On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy is joined by bartender and Tequila Fortaleza representative Kelvin Uffre to chat about the Cuba Libre. One of the world’s most famous highballs, learn all about the cocktail and learn how to make Uffre’s combination of rum, lime, and Coke here. Tune in for more!
Kelvin Uffre’s Cuba Libre Recipe
1 ½ ounces aged rum, such as Santa Teresa
½ ounce 151 rum, such as Gosling’s Black Seal
¼ ounce Turbinado simple syrup
Juice from 1 whole lime
1 dash Angostura bitters
Coca-Cola to top
Garnish with half of squeezed lime
Fill a highball with good ice.
Add rums and Turbinado simple syrup.
Top with Coca-Cola and squeeze in lime juice.
Stir to combine and garnish with half of squeezed lime.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy and welcome to VinePair’s Cocktail College, a weekly deep dive into classic cocktails that goes beyond the recipe with America’s best bartenders. The Rum and Coke, Cuba Libre, Mentirita. There are many names to describe one of the world’s most famous highballs, which probably confirms that this drink means different things to different people. For some, it could simply be an alcohol delivery system, a low-lift catalyst for good times. Others may revel in its cultural and historical significance and debate which of those latter two names flies closer to the truth. Those of a mixological persuasion may see this as fine fodder for some modern-day molecular upgrades. For Kelvin Uffre, the combination of rum, lime, and Coke holds immense power, the ability to transport him back to his youth. For him, the Cuba Libre is doing just fine as it is, requiring no fancy syrups and no esoteric funky rums. Instead, and in his words, all you have to do is make it with love. Now, I’m very aware of how corny that sounds when I say it, but when you get to know Kelvin, which you will do very soon, you understand his perspective. Well, let’s just say it lands a little different. Also known as the Sucio Somm, Kelvin is an award-winning bartender who’s worked at some of the top bars in New York, including, probably most notably, Maison Premiere. Now, he’s the New York rep for Tequila Fortaleza. This one’s a firecracker, listener. It’s the Cuba Libre, and you’re listening to the Cocktail College podcast. Vamos. Mejor tarde que nunca. They’ve been asking for it. He’s here. Better late than never. Kelvin Uffre in the house. Kelvin, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
Kelvin Uffre: Que lo que? Que lo que? Feo, en Cuba Libre feo, en Coca-Cola fea loco. What’s good? Shoutout BX. Shoutout Kingsbridge. Shoutout VinePair. Thank you for having me, my brother. Thank you so much.
T: Thanks for joining us. Que hace papa? Que hace?
K: Ya tu sabes papi aqui tranquilo. I just got off the Charleston Food Fest, as you know. You were there-
T: We were there.
K: -in the Mayhem.
T: Didn’t cross paths. Like ships in the night.
K: It’s probably a good thing. There’d be no Charleston left without me.
T: There’d be no me left. That’s for sure.
K: I’d be canceled. I don’t know. It’d be bad. It’d be bad. We’d be drinking too much, having too much fun. They got to keep us separated.
T: For the non-Spanish speakers here, I’m just going to interject. They already know. They’ve heard the intro. They’ve seen the show description, the name, but it’s the Cuba Libre we’re here to chat about today. Maybe we’ll dive back into Charleston in a little while at the end there. The Cuba Libre, tell us why today.
The History of the Cuba Libre
K: Bro, I’m from the Dominican Republic. I was born in D.R. You know how rum relates to the Caribbean. It permeates all parts of our culture from the parties to the baby showers, to funerals, to voodoo. It’s one of the drinks, the first drink I ever tried when I was 7 years old.
K: Yes, baby. They can’t take me away from my mom now. I’m too old. They can’t call child services on us. My mom is too old. I’m too old. Yes, it’s one of her favorite drinks. She would always let me taste it. I think that informed my obsession that we’re going to talk about a little later because I’m obsessed with this drink.
T: I like that we’re — Because there’s most folks out there when you talk about what was the first alcoholic drink you tried, and maybe there’s a difference between the first one you tried and the first one you got drunk off, but oftentimes they look at you with a wince when they want to answer because they’re like, “Oh God, do I have to admit it what it was?” Generally, it’s really, really bad. To have one, to have that experience early on and it still holds a place in your heart, that’s pretty special.
K: What was your first drink that you lit off of that you drank?
T: It took me a while to get into beer, and I had friends who liked beer.
K: Beer, really?
T: Yes, I just didn’t like the flavor in the beginning.
T: When we drink beer, maybe we had some cans together, I’d take a loaf of bread with me. For every sip of beer I’d have a bite of sliced bread just to wash it down and take away the flavor. The carbs that were going on in that whole process.
K: Yes, carb load.
T: Oh, my God. The heartburn as well with just all that bread and beer. I like a beer now, though. That was maybe the first one I tried. But the first one we used to drink regularly was these things called WKDs. They were the equivalent of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
K: Oh yes, yes.
T: It came in flavors like electric blue, Irn-Bru, if you know that one. WKDs, we used to — £1 a pop. They were on Thursdays on Scream. I used to go out with £10 and come home with change and a bad hangover. Those were the days. Thankfully, I like to think we’ve graduated a little bit from that for now to the point where we’re talking about cocktails on podcasts, where we’re maybe thinking about them in a higher level here. Cuba Libre though, it’s one of those for me that it’s a drink I was well aware of before I knew that it actually had a name. Bacardi and Coke was the one that was synonymous with me. Is that the case maybe growing up or slightly different in D.R. because you got Brugal there, you got other amazing rum brands?
K: In D.R. it’s always been Cuba Libre. There’s a spinoff that’s the National Dominican drink. It’s called Santa Libre, and that’s just with Sprite. Island mixology, baby.
T: A clear take on the-
K: You sub Coca-Cola, and it’s a Santa Libre, but Cuba Libre is what everybody pretty much drinks in DR. It’s a ubiquitous drink, more so than the Daiquiri or any other drinks because it’s accessible to everybody. These drinks like the Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, you can make them at home with Coke and rum and a little bit of lime. You can buy a big jug of rum. Big, three-liter Coke, and you feed the whole block. Everybody has a good time.
K: It’s less about measuring and more about taste, so it’s hard to f*ck up. On the island, that’s just the way we drink. On the block, that’s how we drink. In the BX week, on the stoop, you get a couple of jugs, you mix it up with some ice.
T: The interesting thing about that, when I’m hearing you talk about that and that idea where it’s like there’s no measurements, you can’t really f*ck it up because it’s your own palate. Maybe most of the people that are drinking that, maybe they’re never going to get into cocktails or maybe to a varying degree, maybe they never want to work in the industry. Maybe what you don’t also realize is you’re teaching yourself what balance looks like to you, how much booze you’re going to have in there, how much lime, give it that acidity, how much Coke you’re having in there for the sweetness. You’re finding balance and maybe you don’t realize it. You’re just trying to have something that’s tasty.
K: I think everybody’s always trying to find balance. You know when something’s over-salted. You’re a chef. You know what that’s like when your throat starts to burn a little bit, you’re like — You may not feel it on your palate with all the other elements, but you can tell when something’s a little too boozy and not in a good way. Even still, man, boozy Cuba Libre, I’ll have that. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Come on now.
T: It’s one of those as well — All right, it’s not as elevated as a Negroni, but it’s one of those ones as well where it’s pretty much like it’s a guarantee. If the ingredients are there, it’s dependable.
K: I beg to differ, I beg to differ about its elevation. Respectfully.
K: It’s interesting when you say it’s not as elevated as a Negroni.
T: What I mean by that is that certain people do not approach it with the intention that they do the Negroni, or they don’t try and say like, “Look, here’s the template. Actually, I’m tweaking the template.” Maybe I’m thinking in the cocktail space, fewer people have their ratio dialed exactly how they want it where they probably will do something like the Negroni. Ideologically, I’m not saying this belongs anywhere above or below. Everything’s equal.
K: Cool. Cool. I get that. I get that. Why do you think that is? Why is a Negroni, let’s say, held in this regard of a posh drink, let’s say posh for lack of a better term. It’s a sophisticated drink that you have with a clear cube, versus a Cuba Libre being what? I hate saying this f*cking word, a peasant-style drink. We have this idea of what’s a respectable drink and what’s a peasant-style drink. Do you understand the horror of that language? It’s like Caipirinha is a peasant-style drink, and then Negroni is a sophisticated, respectable drink. There’s like a class hierarchy that gets traversed when we’re going from one end of the spectrum to the other. You know what I mean? I grew up in the BX poor in the projects. I also have been to Champagne and drank the finest Ruinart vintage.
T: I don’t doubt that.
K: What I find fascinating is what we choose to call a respectable cocktail, and give it its due, its history. Dave Wandrick will dive in and do the f*cking whole thing versus the drinks that are “peasant.” A lot of times the drinks that are peasant are black or brown drinks, drinks from black or brown origins. Even though the Cuba Libre isn’t necessarily just that. There’s a little military aspect with the Spanish-American War, but we’ll get into that.
T: Yes, we will. Just to jump on your point there, I think that’s a great point. I think that definitely factors into it. There’s a race aspect there. We were speaking about the Negroni, specifically, as someone who has moved to the U.S. from Europe, it’s this notion that I come across a lot that there seems to be this expectation here that Europeans are just more sophisticated when it comes to their cuisine or what they eat or what they drink. There’s this idea that people in France from five years old, they can blind taste a Burgundy.
K: Some probably could.
T: Some of them maybe can.
K: Shout out to them.
T: A lot of them probably can’t. I think the final thing, when it comes to the Negroni, is that its flavor profile is a lot more challenging than a Cuba Libre, and therefore when we’re challenged by things, or maybe don’t initially like them, it’s like that beer thing I was talking about earlier, it’s like, “I can’t get my head around this.” When we’re challenged to like something, and then, we end up liking it, it feels like we’ve reached this next level of sophistication. Whereas really what we should be celebrating about something like a Cuba Libre, it’s accessible for everyone. We can absolutely maybe dial in certain points a little bit more than most folks are, and we’re going to get into that today.
K: F*ck, yes. It makes a lot of sense. Hell, yes. It makes a lot of sense. What’s interesting is the bitter component. Bitter in American cuisine and drink culture isn’t necessarily a thing.
T: Yes, exactly.
K: Famously, Lillet Blanc used to be Kina Lillet. It used to be very bitter, and when it started making its way into the American market, they just straight dialed it back and made it sweet wine. We have an obsession with sweetness in America. We love that sh*t, sweetness without complexity or dimension. I think that’s another aspect of the Negroni being, to your point, a challenging drink. It’s bitter. I f*cking hate Negronis.
T: Same here.
K: I think that cocktail sucks, bro. Talk your sh*t, bro. Give me a high five. Talk your sh*t. People are afraid to tell the truth.
T: For the folks who have listened to the Negroni episode with Jeffrey Morgenthaler, I apologize right now for repeating this, or feel free to skip forward a couple of seconds this rant might go on.
K: Give some shots.
T: It’s not that I dislike the Negroni, I just think that it gets a lot more praise and recognition than it deserves. That whole idea of dialing in specs, I think I mentioned it in that episode, the difference between the worst Negroni I’ve ever had and the best is minimal because it’s a dependable drink, but I don’t find it to be overly complex. I don’t find it to be like, “Oh, if I have this gin versus this gin in a Negroni, it’s going to completely change the cocktail.” You’re drinking Campari. To this point as well, actually, we spoke about Charleston — Sorry, now you’ve set me off.
K: Talk your sh*t, bro. You were waiting for this. You’ve been waiting.
T: We were talking about Charleston. We were at a party there. We were at a little VIP event. We had a special bar set up, and maybe I went to the bar a little too early, the bartender wasn’t set up with stuff. I was like, “What cocktails can you make?” She’s like, “I have this, this, this, and this.” There was no sweet vermouth. There was gin and there was Campari, and this bartender was really like, “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t have bitters. That’s how I want to make this drink.” I’m like, “It’s fine, just put it together with whatever.” It was Campari, gin, and some dry vermouth. All just free-poured, terrible ice, stirred it together. I’m like, “Yes, this tastes like a Negroni.”
K: That’s pretty much it.
T: It was good. There was double the amount of gin. What I’m saying is, this drink is not as complex as people like to think, or it’s not as hard to master.
K: I think Campari did a lot of marketing. Honestly, we like to think that drinks just catch fire because they catch fire, but it’s like the music industry. When you see an artist that looks big, there’s marketing dollars behind it. It’s not that they’re just big, there’s dollars. Campari invested a lot of moolah, rightfully so, to move Campari because a while back, nobody gave a f*ck about Campari. Ironically enough, though, I love an Americano.
T: I’m with you.
K: I drink that sh*t. I drink the f*ck out of an Americano, bro. I’ll assault an Americano, the drink.
T: Of course.
K: I will beat it up. I love it, but you add gin to that sh*t-
T: That’s the take on the Americano there or the Negroni. Again, I think where these two drinks have in common with the Cuba Libre in a way is there’s no substitute for Campari. There’s no substitute for tomato ketchup. It’s got to be the real thing. Speaking of it’s got to be the real thing, Coca-Cola.
K: Thank you.
T: We might get into something different here today but there’s nothing like it.
K: Thank you, Tim. Thank you. There’s a whole list of microaggressions against the Cuba Libre, I got to go down before we get into this recipe, this drink, this iconic elevated sophisticated drink called the Cuba Libre, also known as Mentirita, we’ll get into that. That other name as well.
T: Before you do sorry, do you want to jump into the history because it’s pretty brief or maybe it’s not or you want to go with that or?
K: Let’s do it, baby, let’s do — Look, I’m not Dave Wandrick so I’m not going to sit here and tell you the exact drunk history of a rum and Coke with lime, but it has something to do with the Spanish American War and the United States working with Cubans to eject Spain, and soldiers, and people on the island were already drinking a blend of molasses lime and rum, is just a little cure-all. When Coca-Cola hit Cuba early 1900, 1911 or some sh*t. Don’t quote me, I’m not Dave Wandrick. I don’t want people coming at me, “Hey man, that was actually 1913,” shut the f*ck up, I’m here to talk about the drink, not the library, bro. Anyways, around that time, soldiers were mixing a little Coca-Cola, lime, and rum and they would toast “Cuba Libre,” to a free Cuba. We all know Cuba’s not free which is why some people call the Cuba Libre the Mentirita or the little lie. The United States supported these rebels in trying to free Cuba. We always support these coups not to get into politics too much. You go down a rabbit hole with me. That’s the general history of it, it just became this drink that because Coca-Cola came into fashion, and because soldiers were drinking it, other people started f*cking drinking it. You know what I mean?
T: Exactly yes. I think that idea is so interesting as well. The Mentirita it’s like yes because the irony is that an American soldier potentially goes into a bar and toasts for a free Cuba, Cuba Libre, and then we’d look at subsequent events history and time. Hindsight is 20-20 and all that so.
K: For sure.
T: Sure. We cannot forget about these things when we’re looking back at history or even analyzing the now, but at this time as well, we’re really focusing on the drink too. Maybe that’s a separate podcast we can start if we want to go into that.
K: Yes. I just love how drinks are woven into history, the history of the world. I think that’s fascinating like drunk history, inebriated drunk history, alcohol history, cocktail history is ingrained in so many parts of our history. The history of America, the history of the world, I think that’s fascinating. To your point, we can do a whole different sh*t about that.
T: No. I always love the conversations as well, especially for this, which are the ones where the drink is symbolic of what’s happening in a place at a time, and this really speaks to that. There was a time where Cuba’s fighting for independence against Spain, and America came in there. It’s a different history, and you talk about just symbolism. We’re talking Cuban rum and in this case Coca-Cola an American product that’s invented what, like the mid-1800s late 1800s it’s invented by some wacky chemist down in Georgia.
K: I’m sure it was a Black person and then somebody stole it from him. I’m positive.
T: Most likely.
K: I’m making it. I’m like the Cuba Libre was a Taino indigenous drink before these motherf*ckers. No, I’m just f*cking around.
T: That’s the thing about drunk history we never know.
K: Yes, it’s the beauty of it.
T: It is. It’s Atlanta, Georgia sorry. I was just thinking about that there. The coming together of these ingredients, you mentioned microaggressions earlier. Have we covered all your microaggressions?
K: No, no, no, no, we didn’t get into it because we got into you know.
T: We got into the history.
K: Conspiracies and 5G and sh*t.
T: Is that why you currently have tin foil on your head?
T: I was wondering but I didn’t want to ask. It might be messing with the mics here.
The Ingredients Used in Kelvin Uffre’s Cuba Libre
K: This is a Comme des Garcons, actually. It’s a new thing. Well number one, if you’re using anything by Coca-Cola, if you’re using the new hip cola that’s some hipster with a beard in Brooklyn created with real cola nuts, you are a bozo. Microaggression, and this is a class D microaggression, even in a small scale. If you’re making your own cola you are a bozo. Sorry, Morgenthaler. I f*ck with you. I think you’re important to cocktail culture, I think you’re making your own cola you a straight bozo. I say that with love and respect, bozo. If you’re adding high ester rums, Jamaican rum, Hampden save it for the real thing, man. Save it for the real thing. Don’t be dropping that joint in a Cuba Libre, it takes over everything. You’re a bozo. If you’re using Jamaican rum, high ester sh*t, you’re a bozo. If using agricole rum in a Cuba Libre, guess what? You’re a bozo.
T: Save that for the Ti’ Punch, which by the way I think is National Ti’ Punch Day this weekend.
K: Oh damn.
T: As this comes out, but again, that’s where you’re going with the agricole.
K: AKA every day in Martinique.
T: These national days are stupid. It came up and I wanted to promote our episode on that. Check that one out.
K: I got it.
T: Actually, Christian Favier wants to say, just as a little side note here, he’s down in Charleston. We interviewed him for that episode. We stopped by me and a couple of our colleagues here, we had a round of Ti’ Punch on him. It was amazing. Christian, and shout out to you. Amazing. Thank you. At The Ordinary.
K: Oh. Ordinary is an amazing bar and Christian is an amazing wealth of knowledge, amazing palate. We did a rum panel not this year, the year before. He was part of that Shannon Mustafa.
T: Nice. The dream team.
K: A bunch of amazing folks. He’s just a legend, bro. I love him to death. Shoutout Christian, shoutout Ordinary. That f*cking bar is legendary. If you’re using Martiniquian rum, you a straight bozo. Stop it. Microaggressions — it’s like borderline racist — but on the scale 1 to 10, it’s a 0.5. Stop. If you’re not using aged rum, you’re not exactly a bozo because I get it but you’re missing an opportunity. Got to use aged rum. If you’re using lemons instead of limes, you ain’t worth nothing. Limes is what it is. They’re probably going to be more, as I keep talking about this sh*t, getting hyped, but those are the main bozo microaggressions to the drink.
T: If we can take a little cocktail geek sidestep here for a second, this reminds me of the conversation we’ve had before where it’s like someone who’s making their own aromatic bitters instead of using Angostura the time it takes, the effort, the cost from a staffing perspective. Above all, I mean, those are all considerations that are red lights, right?
K: Straight up, red flag.
T: The quality of the product at the end, and I know that there’s a lot of that sh*t that goes into Coke. I don’t want to know what it is. I just know that I love the flavor of it, and I’m guilty of that and I love it. I shouldn’t have to apologize for it.
K: Hell no.
T: We don’t like to admit we like sweet things, which is part of that conversation we were having earlier.
K: Or mass-produce things. With the era of farm-to-table and organic.
T: Grain to glass.
K: People want craft, age of craft. Look at all this sh*t. Half the craft brands on shelves ain’t even really craft brands. They’re f*cking funded by Diageo, Campari, Pernod. They sell you this story that it’s craft. Meanwhile, they have a f*cking 48 million liters is still small batch. We all know what it is. We hate to admit that we like mass-produced stuff. Bro, I like Versace. I got Louis V at the crib. It’s fake, it’s from Chinatown. Speaking about mass-produced and Black-owned, I get my sh*t from the Africans in Chinatown. There’s something to be said about the consistency of mass production when it’s done right. Not everything is always ethical, but to your point, Angostura is not only amazing and has a history of making this, you know Seagirt but the consistency and the flavor, you think you can match that in your little basement with your little ball jars and sh*t and your little-. No. Bro, suck it. You’re bozo. You’re bozo.
T: I’m assuming, therefore, that we know this, you have a similar thought process when it comes to making your own Coke for this drink. It’s just not a direction you personally want to take.
K: Nobody should take, you know what happens with this stuff it’s hubris. Bartenders think that if they can make something better than Coke, then they’re a good bartender. They think it says something about them. Same with bitters. If I can make my own Ango, you get to say something about yourself. I want to tell all you beautiful young bartenders from all intersections, walks of life, levels of knowledge, experience, and work ethic too, this is for you lazy motherf*ckers too. You’re enough. You’re enough. You’re beautiful. Your drinks are wonderful. You don’t need to overdo it. You’re enough.
T: What’s that classic Anna Wintour advice? I think it’s a tribute to the quote where you look in the mirror before you leave the house, always take off one item of clothing, and then walk out. Maybe the same is true when coming up with a cocktail recipe or an ingredient.
K: Yes. I should’ve taken off my foil hat, but-
T: Did you notice me staring at it right there as I was quoting that? Yes.
K: Oh, I’m glad this isn’t on film.
T: Yes. Well, that’s coming soon, folks. Don’t know when, but it’s going to come. We’re going to hit YouTube with this eventually. Take it to the next level. But TBD. It’s in the works.
K: No, I think so. I think Sasha Petroski was a big proponent of that. My man, Dan Greenbaum, who owned Diamond Reef, RIP Diamond Reef. Dan is a legend. He’s one of the people that I think outside of me has the best Piña Colada recipe for real. I’ll put his spec against any of yours. Bring it, you will die. His sh*t is the sh*t. He talks about that because Sasha taught him at John Dory Bar like, this drink do you have five ingredients? Make it with three. Try it. Try to make it with three. Yes, I think that simplicity is what makes these drinks accessible, what gives them longevity, what makes them ubiquitous.
T: This reminds me as well, of a conversation we’re having recently with Eric Castro about his drink, the Piña Verde. You talk about yourself, Piña Colada, the Piña Verde, great drink, similar category there. The simplicity of that, he was speaking about, that’s kind of what also makes it stunning because it’s so simple, you can’t believe how good it is.
K: Yes. Shoutout to Eric Castro, man. He’s amazing, man. What a legend. Such an amazing palate. I heard that episode and I just love it. He’s like, “Bro, you can’t f*ck it up.” Even if you get the specs a little bit, you can’t f*ck it up. It’s a modern classic, man. Very few people get that. The Penicillin. Very few people get the modern classic level.
T: Yes. Generally speaking, it’s always those ones that’s four ingredients or less, but more often than not, just three. No one’s out there creating the next riff on a Vieux Carré. You know what I mean? It’s not been done. That’s a singular cocktail. But this is a drink, the Cuba Libre. I got two ways where I want to go here. I want to talk about how, what you would make for someone who’s a skeptic here, but I think maybe we should have a conversation about rum first.
K: Oh yes.
T: Talk to me about, because you hinted earlier you said if you’re not using aged, you’re maybe missing out on an opportunity.
K: Yes. In my eyes, there’s like three drinks per concept. For a Cuba Libre, there’s like the way I make it at home for myself when I’m nerding out, being geeky, being as f*cking psychotic about it. Because for me, I’m trying to get back to the way it tasted when my mom put that glass to my lips when I was seven. That changed. I was like, “Oh sh*t.” I kept hitting the table like, “Yo ma, can I get a little more?” They would shut me the f*ck up. Because me and my brother were little demons. She’d be like- She was just fed up. She’d be like, “Here, you motherf*cker. Drink this sh*t.” I kept hitting the table often. There’s like that, there’s that drink, the one I’m making at home for myself when I’m just getting sexy. I got f*cking Mark Anthony playing and I’m taking my time. I got the silk robe, Versace silk robe. I’m making it nice with a highball. Then there’s like the one I would make a few at a bar, streamline. Then there’s the one that you have in the context of a good f*cking time. It’s a plastic cup, Bodega ice, don’t sh*t on it. Non-Mexican Coke, whatever Coke you get, warm, cold, who gives a f*ck, and a jug of rum that you could afford. Limes, maybe if you got them. If the bodega did not run out. Maybe you got to get some lemon there, be a bozo. It’s okay on the block. These three different concepts that I think exist for almost every drink.
T: Yes. I’d argue with you on that one.
T: I don’t think they do exist for almost every drink. I think that’s part of what makes this cocktail very special.
K: Yes. That’s a good point.
T: Because what’s the blog version of a Martini?
K: Warm gin.
T: It just doesn’t work.
K: Yes. It doesn’t.
T: Well, or maybe just like gin on the rocks.
K: That’s not a Martini.
K: There’s a glassware component that makes it such.
T: Exactly, Yes. Or so that people don’t think I’m just obsessed, but the version of an Old Fashioned. I’m not saying you have to do a lot to make it a really good drink, but I don’t think there is one where it’s like you can MacGyver it.
K: Yes. Dimension.
T: It still is true to what the cocktail’s actually supposed to be. I think that’s what we’re talking about here.
K: Yes. That’s a fair point. That’s a great point, Tim. I think you’re absolutely right with that, there is that dimension that is afforded to “peasant style drinks” that doesn’t carry over with drinks that are made at cocktail bars where-
T: We got the blog version. Now talk to me about the — I don’t want to use that word anymore, but the-
K: Use it. F*ck it.
T: -dialed in version that you’re geeking out on yourself.
K: Oh, man.
How to Make Kelvin Uffre’s Cuba Libre
T: Let’s start with the rum here again as well. Okay.
K: Usually well, so I got to use a Spanish colonial rum. I hate saying Spanish colonial, but rum from islands that were colonized by the Spanish, they’re usually column still. They usually add a little bit of sugar, vanilla, caramel coloring and all these things add a little bit of something to the drink. A little bit of that sweetness from the Spanish rum, a little bit of that vanilla that they add. It sort of plays with the aromatics. I hate talking about aromatics, about Coca-Cola like it’s f*cking Burgundy, but it plays with the flavors. I would use a Spanish rum, like one and a half ounces of a Spanish rum. Should I even name a brand?
T: Yes. Name a brand.
K: Let me think about who I like. I like Santa Teresa. I think for a Cuba Libre in particular, Santa Teresa rocks. Also love Barrilito, although Barrilito can be a little bit too spicy. You got to be able to tame that.
T: It can also get a little pricey as well when you go up to the four, five stars there. Nice though.
K: That 2-star, it’s lighter than the 3. It’s less spicy. I think, one and a half. I like to do half an ounce of 151. Yes, baby. Half ounce. You could do Goslings because Goslings has beautiful color, molasses flavor, but it’s fairly neutral. You can also do Lemon Heart, whatever, half an ounce. This just gives the drink length. It’s a long drink. My biggest pet peeve with Cuba Libre is you put it in a 12-ounce, 16-ounce highball and you use 80-proof rum. You use lime juice and then you add Coca-Cola and a bunch of sh*tty ice and by the time you get midway, it tastes like water. It’s like whack.
T: The balance in there as well. If you’re trying to up the rum that you’re doing, if it’s at 80 proof. Yes, no.
K: Yes. Then, if you’re using a white rum, sure that’s great, but all you taste is Coca-Cola and maybe lime. When you have some of this vanilla, some of these other flavors and you add the 151, 151 sort of acts as a lengthener, not only in the proof but as you know what Brian Miller talks about his teaspoons of the 151. Motherf*cker be hitting that sh*t with the 151. Motherf*cker be hitting that sh*t with with the juice. F*ck it. Let’s steroid every cocktail.
T: He uses 151 like a lot of bartenders these days like to use saline solutions.
K: Hey, I’m sure he puts in his maple syrup like that man.
T: He puts in his morning coffee.
K: Yes. Just a teaspoon.
T: Well, actually he likes to call it vitamin R, and it’s one of his essential vitamins that he has every morning.
K: That’s one of B Miller’s tricks. Shout to Brian Miller, man, he’s a good friend and an amazing, amazing person.
T: Down on an island now we can exclusively announce here on “Cocktail College,” he’s down in St. Lucia. Follow him on Instagram because he’s got a little project going on down there.
K: Yes. I got to go visit him. We spoke before he flew out. I got to come see him. How it is with Brian. You pull up, it don’t matter when or what time, consummate hosts. The fact that he’s on the island shows he’s in his natural habitat, in a good place.
T: Yes. He is.
K: Where he is in the city, motherf*cker looks like a polar bear in Hawaii. Motherf*ckers like, “Where-” Doesn’t know. Yes, a little bit of lengthener so the drink can last a little bit longer and I like to add like a teaspoon of Turbinado simple syrup, nice, rich, simple, and juice of a full lime. Once again, giving it a little more length. I’m going to use the juice of a full lime, and now I’ve upped the proof. I’m going to need a little bit of fat as well because now you have the acidity, you have the astringency of the alcohol with this shot up. Add a little bit of that sugar, just a little bit of simple syrup, Turbinado, just to bring out some of the molasses flavors of the Coca-Cola.
T: Turbinado is what? It’s a less refined form of raw-ish sugar, or it’s processed?
K: Yes. still has a lot of B12, a lot of its flavor, multi flavors. Those multi-flavors, believe it or not, even if it’s a teaspoon or a quarter ounce, it does lengthen and amplify some of the flavors of the Coca-Cola. For me, the Cuba Libre, you’re trying to enhance the flavor of Coke. I’m not trying to enhance the flavor of rum. I’m not trying to hide the flavor of rum. I’m trying to make a balanced, basically little smorgasbord in a glass that you sip it and you’re like, “Man, this Coca-Cola is great and it’s getting me f*cked up,” because Coca-Cola is such a delicious thing, my approach was like, why not use these elements to sort of pay homage to its flavor profile?
T: That’s such an amazing point and something I hadn’t considered before, listening to you say that. The Turbinado, the rum, especially an aged rum.
T: The Coca-Cola. You said you don’t want to talk about tasting those when it comes to something like Coke, but what are you going to get in all of them? You’re going to get this licorice, molasses character. Maybe it’s toned down in the Coke, but for sure it’s there somewhere. Caramel, the classic baking, spices, cinnamon, all that kind of stuff. They have their own balance. Vanilla, obviously these ingredients are all like siblings in different ways. Their flavor profiles are siblings, though. I never considered, actually, that’s probably why this drink works so well.
K: Absolutely, this is why if you’re using high-ester rums or something grassy like agricole rum, even when it’s aged, agricole rum can still be very grassy. You’re taking very green notes and you’re trying to blend it with something very, very baking spice-forward dark.
T: Yes. It’s different. It doesn’t work. This reminds me of one of your questions earlier, actually. You were talking about early drinking experiences. One of the ones that put me off gin for a long time — I don’t know whether I’ve ever brought this up before, was a party, parents aren’t there, people are just drinking whatever’s there. We got through the Navy rum that was disgusting. The only mixer we have is Coke. We’re on the gin and Cokes and it was disgusting.
K: I’m pretty sure that’s like the national drink of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’re drinking gin and Cokes, you’re f*cking up, bro. You’re living wrong. What?
T: Put me off gin for ages, and you know what it was that I didn’t appreciate at the time, which is the juniper and the savory and the green notes of gin, the botanicals, they just don’t go with the sweet baking spices of Coke.
K: Yes. Maybe they would in a different context, but no. For me it’s like, can you still taste Coca-Cola? By adding a little bit of Turbinado simple teaspoon, quarter ounce whatever it is, you’re amplifying that sweetness and lengthening some flavors with the rums as well. You’re lengthening the drink. Even if you don’t have good ice or “good ice”, whatever, clear f*cking Japanese crystal ice, you drink last. Midway, that sh*t’s still kicking. You got to do juice of the whole lime and the lime.
T: The shell.
K: Yes, just half. I squeeze the juice in and then I take that spent lime and I put that baby in the glass because them oils just gives it some brightness.
T: Complexity. Next level.
K: Yes. Levels. You’re talking molasses, deep-rich baking spices. Now, what do you need for contrast? A little bit of brightness. You should have some of that. It’s what makes a Manhattan with a lemon peel garnish, so bright. It makes you want more of it. Otherwise, it’s just clawing and one note. If it’s all baking spice.
T: It’s flabby. I know you’ve got a wine background as well. That’s what they say in the wine business there.
K: Blah blah. Flabby. Yes. When I’m at home and I’m taking my time — And, yes. I might get wet with a little drop of Angostura, I might get wet it up. No problem.
T: Maybe Dale DeGroff’s bitters as well if you want something like that. His are kind of — I don’t know.
K: Yes, I slept with Dale DeGroff. Dale DeGroff all day.
T: Hearing you talk about the Turbinado sugar there, just before we move on, it reminds me of this concept that has really struck me in recent conversations, but also throughout doing this podcast, which is like when it comes to simple syrups, or your sweetening agents, why not use it as an opportunity to introduce a flavor that can help as well? Like one-to-one simple syrup with just normal granulated sugar. Not only is that stuff overly processed and terrible for you, it has no flavor, it’s just sweetness.
T: It’s like basically, only using citric acid in your drink versus lemon juice.
T: Or lime juice.
T: You can introduce a flavor at the same time as doing what you want to do, which is to sweeten it. I don’t know, I never considered that before. That’s really taking things when I think about the cocktails to a different level for me. The Turbinado, I like it.
K: Oh, yes. You were talking about complete foods, when you just take citric acid and throw it in the mix, you’re missing so many of the other elements that make your body process the juice and register the juice as something nutritious. Same with sugar. Your body processes granulated sugar differently than unrefined sugar. Unrefined sugar still has all of its nutrients therefore your body processes it differently. Not to get too nerdy, but these things matter. They do matter.
T: There’s a time and a place for a simple as well, like standard one-to-one or whatever, but generally speaking, if you can avoid it or if you can improve upon it, that’s the take I’m getting from this show, which is just like, do that instead.
K: Yes. I’m not from a place of ego. I’m not going to improve upon it by making my own Coca-Cola. Bozo.
T: Pick your battle.
K: Pick them. It’s not a hill I want to die on.
T: Sounds like. I don’t know. I thought you were going to come in today with a little bottle of Kelvin’s handmade Coca-Cola.
K: There’s real cocaine in it. Back in the days.
T: Well, like that’s what bartenders do. You’re like, do you know, actually back in the day, this is how they used to do it.
K: Once it gets decriminalized maybe I’ll come out with my own cocaine cola.
T: Not right now though.
K: No, no. I’m trying to live long and stay out of prison.
T: What’s the next version of the drink that you might want to explore?
K: I think the next one is the one you would make for somebody at a bar.
T: If you were running a bar program right now and you want to be like, you put this on the menu. Which is putting a flag in the ground and saying, I care about this drink. I can make this drink in a way that might make you rethink it if you didn’t like it or if you didn’t respect it enough before. Also, I’m being mindful that this is a bar operation, so I got to think about costs. I got to think about bottle pickups. Let’s hear about that one.
K: Look, you take Don Q White because that sh*t is of value. I say cheap because I don’t want to disparage any brand who’s affording the community something for them to enjoy at a good cost. It’s a good value. I’ll take Don Q and I’ll take Lemon Hart. I will blend those two babies. You got an age rum, you got an 80 proof and a 151 at an average you’re talking about, it’s going to be like a 90-ish proof spirit. Which is great for long drinks. You get some of those molasses flavors and you get a little bit of that gusto. You know what I mean? That length. I’ll find the biggest high ball you can find if you got a 20-ounce pint glass, whatever, 24-ounce, 32-ounce, 18-ounce, big ass pint glass, two full ounces of your mix. Full lime hand squeezed always. Top that baby with coke. In my crib, I use Mexican cokes. Some people were like, it’s not that different. It’s not.
T: It is.
K: You’re a bozo. It is. There’s something about carbonation and glass. There’s something about the sugar and not the corn syrup. Especially once again with how your body processes natural sugar versus corn syrup and glycemic spikes. Not to get into any of that I also do a lot of training. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, so balancing that with drinking I have not done a great job but I know some sh*t. I hit you with some bro science.
T: You know what not to do and you still do it. You shouldn’t be doing it.
K: This is all bro science. You could take it or leave it, but I would top it with a nice you. It could be canned Coca-Cola, it could be whatever, and put it in a pint glass.
T: How’d you feel about fountain?
K: A fountain for Cuba Libre?
T: Fountain Cola.
K: I love it.
T: Like you get out the gun or at the cinema.
K: I love it.
T: I love fountain.
K: Me too. The syrup
K: Oh yes. It’s interesting because the carbonation isn’t there.
T: Not quite.
K: The flavor is there.
T: It’s so concentrated. It’s so thick. I know. That’s why they give you so much ice at McDonald’s.
K: Exactly. Well yes, because like the sugar and the syrup is nuts. The carbonation isn’t quite there and for me like a long drink should have carbonation to the last drop. Some people are fans of pouring the carbonated element on a knife or on a spoon. You don’t need to go two feet in the air, just make it elegant. Make it nice you don’t need to drop it from the heavens out to here. I would be gentle with how you bring in the carbonation, to be honest. This is controversial. I’m going to drop some knowledge that you motherf*ckers are going to be like, no wonder Maison fired him. No wonder he’s been hired and fired from some of the best bars in my bar. If it’s a Cuba Libre, that rum is in the freezer.
K: Now, people are like, “How dare you?” This is a bar sh*t. I put it in the freezer because it’s a Japanese technique, potentially you get the spirit colder than the ice. When you drop the spirit in the glass and you drop the ice, the ice actually is cooking the spirit. That brings out a lot of the flavors and esters in the spirit. Now, are you going to notice that coming in being like, “Bobby, I want Cuba Libre,” I’m here like with the f*cking cold rum and sh*t? No, no, you’re not going to notice it. I do and that turns me on, man.
T: Why’d that go against you doing that at the bar?
K: Most people in the U.S. freeze vodka. They freeze gin and to freeze aged spirits, it’s like against everything they’ve ever known.
T: I don’t get that.
K: I think you should try it. Put some Asian rum in your freezer. Make a Cuba Libre. There’s just something to it. Also, when the rum is that cold, you finally add the carbonation element. Magic happens. It retains its carbonation to the drop. It is even the last little inch of that sh*t that is not watered down because the 151 is hitting, you got a little turbinado sugar if you want to get lit, that sh*t is still banging. By the time you take that last sip, you’re just yearning for a second round.
T: Refreshed. What about ice then? Because carbonation, if you want to really geek out nucleation points, ice. Given the option, would you go for the large clear spear or would you feel like that’s maybe not fitting with the soul of this drink?
K: That’s a great question, by the way, Tim. Great question. Ice. That’s a magical element in a cocktail that the invention of ice and the distribution of ice f*cking changed whatever the f*ck we do now. Here’s what I’ll say to that. If you’re doing 80-proof rum, sh*tty Coca-Cola and you don’t necessarily have a freezer and you know that your sh*ts are going to get watered down, use a spear. It doesn’t change that much throughout its dilution, but if you’re using all these elements like 151 and a little lengthener of turbinado sugar and a whole fresh lime and you’re taking the time to freeze the rum so it’s cold. You’re going to want it to have a life, you’re going to want it to change. Much like ourselves. We have a lifespan. We are born, we blossom, and then we go off into our greener pastures, and I think long drinks should have this life. Although some of the best Cuba Libres ever had were at Attaboy and they drop a spear in that sh*t. Do you think I give a f*ck?
T: No. If it’s good, it’s good.
K: I’m like muchas gracias papi. Yes. I go there and like otra más so I think it depends. For me, regular ice, a couple of cold draft cubes, sh*tty ice. Some of my favorite ice is bodega Ice.
T: Pebble Sonic.
K: Yes. Oh, I don’t know about, but I don’t know about Scotsman Pebble Ice. That’s some sh*t that f*cking Matt Bellinger did his Donna, and he put his Cuba Libre in a Hurricane glass.
T: All right. There’s a line. Someone just crossed it.
K: Yes. It was one of my favorite Cuba Libre. I would go there after Masion from there every time I was an opener. See Matt and have Donna Scuba Libre. It was one of the first places that put a Cuba Libre on the menu, which is something else we need to talk about for the longest time. I could not get a Cuba Libre at some of your finest cocktail bars.
T: That’s a great point. Let’s talk about this because I was just going to ask, based upon that, I was going to say what are some other memorable ones you’ve had? First, let’s talk about it, just as a concept. If a bar is putting on a menu, is there an expectation that actually, maybe they are making their own Coke because they feel they need to justify putting it on the menu?
K: Yes. 9 times out of 10 when I see it on the menu, they’ve done something to it. You know what? I don’t want to f*ck it. I’ll have a beer dawg. I forget who was talking about this. I think it might have been Eric Castro about putting these drinks on a menu that are classics. I think Orlando was talking about it with El Presidente. If you’re putting it on the menu, you’re saying something about it, but with drinks like Cuba Libre, you should just have Coke, rum, and a couple of limes, and if I want one, I should be able to have one, but for the longest time it was almost like the Mojito bartenders were like, “We don’t have mint here.”
T: On purpose.
T: Not to make them.
K: Yes. Instead of being like, “We don’t make that here.” Being honest with their own wretchedness, these motherf*ckers were like, “Sorry, mint’s not in season.” Yo, you’re crazy bro. That’s just another way of ostracizing and not including a certain type of person in your bar. It’s why some bars don’t carry Hennessy. It’s why some clubs were like, “If you’re wearing a big white t-shirt or a fitted cap, don’t come in. We don’t play hip-hop here.” Now, hip-hop is ubiquitous in all these white spaces and all these bars, but for a long time in New York City, because I’m from New York, born in D.R., and raised in New York. You couldn’t play hip-hop, it was Top 40. We did this with drinks too. It was the Mojito, it was the Long Island Iced Tea. The longest time before white bartenders made it kitschy to do it. Ooh, I have a Long Island, these trash drinks. I can bring them back the purple nurple with my oleo sacra, whatever, bro. Before they made it acceptable again for the longest time.
T: Or vodka is another one. The whole craft community to a certain extent was really guilty of that too in the early days saying, we don’t have vodka here to — I get why they were doing it as well like trying to get people of all backgrounds to try mixed drinks that maybe they hadn’t discovered before, but at the same time being a place which is supposed to be in the hospitality industry and not carrying the most drunk spirit in the country.
K: To keep it real, when I ran bars and my boys shout out to Mark Witzig, shout out to Omar Stevens, shout out to Sergio Castellon. When we worked at bars and somebody wanted a vodka drink, I would make them a Last Word with vodka. I’ll make them a Corpse Reviver No. 2 with vodka because it would turn them on to other ingredients. Vodka is like this clear lens where, oh sh*t, what’s this? It’s Chartreuse. It’s like this beautiful thing you could encapsulate other beautiful things in, that’s familiar to people. I was making vodka drinks for motherf*ckers who were like, “No.” I was making Long Islands when motherf*ckers were like, “No.” You’re absolutely right, man. Now it’s like everybody’s having a great old time because the work got done. When the work was getting done motherf*ckers were like, “It wasn’t in the Harry Craddock manual.” I don’t give a f*ck about Harry Craddock. I understand the work he did, but he didn’t create these cocktails in a vacuum. It was the histories and histories of people that allowed these things to come to fruition. We idolize and become too dogmatic about sh*t. You’re missing the point, which is to be hospitable. Give people a good time, and give them an escape. If I want to ride a vodka sled away from my problems, I’m going to do it.
T: Keep them coming.
K: Yes, bro. You know what I mean like? For the longest time I couldn’t get a Cuba Libre. These are top bars. I won’t name any names because these are my friends who I love. I go to their establishments. But a couple of years ago bars would be like, “We don’t carry Coke.”
T: The craziest thing and I’m looking at this from a media perspective now and a media more in the role, the managing editor role I do at VinePair versus the host of this podcast. I think that if you were to have a bar in New York City right now, something that’s tending to be more the $20 cocktail space versus maybe a little bit faster, a little bit more casual. If you put on a Cuba Libre and it was that recipe you said before, or even if it was just rum, maybe a slight blend, lime, Coke, decent glass, decent ice, nothing else. People were to come in and be like, so what’s different about this? What makes it good? You’re just like, “This is a Cuba Libre.” This is exactly what you’ve had before, but this is going to be the best one you’ve ever had. I think from a media point of view, you’d have so many people writing about this. There was just like because what you’re doing is you’re doing the thing that everyone does badly. You’re not adding anything. You’re not changing anything. You’ve got to be able to execute it. By the way, you’ve got to live up to your word here but if you did that, you’d be in the Cuba Libre place and people would be like, “Oh my God, it’s amazing.” We wouldn’t know what they do. You just got to go there to have it. Do you know what I mean? It’s like good sushi. It’s just the fish and the preparation, but nothing else. Nothing proprietary.
K: I think there’s something about the person giving it to you too, that’s part of the cocktail. The fish, of course, nothing proprietary but the master sushi person who’s doing it and taking their time to give it to you and give it to you with love because it’s a difference when I’m making you a Negroni and I hate Negronis, you’re going to get a f*cking Negroni, a 1:1:1 or one and a half, three-quarter in your glass with fu*cking a cool twist. I don’t give a f*ck. I will not lose sleep. If you come to my bar and you’re like, I want a Cuba Libre or Mojito or some fly sh*t, I light up because I think about my mother. I think about my friends that passed away. I think about my block, I think about the history of D.R. I think about those late nights on the island with my friends getting into dumb sh*t. Finishing off with a jug of rum and some Coke. Just chilling in the car, listening to music, banging Gucci Mane and Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderón. This is the thing about these drinks that are not necessarily created in cocktail bars, these elevated, sophisticated drinks because they happen outside of the cocktail bar, they’re tied to so many real-life memories. Not to say that having a Negroni at a bar and having an experience at a bar is different or better. Saying that the experiences you’ll have with a Negroni because they live in a cocktail bar would be vastly different than the ones you’ll have with a Daiquiri or Cuba Libre. You know what I mean? Or these drinks that exist outside.
T: Yes, no, that point is also just the way someone makes the drink. I think that’s, again, and look, the object of owning and running a bar is not to get press or not to get people to write about you. If you do own and run a bar, that helps. Gets people in the door. Takes care of your bills, that kind of thing and that’s a massive part of it too, just the preparation, not being a person that’s like, “Oh, yes, I can make a Rum and Coke but whatever.” You see the person making it and they don’t care. If you see someone, the attention to detail that you’re talking about here, with the same ingredients they can do back home. This is going off on a tangent, we’ll bring it back soon. I think the restaurants that I’m most impressed with, or most impressed by, especially when I was a chef, were the places that use no fancy techniques, no technology, and ingredients that I could buy at my supermarket, and I would sit down and eat it and be like, “There’s no way I can ever replicate that.” That’s magic for me.
K: That’s sick. For me, it was like, if you’re going to make a Cuba Libre and you really love it, or any drink, the person making it, as you’re watching them make it, it should make you thirsty. One of the legends in New York City who makes a Cuba Libre, not only because they study with me, but because they’re such an attentive and aware person is Sergio Castellon, he’s at Crown Shy right now. He’s bartended all over. I worked with him at Maison Premiere when I was there behind the bar. When he makes a Cuba Libre, me and him have had many Cuba Libres every night. It is masterful, it makes your mouth water. He’s from Bolivia, but you can tell he’s coming from a place where he loves this drink and it’s tied to so many amazing memories. When you watch, it’s rare, because there’s very few bartenders that get to make the drinks that they love or drinks that are tied to some sort of infancy before they became these bartenders. You watch this sh*t. We should go get one.
T: I was going to say, I’ve got an idea for you.
K: We got to go.
T: By the way, Crown Shy, I have definitely eaten there. Do they have a bar there that you can just sit out or do you have to eat?
K: No, we go. We’re going to have a snack and chill out.
T: Here’s something we should do. You don’t have social media, do you, or you don’t control it?
K: Never had social media.
T: All right. I’ll just have to pass this on. How about we do this? Say to the fine listeners here that live in New York City, go down there, visit Sergio, whenever you hear this episode, and ask for him, and ask for his Cuba Libre. I’m assuming it’s not on the menu.
T: Just go there for that. By the third or fourth person, I think he’s going to ask what’s going on here? We don’t tell him.
K: Don’t tell him.
T: Please take a photo, put it on Instagram, tag us. I’ll share it with Kelvin.
K: For sure.
T: He’ll appreciate that like you said.
K: Exactly. He’ll be like, “Something’s in the air.”
T: Something’s going on.
K: Not this past year but the year before in Charleston, I did a Cuba Libre punchbowl. While he was doing the Island Times event, everybody’s over here with pea flower this and oleo-saccharum that. No shade to them. Amazing. Do it. I was like, “F*ck this.” I got three bowls. I dumped Brugal, 151 Gosling’s, Mac, Coca Cola and I squeezed limes into that sh*t and ladled it into people’s glasses. I had a line you would not believe. All the punches got finished. Everybody is “This is the best punch ever. What is it?” I was like, “Bobby, some Cuba Libre, baby.” It’s Rum and Coke. People just loved the familiarity of it. I’ve done Cuba Libre juleps, I’ve been Doble Cuba Libre. I just sent you a picture. I posted on Instagram. After this, you got to post it as the-
T: I’ll post it.
K: -El Papa Doble, baby.
T: Is that the Hemingway? No.
K: It’s the Hemingway. I call my Cuba Libre Papa Doble.
T: Papa Doble. Nice. All right, then. We’re going to do that. There’s going to be a lot of action coming up on Instagram in these next couple of days, I feel. Folks check it out, or also just — Maybe it’s a test. Maybe go out there to your local craft spot. Maybe say you’ve been listening to the show and you want to see an elevated — Actually, we’re not using that word. F*ck, we’re using that word.
K: Elevated is cool, baby.
T: It works. You know what I mean.
K: I f*ck with it.
T: The point gets across, but you want to get that version of the drink. Let us know how it goes. That’s a fun one. For you though, Kelvin, any final thoughts on this drink, this topic? I know we could go off on some wild tangents. We’re not going to do that today. We’ll save that maybe for a future episode. On the Cuba Libre specifically, specificamente?
K: Specificamente. I just got to say, you do not know when somebody’s sitting across from you wherever they’re from, whatever intersection they exist in, what a drink means to them. Not just why they’re at your bar or what they’re escaping from. When they order a specific drink, you do not know what that means to them, you don’t know the respite it provides, you don’t know what it’s tied to, whom in their history introduced them to it, the time spent. Make it with love. When you make a drink, especially something like a Cuba Libre or a Daiquiri or a Piña Colada, or Santo Libre with Sprite. Papi. Coming to a bar near you, papi. Make it with love. When you make it, think about the person you love the most in your life, and put that into the drink. It’ll translate more than you making your own Coca-Cola syrup. You bozo. Mad respect and love though. I’m talking sh*t.
T: I like that. The only thing I’m going to counter with, next time I see you behind a bar, I’m going to expect the same when I order a Negroni from you.
K: F*cking fair bro.
T: I would say one drink Sunday.
K: I’ll do my best.
Getting to Know Kelvin Uffre
T: Very nice. Very nice.The ultimate five questions of the show, the recurring ones. Let’s start with number one, what style or category of spirit, typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar? This could have been back in your days behind the bar and just now in Casa.
K: Well, everybody knows I rep for Calesa here in New York City. Tequila takes very small real estate because I usually have Calesa and a few friends. In my crib, or at my back bar, it was always rum. Always.
T: What warm rum can’t do?
K: 28 can. Yes. There’s so much.
T: Somewhere, Brian Miller just heard his name called.
K: Yes, exactly. Shout to B, man. That’s my boy. Always good dude.
T: Question number two, what ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
K: That’s a good question. Arsenal or tool that’s undervalued. I think their own sense. Their own sense, their intuition. I think a lot of bartenders rely on their f*cking array of cocktail king shots, Cocktail Kingdom, supplying the industry with amazing tools. When you live in your box, and you live in your tool, and you live in your well, you forget that you have a whole wealth of sense and feelings. I think intuition and a lot of bartenders are atrophying that in a way. Intuition.
T: Nice. I think if I can tag onto that, I think the intuition, I think that comes into our thinking, right? It comes into this. We are in a specific moment right now, where it can be difficult to have your own opinion, that you’ve formed. I know that’s something you suffer from having a lack of opinions of your own.
K: The opinions expressed on this pod are not the ones of VinePair. All solely Sucio Somm.
T: No, what I mean is like, don’t be afraid to challenge things, I guess, or don’t be afraid to be like — Actually, I don’t agree with this way that it’s done, just because I read it in Craddock’s, or the Savoy or whatever.
K: Well, that’s kind of what I dig about Morgenthaler. Morgenthaler, and a lot of these dudes pioneer sh*t. Do I agree with all of it? No, it’s some white P and W sh*t, that does not speak to me, but there’s a lot of little tips and tricks that I learned that I absolutely adapted. Lots of stuff to be gained. I just think it’s different when there’s this herd mentality often, and every bartender jumps on this one thing. People are scared, they’re scared to be cast out, they’re scared to be ridiculed.
T: Yes. You’re scared to be the guy that’s not using saline or-.
K: Yes, exactly, bro. Exactly.
T: Question number three, what’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
K: The most important piece of advice. This industry is not your family, you know what I mean? I got to put this into context, because a lot of bartenders, a lot of people in the hospitality industry, create families in the industry. It’s a beautiful thing, just as much as we tear each other down, and abuse each other, and find ways to constantly exploit the hospitality community. We find community amongst ourselves, and we take care of each other. That’s the beauty of it. It is not your family, and oftentimes, we think because we build connections while f*cked up or drunk, that these are long-lasting real connections. I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s cool to see bartenders and hospitality professionals taking an approach of sobriety, to form real long-lasting familial connections. Don’t neglect your fam, don’t neglect the people in your life outside of the industry. Constantly connect with those. Don’t just jump and dive in and believe your own hype, it is not your family. Like any industry it will eat you alive, chew you out, and forget you when the next hot boy comes up with the next saline solution.
T: Next homemade cola.
K: Yes. I never forgot where I came from, or any of my friends, or my peers. I’m still on the block. I still play dominoes, I still drink Hennessy.
T: One of my last, actually, it was my last day working as a chef in London, was for the first chef that I ever worked for. I was under him. I went from apprentice to whatever, worked with him for years, and that’s the only first job I knew. On my last day, kind of them enough to throw me a big leaving party. Everyone chipped in a ton of money, and it was an amazing event. We had a big hog roast, whatever.
T: At the end of the day, someone who was close to me at the time said “Why are you upset”? I was like, “These are my friends. I don’t know when I’m going to see them again. I love these guys. I spend 15 hours a day with them. We understand each other.” This person turned around to me and said, “Ah, in two years’ time, you’re not even going to have the phone number of most of these people. You wouldn’t be texting any of these people within three, four years’ time.” That was gut-wrenching.
T: I’ve moved around the world, but it’s true. It’s born out to be true. I keep in touch with two people out of the however many hundred you worked with in kitchens and hospitality. I don’t know. It’s rough. To your point, the workplace relationships, and friendships might not always be real.
K: Yes. Call your mama, call your papa. There was a point in time when I was working 60 or 70 hours, and then my dad passed away suddenly. The world was ripped out from under me, bro. I looked at all the dolling of the specs, the teaspoons, the bullsh*t for what? You know what I mean? There’s very few people I’ve built those brotherly, sisterly, familiar relationships with. There’s very few. I can count them in my hands, and feet. Those people are real, real, real family to me. We don’t necessarily do the cocktail sh*t, we hang out, and do real sh*t. Go to shows, have real conversations. Yes.
T: Also, I guess just a final point on that one. Not that I’m the fountain of knowledge here, but it’s good to have interest outside your work. It’s important too, it’s not just good. It’s important to, I think, for us as people, and to be well-rounded individuals.
K: Yes outside of this, what is a hobby that no one would think Tim is about?
T: I don’t know. I watch a lot of movies. Which sometimes comes up on this? Not that that’s that uncommon, but it’s something I spend a lot of time doing, film.
K: You love film.
T: Yes, I like it. I’m not Roger Ebert, or whatever, you know what I mean? I’m just the guy, I’m just like, “Yes, I like this director. I like that.” I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer for that one. Maybe I need some more hobbies. What about you?
K: Boxing at the gym. I’ve boxed since I was a kid. I still train. I don’t spar or anything. I’m not trying to get punched in the face no more. The gym, and riding my bike, I got a single speed. I hit the city shirtless, sexy, dripping sweat with the ab showing blasting reggaeton, you know what I mean? That’s my favorite, riding in the city greased up. Hell yes.
T: All right, final one actually. I do like cooking, and it’s great now that cooking is not my job because now it’s something that I do on a Sunday afternoon to unwind.
T: Prep for the week. Yes. Relax, going into a different zone.
K: Did it take you getting space from that in order to get here? Do you think that space allowed you to love it differently?
T: I think getting out of the industry gave me the time to actually be able to cook at home, which you never had beforehand. No, I think it’s just also that appreciation of skills that you’ve picked up. It’s like you don’t have someone shouting at you telling you to go faster, or telling you that this pasta ravioli that you made isn’t perfect. It’s just you’re doing it. Generally speaking, you’re probably cooking for someone you love.
K: Yes. Ooh, there you go.
T: There we go. All right. Before we get too sloppy here, question number four, give me a cheeky answer.
T: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
K: Man, this is tough, but I got to keep it a buck, bro. Last bar I could visit in my life would be La Capilla bar. La Capilla is what I think the best bar in the world is, it’s in Tequila. They make a drink called La Batanga. I don’t know if you’ve heard about La Batanga.
K: It’s essentially a Cuba Libre with mixto. It’s 49 percent Cuba Libre, 51 percent agave, lime, and Coca-Cola with a rim of salt, and a pint glass. My brother, I’m telling you, every time I go down to the Fortaleza industry tours, we go to that bar. It’s just a little container. They’re pouring the Coca-Cola on the knife. They’re doing it right. It’s in a pine. It’s just the f*cking best. Bury me there, bro. Take my ashes, blend them with salt. Rim a La Batanga, and have my boys come and drink my ashes in a Labatanga, bro.”
T: That’s some Keith Richard stuff right there. La Batanga is the name of the drink.
K: Yes, La Batanga is the drink.
T: The bar, just once again?
K: La Capilla.
T: La Capilla.
K: Everyone in Tequila, visit the guys at La Capilla. They are professionals, best bartenders in the world. Best bar in the world. No stab at anybody else, but, yes I can’t do what they do. They’re different animals. Different. Different. They just built different.
T: Phenomenal. All right, last question for you here today. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, which version of your Cuba Libre — what would you order or make?
K: That’d be a Negroni. Then that’s that.
T: Oh, that’s it. That’s a cut.
K: Done. Bueno. No, I’m going to need to head out. Cheers. Kelvin, I’m heading out to Kalustyan’s. Sorry to just pick up some cold nuts.
T: Seriously, thanks for joining us, man.
K: Yes, I love you, bro. Love y’all. Thank you for having me.
OK, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s “Cocktail College” is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.
If you enjoy listening to the show anywhere near as much as we enjoy making it, go ahead and hit subscribe, and please leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. And please tell your friends.
Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
The article The Cocktail College Podcast: How to Make the Perfect Cuba Libre appeared first on VinePair.