Classic Cocktails from A-Z: El Presidente

November  1, 2012

Some things just go together -- and the obvious accompaniment to food is drink. Welcome to Booze52, in which we explore all manner of libations, from A to Z, that do much more than just wash down a meal.

Today: One part sophisticated lounge drink, all parts Cuba. 

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Some of you may notice that a few letters have been skipped so far on the way from the Algonquin to the Daiquiri, and along with them, their classic cocktail counterparts. It was very hard to choose, but I ended up going with primary spirits that would be familiar to an amateur but enthusiastic cocktail drinker. 

And so, we push onward to the El Presidente. 

One thing I love about nearly all the classic cocktails is their names. Think about it: El Presidente calls to mind a smoke-filled bodeguita in 1920s Havana, scratchy music in the background, women in swirling skirts and high heels leaning in to have their cigarettes lit. The name alone readies your tongue for rum. 

According to Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, the “El Presidente is one of cocktail history's missing links — part tropical treat, part sophisticated lounge drink, and wholly Cuban.”

The El Presidente was a Prohibition baby—thirsty Americans flocked to Havana and happily drank anything put in front of them, and when Prohibition was repealed, the recipe traveled north. Over time, its delicate balance was lost. Let’s restore it, shall we? 

El Presidente

1 1/2 ounces white rum
3/4 ounces bianco vermouth
1/2 ounce orange curacao or Grand Marnier
1 barspoon good-quality grenadine

Stir ingredients in large glass with cracked ice (or cubed). Pour into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Save and print this recipe here.

If you keep a these tips in mind as you mix, your drink will successfully take you to to 1920s Havana. (We'll leave the high heels and swirling skirt up to you.) 

• Like any good recipe, it’s important to use best-quality ingredients. This means starting with a flavorful white rum, and layering with a great vermouth (I like Noilly Prat or Dolin) -- and be sure to store in in the fridge.

• Be judicious with your Grand Marnier -- it’s a liqueur that loves to lord it over every other flavor. If you can track down orange curaçao, try this one, which plays especially well with rum drinks.

• For the best-tasting cocktail, make your own grenadine. It’s simple, I promise (track down ingredients here and here) -- then you’ll always have it on hand.

• And finally, if you leave your El Presidentes in the hands of your local bartender, be sure to request a premium rum, like 10Cane or Prichards Crystal Rum, for their nice vanilla notes.

Photos by James Ransom 


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • enthous
  • Mila Clarke
    Mila Clarke
  • mcs3000
I spend about an equal amount of time behind the laptop and behind the stove. In between preparing and writing about food, I love to hang out with my husband, three children, big shaggy dog and two cats. History is also my thing, especially the Regency period, U.S. Westward expansion and World War II. Favorite drinks: good pinot noirs and classic martinis. Favorite book: Pride & Prejudice. Favorite obsessions: Laura Ingalls Wilder and South Dakota


enthous December 26, 2012
I'd like to see the grenadine recipe.
Mila C. November 4, 2012
Yeah, I definitely want to get in on this! It looks so tasty! I love reading about this history of this drink too.
mcs3000 November 4, 2012
stunning pic. would like one now.