The Rough Rider Cocktail


The Rough Riders take a break on top of San Juan Hill

Mixology Monday has rolled around and get and brought with it the theme of rum. The host of Mixology Monday XXVII is Trader Tiki. To be honest, this was never intended to be a Mixology Monday post. However, since the drink includes rum I guess I get a handy Mixology Monday entry for minimal effort.

I was rearranging my booze cupboard when I remembered I had a bottle of Kola Tonic that had never been used other than to make the Filmograph – from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits.

A few posts ago, while talking about the Early Fogcutter, I mentioned how small quantities of gin can do great things to rum cocktails. I mentioned the splash of gin found in early versions of the Cuba Libre. I repeated the story of how Teddy Roseveldt’s Rough Riders supposedly invented the Cuba Libre, noting that they could not have done so since Coca Cola was not sold in Cuba until some years after their departure. My eye fell upon the bottle of Kola Tonic and I wondered whether the Rough Riders might not have taken some type of Cola concentrate to Cuba with them.

This novel hypothesis offers a neat solution to the debate about the Rough Riders and the invention of the Cuba Libre. If they mixed the drink using a concentrate bought from the U.S. there would have been no need for coke to be available in Cuba at the time -simply mix the concentrate with soda water and voila! The locals were probably so impressed they decided to import Coca Cola themselves. Naturally, being Caribbean types who lacked the drive provided by a sense of Manifest Destiny, the Cubans let several years elapse before placing their order with the Coca Cola Corporation.

It makes perfect sense for the Rough Riders to have carried cola as a concentrate. They were on a military campaign, not a Caribbean holiday. Naturally they had to pack lightly – rifles, ammunition, rum, gin, bitters, Kola Tonic, silver cobbler shaker (no Boston shakers since glass was fragile and could become a hazard in the field). They would probably have been trained to live off the land for their lime supply.

So here is the concentrated version of the Cuba Libre, suitable for military campaigns, camping trips, and other occasions where circumstances demand you pack light. Note that this is indisputably the original version of the drink, as enjoyed by the Rough Riders themselves. You could equally well build this on ice and top with soda, but I think I like it served up. You can’t be fussing around with soda siphons as you prepare to assault San Juan Hill.


Rough Rider

1 ½ oz Cuban rum (Havana Club Blanco)

½ oz gin (Tanqueray)

½ oz lime juice

1 oz Kola Tonic (Roses)

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Charge up nearest hill.

Kola Tonic is more or less a concentrated Coca Cola taste, but seems less sweet and more bitter. This product was once widespread, but today only remains a staple in South Africa. Fortunately Auckland has a large South African community so it is easy to find here.

4 Responses to “The Rough Rider Cocktail”

  1. MxMo Rum Wrap-up | Trader Tiki's Booze Blog Says:

    [...] takes his rum from Bunnyhugs and charges San Juan Hill with another Rough Rider (and may the highest bidder for the name win). This concentrated Cuba Libre takes advantage of [...]

  2. Jackson Bowman Says:

    I have heard all of my life that the Rough Rider officers invented the Cuba Libra in the bar at the Plant Park Hotel in Tampa, Florida prior to sailing for Cuba. This is mor logical, as Coca Cola was available in Florida and the Rough Riders were headquatered in what at the time was the most up scale resort in the area with a well stocked bar. The name was a tribute to their ambitions and it is still a damn good drinl. CUBA LIBRA!

  3. alexander strangis Says:

    OUTSTANDING INFO. Check out Desi Arnaz biography (book )about his grandfather’s(Dr.Arnaz) story of how Bacardi Rum & Coca-Cola got started in Santiago,Cuba.Dr.Arnaz was a medical Doctor/ Physician for the U.S.1ST. VOLUNTEERS- “Rough-Rider’s” commanded by Colonel Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, Santiago,Cuba,1898.A”CUBA Libre”originally was a copyrighted/drink of the Coca-Cola bottling Co.,using exclusively Bacardi “Silver”Rum &Coca-Cola, in the U.S.A.(With a freshly squeezed slice of Lime in the concoction -( To Prevent “Scurvy”).The Origin of the drink,at the Bar in Tampa,Florida,before the “Rough Rider’s” sailed to Cuba and Immortality is historically accurate- “Viva Cuba Libre!”-Long Live Cuba’s freedom ( From oppressive Spain ) was their famous Battle-Cry during their heroic assaults up San Juan Hill,Santiago,Cuba.Our other famous Battle-Cry during the Spanish-American War of 1898 was “Remember the Maine!”( U.S.A. Battleship blown-up and sunk in the Port/Harbor of Havana,Cuba ,in1898,before the battle at San Juan Hill). Sincerely,Alex Strangis

  4. Pilar Says:

    Anon – I don’t know. I’ve had a look around onnlie but to no avail. I’m guessing that maybe some of the ingredients appear in the play, but it’s been decades since I’ve read R&J, so I don’t know. It was created at Chicago’s The Violet Hour and won third place in GQ magazine’s 20 best cocktails list.Kathleen – Breakfast be damned! Have a slurp before you go for your morning run!

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