El Presidente Revisited

It’s been a good week for cocktails in the media.

Today I received by e-mail an invitation to visit a website I’ve never seen before. Nothing unusual there–beyond the typical enticements to check out the online poker, the performance enhancers and “Me and mY reD-Hott grrrlfrindxxx,” there’s the occasional note, typically worded in a quick form-letter fashion, that reads, “love your site. link to my blog,” or “i like bars check out my bar stool site.” I’m sure nobody’s surprised by this.

Lost MagazineBut today, I received an e-mail from Lost Magazine, an online journal launched a mere six months ago, with an invitation to check out a new article on a “lost cocktail,” the El Presidente, by Wayne Curtis. As astute, longtime readers of this site (or chronically bored mouse-clicking addicts–you pick which category you fit into) may recall, El Presidente was one of the first cocktails I blogged about, way back in the dark ages of May 2005, and it remains in my list of top ten–check that, top five–personal favorite cocktails of all time. Furthermore, in my opinion, it ranks alongside the Police Gazette Cocktail as one of the most tragically forgotten, ignored and what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-people-that-you-haven’t-recognized-the-brilliance-of-this-yet drinks in the world of mixology.

I was intrigued.

Prepared to be disappointed–the internet is a bitter, bitter place–I followed the link, and found myself reading one of the best meditations on cocktails and the gradual slide of the art of bartending that I’ve read in recent memory.

Here’s the lede:

In the savage ecosystem of the cocktail lounge, newly invented mixed drinks generally appear from nowhere, compete fiercely for a time, and then disappear. Some fine concoctions claw their way to the top and remain there exceedingly pleased with themselves, like lions on the savannah. The whiskey old-fashioned, the Manhattan, and the mint-julep — all of which have been around for more than a century — are among the best examples of this. Meanwhile, many execrable drinks are chased into the swamps, where they die a slow and lingering death. This is as it should be. The world is not a lesser place because nobody remembers how to make a Harvey Wallbanger.

(Play along at home: read it here.)

Curtis goes on to chronicle the sad exceptions–the Jack Rose, the Bronx, the Ward Eight (which he calls the “Eighth Ward,” a new one on me)–fine drinks that have mostly succumbed to the metaphorical sands of time. The El Presidente is in this tragic fraternity, and Curtis travels to the drink’s birthplace, the time-warp city of Havana–where, in 1928, the drink was described as “the aristocrat of cocktails and is one preferred by the better class of Cuban”–to sample the drink as it should be made.

I’m with Curtis throughout this piece–how bartending changed from an art form focused on the creation of individual drinks, into a mass-production factory job–and how this change in the profession led to the sloppy manufacture, and eventual demise, of cocktails such as the El Presidente. Curtis also recommends trying one at home, and makes a point of advising against using Bacardi white rum–the original rum in the cocktail, sure, but a pale imitation of its former self–when mixing the drink.

A quibble, though: Curtis recommends Prichard’s rum, which I’ve never tried so I can’t judge; failing that he suggests an aged rum, even if it’s dark. In my experience–and believe me, I have some experience playing with these–darker rums make a flavorful El Presidente, but a good-quality white rum provides a better balance. Metusalem Platino works well, as does Flor de Cana white–though, to his credit, it’s an aged white rum. I’d also sidestep Curtis’ suggestion to use pomegranate molasses instead of mass-produced grenadine, and instead take the five minutes to mix a batch of homemade–I keep meaning to post a recipe, but if you go back to my original El Presidente post, I think I list it briefly in the comments section. Finally, his recipe calls for the ingredients to be stirred with ice for three or four minutes; really, unless you like your cocktail to be 3/4 water, 30 or 40 seconds should do the trick.

In the bio line it’s mentioned that Curtis has a book coming out in July, called And a Bottle of Rum: The History of the New World in 10 Cocktails. If the book is anything like this essay, I know what my summer reading list is starting to look like.

El Presidente

  • 1 1/2 ounces decent white rum
  • 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce curacao
  • dash grenadine

Stir with ice for 30-40 seconds; strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

5 Responses to El Presidente Revisited

  1. Rick says:

    I just found out that I will be able to obtain both Brugal white and Don Q from the state without purchasing several bottles.

    Have you had either?

  2. Paul says:

    What with Washington having a state liquor monopoly, I haven’t tried either, but I’ve heard good things for both, especially the Brugal. For now, I’m waiting for an out-of-town business trip before I can pick up a bottle for myself.

  3. erik_flannestad says:

    Nice article and nice cocktail.

    Interesting that Gary Regan published a recipe for an El Presidente in “Joy of Mixology” that is much closer to a daiquiri, with lime and pineapple juice, no curacao.

  4. Seamus says:

    I got myself some Chambord recently. The first taste of the stuff had me thinking how nice it would be with some white rum. So my first experiment was substituting it for the Cointreau in this one (and leaving out the grenadine). No longer an El Presidente but not a bad drink.

    Perhaps playing around with the proportions viz a viz the Cointreau could also be an idea.

    A drink I very much like is the Batiste(?) – 2 parts white rum and 1 part Grand Marnier. Tasty and idiot proof.

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