El Presidente

It’s raining in Seattle, but it’s still just a couple of weeks to Memorial Day, so summer seems just about to start. Last summer, while cruising through my drinks books in search of an appropriate summer signature cocktail, I wound up with this lovely concoction.

El Presidente

  • 1 1/2 ounces white rum
  • 3/4 ounce orange curacao
  • 3/4 ounce French (dry) vermouth
  • dash grenadine

I always use Noilly Prat vermouth (the best dry vermouth, with the exception of Vya, which is three times the price), Bols Orange Curacao (the only brand available in Washington state), and homemade grenadine, but my rums sometimes vary. Typically, I’ll just use Bacardi, as the drink was originally made with Cuban rum, and–thanks to global politics–Puerto Rican rum is about the closest we can come to that (though I did once mix these with some Havana Club a friend had brought back from Mexico, with spectacular results). The light flavor of the Puerto Rican rum provides a great platform for the other flavors in the drink, while contributing its own subtle touch. But if I’m looking for a richer, more buttery drink, I’ll use a Jamaican white rum like Myers Platinum, which adds a deeper base note to the drink. I’ve also mixed it before with Mount Gay Eclipse, a golden Barbados rum with a really deep, resonant sweetness. I enjoyed the drink, but the Mount Gay really took over the flavor profile, and the vermouth was pretty much lost in the mix.

I’ve also tried El Presidente with Rogue White Rum (pictured here), an artisan distilled spirit from the Oregon-based Rogue Brewing, though their distillery is nearby in Issiquah–this is my first taste of this rum; I’ll post more about it later.
In Esquire Drinks, David Wondrich gives credit for the El Presidente’s creation to Eddie Woelke, an American who tended bar at the Jockey Club in Havana during Prohibition and who named the drink for Gerardo Machado, who ruled Cuba from 1925 to 1933. An American tending bar in Havana in the 1920s wasn’t unusual–during those years, many American bartenders traveled to Europe or Cuba to ply their trade, and the bartenders at places such as the Floridita created some of the finest classic rum cocktails in existence, in my humble estimation.

Originally crafted with Cuban rum, this drink has a lot going for it: it’s easy to mix, doesn’t require any perishable ingredients (so you don’t have to keep lemons or limes on hand all the time, just in case you get a craving for one)and while it has a suave, buttery taste, it packs a lot of horsepower into a tiny cocktail glass. The 1949 edition of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts calls it an “elixir for jaded gullets,” and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment–anytime I’m growing bored with the usual cocktails in my repertoire, I’ll mix an El Presidente, and it soothes me through an evening. I really like these in the summer–they have a bright, slightly sweet flavor that seems to give a warm evening a slightly festive touch, even if its a Wednesday and its not even really summer yet and I have to be in the office the next day.

14 Responses to El Presidente

  1. I’ve just stirred-up El Presidente per your quantities, but sadly, mine isn’t quite the buttery potable you describe.

    Part of it may be the vermouth — for some reason Noilly doesn’t seem to find its way to Portland shelves, so it’s Cinzano this evening — but the notes of baby aspirin I lay directly at the feet of Rose’s Grenadine.

    I’d be interested to know your grenadine recipe. Do you make it from fruit, or dilute a pure syrup?

  2. The “buttery” quotient I mentioned is based mainly on the type of rum–with a very mild white rum like Bacardi, it’s pretty subtle (I’m being gracious here); use a bigger-flavored Jamaican white rum like Myers or Appleton, and you’ll see more of what I was talking about. I fluctuate between using Bacardi and Myers–just depends on my mood.

    For grenadine, I make my own. There are a few different recipes out there, but the one I’m using now is from David Wondrich’s Killer Cocktails–just get a bottle of pure pomegranate juice (I used the POM brand, available at natural food stores here in Seattle–I assume the same is true in Portland), and mix about equal parts juice and superfine sugar. Don’t heat it–just put them in a jar together and shake like hell until the sugar is all dissolved. Then, add another 2 or 3 ounces of sugar, and shake it again until dissolved. Lots of sugar, yes, but it is a syrup.

    You can add some high-proof vodka or grain alcohol to keep it from going bad; me, I freeze part of the batch and just keep whatever I’ll use over the next couple of weeks in the fridge.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for the post.

  3. Ah, yes, that helps quite a bit, thank you. It hadn’t even occurred to me to look for straight pomegranate juice, but lo! POM Wonderful products are indeed readily available. I’ve banished the Rose’s and replaced it with Wondrich’s recipe (gently fortified with some Everclear).

    It’s about time, too — Doc’s insistence on real grenadine throughout Vintage Spirits had me planning to (someday) spend a lot of time mucking with middle eastern pomegranate syrups, but I wasn’t sure what to aim for.

    Sadly, I can’t say that El Presidente has proven to be the elixir that revives my jaded gullet. It’s pleasant enough, once the Rose’s is replaced, but somehow it just doesn’t fire my cylinders. Could be the Bacardi not holding up its end, or the vermouth not being N.P., but de gustibus non disputandum est, eh? Which is not to say that we must agree to disagree, because this one is nothing short of sublime.

    Thanks again!

  4. Yeah, the fresh grenadine really gives a new character to a lot of different drinks (try it in a Jack Rose sometime–it’s a totally different experience.)

    Sorry I couldn’t persuade you that El Presidente is worth adding to your regular bar rotation, though I’d still recommend you try it from time to time, when you get a new rum in the house or some NP. I once mixed one (or two) with Mount Gay, which totally threw the flavor profile out of whack due to the rum’s richness, but boy, was it gooooooood.

    Glad you like the Police Gazette–it’s my new “go to” drink, when I’m pondering what to mix.


  5. This totally reminds me of Trader Vic’s “Cuban Presidente” in his 1946 Book of Food and Drink!
    1 1/2 oz Cuban light rum
    1/2 oz French vermouth
    2 dashes orange curacao
    1 dash grenadine
    Garnish with cherry and twist lemon over the top.
    I only noticed because I had been drinking this one through much of the chilly Tokyo winter (ironic, eh?).

  6. Hi, I’m trying to find an image of el presidente cocktail for a recipe we’re running of it. can you contact me and let me know if you have a hi-res of this photo and will let me run it if i give your photo credit (publish your name next to it.)

    Michelle Hotchkiss
    Photo Editor
    Weekend Edition- Pursuits
    Wall Street Journal
    200 Liberty Street 10th Fl
    New York, NY 10281
    212-416-4437 Office

  7. Offering the El Presidente for tonight’s drink special. Should soothe on a cool fall evening. Got the Vya dry vermouth and Monin pomegarante syrup for the grenadine. Not so sure, however, that our Flor de Cana Extra Dry can bring home the butter.

  8. […] of an El Presidente kick, making them just about every night for a few weeks.  The original recipe calls for a ratio of 2:1:1 rum to dry vermouth to curacao, with a half teaspoon of grenadine.  The problem is that while the drink is definitely palatable, […]

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