Initially inspired by a Remember the Maine cocktail, I created the Radio Rebelde for Pouring Ribbons' Cuba 1958 menu.
Radio Rebelde, which translates to "Rebel Radio," is a guerrilla radio station established by Che Guevara in 1958. It was conceived as a platform for Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and as a way for Cuban revolutionaries to organize and relay information. The station originally went on air nightly to broadcast combat news, music, and spoken literature, as well as Castro’s speeches and interviews.
The drink itself is an easy-sipping summertime Manhattan-style cocktail: fruity, spicy, slightly bitter, and exceptionally dry.
Radio Rebelde recipe
1 oz Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth
.75 oz Sacred Bond Bonded Brandy
.5 oz Rhine Hall Cherry Brandy
.25 oz Fernet Vallet
1 tsp Demerara Syrup
1 dash Dale DeGroff Pimento Bitters
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Brûléed Maraschino Cherry
Build the cocktail and set it aside.
Dredge a Maraschino cherry in raw demerara sugar, then skewer the cherry. Using a culinary torch, carefully and evenly apply heat to the cherry until the sugar crystals begin to melt over the surface. Allow it to cool until a candied shell forms over the cherry.
Add ice your mixing glass, stir, and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora coupe. Garnish with the skewered, brûléed cherry.
Going into R&D for the Radio Rebelde, I knew I wanted to do two things: tie the threads of Cuban revolutions together through a classic cocktail lens and show some love to one of my favorite categories of spirits – brandy.
The Remember the Maine is an underrated Manhattan variant that draws its name from the sinking of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba during the Cuban revolt against Spain. Unfortunately, as this event was in 1898, I couldn't use it for this Pouring Ribbons theme. Regardless, my mind clung to this template as inspiration.
Remember the Maine
2 oz Rye Whiskey
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Cherry Heering Liqueur
For this menu, I wanted my drinks to be conceptual, forcing the guest to upend their expectations of what a "Cuban" cocktail should be (these expectations typically include refreshing, shaken, rum- and citrus-based drinks). The Cuban cocktail bars in NYC were predictably rum-focused and built their narratives on that expectation.
I wanted to draw attention to a history beyond the colonial cocktail canon.
Cuba in 1958 shouldn't be evocative of Americans crushing Daiquiris and Mojitos. I felt it essential to make a distinction between a themed cocktail menu and a cocktail theme park. I intentionally wanted to create a more challenging menu. I needed to bring a darker approach to the table thematically, visually, and gustatorily.
So, I designed the Radio Rebelde as a thoughtful sipper to reflect on the revolutionary history and perseverance of Cuba and its people.
Plus it's my duty to make sure brandy gets representation on every menu I'm a part of.
Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth
I love the Lo-Fi products. While I don't always find their vermouth as effective in classics, their “New American” style lends itself incredibly well to contemporary cocktails.
Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth was the first ingredient I locked in, specifically because it is such a non-traditional vermouth. It's lower in sugar content and, therefore, lighter in body than you'd expect from a product in the category. Big on cherry and rhubarb with underlying notes of coconut, vanilla, anise, and orange. Those subtleties root the palate in surprisingly tropical ways.
Additionally, I thought it was a fitting nod to use Lo-Fi since Radio Rebelde was originally a lo-fi AM radio station.
If you're unable to track down a bottle, you could substitute Carpano Dry Vermouth or Maurin Rouge. Carpano Bianco and Del Professore Bianco have similar profiles, but you would probably need to dial back or eliminate the teaspoon of demerara syrup in the cocktail.
Sacred Bond Bonded Brandy
In case you couldn't tell, I have a particular affinity for Sacred Bond. It's a great American Brandy that drinks like American Whiskey. It's fruity, yet dries the drink out while bumping up the ABV enough to carry the whole thing on its back with just .75 oz.
I also found the name to be thematically appropriate for describing the relationship between Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
I know this product isn't yet available in every US market, so if you're looking for a substitute, I'd go with Copper and Kings American Brandy or a younger, higher proof Cognac like Pierre Ferrand 1840.
Rhine Hall Cherry Brandy
I had my eye on swapping the Cherry Heering out from the beginning, as I'm not a huge fan of the stuff. Sure, I could have gone with another cherry liqueur or maybe dropped the amount of sweet vermouth to add something like Maurin Quina, but I'm always looking for opportunities to use brandy.
In the end, it came down to the G.E. Massenez Kirschwasser and Rhine Hall's Cherry Brandy (itself a Kirschwasser style brandy). I'm a big fan of everything the Rhine Hall distillery puts out, and the Cherry brandy they make is no exception. It fit the cocktail perfectly, adding heat, fruit, and body.
A scant amount of Fernet is a great way to dry a drink out and add herbal complexity without blasting the palates of unassuming non-amaro lovers.
I opted for the Mexican Fernet Vallet specifically for thematic purposes as:
A) Radio Rebelde was conceptualized in Mexico by Castro and Guevera
B) Che Guevera's birthplace, Argentina, is famous for its Fernet Branca consumption
Fernet Vallet is some of the driest stuff in many bars. It does wonders tempering the perceived sweetness found in every other ingredient in the drink.
Fernet Vallet is one of the least minty Fernets on the market, so I don't find Branca to be comparable as a substitute. Opt for Contratto Fernet, Leopold Bros. Highland Amaro, or even Amargo Vallet instead.
The Lo-Fi Vermouth is particularly light for a sweet vermouth, the Sacred Bond is hot as hell, and the Fernet is bone-dry. The Cherry Brandy has a wonderful texture, but ultimately the drink doesn't hold up to dilution very well, resulting in a thin-bodied cocktail with an aggressive attack.
A mere teaspoon of rich demerara syrup does little to affect the sweetness of the cocktail (the Fernet balances that right out) but adds some much-needed viscosity and rounds the harsh edges.
Dale DeGroff Pimento Bitters
I chose to swap the absinthe in the Remember the Maine template for something deeper and more complimentary to the warmer confectionery notes of the other ingredients. The allspice in these bitters works exceptionally well with the Rhine Hall Cherry Brandy.
You could substitute a dash of a 1:1 mixture of Angostura bitters and Allspice/Pimento dram.
Brûléed Maraschino Cherry
This is a crowd-pleasing trick I picked up at my first cocktail bar in San Francisco. It makes for an excellent aromatic snack.
Dredge a maraschino cherry in demerara sugar and take a torch to it until the sugar melts. When it cools, the sugar will form a crispy, candied shell around the cherry. Smells great, tastes great.
300g demerara sugar
150g hot water
Combine sugar with water and blend hard. [Yields 12oz of demerara syrup.]
If you don't have a blender powerful enough to warm its contents (e.g., Vitamix), you'll have better luck combining the sugar and water in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and remove from heat to limit evaporation.