The last time I ordered a Daiquiri at a bar, my friends gave me a gentle ribbing. This is a common reaction as the word Daiquiri conjures up images of super-sweet frozen cocktails decorated with little umbrellas.
Why would a drink so simple and so classic have such a case of mistaken identity? As our friends at Uncommon Caribbean note “Never in the history of cocktails has a more perfect libation suffered more lies and out-and-out abuse than the classic daiquiri.”
It started in the 1970s and ’80s when bartenders in Florida and the Caribbean began making a fruitier, less astringent version of the century-old Cuban concoction. Made of rum, strawberry concentrate, ice, and—depending on the quality of the establishment—fresh strawberries, the drink was aptly called a Strawberry Daiquiri and although tasty if made right, it had only a trace of liquor, was loaded with sugar and had a propensity to give headaches—similar to those you get when you eat ice cream too fast. And in years since, the Daiquiri portfolio only expanded. Banana, Raspberry…you name it.
So what is in a real Daiquiri? Surprisingly, it consists of only three ingredients: white rum, fresh lime juice and simple sugar (a.k.a. sugar water). Ernest Hemingway, an ambassador of the drink and one-time resident of Key West, would add a small amount of grapefruit juice. This variation still exists today in the form of a “Hemingway Daiquiri” or just a “Hemingway.”
Stories vary, but most conclude that the original Daiquiri was invented in the early 1900s in its namesake town of Daiquiri near Santiago, Cuba. Legend has it that a man named Jennings Cox, an iron worker in Daiquiri, invented the drink. Apparently he thought of the recipe when he ran out of gin—the most popular booze in America during those times—while entertaining guests. The drink, however, did not gain notoriety until the recipe was brought back to the States by Admiral Lucius Johnson and introduced to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., around 1910. No real proof exists as to the real heritage of the Daiquiri and many Cubans assert that their ancestors enjoyed the drink long before Cox and Johnson came to Cuba.
Regardless of its origins, or the styles in which it has been made—straight up, on the rocks, or served in a flute, Collins or Old-Fashioned glass—the Daiquiri has always been a simple yet harmonious drink, thus proving that the basis of many great cocktails is simply liquor, citrus and a little something sweet.
So how do I prefer my Daiquiri? Either in a Highball glass (aka Collins glass) with ice—the large, dense, cubed type that melts very slowly—or shaken and strained into a Champagne Saucer glass, as featured above.
2 parts white rum
juice of one lime
simple syrup *
Pour your preferred amount of white rum into an Old-Fashioned glass. Add simple syrup or sugar and stir. If you use straight sugar, use a shaker and mix the lime juice and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved, before adding to the glass. Serve straight up (shaken and strained) or on the rocks.
* Simple syrup can be made simply by adding 2 parts fine sugar to 1 part hot water.