Drinking in Cuba – Varadero

Drinking in Cuba – Varadero

This is part 1 of a 2 part series on how to drink in Cuba. We made the mistake of going to Varadero and this was written during that time. Part 2 is substantially more upbeat. 


After becoming regular fixtures at Smuggler’s Cove, we decided we were rum people. So, when it came time to choose our winter vacation, we imagined the newly accessible Cuba would be a fine destination. Think about it: Never-been-tried Cuban rums! All the Havana Club that we could inhale! And per TripAdvisor listings, there were even rum museums! Let’s go, we exclaimed. Let’s go and drink Hemingway Daquiris at all of Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts, wearing fedoras and smoking a fat Cuban cigar.

Everyone else had the same idea!

"Kill me ;-(" - Statue of Hemingway

"Kill me ;-(" - Statue of Hemingway

Off we went, with the assurance from a close friend that it was one of his favorite countries and the Cuban people are nothing if not the nicest people in the world.

And here we sit. Bored out of our minds. In limbo, in purgatory, in a fucking all-inclusive Varadero resort counting the minutes, even the seconds, until we can return to the United States and access some sweet, sweet internet.

What “El Floridita” (Hemingway’s bar) has become: A tourist refugee camp, complete with odors and the frenic din of an exhausted band trying to play over the sound of over 100 people trying to converse in yells

What “El Floridita” (Hemingway’s bar) has become: A tourist refugee camp, complete with odors and the frenic din of an exhausted band trying to play over the sound of over 100 people trying to converse in yells

If you’re a cocktail aficionado, don’t come to Cuba. Want carefully measured pours for a perfectly balanced and complex drink? The poor bastard of a bartender seemed honestly perplexed when I asked if he had a jigger. The recipes here follow a simple formula: sugar dumped as lazily and unceremoniously into a cup as possible, some suspect ice cast into it, with whatever random alcohols can be thrown in. In the case of the “Manhattan,” it was some turned vinegar-vermouth and some “Old Choice” whiskey poured in until it reached the brim.

Cocktail at Varadero resort lobby. It's pretty but I wish it were good.

Cocktail at Varadero resort lobby. It's pretty but I wish it were good.

You can also stick to the mint mojitos, pina coladas, and daquiris – but what you’re going to end up with is a sugary sweet slushy lovechild of Las Vegas and 711 stores. And the famous “rum museum” of Varadero? It’s a tiny store where they pour you liberal tastings of their cheapest rums and liqueurs (anise, banana, etc). 

The extent of the “museum” portion of the rum museum – a few tiny model houses. 

The extent of the “museum” portion of the rum museum – a few tiny model houses. 

Aggressively generous saleswoman at the Rum Museum. We had to keep our hands clamped on our cups to prevent her from pouring us large servings of anise and banana liquer – ended up sampling some rum.

Aggressively generous saleswoman at the Rum Museum. We had to keep our hands clamped on our cups to prevent her from pouring us large servings of anise and banana liquer – ended up sampling some rum.

To drive the boredom out of our minds by killing as many brain cells as possible, we contented ourselves by lurking at the poolside bar of the all-inclusive in an attempt to taste every “whiskey” they had (fortunately, they only had four).  

The brave exploration of the whiskies at the bar. 

The brave exploration of the whiskies at the bar. 

Behold, our tasting notes:

  • Old Choice: Lightly peated. Mildly jarring. Malty aftertaste. Peppery and melony. Not horrible.
  • Walther Scott: Awful, awful, awful. Peppermint with sugar. Added sugar. Is it a rum? Is it whiskey? We weren’t sure – but it tasted like a cheap aged rum with menthol shoved in
  • Clan Campbell: Tastes like college. Caramel rubbing alcohol.
  • Crowley’s: The most potable of the bunch. Smooth. Slightly sweet and mostly flavorless and inoffensive.

Taken during the sampling of the liquors at the bar

Taken during the sampling of the liquors at the bar

Today we will return to Havana, where hopefully our fortunes will turn to better times. More to come in Part 2!