The El Presidente

I first found this recipe while flipping through a new book I just picked up, a 1941 copy of Here’s How by W.C. Whitfield. It’s a neat old volume, with wooden boards tied together by leather strips forming the front and back covers. The recipes seem to lack a bit of nuance, perhaps, but it’s definitely a worthy time-capsule of a drink recipe book.

It has some issues, though. For example, this drink is listed as the “President’s, Cuban” – unless the comma is a little blip from the accompanying artwork. It struck me, as it should have, as a rather odd name, and I figured, correctly, that it was not widely known by that moniker. I quickly discovered it is in fact called the “El Presidente” and has been widely discussed, as late, within cocktail circles. It seems to have been invented in Havana, probably in the late 1910s, and was named for the president of Cuba at the time, Mario Garcia Menocal. Fortunately it was named after his title and not called the Menocal, which doesn’t sound especially appetizing. David Wondrich offers a fair history of it, as well as two slightly different recipes, one from Imbibe Magazine and one from his Esquire column. One calls for a very distinct type of vermouth, and equal parts of vermouth and rum with just a bit of curaçao; the other has the rum at 2:1 over the vermouth and 3:1 over the curaçao. The 2:1 ratio seems to be the standard, if we can say there is such a thing with this drink. Wayne Curtis, author of the delightful And a Bottle of Rum, has a long piece on the drink here, and his recipe calls for rum at 2:1 to both the vermouth and the curaçao, while a nice blog post from Vince Keenan follows Wondrich’s Esquire recipe, albeit with a bigger helping of grenadine. And the recipe in Here’s How says equal parts rum, vermouth, and curaçao! You can see with the El Presidente a good example of how much variance a classic cocktail recipe can have depending on your source.

I’m no alcoholic alchemist, but even I can see that the Here’s How recipe would make a cloyingly sweet drink, so I went with the one Keenan suggests. It seemed like the most balanced, and since I like grenadine, I wanted more than the dash Wondrich calls for:

1 1/2 ounces white rum (please not Bacardi)

3/4 ounce French vermouth

1/2 ounce curacao

1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. A slice of orange peel seems to be the standard garnish, while a cherry appears to be an acceptable alternate. I’d been reading about this one so much I got all excited to drink it and forgot to garnish it with anything.

El PresidenteIt’s a pretty solid beverage. The curaçao winds up as the dominant flavor, so I’m glad I didn’t use any more than half an ounce. It’s orangey, it’s sweet without being too sweet, it goes down smoothly. Guy McClellan, noted aficionado of things and a regular guest taster over here, declared it “really good.” Who am I to argue? Four livers.



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