Who couldn’t love a Daiquiri and all that it stands for? But with so many rums, and styles of rum, to choose from, where do you begin? With a big tasting, says Clinton Cawood
In the canon of classic drinks, the Daiquiri’s place is secured. A harmonious combination of just three ingredients: rum, lime and sugar.
For rum, there are few, if any, better drinks to act as showcase. How a spirit carries itself in this most fundamental and straightforward cocktail is crucial.
Given the minimal list of ingredients, balance is critical, and each rum really deserves to have its own Daiquiri spec tweaked to suit its flavour profile. But these tweaks need to start somewhere, so for the purposes of this tasting we elected to use one standard spec throughout. How each of these rums stood up in this recipe suggests ways to adjust it to better suit them.
HOW IT WORKSWe called in an array of white rums for this, including some agricoles for variety. These were each used to make a Daiquiri, each made to the same standard spec (50ml rum, 25ml lime juice and 20ml 1:1 sugar syrup).The drinks were then tasted by a panel of bartenders and each scored out of 20. Tasters were aware of each rum’s abv and price. Scores were then collated to give a total rating out of 100 for each. Prices given are all RRPs.
But what was most clear here is that there are a vast array of different white rums out there with which to create various Daiquiris, and endless potential to offer your customers something different.
Nate Brown, Merchant House; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Luca Cordiglieri, China Tang at The Dorchester; Bruce Govia, Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour; Esther Medina-Cuesta, The World; Tiziano Tasso, The Club at Café Royal
77 Banks 5 Island Blend
This just goes to show that if you want to make the best possible Daiquiri, you need to visit more than one island. Five, preferably. Banks is a blend of rums from Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados, as well as some batavia arrack from Java.
Mixed, this drew near-universal praise, placing it streets ahead of the competition. Crucially, this rum was characterful enough to make its presence felt in the Daiquiri – not always the case in this tasting. ‘Alive, full of excitement and energy,’ said one taster. That funky Jamaican pot still character was in evidence and the additional alcohol no doubt helped to achieve balance here too. A rich, interesting Daiquiri.
43% abv. £40. Spirit Cartel, email@example.com
73 Doorly’s 3yo
The highest-placed Bajan offering in this tasting, Doorly’s divided our panel. Some felt that the rum wasn’t contributing enough, or that the finished product lacked some balance. Others, however, couldn’t praise this Daiquiri enough.
A buttery aroma along with some coconut notes led to what one taster described as ‘beautiful mouthfeel and great balance’ with some fresh lemongrass and a peppery note too. And all of this at a great price. You can’t ask for more, really.
40% abv. £19.50. Marussia Beverages, 020 7724 5009
73 Havana Club 3yo
‘Finally, the rum has arrived,’ wrote one panellist. Havana Club contributed plenty of character to this drink, helping to create a balanced Daiquiri, with ample rum flavours.
There was a distinct, attractive herbal, grassy note from the rum here, which interacted well with the lime juice. Overall, an interesting, characterful Daiquiri and really well balanced too. And as time went on and it warmed up
a bit, even more rum shone through.
40% abv. £18.19. Pernod Ricard, 020 8538 4484
72 El Dorado 3yo
You had to like the taste of butterscotch to like this Daiquiri, and it turns out a number of our panellists did. They praised ‘a wonderful, complex nose’ and ‘good length with more butterscotch, and a slight pepperiness’.
The El Dorado brought a distinct Werther’s Original character to this drink – a bit too much for some people’s taste – but it also provided sugar cane and molasses notes. ‘You can really taste the ageing process on this rum,’ wrote one panellist.
40% abv. £21. Love Drinks, 020 7501 9630
72 The Real McCoy White
Although there was very little rum character to start with here, The Real McCoy lived up to its name eventually, delivering plenty of flavour on the palate. This was a dry Daiquiri, with some tropical fruit flavours throughout, along with dark cacao and a peppery note.
A very typical, and therefore very satisfying Daiquiri. ‘Light, but in a good way. A beginner’s Daiquiri, or for breakfast,’ summarised one taster.
40% abv. £24.99. Distillnation, 020 7129 8108
72 Trois Rivières Blanc
It’s not surprising that this was going to provoke a love-or-hate reaction from our panel. Much like Marmite, it seems, an agricole Daiquiri isn’t for everyone. But those that were into this kind of thing (and that was most of them) were generous in their praise. ‘Cold rainforest, with some bamboo greenness,’ said one taster. ‘A great, morphing journey on the palate – it dances and wrestles,’ said another.
More than one panellist commented on how good the balance was here, particularly considering that this had 10% abv more than most of the other rums in the tasting.
50% abv. £32. Speciality Brands, 020 8838 9367
70 Santa Teresa Claro
This was a good, solid Daiquiri rum and drew praise from our panel for its fresh, zesty and quite floral aroma, as well as an emphasised lime pith element, not to mention some physalis and pineapple.
The palate, similarly, was balanced, but on the sweet side – a bit like sweet butterscotch, with a hint of liquorice. ‘Harmonious, rich and with a long finish. Like every Daiquiri should be,’ summarised one panellist.
40% abv. £18. Mangrove, 020 8551 4966
69 Captain Morgan White Rum
This one’s brand new and proved to be a perfectly capable base spirit for the making of Daiquiris. It was, according to one panellist, ‘well balanced – with the interaction between the ingredients working well – and fine rum flavours coming alive in the back of your palate’.
There were distinct sugar cane notes here, with a pleasing balance between floral and sweet notes, but ultimately a fresh, light body. And all of that for a bargain price.
37.5% abv. £17.29. Diageo, 020 8978 6000
68 Plantation 3 Stars
There was some distinct Jamaican pot-still character to this Daiquiri, adding some real identity and flavour to the finished product. The palate was on the slightly sweet side, but with enough lime in evidence to freshen things up. And that extra bit of alcohol definitely helped here.
According to one taster: ‘A well-rounded Daiquiri, with the rum and citrus working well together and sweetness coming through gently.’
41.2% abv, £23.50, Instil Drinks, 020 7449 1685
THE WALK OF SHAME
Let’s face it – not every rum here was going to make a mind-blowing Daiquiri, particularly not using the same spec throughout. So while we had some noteworthy examples, some didn’t live up to expectations. These are some of the most damning comments from our panel, with names ommitted to protect the innocent.
‘Much like Waldo, the rum is hard to find’
‘Highly chemical – not always
a bad thing – and bleachy’
‘Rotten bananas. A bit like my
mood after drinking this’
‘This rum might as well pack its bags and go home’
67 Diplomatico Blanco Reserva
This was another rum that pleased those on the panel with a sweeter tooth, but seemed unbalanced to others. Aromas included butterscotch, lemon curd, fudge, coconut, vanilla and butter, with the same sweet notes coming through on the palate too.
An interesting, complex Daiquiri then, if a bit sweet. Some tasters thought this didn’t quite represent good value, while others specifically noted that it was worth the price. A panel divider – you’d have to try this one for yourself.
40% abv. £32. Speciality Brands, 020 8838 9367
67 St George Agricole Rum
No surprises that this Daiquiri had both its fans and detractors – this is a huge, characterful rum that takes no prisoners. But those tasters that it appealed to had plenty to say in its favour. Vegetal and fresh, along with some tropical fruit notes, this had ‘great alcohol integration and layers of flavour’, as well as some warm, earthy, spicy notes. One panellist described a savoury note reminiscent of olives...
‘A massive, crazy drink,’ said one. ‘I wouldn’t have that every day. Maybe every other day.’
43% abv. £54.95. Maverick Drinks, 07813 204 161
63 Elements Eight Platinum
There were some appealing toasty spice notes on the nose here, but without quite enough lime to lift it. There was enough rum character to shine through on the palate though, resulting in a great Daiquiri. One taster thought that, compared to some of the preceding rums, this had ‘more fire and life, holding together stronger in a Daiquiri’.
In spite of all of the positives, more than one taster marked this rum down because of its price.
40% abv. £26.36. Mangrove, 020 8551 4966
62 Bacardí Carta Blanca
PUERTO RICO, MEXICO
A classic Daiquiri rum, Bacardí produced a classic drink that put lime at the forefront, without providing a lot of overt rum character. Rather, this was a harmonious, fruity drink, with what some identified as a menthol and banana note on the nose.
Quite a light palate followed, with some chocolate and soft icing-sugar sweetness. This was a good, straightforward cocktail, with perhaps not enough rum character for some of our panellists.
37.5% abv. £21. Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, 01962 762450
62 Owney’s New York City Rum
This New York City rum, made with molasses from sugar cane grown in Florida and Louisiana, drew mixed responses from our panel. Some loved it, some hated it, and some weren’t sure. Tasters thought there was quite a lot of agricole character here, with grapey, floral and coconut notes leading into a powerful palate with some pineapple flavour.
There was no shortage of rum character here, at least – ‘pungent, strong and earthy’, as one panellist put it. Definitely something different, and certainly not a crowd-pleaser.
40% abv. £40. Lightbox Brands, 020 3239 2939
57 St Nicholas Abbey White
This was a big and fruity Daiquiri, with more than one taster describing tropical, lychee fruit along with an agricole-like grassiness and green banana, as well as buttered popcorn.
That banana note emerged even more strongly on the palate, possibly too much for a standard Daiquiri, some thought. ‘Fun, and very green,’ one taster described. Interesting, and unusual, but too far off-centre for some. And with a pretty serious price tag too.
- If this tasting proved anything, it’s that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all ratio for this drink. Almost every one of these could have done with a bit of tweaking to let the rum show at its best.
- A higher price tag didn’t always mean a better Daiquiri. High-scorers came at all price points, and the lower-scorers did too.
- Agricole, and agricole-style rums, brought an interesting dimension. For some, they added the right amount of interest and character to the drink. For others, this strayed too far from a traditional Daiquiri.
- Ultimately, the biggest issue here was whether the rum was able to make its presence felt in a Daiquiri; panellists considered this one of the most important factors when judging these.
Nate Brown, Merchant House
‘Although not for everyone, agricole Daiquiris work. They give it attitude and personality. Sometimes a Daiquiri that has little or no flavour hits the spot, but I like a challenge. Too many white rums are cut with neutral spirit and lose their backbone. A Daiquiri needs to be fresh and full of life.’
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘The most critical element here was whether the rum’s character was able to make itself felt over the lime and the sugar – and in many cases it didn’t. This is a drink that should really showcase the spirit. When it worked, it worked beautifully. For some rums here, however, some adjustment would be required.’
Luca Cordiglieri, China Tang at The Dorchester
‘I was looking for a good balance between the three ingredients, with the rum being the star. You want some tartness balanced by fruity flavours. What this tasting proved was that a more expensive rum doesn’t necessarily make a great Daiquiri. Those are probably best drunk in a different cocktail or sipped on their own.’
Bruce Govia, Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour
‘This made it clear to me that price isn’t everything. And a bit of pot rum really works well in a white rum, adding that little bit of extra depth. As opposed to some in this tasting, which were more like vodka Daiquiris.’
Esther Medina-Cuesta, The World
‘You have to taste the rum in a Daiquiri, otherwise it’s just lemonade with booze. And you have to remember that we’re in London in a basement, and it’s 22 degrees. This would be a different tasting if we were somewhere warm. For some of the more expensive ones, I thought: “I’m not spending that.” But for others, why not? It takes things to the next level. There’s no reason why you can’t have a deluxe Daiquiri, with a deluxe spirit.’
Tiziano Tasso, The Club at Café Royal
‘The most important aspect to take into consideration is that when you’re using different styles of rum you need to adjust the sweet and sour in the drink, and always check your juice – every day you could have different limes with different acidity levels.’
40% abv. £42. Sip or Mix, 07714 590 361
Many thanks to the team at Merchant House for hosting the tasting and for all of their help on the day. Photos: Steve Ryan