Old Cuban Cocktail

This wonderful drink was created by my wife, Audrey Saunders, proprietor of the Pegu Club in New York City. You will notice that it is closely related to the Mojito, but with far more elegance and sophistication. Audrey garnishes her original version with a sugar-coated vanilla bean. See, I told you it was sophisticated!


3/4 oz lime juice

1 oz simple syrup

6 leaves mint

1 1/2 oz rum

2 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters


Muddle mint with juice and simple syrup.

Shake with ice.

Strain into a cocktail glass.

Top with champagne.


Luc 8 Jun 2009
3:27 am


Ah yes, i adore this cocktail. Had one the other day using Havana Club Especial, and garnished with the sugared vanilla bean of course! It goes down dangerously easily though.
I wanted to ask about mint, it’s a question i’ve been thinking about for some time. As you said over-muddling the mint will release bitter flavours, but what happens when you shake the mint? Does this not also release these oils? There a few recipes which call for the shaking of mint, such as the Richmond Gimlet and the Smash, how does the shaking affect the flavour?


Robert Hess 8 Jun 2009
3:58 am

Luc, shaking a cocktail with mint is not nearly as severe as muddling the mint hard. I suppose if you should the drink for a long time you might start extracting too much out of the mint, but I’ve neve had a problem with just shaking it.

Fred 8 Jun 2009
4:34 am

The champagne mentioned in the video does not appear in the recipe, and for home cocktail hour popping a new bottle of champagne for one or two of these doesn’t make sense. Assuming that the written recipes are correct, I guess one can safely leave out the champagne?

But… you did say 2 ounces, which would mean that it is a substantial part of the cocktail.

blair frodelius 8 Jun 2009
4:37 am

How would one sugar coat a vanilla bean, and with what kind of sugar?



DJ HawaiianShirt 8 Jun 2009
4:41 am

That’s a gorgeous cocktail glass, Robert.

Also, if anyone cares, I have a new liquor blog: http://spiritedremix.blogspot.com/

IanRafferty 8 Jun 2009
5:28 am

The “Old Cuban”.  I think that this will be a very interesting cocktail for my guests.  The slogan @ my cocktail bar is, “Famous for Mojitos”.  Whilst this has proved to be a great success in selling the drink of the house, it also makes it that little more difficult to sell the true classics.  But were getting there.  This could be just the perfect link between the contemporary sweet summer drinks such as the Mojito, to more classic drinks described so well by yourself as spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.  I will certainly be sampling this tonight and it will be interesting to get some feedback.

Fred, I think that you answered your own question there my friend.  The 2 oz of Champagne means that this ingredient is somewhat integral to the drink.  If you are insistant on not using it, without having tried, I think that the ingerdiants would still work, but an extended stir would be necessary allowing slightly more dillution, and in my humble opinion, a slightly better balanced drink.

Robert, on a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude regarding your replys to previously posted comments.  Its great to be able to converse with yourself directly, and to hear your feedback regarding any ideas and/or issues.

Robert Hess 8 Jun 2009
7:43 am

Fred… I fixed the recipe on the web page to include the champage. I list it as “top with champagne”, which yeah, is about as bad as using “splash” as a measurement, but typically is the way this cocktail is made. You “do” want to make sure you get at least about an ounce in. I think here I end up adding about an ounce and a half.

For home use, you can use champagne “splits” which are half the size of a normal champagne bottle, and then perhaps finish off the champagne as a nightcap :->

Blair… I go into a little more detail regarding the vanilla bean on the recipe I posted on DrinkBoy.com (http://www.drinkboy.com/Cocktails/Recipe.aspx?itemid=120). But basically you just split the bean and bury it in normal sugar for a while. There I say to leave it for a week, but that is more for the benefit if getting some great vanilla sugar out of the deal!

DJ… That cocktail glass is particuarly one of my favorites that I picked up at an antique store a while back. Unlike many of the others I have, where I was able to pick up seveal. I only have one of these.

Ian… Yes, this drink makes a very good transition from “trendy” Mojito, to “sophisticated” cocktail. There is a wonderful attitude shift in this drink which allows customers to better comprehend the draw of a true classic cocktail.


Fred 8 Jun 2009
7:49 am

Thanks. And I see what you wrote to Ian, “There is a wonderful attitude shift in this drink…”

Excellent. I often have a cocktail, looking for an attitude shift, but I guess that’s not what you meant. ;-)

Robert Hess 8 Jun 2009
8:45 am

Well… actually I “did” mean “attitude shift”. :-> I think the general customers attitude regarding a Mojito style cocktail is a little more on the"trendy-festive” side. While an Old Cuban shifts things more toward a “sophisticated-celebratory” side.

Christian 8 Jun 2009
1:13 pm

This was the first cocktail that I made after I bought the revamped Platinum Edition of Mr. Boston.  I made it with Appleton V/X and never looked back.  It is fantastic on every level, especially with the vanilla bean garnish.

Thanks for the excellent videos, Robert.

Robert Hess 8 Jun 2009
1:44 pm

Nice. Hope you liked the Platinum Edition of Mr. Bostons. I wrote the “Classic Cocktails” section, as well as doing a lot of work to update all of the recipes throughout to do things like removing the use of “sour mix” and moving recipes out of the “Canadian Whisky” section and moving them into the appropriate American Whisky sections. Through the efforts that Anthony Giglio did to get this new edition out, starting in 2006 Mr. Boston’s is once again a respectable cocktail guide. I recommend folks get it, after of course they’ve bought a copy of “my” book :->

blair frodelius 8 Jun 2009
2:30 pm


I knew the new Mr. Boston guide was a huge improvement over previous editions.  Now I know why!

Kudos to you!


Ian 8 Jun 2009
6:09 pm

Ah, good. I’ve been looking for more recipes that use rum.

I’m a little surprised to see you using the “Soft Grip” squeezer though. Mine is sitting unused at the back of a drawer. I have found it to be one of those products where someone apparently designed it on paper and put it into production without testing it to see if it actually works. It squirts juice everywhere except into the container (is that why you have your hand cupped over it when you squeeze?) and it leaves lots of juice behind in the fruit. I strongly recommend instead the classic design from Mexico in bright yellow or green. It works much better.

For simple syrup, a handy tip is to make it as required with a microwave. For 1 oz of syrup, simply measure 1 oz of fine baker’s sugar with the measuring cup, add it to a coffee cup with 1 oz of water, and microwave on high in 5 second bursts, stirring each time. Within seconds you have simple syrup in just the required amount and no messing around with saucepans. Of course you won’t use this method in a bar, but for home mixology it is very convenient.

IanRafferty 9 Jun 2009
3:05 am

As promised, I mixed a few Old Cubans last night to a few of my trusty, experienced paletted guests.  They only had positive feedback, and were very impressed with the new drink.  After tasting it myself, I was suprised by how smooth the drink actually was.  Well balanced.  Only to see this morning, that I commited a schoolboy sin, by totally forgetting the fresh lime juice.  Therefore, this is something that I will of course rectify this evening, but with a rather presumptious attitude, I think that I may prefer the mistaken recipe.  I will of course, let you know!

Ian, I thought that you were impersonating me for a second then.  Not that you would necessarily want to.  It just felt that way.  I much prefer what Robert describes as a “Rich SImple Syrup”.  With a ration of 2:1 Sugar:Water.  For practicality behind the bar, I then transfer this into 1.5 litre jugs and heat via the heating arm of the coffee machine.  A 1.5 litre batch can be fully dissolved within 40 seconds without any danger of bringing the solution anywhere near the boil.

One last thing, Robert Ive been scouring a few online bookstores that are UK or European based to order your book.  But to no avail.  Is this possible or will I have to revert to a US site?

Robert Hess 9 Jun 2009
4:16 am

Ian (hmmm… two Ian’s here)... The OXO “soft grip” (which on this particular one aren’t that soft), I think work just a tad better than the normal mexican ones. The “squirting” problem you mention is one I notice on this style of juicer overall (including the mexican ones, which I have several). The OXO seems to squirt a little less for me, and both I think to a great job at getting most of the juice out. Plus, they both get some of the essential oils from the skins since they almost turn the citrus inside out when they squeeze them.

The one to stay away from, is the one made from acrylic. The handle starts to bend before you can get full leverage on the citrus.

Personally, I have yet to find a juicer that I think is the cat’s meow. The “Ebaloy” that you often see me use is pretty close, but I’m trying to avoid using it on the show since so many people ask me about where to get it, and aside from eBay, you can’t. I’ve run across another juicer recently that I’ll be using in future episodes, which works pretty well, although still not quite perfect. Here: http://www.drinkboy.com/Tools/Tool.aspx?id=25

I’ll have to give your microwave method for simple syrup a try, although I’m concerned that it ends up too warm and in turn will melt too much ice? David Embury has a slightly similar method he mentions for making an Old Fashioned… put a sugar cube in the glass, then add some warm water, then just before the cube begins to melt, pour off the water, leaving the saturated cube, then muddle to form a paste. Never tried it myself, seems a tad trickey :->

Robert Hess 9 Jun 2009
4:20 am

IanRafferty, curious to see what you think with the “correct” recipe :->... I would think that without the lime juice this would be a tad on the sweet and simple side? Lime juice should add both character and balance to it.

As for the book… Currently it is available only in “Borders” book stores (in fact it is on sale in most of them, along with a “Pocket” version… although it would only fit in big pockets). It is also available at Amazon.com and CocktailKingdom.com, I regularly purchase books from Amazon.co.uk, and while it costs a little more in shipping charges, it doesn’t seem insurmountable. I would hope the reverse would be true for you to purchase books from Amazon.com?

blair frodelius 9 Jun 2009
4:52 am

I’ve used the Ebaloy as well and it really is excellent.  However, it does take up a bit of room.  I recommend this one for a handheld unit: http://www.amazon.com/Norpro-Stainless-Steel-Citrus-Juice-Press/dp/B0002IBOAK/

Ian 9 Jun 2009
6:51 am

About simple syrup in the microwave and adding heat to the drink: most recipes only call for 1/2 or 1/4 oz of syrup, and by the time I have removed such a small quantity from the microwave and transferred it to the mixing glass with the other ingredients I find it has essentially returned to room temperature.

Secondly it seems like some kind of “magic” happens when dissolving the sugar. The action of the microwave seems to help it dissolve more rapidly than heating on the stove top, so the syrup is only just a little warm by the time the sugar is all dissolved. I do also use the very fine baker’s sugar rather than the larger granulated kind.

IanRafferty 9 Jun 2009
10:34 am

Wow, this recipe has even more to it.  I was impressed with the smoothness and balance pre lime juice, a little sweet I would agree, but still a very good drink.  With the added ingredient of fresh lime juice, it takes this drink to a new level.  I will certainly be reommending this to many of my guests.  The only problem with a drink this delicious in this size glass, is that it doesnt last nearly long enough.  Or is that just in my case.  Robert, thanks again for introducing us to another great cocktail.

xian 10 Jun 2009
8:07 am

Using an ounce of rich simple syrup would seem to me to make this drink overly sweet.  It’s a nice idea, but I’d probably go a bit light on the syrup.  Must buy some champagne and give it a try.

Chris Milligan 10 Jun 2009
12:53 pm

Hey Robert

Good advice on the lime.  I have preached hat very fact for years, and it applies to ANY fresh juice. 

As for the champagne (and this may seem a little nit picky), it represents 1/3 or so of the drink I am curious as to what brand and style champagne Audrey uses at Pegu Club.

Chris Milligan 10 Jun 2009
12:58 pm

Almost forgot…..mint can vary in size and flavor as well, so tasting each “bunch” I find important as well.


Robert Hess 10 Jun 2009
1:06 pm

Chris, when Audrey originally created this drink, she was using Veuve Clicquot for the champagne. I’m not sure if that’s what she is still using at the Pegu Club.

Ian 11 Jun 2009
8:00 pm

Well, I feel that the choice of rum really makes the difference in this drink. I first tried it with Appleton Special, a straightforward golden rum, and was quite uninspired. There were a variety of flavours there, but they didn’t seem to meld together. Later I tried it with Cruzan Black Strap, a much richer and darker variety. I feel the drink was transformed by that and was at once sweet and complex and with much greater intensity. Maybe a more complex rum than the Black Strap would be better still.

As for the Champagne, the genuine French variety tends to be somewhat pricey, but there are some nice options from California that are very drinkable at a more reasonable price. I tried Domaine Chandon Brut Classic and found it quite satisfactory. I just can’t make up my mind whether to drink it straight or make another Old Cuban!

Dominik MJ aka the opinionated alchemist 14 Jun 2009
11:54 am

Sorry to criticize - though in my believes Champagne has to come from the Champagne in France and is an AOC product.
In the video the sparkling wine Domaine Ste. Michelle was used, not Champagne.
Though I don’t want to bitch against this, because I think, that sparkling wine will do best in this recipe.
The kinda very distinctive flavors of French champagne will be lost in the mix, as the flavors are robust and the proportions are to small on the wine side to keep up…

TheBadBaptist 14 Jun 2009
2:38 pm

First time I’ve heard of this drink ... and I love it! It reminds of a wonderful drink I had when I was in Manhattan this past spring. I asked my sister (a native) what her favorite bar in the city was and she took me to a champagne lounge, Flute. (http://www.flutebar.com/) The environment was exactly what i expected from my sister .... very elegant but not my style. Their signature champagne cocktails seemed a little bit frou-frou for me, but as soon as i tasted their Champagne Mojito, i was convinced that they had a serious mixologist at the helm. I do however like this recipe better—the darker rum and bitters make a much more complex drink. and i like that its served straight-up ... i don’t need a garden of mint in my drink!

robert, i know you’ve posted the old-school champagne cocktail, and now with this entry, I am interested in any other champagne or sparkling wine cocktails you know. my wife won’t touch the bourbon old fashions or gin-based drinks i love to make, but adores it when i make a cocktail with champagne.

Robert Hess 15 Jun 2009
4:06 am

Glad you’ve enjoyed this drink. There are a wide variety of champagne cocktails, you can find a list of some of the ones that I like on my website here:

Some good books on the subject are “101 Champagne Cocktails” by Kim Haasarud (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0470169427), and “Champagne Cocktails” by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0060392924).

Robert Hess 15 Jun 2009
4:14 am

Dominik, you are indeed correct that the term “champagne” should correctly only be used to refer to sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, just as Cognac should only be used in reference to brandy from the Cognac region of France. I sometimes have the tendency to inappropriately call sparkling wine “Champagne”.

Michael "Michaelogist" Kelley 22 Jun 2009
10:15 am

Robert, somewhat reiterating xian’s comment, it seems most drinks adhere to a 3-2-1 or 4-2-1 ratio of spirits, sweet, and tart.  I would think using 1 ounce of rich syrup would throw off the balance of this drink.  Using 1 ounce of 1:1 syrup would seem more in line with convention.  Are you breaking the rules, Robert?  Are you a cocktail bandit?

Robert Hess 22 Jun 2009
11:29 am

Michael, Me? A cocktail bandit? Rogue perhaps, but never a bandit :->

Matt 27 Jun 2009
3:00 pm

Robert, the wife and I just made these and they are delicious! I can’t wait to make some vanilla bean garnishes.

I used a 1:1 simple syrup and I thought it was plenty sweet enough. I also added a bit more mint to give it the extra oomph from the subtle mint flavor. Overall excellent drink, thanks for posting it Robert and thank Audrey for creating it for me next time you see her.

Benjamin D. 11 Dec 2009
9:48 am

Hi Robert,

This website is great! I’ve learned so much about cocktails and have been making and appreciating well balanced drinks ever since I

Robert Hess 11 Dec 2009
11:05 am

Bitters and extracts have both simularities as well as differences. Bitters, for one thing, always include a bittering agent (such as Gentian), which is where they get their name from. They are also a mixture of various spices, herbs, and other flavorings, while an extract is typically just a single flavor. Extracts can also be referred to as “Tinctures”.

Federico Cuco 5 Aug 2010
8:21 am

This cocktail is delicious.
This week I put on my blackboard.
And customers are in love with this drink.
Your friend Audrey Saunders is a genius.
Robert thank you very much for sharing your concoimientos, since I see your program I feel a lot better bartender.
Best regards from the Rio de la Plata

Steven D. Lauria 23 Jan 2011
7:45 pm

Hi Robert,

Small pieces of the mint leaves came out through my strainer when I strained the Old Cuban.  I shook pretty vigorously in my Boston Shaker for at least 20 seconds, maybe longer. (I had to double strain the concoction so I wouldn’t completely ruin this wonderful cocktail.)  Did I over-shake it?  I noticed that you shook yours for about 24 times (not seconds).

Thank you.  This cocktail is terrific…and so is your show.

Robert Hess 24 Jan 2011
6:06 am

Steven, you are almost bound to get some bits of mint on this drink, and I don’t think it ruins the drink at all. But if you prefer not to get the mint, then double-straining it is the way to go. I don’t typically double strain much, but some bartenders prefer to double-strain any citrus cocktails to keep the pulp out.

Small Screen Colin 24 Jan 2011
6:09 am

Steven, you can also watch Jamie Boudreau, host of Raising the Bar on Small Screen Network, double strain the delicious breakfast Collins here: http://www.smallscreennetwork.com/video/480/raising_the_bar_breakfast_collins/

Thanks for watching!


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