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Beyond Your Typical Bartenders: The Cuban Cantineros

How many of the hipsters tending bar in your city do you think would have ever agreed to work for free just to learn the fine art of the cocktail? Well, in Cuba it’s a completely different story. Which is probably why cantineros are some of the best bartenders in the world

Our city’s bartenders may now be heralded as ‘expert mixologists’ and have definitely made the cocktail more desirable than ever with their creative spins on old classics and new concoctions alike.

But nothing comes close to what they do in Cuba.

Cuban bartenders, known as Cantineros, are at the centre of a rich tradition in the history of cocktails and rum. And that means they have an intimate relationship with their country’s beloved Havana Club Rum. 

In case you haven’t been south in a while, here are nine reasons Cantineros are so notable:

You’re guaranteed a good bartender in a Cuban restaurant.
Bartending is one of the oldest and most respected crafts in Cuba. So much so that it was the first country to have a bartender guild, setting strict standards on the craft in 1924. They’re so passionate when it comes to perfecting their skills that Cuban bartenders may work for two to three years for free before getting a job at a bar.

Let’s see how the hipsters in Parkdale would handle that.

They’ve been doing it for years.
Nearly a hundred, actually. The Club de Cantineros de Cuba was formed during Prohibition, when a large influx of American tourists and bartenders hit Havana. Before then, Cuba actually had subpar bartenders until a bartending team arrived from the US to tell them how it was done. The club remains today (now called The Association of Bartenders), serving as a respected training ground for Cuban bartenders. 

They study hard.
“It’s a six-month program that educates bartenders on all they need to know to make cocktails with rum. They learn all about the aging and distilling process, along with the history of cocktails,” says Meimi Sanchez, Global Brand Ambassador, Havana Club Rum.

“After six months, participants are required to expertly craft 150-200 cocktails off of memory and pass an exam before they can have a job in a bar.”

This includes favourites like a Rum Collins, El President, Periodista, and Mary Pickford, as well as other international classics like the Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Ramos, and a Gin Fizz (just to name a few).

They stick with it.
Being a bartender in Cuba isn’t some temporary part-time gig like it was for many of us in university. Being a bartender can mean a lifetime career. At one of the oldest bars in the world, El Floridita (formally known as La Florida and La Piña de Plata), the main bartender has worked there for 30 years.  

They created some of your favourite cocktails.
The Cantineros are the original creators of some of the most famous and beloved cocktails today, like mojitos and daiquiris. And it should come as no surprise that both of these celebrated cocktails include the country’s signature Havana Club 3 year old rum.

They not only created it, but they made the mojito famous.
The mojito was made famous by the bar La Bodeguita del Medio, where the bartenders could make perfectly executed mojitos in just 25 seconds (try to beat two minutes at home and we’ll be impressed).

They’ve got the technique.
Have you heard of the ‘Cuban throw’ before? It’s a technique that’s unique to Cuba, and was originated by Constantino Ribalaigua at the El Floridita bar in Havana. The method was to throw the drink from one shaker to another in order to dilute and chill. Having never been implemented before, the ‘Cuban throw’ went on to influence the style of another very well known bar in Barcelona called Boadas.

They have unique ingredients.
What makes the Cuban style of bartending (and their mojito) so special are the ingredients. “When you pull them apart, you really see the difference,” says Sanchez. “Cuba is home to a unique mint that’s softer in flavor and difficult to find elsewhere. They also have a different type of lime – there’s no such thing as a lemon and the lime is almost a cross-bred of the two.”

They use Havana Club Rum.
Finally, Cuban cocktails would not be complete without Havana Club rum, the country’s signature aged smooth spirit.

Accept nothing less.  



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