all-purpose bourbons and ended up being the perfect fit for this drink. It held up to the modifiers, dilution, and ice melt over time while still maintaining all the traditional bourbon barrel qualities you want in a whiskey sour.
If you're looking for a substitute, try using something at least 90 proof.
The Oro Cubano stays true to the Gold Rush down to the same volume of citrus.
Wildflower Honey Syrup*
Clover honey proved too wimpy to hold up to the coffee amaro, slightly bitter dark chocolate liqueur, and dry rum. Wildflower did the trick perfectly. The bolder honey allows the modifiers to push it around a bit while still maintaining it's profile.
I recommend raw, unpasteurized wildflower honey if possible.
J. Rieger Caffe Amaro
Caffe Amaro is just as the name implies: the perfect marriage of an amaro with a coffee liqueur.
Think of the difference between hot and cold-brewed coffee. Cold-brew is smooth, mellow, almost chocolatey with little to no bitterness. Brewing coffee with hot water brings out the bitter, acidic flavors as well as more complex fruit notes. Most coffee liqueurs on the market are like cold brew coffee – that is, smooth, straightforward, and easily mixable. Caffe Amaro hits the sweet coffee notes perfectly but brings along bitter amaro to balance the whole thing out.
If Caffe Amaro is unavailable, try 1 tsp Mr. Black coffee liqueur and .5 tsp Amaro Lucano. Alternatively, you can try 1 tsp Mr. Black coffee liqueur with 2 dashes of Reagan's No. 6 Orange bitters and 1 dash of Angostura bitters.
Ron Pampero Anniversario Rum
The confectionery overlap between this and the Elijah Craig allows the tiny bit of rum to shine in unexpected ways as dry, almost blackstrap-py smoke peeks its way into the drink. Dry, spicy, dark rums work best here.
Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao
Using a small amount of such a big flavor prevents the entire cocktail from tasting chocolatey. Instead, the cacao plays a perfect supporting role and brings out the warm chocolate and vanilla notes from every other spirit and liqueur in the mix.
Nothing quite compares to Tempus Fugits Creme de Cacao, but Giffard and Marie Brizard make dark creme de cacaos that could sub well.
Find a roaster you like and grate the bean to order with a microplane. The honey should help create a wonderful foamy layer over the top of the drink for the grated coffee to float on, adding visual contrast and a deep roasted coffee element to the nose.
*Wildflower Honey Syrup
8 oz raw wildflower honey
4 oz warm water
Combine honey with warm water and mix thoroughly. If you choose to use a blender, use a low setting so as not to heat or aerate the syrup too much. [Yields 12oz of wildflower honey syrup.]