How to Make 10 great Caribbean cocktails, from the national drinks of Puerto Rico (the Pina Colada) and Bermuda (the Dark 'n Stormy) to classic margaritas from Mexico and a trio of rum cocktails from Cuba - the Daiquiri, Mojito, and Cuba Libre.
Not much is known about the origins of the Bahama Mama, but it's likely that this rum cocktail was born during the Bahamas heyday as a smuggling base during Prohibition. A mix of dark and high-proof white rum, the Bahama Mama is more complex than it sounds, with recipes calling for coffee and coconut liqueur, lemon and pineapple juice.
Caribbean Rum Punch began as a hybrid of Caribbean rum and a five-ingredient alcoholic "punch" brought over from India by British sailors in the mid-17th century. There are as many rum punches as islands in the Caribbean (or fishes in the sea), but the traditional Barbados mixing guidelines call for "One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak." The Planter's Punch is a mix of Jamaican rum, orange juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine; the Bajan variety includes a dash of Angostura bitters and nutmeg.
Possibly the most famous Caribbean cocktail on the planet, the national drink of Puerto Rico is traditionally served on the rocks and has a strong pineapple flavor. Most people are more familiar with the smoother frozen variety, which tends to favor the coconut flavor over the pineapple. Despite the drink's lofty official status in Puerto Rico, the pina colada may have actually been born in nearby Cuba, but both the Caribe Hilton and the Barrachina restaurant in San Juan claim to be the birthplace of the drink.
Cuba is the undisputed birthplace of the mojito, and the mix of rum, limes, sugar, sparkling water, and spearmint may date back to the earliest days of rum production in the Caribbean. Ernest Hemingway, the famous writer who lived in Cuba as well as Key West, helped make the drink famous by writing about his days drinking mojitos at Havana's La Bodeguita del Medio bar, which still served the drink to tourists today.
It's appropriate that the Daiquiri may have been named for a beach (near Santiago, Cuba). The basic mix of gum sugar, lime, and white rum has endless varieties (including being flavored with bananas, a popular variation). The daiquiri gained its international fame when served to tourists at Havana's El Floridita bar in the 1950s -- that version was flavored with maraschino cherry liqueur, and you can still order one today at the bar in Old Havana.
The Cuba Libre is a slight variation on the Rum and Coke -- just add lime juice. The name of the drink dates back to the time of the Spanish-American War, when American troops were in Cuba to "liberate" the island from Spanish colonialism. The popularity of rum and coke goes far beyond Cuba in the Caribbean: stop in any roadside rum shop and you'll be served a glass of rum and a bottle or can of cola -- feel free to drink them separately or mix them together.
Invented at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, the Painkiller is a mix of dark rum (traditionally Pusser's, distilled in the BVI and known as the rum of Britain's Royal Navy), pineapple juice, orange juice, sweet coconut cream, and shaved ice. Top it off with a sprinkle of nutmeg, a common Caribbean spice. If you want an easy shortcut, Pusser's makes a painkiller mix -- just add rum.
The unique "rhum agricole" of French Martinique and Guadeloupe is the key to the flavor of the Ti Punch, a simple mix of white rum, cane sugar, and lime. Unlike similar rum/sugar/lime drinks of the Caribbean, the Ti Punch is traditionally served straight, not over ice, and as an aperitif. Order one in the French Caribbean and your bartender is likely to set before you a glass of rum, some sugar syrup and a lime: feel free to mix your drink as strong as you like (I prefer mine less sweet, to let the unique taste of the rum -- made directly from sugar cane, not molasses -- to shine through). You can also get a Ti Punch in St. Barths, St. Martin or Haiti.
The Rum Runner is a relatively modern drink, invented by "Tiki John" Ebert of the Holiday Isle Resort in Islamorada in the Florida Keys in 1972. In a story that will warm the heart of any bar owner, Ebert found an excessive amount of blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, and 151-proof rum in a storeroom and decided to create a new drink. The Holiday Isle Resort remains a popular Keys vacation spot, located at Mile Marker 84.5 on the Overseas Highway.
The Margarita has become so popular that it's almost a cliche, but there's a world of difference in the taste and quality of a real, handmade margarita cocktail and the mixes you'll find in the supermarket. Take the time to do one right -- using top-shelf tequila, fresh lime juice and triple sec -- and you'll realize why this drink developed in Mexico in the 1930s is now known and loved around the world.