It’s about as simple as a cocktail gets, and yet the Daiquiri continues to fascinate bartenders more than a hundred years after its creation. Naren Young follows in the footsteps of Hemingway and pays tribute to a Cuban classic
The Daiquiri means different things to different people. For some, it brings to mind island holidays, whirring blenders, a kaleidoscope of neon and tiny umbrellas. It might remind a few others of the drive-thru Daiquiri windows in New Orleans (yes, you read that correctly). For some, though, it represents something more modest and unassuming, a classic drink to be revered, respected and reinvented by cocktail enthusiasts the world over.
Whichever way, the Daiquiri is a drink with a story that begins in Cuba (or, at least, the modern version we recognise today does, that much we know for sure – anyone wishing to explore the subject in further detail should get hold of a copy of the new Cuban Cocktails book by drinks historians Jared Brown and Anastatia Miller. It’s a wonderful read that presents an argument from all angles).
| THE GREAT DAIQUIRI TASTE OFF
The type of rum you use in a Daiquiri can make a massive difference to the end result. I test-drove four very different styles in a Daiquiri blind tasting with the help of The Portobello Star’s Jake Burger and Strange Hill’s Henry Besant. Each drink was made in the classic style, to proportions of 50ml/25ml/25ml. Here’s their muddy analysis.
Chairman’s Reserve White Label, St Lucia
Santa Teresa Claro, Venezuela
Burger says this one has a ‘honey-like quality’ to it, which reminds him a little of an ‘Airmail Cocktail’, with a nice ‘roundness’. Besant finds this one ‘more integrated’ and ‘balanced’, while it tastes like a ‘Cuban rum’. ‘Is it Havana Club?’ he inquires. Maybe, or maybe not.
Havana Club 3yo, Cuba
Burger likes this one a lot but says that it is ‘anonymous’ and ‘inoffensive’ with ‘no real identity’. ‘It’s a little generic’ but does have a ‘pleasant grassy’ note. Besant, on the other hand, declares this ‘my favourite so far’, with
El Dorado 3yo, Guyana
Burger declares this the ‘Daiquiriest of Daiquiris’, saying ‘it’s all there’, with a ‘long finish’ and a ‘classic pure taste’. Henry agrees, saying it’s ‘well-balanced’ and ‘one of the best drinks I’ve ever had’. Aw, shucks. 9/10
As is the case with most classic drinks, though, the ‘when?’ and ‘by whom?’ of the Daiquiri remain hotly debated. The simple combination of rum, lime (or lemon as several of the earliest recipes called for) and sugar was certainly nothing new when the Daiquiri came on the scene in the 19th century. The Royal Navy – under the order of Admiral Vernon – had been mixing and rationing lime and rum for more than a hundred years by then, while the addition of sugar probably just made this primitive and potent ‘grog’ go down a little easier.
But the man most often linked with the Daiquiri by name, however, is Jennings Cox, an employee of the Daiquirí mines in Santiago de Cuba, who purportedly created the first ever Daiquiri from Bacardi rum, lemons and sugar, way back in 1898.
This was also a period when a lighter style of rum began to emerge. Cuban rum was the vodka of its day: fairly neutral, inoffensive and easy to mix with, well… anything. For this, we can’t discount the role that Don Facundo Bacardi played in developing the technology – especially filtration – in creating a rum unlike any other that anyone had tried before. It was certainly a far cry from the molasses-heavy versions that were typical of the era.
One significant difference between those early grog rations and the Daiquiris that the early cantineros (the men who brought Cuban bartending to the world) would have been shaking, stirring and ‘throwing’, was of course, ice. Once a luxury commodity like sugar, Cuba was actually one of the first places to receive a steady supply of the stuff.
Frederic Tudor, known as the ‘ice king’, was shipping ice in bulk from Massachusetts to far-flung locales such as Martinique, India and Cuba. Ice was nothing short of a sensation, and yet nowadays the very notion of drinking a Daiquiri at room temperature seems utterly laughable.
Coming out of Prohibition, rum, and, indeed, the Daiquiri, was a different beast. The industry went into a dark period of decline as the sea of highly-skilled labour that epitomised the first golden age of the cocktail (1862-1920) had essentially dried up. Professional bartending would not re-emerge as a recognised vocation for many decades.
It’s no coincidence, also, that soon after this – in 1937 to be exact – we see the launch of the world’s first ‘sour mix’, called Seven-Eleven. The days of the freshly-squeezed Daiquiri were on hold until further notice. Or as Wayne Curtis in his fabulous tome And a Bottle of Rum notes: ‘the knowledge of how and what to drink had been lost to a generation’.
THE LITERARY LEGEND
Having made its first appearance in print in the 1914 cocktail book Drinks by Jacques Straub, the Daiquiri went on to be immortalised in the writings of F Scott Fitzgerald and, most famously, Ernest Hemingway, who works the Daiquiri into his prose in Islands in the Stream, with a protagonist who orders a ‘double frozen Daiquiri with no sugar from Pedrico’. (I do suspect though that it was Hemingway’s heroic Daiquiri binges in the 1930s, rather than this fleeting mention in his writings, that helped put the Daiquiri on the international map.)
THE ULTIMATE DAIQUIRI
Like many great classic drinks, the beauty of the Daiquiri lies in its simplicity. It also lies in getting the perfect balance between that triumvirate of rum, lime and sugar that when perfectly combined, makes for one of the most revered cocktails in the annals of history. There are of course many people that still believe that the Daiquiri is only a blended drink, not a shaken one. If you pull up a stool at its spiritual home Floridita in Havana (more on that opposite), you’ll get it frozen and you’ll thank your barkeep for it. I’ve been guilty of enjoying a frozen mango Daiquiri from time to time (but one made with fresh ingredients, of course).
As we’ve discovered, the original Daiquiri was made with light, and perhaps lightly-aged rum, which provides the dry, grassy note that is the hallmark of this bracing aperitif. Sure, I’ve tried some wonderful variations with dark rums and darker sugars such as Demerara or muscovado, but I do, on the whole, agree with the tradition of using a lighter-bodied rum, albeit one with a bit of character, such as a rhum agricole or one with some pot still unctuousness, such as the Bank’s 5 Island. The Havana Club 3 Años – with its characteristic grassy note – is also a base I like (although a rare treat in the United States, embargoes be damned).
Surely I need not tell anyone reading this the importance of using the freshest lime juice you can. No preserved supermarket crap. No powdered sour mix.
When we move onto the sugar component, this is where things can get interesting. Adding a flavoured simple syrup – using anything from fresh herbs to fresh fruit – can completely transform the drink while still maintaining its integrity and simplicity. How easy was that?
Despite its literary fame, however, the Daiquiri was still largely the preserve of Americans and other wealthy foreigners whose passage across the Gulf from Florida was becoming easier all the time.
When air travel opened up, the chance for tourists to savour a biting Daiquiri became easier and the varying recipes went back home with them – along with any contraband Cuban rum they could smuggle in during Prohibition. The Daiquiri had gone international, but its preparation would have been confined to people’s homes during the great dry spell. Something so sophisticated would not have proliferated in the country’s speakeasies, surely. Certainly not like the many incarnations which have re-emerged in bars of all kinds today.
Many thanks to The Portobello Star’s Jake Burger for mixing the Daiquiris shown here.
THE CRADLE OF THE DAIQUIRI: Floridita, HAVANA
Even 51 years after his death, Ernest Hemingway cuts an intimidating figure, hunched over the bar in Floridita, the Havana bar widely publicised as one of his favourite watering holes. Now immortalised in bronze, his statue is a permanent reminder of the role he played in putting this bar – and its signature Daiquiri cocktail – on the international map.
Hemingway began propping up the long mahogany bar at Floridita soon after he arrived on the island in 1932, as America was in its twilight years of Prohibition. It certainly didn’t hurt that it was located only a few blocks up Obispo Street from the room he had rented in the Hotel Ambos Mundos. When he had done enough writing of a morning, he would retreat to his new local where he would imbibe superhuman quantities of the drink that would one day bear his name.
Originally called La Piña de Plata (The Silver Pineapple), it opened in 1817 as a modest bodega. With the increasing number of American tourists who would continue to frequent the island over the next 150 years, Catalan emigrant Don Narcisco Sala Parera changed its name to La Florida in 1898. Eventually – under the proprietorship of legendary cantinero Constantino Ribalaigua Vert – the name was finally changed to the iconic Floridita.
It now colloquially calls itself La Cuna del Daiquiri (The Cradle of the Daiquiri) and while they do sell other things, you certainly wouldn’t know it since everyone in the house is drinking the bar’s most famous tipple. Their house Daiquiri is blended and in the stifling, often oppressive heat, it certainly makes sense. They also add a whisper of maraschino to the ubiquitous rum, lime and sugar. If you want one as Papa Hemingway might have enjoyed it (with grapefruit and without sugar as he was a diabetic), then you’ll have to ask.
Are the Daiquiris there any good? They’re fairly pedestrian, yet perfectly tasty, and to be honest, who really cares? This is hallowed ground and to be here, finally, soaking up the atmosphere and drinking in a piece of history, it’s easy to see why it became such a pilgrimage for so many people during its storied history and still is today. Long may you live.
Daiquiri Recipes from around the world
by Brian Miller Lani Kai, New York
‘The drink came about when I was planning the menu for our Tiki Mondays at Lani Kai. I was inspired by the New England Daiquiri and just put together some of my favourite syrups and rums.’
Garnish: Lemon wedge
Method: Shake and strain.
45ml DonQ Añejo rum
20ml lemon juice
15ml Cruzan Black Strap rum
7ml Demerara syrup
7ml Don’s Spices #4
(aka cinnamon syrup)
7ml vanilla syrup
by Alex Kratena Artesian at The Langham, London
‘Mandarin is an under-appreciated fruit in bars: it’s more aromatic and rounded than orange juice. I call this Eastern Promises because not only do mandarins come from East Asia but it was also one of the few exotic fruits available in Czechoslovakia when I was growing up.’
Method: Shake and double strain.
60ml Bacardi 1909
30ml mandarin juice
15ml Martini Rosso
15ml lime juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
3 barspoons superfine sugar
GREENMARKET STRAWBERRY DAIQUIRI
by Naren Young, Saxon + Parole, New York
‘This drink is hyper-seasonal as strawberries have a short season in New York. The local greenmarkets are awash with them during July and August. We make a strawberry simple syrup and shake this with rum and lime and add a few drops of Chardonnay vinegar for a different form of acid. Vibrant, delicious and completely different to what people expect.’
Garnish: strawberry ‘paper’ (strawberry purée set with agar and dehydrated)
Method: Shake and double strain.
60ml Denizen rum
20ml lime juice
20ml house-made strawberry syrup
5 drops Chardonnay vinegar
by Julien Escot Papa Doble, Montpellier
‘We replace the grapefruit juice with a homemade pomelo marmalade. If you respect the original recipe with no sugar in, it doesn’t suit all tastes. Using a pomelo marmalade gives a nice round texture to the drink, a lot of flavour and a pinch of sugar.’
Garnish: Grapefruit twist
Method: Dissolve the marmalade with the lime juice using the flat end of the barspoon. Then add other ingredients, shake and fine strain.
50ml white rum
20ml lime juice
5ml Luxardo Maraschino
2 barspoons homemade
Egg white (optional)
by Antonio Lai Quinary Bar, Hong Kong
‘I am Asian so I’m always thinking how I can put an Asian twist in my cocktails. Lemongrass is delicate but yet so aromatic and it works beautifully in light drinks, while the Perlini adds a slight carbonation.’
Garnish: Rim of dehydrated Cointreau sugar
Method: Shake in a Perlini shaker with ice and strain.
45ml Havana Club – infused with lemongrass in a Rotovap
20ml fresh lime juice
10ml Cointreau syrup
3 drops Diffords Daiquiri Bitters
NUCLEAR NEON DAIQUIRI
by the late, great Gregor de Gruyther
Created by De Gruyther in 2005, who once said: ‘No garnish can withstand the awesome power
of the Nuclear Daiquiri.’
Garnish: A cheeky smile
Method: Shake and double strain.
25ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum
25ml Green Chartreuse
25ml lime juice
15ml Velvet Falernum
Dash Blue Curaçao
PINK PEPPERCORN DAIQUIRI
by Naren Young, Saxon + Parole, New York
‘This drink is all about texture in the mouth and the layering of different flavour and aromas in different ways, in this case the subtle yet highly aromatic pink peppercorn.’
Garnish: 5 pink peppercorns and spray of pink peppercorn tincture
Method: Shake with ice and double strain.
60ml pink peppercorn
fat-washed rhum agricole
20ml lime juice
20ml pink peppercorn syrup
5 pink peppercorns – muddled
by Ryan Chetiyawardana Ex-Worship St Whistling Shop, London
‘This drink pays homage both to the Cuban cantineros, and the maestros de Havana Club. It’s super simple, staying true to a classic Daiquiri, but adding a little innovation.’
Glass: Small coupette
Garnish: Mint sprig
Method: Stir over ice and strain.
50ml Havana Club 3yo
8ml Daiquiri honey*
*120ml Havana Club 7yo
40ml strained lime juice
Reduce with a Rotovap until thick.