On a week when each citizen was called upon to exercise his or her franchise, I give to a cocktail something I am unlikely to extend to a candidate: a second chance.
The El Presidente was created in Havana. Several of the city’s bars lay claim to the drink, although its likeliest origin according to cocktail historian David Wondrich is expatriate Yanqui bartender Eddie Woelke at the Jockey Club. Given that a recipe appeared in a 1919 newspaper, odds are the cocktail was christened after Cuba’s then-jefe Mario García Menocal. It quickly became popular on the island and made the jump to another, Manhattan, by 1925. The apocryphal story goes that in 1928, Menocal’s successor Gerardo Machado offered one to Calvin Coolidge on a state visit, but owing to Prohibition America’s El Presidente declined.
A curious thing happened as the cocktail’s popularity waned: the recipe changed. Blame, as discussed last week, the scarcity of quality curaçao. The schism is laid bare in my late 1980s Mr. Boston guide. It takes a bicameral approach, featuring two versions of the El Presidente, one with lime and pineapple juice, the other with dry vermouth and bitters, nary a drop of curaçao to be seen. Baker had noted that the Special, served at the competing Havana bar Sloppy Joe’s, was an El Presidente with lime, which may explain where the citrus originated. My first attempt at fixing the cocktail myself was based on this later iteration, specifically gaz regan’s The Joy of Mixology recipe extrapolated from a 1949 Old Mr. Boston guide. Submitted into evidence as Exhibit A is a photograph, taken at the old Chez K. This drink – featuring lime and pineapple juices as well as the telltale neon glow of bottled grenadine – tasted nothing like what I’d sipped in San Francisco, proving an underwhelming variation on a daiquiri.
|The contender, not the pretender|
Only not grenadine. I have of late been substituting pomegranate molasses. On the plus side it provides an intensity of taste that most grenadines can’t match. The drawback is it doesn’t dissolve very well. Diluting the molasses largely alleviates that problem. I gave the resulting cocktail the strongest endorsement possible: as soon as it was finished, I made another one.
The El Presidente
1 ½ oz. rum
¾ oz. dry vermouth
½ oz. orange curaçao
½ tsp. grenadine or diluted pomegranate molasses
Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange peel.
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