Site icon Tom Lasher Walker

Why the Maid in Cuba Needs A Makeover

In October 2017, during my four-job/90 hour week, the Maid in Cuba officially turned five years old. Which is quite a feat, mainly because I still see it popping up on menus here and there, both in New York and London, as well as other cities around the globe. However, my appreciation for the drink and whats it done for me and my career hasn’t always been unconditional.

As the years have gone by its fair to say that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Maid in Cuba, but mainly love more than anything else. There are a few reasons why, most of which I rarely get to talk about on a frank and honest basis.

For the record, and above everything else, I’m massively proud of the drink, none more so as it’s a drink that lot of people know and like (and that’s even before its mentioned that it went onto win a well publicized cocktail competition).

I remember talking with previous participants of Bacardi Legacy – the competition it was entered into and ultimately triumphed at in Moscow 2014 when I was working at The American Bar at The Savoy – and the subject came up that regardless the line of work or profession, it should be noted how rare it is that an individual will have the chance to represent his or her country on the world stage to compete for a global title.

I recently saw it on the menu a couple of months back at The Suffolk Arms, a well known and well respected bar on the Lower East Side in New York, and was astonished that bartenders and those in this specific pocket of the service industry serving cocktails and mixed drinks stillthought it to be a relevant and appropriate modern classic.

However, despite its success, the biggest issue that the drink and I currently face is that as a bartender, I’m in danger of being a one-trick pony, the ‘Maid in Cuba’ guy if you will. That by no means is a bad thing, although technically speaking the drink was supposed to represent a style and way of drink making, as opposed to a single object that was the result of an extreme social media campaign and a brand-sponsored cocktail competition.

What’s magnified the hate side of this love-hate relationship is this; it’s incorrectly named.

Well how so? I here you ask. Well, when it comes to cocktails, the name of a drink is definitely a subject worth debating, although this post is not the place to go into it. Simply put, the Maid in Cubaisn’t actually a Maid; it’s essentially an East Side Cocktailvariation. Let me explain.

When I decided to pursue the idea of the Bacardi Legacy competition back at the end of 2012, a few months after I moved to work at The American Bar at The Savoy, I originally wanted to create a long drink with many of the ingredients that exist with the current DNA.

Prototype 1

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Muddle mint and cucumber. Shake briefly, strain into a Collins glass filled with ice, and top with soda. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and mint sprig and serve.

In short, the recipe above translated into a spectacularly average drink. Tasted average, flavors felt muddled and muddied, and was a generally something that wasn’t anything to write home about.

With that, I left the idea of the drink for about a month until I came round to the idea of something a little more organic and traditional, a la daiquiri and mojito style. Only thing this time was the drink pretty much already existed.

After coming across the Old Maid– a Gin gimlet with mint and cucumber served on the rocks –  on the Bartenders ChoiceiPhone app, the recipe was reformulated and revised and served the way we know it is today.

Thing is, because of the spirit/lime/sugar/mint & cucumber combo and the fact that it’s served up, its technically a variation on the East Side Cocktail, which itself a variation on the Southside.

East Side Cocktail

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into a chilled coupe, and garnish with a a slice of cucumber 

George Delgado, Libation, New York, c. 2003

So in reality, what we have are the following;

  • East Side Cocktail– See Above
  • East Side Rickey – An East Side Cocktail + soda, served tall
  • Old Maid – An East Side Cocktail served on the rocks (see below)

Make sense?

I didn’t realize this, however, until I started working at Attaboyin New York and was trained to tend bar there, incorporating a philosophy known as the Order of Operations, which uses several cocktail blueprints to help build rounds and drinks for efficiency and consistency.

By now the drink had received a ton of press, had been published in an updated version of The Savoy Cocktail Book, coupled with all the social media exposure from the previous 18 months, and was one that had become synonymous with me as a bartender. Attempting to change the recipe to match the name or vice versa was an uphill battle, primarily as I didn’t have an official bartending gig at the time, or a platform/bar with which to address this ethical cocktail discrepancy.

…until now. Over five years after its invention, and, more importantly, the year that Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition (BLGCC) celebrates its 10 year anniversary, I guess it makes sense to give the Cuban East Side Cocktail, aka the Maid in Cuba, an updated perspective and a makeover, even if it is in name only.

Cuban East Side Cocktail, aka Maid in Cuba

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker, and gently muddle mint and cucumber. Add ice, shake, and strain into a chilled coupe rinsed with absinthe. Add a splash of soda, garnish with a slice of cucumber and serve

Tom Walker, The Savoy, London, 2012

Old Maid, aka London Maid, aka Gin Maid

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Muddle mint and cucumber. Shake briefly and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and mint sprig and serve.

Sam Ross, East Side Company, New York, 2004

NB – The Maid is a sub-category cocktail family in which the name of the drink changes in accordance with the origin of the spirit that’s used. The London Maid, aka the Old Maid came first, followed by the Kentucky Maid which uses bourbon, and so on.

The inclusion of the aforementioned recipes and the relevant background information is to offer nothing more the different angles around this mint and cucumber mojito/daiquiri hybrid. After all, as with most things in life, context is everything.

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