Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Trip to Cuba

Sometimes the box begets the cocktail, and sometimes it’s the other way around.  The Old Cuban Cocktail is a modern classic, and is also one of my wife’s all-time favorite drinks.  You wouldn’t have to force one on me either.  We discovered this incredible cocktail one fateful evening while people watching and dining at one of Houston’s swankiest restaurants, Brasserie 19.  My wife has this incredible ability to score us a prime seat at the bar during peak dining times at the most popular eateries in town, no reservations needed.  She does this with parking spots, too, which we have dubbed her “parking karma”.  So I guess this is her “restaurant seating with prime people watching at the bar karma”, henceforth to be known as “barma” for short.  Once settled into these choice seats, I will often chat with the bartender.  On this occasion I asked the bar manager, John, for something with aged rum, and soon after we were presented with this magnificent cocktail.  The Old Cuban is built off of a daiquiri foundation – white (clear) rum, lime juice and simple syrup.  If that’s not what you think of when you hear “daiquiri”, you have been poisoned by strawberry slush which has frozen your brain.  We’ll revisit the daiquiri on these pages soon, but right now we have other places to go.  If you like a mojito, you’ll realize it’s also built off of these basics (white rum, lime juice and suger) and has the addition of mint and club soda.  The Old Cuban is the sophisticated older sibling to the mojito.  It replaces the clear rum with aged, dark amber rum (the one from story above used Mount Gay XO, which remains the best choice in my opinion, although there are many excellent alternatives).  And it replaces the club soda with … wait for it … champagne!  The result is incredibly alluring, rich and delicious.  This is a drink you could sip all night long.  The Old Cuban was invented in modern times, by Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club in New York City, and we are eternally grateful to her.

The Old Cuban
Pairing this cocktail with a puzzle box was quite simple.  I actually have a puzzle box named the Havana’s #2.  I also have one named the Havana’s #3, and I wish I had # 1 and #4 but I digress.  As I haven’t actually figured out how to open #3 and don’t own the others, viola: Havana’s #2 and the Old Cuban.  

The Havana's #2
 The Havana’s Puzzle Box Series is the brainchild of a wood crafter from Raleigh, North Carolina, named Eric Fuller.  He is well known for creating limited series of beautiful exotic wood puzzles based on other designers and his own inventions.  His local cigar bar, Havana Deluxe, and the people who work there served as the inspiration for his series of increasingly more difficult to open cigar boxes.  This is of course a relative concept (difficulty in opening), as box #2 was extremely difficult to open, and box #3 still has me stumped.  And I wish I could blame the Old Cuban’s but that’s sadly not the case.  The Havana’s 2 box is beautifully crafted and very solid, made of quartersawn sapele wood panels.  The bottom of the box is veneered with quilted sapele, which gives it a lovely shimmering quality and the top of the box is veneered with bleached lacewood for an elegant contrast.
Beautiful quilted sapele veneer
The puzzle and its designer are very clever, and assume you have opened a few puzzle boxes in your day, and are going to toy with you because of that.  What I mean is that the box starts to open in a fairly typical way and before too long you are on your way to enjoying a cigar … when things freeze up.  You’re stuck with a tantalizing teaser view of the semi-opened box.  And without giving anything away, I’ll just say that this puzzle makes you think outside the box in a whole new way.  It’s really one of the most clever boxes I have seen.  And with that, I’ll tip my glass and bid you Salud!

Stay posted for other Eric Fuller boxes in the future, one of which will be paired with one of his own favorite cocktails, which is a true classic.  Cheers.  

Time for another Old Cuban!
Old Cuban Recipe:
1 ½ oz Aged Rum (e.g. Mount Gay XO but something at least 7+ yrs)
1 oz simple syrup
¾ oz fresh lime juice
8 mint leaves
2 oz champagne
Muddle the mint and syrup, add the rum and lime juice, shake, strain, and float champagne on top. Garnish with a mint sprig

Eric Fuller’s Website:


  1. I don't collect boxes (have to save my much diminished finances) but I think I might well do that cocktail! Sounds delicious!


  2. It is! Let me know if you try it.