Ernest Hemingway, endurance drinker, greets Fidel Castro, endurance orator
Auckland is suffering in the grip of a pressing lime shortage. Unrest has been quelled so far through the imposition of martial law (Batista will be smiling in his grave), but nobody knows how long the authorities can maintain even this crude semblance of order. OK, I may be exaggerating slightly. Everything is surprisingly normal considering that there have been no limes in the supermarkets since before Christmas. This means I can’t enjoy a Daiquiri despite the summery weather. The good thing though is that I’ve been meaning to write about the Daiquiri for a while, so with Daiquiris on my mind but none to be had I may as well get writing.
The Daiquiri ranks somewhere among my favorite cocktails. It competes for a top three spot with the likes of the Old Fashioned, the Sazerac and the Manhattan. Simply by virtue of being a rum drink while the others are whiskey the Daiquiri would have to get in the top three somehow or other. It definitely takes the top spot for tropical drinks. It also gets extra points for not requiring any special ingredients. A Daiquiri simply involves mixing some very ordinary ingredients with a little skill. Unlike say, a Sazarac (good luck finding real rye and Peychauld’s Bitters in most bars), any bar can make a decent Daiquiri if they care to.
Given my weakness for Daiquiris then I was always going to have something to say about the drink sooner or later. The Daiquiri is also an interesting drink to look at in a little detail simply because there is so much more room for interpretation than with most drinks. However, while there are some truly excellent variations on the classic Daiquiri, your typical Daiquiri variation is an overly sweetened, garishly colored, artificially flavored abomination. I’m going to take a look at the origins of the Daiquiri, its basic forms, and some traditional variations on that basic form.
Hemingway and Errol Flynn chat over a Daiquiri. The scene is the El Floridita bar, Havana, during the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Flynn would die later that year of a heart attack.
So what is a Daiquiri exactly?
The story goes that the Daiquiri was invented in Cuba in or around 1898, in the town of Daiquiri, by an American mine supervisor named Jennings Cox. This would seem to make the drink a product of the U.S. colonization of Cuba that followed Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American war in 1898. Daiquiri itself was an area of U.S. influence, with U.S. forces, including Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, making it their disembarkation point in Cuba.
There are a couple of versions of the tale. One version goes that Mr. Cox was a habitual gin drinker (some even say he was a Martini drinker) who discovered his stockpile of gin was running low just as a party of distinguished American visitors were due to arrive. Thinking quickly, he invented a rum cocktail to serve in place of gin, coming up with a mixture of rum, lime-juice and sugar. The other version of the story says that Cox developed the concoction for his employees in response to a malaria scare. Neither version of the story sounds plausible to me.
U.S. forces disembark at Daiquiri during the Spanish-American war
The Martini detail sometimes found in the first version of the story seems very dubious. First, the basic idea of the Daiquiri (rum, lime and sugar) predates the Martini by centuries, and so framing the invention of the Daiquiri as a quest for a Martini substitute is practically an insult to the Daiquiri. Second, the first literary reference to the Martini does not occur until 1910 – in the Jack London novel “Burning Daylight”. It seems difficult to believe that over a decade before the Martini made it into a work of popular fiction, the Caribbean was playing host to habitual Martini drinkers from America who needed to be placated with a ‘special invention’ when a Martini was unexpectedly unavailable. Third, the idea that Americans traveling the Caribbean at that time would have been unaccustomed to rum and a new drink was required to coax them into drinking the stuff seems odd. Rum was the drink of choice back in the early days of the United States, and remained the quintessential maritime drink at a time when all Caribbean travel was by sea. Could Americans traveling the Caribbean at that time really have not expected to drink rum? Fourth, the story displays a U.S.-centric conceit in the notion that it took an American to think of combining rum, lime and sugar. Navies had been serving up rum and lime for literally hundreds of years by the late 19th Century, and were surely only imitating others before them. The combination of rum, citrus and sugar must have been so obvious and ubiquitous by the late 19th century that only the most unadventurous rum drinkers could have overlooked it. What was the combination after all but a rum sour? Even the Brazilian Caipirinha is more or less a Daiquiri served on ice. The Daiquiri is the sort of thing that only an idiot would never have thought of. Realistically, the basic idea must surely have been thought of in numerous places by numerous people.
Not a Daiquiri in sight as the Rough Riders rest after capturing the San Juan heights. The Rough Riders may never have drunk the Daiquiri cocktail, but the association of the drink with the town of Daiquiri, from which they launched their Cuban adventure, may have helped the subsequent popularity of the drink with the U.S. armed forces.
Regardless of whether Jenings Cox invented the Daiquiri though, or even named it, he may have helped get Americans drinking it. In 1909 Cox is said to have served the drink to a visiting naval officer, who then introduced it to the Army and Navy Club in Washington D.C. The drink caught on among the U.S. defense forces, and Army and Navy Club renamed one of its bars the Daiquiri Lounge. Americans visiting Havana during Prohibition thus already had a little exposure to the Daiquiri, and spent their holidays in its enthusiastic appreciation – they certainly hadn’t flown all that way to admire the architecture. Later still, J.F.K. would make the Daiquiri the presidential drink of choice. This presidential stamp of approval drove the Daiquiri to new heights of popularity, popularity that sadly saw it morph into the machine dispensed slush sold in drive-through Daiquiri bars in Louisiana – a concoction you must remember never to ask for at a White House reception.
However it all happened then, the Cuban town of Daiquiri somehow attached its name to the basic rum sour, a straightforward rum, lime and sugar cocktail made as follows.
Basic Daiquiri Recipe:
A nice pour of rum, preferably white, say 2 oz
Juice of 1 lime, say 1 oz
Sugar to taste, say 1 tsp
Shake over ice and strain into a glass.
So the basic Daiquiri is 2 parts rum, 1 part lime, with sugar to taste. Sounds pretty easy, eh? If only. . . To get a good result you should consider the following suggestions:
It is sad that this even needs to be said, but obviously you need to use freshly squeezed lime juice. A lot of bars use bottled or powdered artificial ‘lime juice’, something like a lime flavored sweet-and-sour mix. There is no way of getting a good drink out of this crap so forget about even trying.
An early advertisement for Havana Club rum
Use a white rum. Given the Daiquiri’s Cuban heritage a Cuban white rum is most appropriate. Havana Club Blanco is my favorite. I’d use the Blanco above the slightly aged Tres Anos because the Blanco’s slightly rough around the edges character suits the straightforward and refreshing nature of a Daiquiri. The Tres Anos can be almost too smooth for its own good in a drink like this. Havana Club rum has an strong literary pedigree as a Daiquiri rum, featuring in the Graham Greene novel “Our Man in Havana”. The accidental secret agent Wormold drinks Havana Club Daiquiris at the Havana Club itself, where drinks are given away free to coax tourists into buying overpriced bottles of rum.
Big Constante tends bar while Hemingway drinks at the El Floridita
When squeezing the limes extract only the juice and nothing else. You do not want oils from the skin to get into the drink. This is where the Daiquiri differs from the Caipirinha. In a sense the Daiquiri is a purer drink, free of bitter citrus oils, while the Caipirinha is its rustic cousin in which everything is simply muddled together. Ernest Hemingway was the ultimate Daiquiri drinker, and his Daiquiris were free of citrus oil, so keep the oil out! Hemingway’s regular Daiquiri haunt was the El Floridita bar in Havana, where great pains were taken to keep the drinks free of citrus oil. Constante Ribalaigua Vert (known as Big Constante), who ran the El Floridita when Hemingway was a regular customer, was described by the contemporary cocktail writer David Embury as follows: “His limes were gently squeezed with his fingers lest even a drop of the bitter oil from the peel get into the drink; the drinks were mixed (but not overmixed). . . The stinging cold drink was strained through a fine sieve into the glass so that not one tiny piece of ice remained in it. No smallest detail was overlooked in achieving the flawless perfection of the drink”. If Big Constante took such pains to keep lime oil out of the Daiquiris he served Hemingway, I know how I want my Daiquiris made.
The El Floridita today
On a related point, do not put the spent lime shells in the shaker. A few bars that use freshly squeezed juice wear their commitment to fresh ingredients on their sleeves a bit by letting fresh fruit get into places it shouldn’t. Besides contributing undesirable oils, a spent lime shell in the shaker just represents unnecessary non-frozen material in there, drawing thermal energy from the ice, increasing ice melt, and diluting the drink. A Daiquiri should be an extremely cold and concentrated drink, and adding lime shells to the shaker is inconsistent with achieving this. So put only the juice in the shaker.
Either syrup or sugar work fine as the sweetener but I prefer sugar for a couple of reasons. First, a Daiquiri gets shaken for long enough that dissolving the sugar should not be a problem. Second, the balance between sweet and sour in a Daiquiri is crucial and sugar is slightly easier to measure than syrup. Third, there is a certain aesthetic in the few undissolved grains of sugar that you sometimes discover in the bottom of the glass as you take your final sip. They remind you of the beautiful simplicity of Daiquiri. Some bars play around with the type of sugar used. I wouldn’t go for anything too dark, but slightly unrefined sugars can be nice. Simple syrup is also perfectly OK if you prefer. It does not matter too much either way.
A Daiquiri should be as cold as possible. The texture can vary though, and there are three worthy possibilities. The first texture is fully liquid, and is produced by shaking, then double straining the drink (i.e. straining it out of the shaker and into the glass through a fine sieve). According to David Embury this was Big Constante’s favored preparation. The second texture is liquid with a surface film of ice, and is produced by shaking, then straining from the shaker and directly into the glass (i.e. relying on the shaker alone to strain the drink and not using a fine sieve), allowing a layer of very fine ice chips into the drink. A lot of bars make Daiquiris like this, and although Big Constantine might not have liked it I don’t see anything wrong with it personally. Ice chips are out of place in a Martini but to me they seem at home in a refreshing tropical drink like a Daiquiri. The third texture is frozen, and is produced by briefly blending the drink with shaved ice (or perhaps by shaking with shaved ice and pouring the whole thing into the glass). This last texture is a little controversial, and thus worth discussing in detail.
Hemingway enjoys one of his famous double-sized Daiquiri frappes
Frozen drinks sometimes attract scorn among discerning drinkers. This is hardly surprising given that these days most frozen drinks are luridly colored, ultra-sweet, artificially flavored disasters. Many quality bars either want to distance themselves from the whole ‘Strawberry Daiquiri’ image, or do not want to deal with the hassle of a blender, and so choose not to serve frozen drinks at all. Other reasonable bars are so in love with their blenders that they blend all kinds of things that should never be blended – like the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, where I had a blended Singapore Sling. To use an appropriately Cambodian metaphor, the whole area has become a bit of a minefield. However, there is no reason a frozen and blended drink has to be bad. Hemmingway’s Daiquiris were certainly frozen. Checking the above photo of Hemingway drinking a Daiquiri in the El Floridita will reveal his drink is frozen. The fact that the drink has begun to separate clearly indicates this. By this stage the astute might be wondering if the photo is genuine. Would the real Hemingway have let a drink sit long enough to separate? There is an explanation though. Comparing Hemingway’s glass with those of his companions reveals that he is on his famous ‘Papa Dobles’ – a extra large ‘diabetic’ daiquiri for which a recipe is given below. Obviously a larger drink would take longer to consume and thus have more opportunity to separate. The photo has not been tampered with. Graham Greene provides further support for the authenticity of the Daiquiri frappe, with Wormold drinking frozen Daiquiris at the Havana Club: “They had another free daiquiri each, frozen so stiffly that it had to be drunk in tiny drops to avoid a sinus-pain.” The frozen Daiquiri was clearly being enjoyed during the Daiquiri’s glory days in pre-revolutionary Havana, even if Big Constante also served a shaken and strained version. You will struggle to find a good quality frozen Daiquiri these days, but if you are in a bar that uses fresh lime juice and has a blender you should give one a try.
Hemingway drinks what is clearly a frozen Daiquiri
So the fully liquid, liquid-with-ice-film, and frozen are all respectable textures for a Daiquiri. To achieve good results with any of these the key point is very cold ice. A liquid Daiquiri (strained or unstrained) requires enough very cold ice to completely fill the shaker, then needs to be shaken long and hard enough to make the outside of the shaker completely frost up. The long shake gets the drink as cold as possible, and also generates very fine ice chips if these are desired. A frozen Daiquiri requires enough cold crushed ice to cover the rum and lime, but not enough to deeply bury them. Brief blending should then yield a drink that is frozen, yet still pours easily. Too much ice will make the drink weak and too stiff to drink. The fact that every Daiquiri photographed with Hemingway has begun to separate suggests that they were not frozen very solid, so to be authentic go light on the ice rather than heavy. You can also make a frappe Daiquiri by simply shaking with crushed ice. I sometimes wonder whether the El Floridita might not have made their frozen Daiquiris this way rather than by blending. This gets a similar result to what you would get by using a blender. I guess it is not too big a deal either way.
Castro looks the worse for wear and lags by several drinks as Hemingway tackles yet another massive Daiquiri
Armed with the above knowledge you should be able to make an excellent Daiquiri. The next step is to examine a few variations.
David Embury Daiquiri
2 oz rum
½ oz lime juice
½ tsp sugar
This drink differs slightly from the first recipe in proportions. The first recipe is based on proportions of 4:2:1 (i.e. four parts of rum, two parts of lime juice, and one part of sugar). The David Embury recipe uses 8:2:1 proportions, making a drier and more rum-focused drink. This is the type of Daiquiri I like. Obviously there is room to improvise to suit your taste. The point is that the original 4:2:1 proportions can be adjusted. Different formulas might also work better with different rums.
Daiquiri Variation (Maraschino)
2 oz rum
½ oz lime juice
½ tsp sugar
Dash or two of Maraschino Liqueur
This is my favorite Daiquiri variation. You can get a perfectly made one of these in Constellation (an excellent little cocktail bar in Shanghai). I can’t remember now where I first saw this recipe. I think I found it somewhere labeled as a ‘Hemingway Daiquiri’ or similar, probably through confusion with the Papa Doble which also uses Maraschino. I suggested to Mr. Jin at Constellation that he added a dash of Maraschino to my usual Daiquiri. Ever since then I’ve preferred drinking them this way. In fact it is a pretty intuitive and straightforward variation on a Daiquiri – dozens of old-school cocktails were finished off with a dash of maraschino. The idea is to add complexity through a very subtle Maraschino flavor. The drink should still be about rum, but with a whisper of something else in the background. Although I never actually tried this, I bet a tiny dash of kirsch, or a dry apricot brandy (e.g. Barack Palinka), would make another interesting variation.
2 oz rum
1 oz lime juice
¼ oz grapefruit juice
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
½ tsp sugar
This was the house Daiquiri at the El Floridita Bar in Havana. The grapefruit makes a really nice addition, working almost like an alternative to sugar in taking the edge of the lime. This version is excellent frozen.
Papa Doble (Hemingway Daiquiri)
4 oz rum
2 oz lime juice
½ oz grapefruit juice
½ oz maraschino liqueur
This was Hemingway’s usual drink at the El Floridita, and is basically a double sized Floridita Daiquiri without the sugar. Since Hemingway was diabetic he limited his sugar intake, and apparently simultaneously doubled his rum intake to compensate. Hemingway drank them frozen, and the freezing probably helps mellow the acidity a little. Some suggest making the maraschino a float on the final drink. It is worth noting that potent, acidic, minimally sweetened drinks were quite common in the first few decades of the 20th Century, so a sugar free Daiquiri was not such an odd idea for the time. Obviously you could (perhaps should) either cut this one in half or share it between two.
Floridita Daiquiri (Vermouth Version)
1 ½ oz rum
½ oz lime juice
½ oz Italian vermouth
1/8 oz creme de cacao
1/8 oz grenadine
This is an intriguing variation whose origins I know nothing about. It is full of complex and hard to define flavors though and really needs to be tried. The vermouth alone provides nearly enough sweetness to balance the lime, so you don’t need to go heavy on the creme de cacao and grenadine. Pour them as light as you dare, to leave just a hint of chocolate in the aftertaste.
‘Floridita’ Daiquiri (Cointreau Version)
2 oz rum
½ oz lime juice
¼-½ oz Cointreau
This version really may be popular in Cuba these days since it was the drink I was given the one time a Cuban bartender made me a Daiquiri – admittedly this was in Shanghai so the guy may never have tended bar in his home country. Anyway, I asked if he could make an ‘original-style’ unblended Daiquiri (at the time I was still suffering from blender prejudice). He said “Ah! Floridita Daiquiri!”, and made the above. He made it on the sweet side. I would have preferred it a little drier but I had to go off and meet someone so left without having a second round. The Cuban barman was gone when I next visited so that drink was my one and only experience of a real Cuban Daiquiri. A simple and pleasant variation of the original.
Hotel Nacional Special Daiquiri
2 oz rum (recipe specifies golden so maybe go for the Havana Club Tres Anos)
1 ½ oz unsweetened pineapple juice (just get a pineapple and juice it – it’s not hard)
½ oz lime juice
1 tsp dry apricot brandy (i.e. Barack Palinka or similar)
Another interesting Daiquiri variation that was the house cocktail of a Havana Hotel. The hotel still exists but I have no idea if they still serve the drink. The recipe comes from the excellent Gumbo Pages. Pineapple juice becomes foamy when shaken, so this one should pour out with a frothy head, almost like a sour made with egg-white. The big splash of pineapple juice should make sugar unnecessary. The apricot brandy gives it a delicious fruity touch. It makes for a very light and refreshing drink. I don’t advise trying to make this with a sweet apricot brandy. It just won’t be the same.
I could go on and give more recipes but I am going to end it here. Those are all the classic and original Daiquiri recipes that I can think of. I have not given recipes for any frozen fruit Daiquiris, probably because they do not seem like classical Daiquiris to me. If you want to make one just muddle a little fruit in the mixing glass as your the step (aim for an ounce or so of fruit pulp), then proceed to make a Daiquiri normally from there. It’s as simple as that. With certain fruits you may end up with pits and other material, in which case you may be best to make a fruit pure and then strain that into the mixing glass. Adding a little fresh fruit to a basic Daiquiri recipe in this manner will make a pleasant drink that is lower in alcohol and more refreshing than the standard Daiquiri, similar to the Hotel Nacional Special above. The result should be a far superior fruit Daiquiri to anything made from pre-mixes or cheap fruit liqueurs.