Smile Politely

Cocktails 101: The Daiquiri

It’s possible that no classic cocktail has been as systematically debased as the Daiquiri.  A pretty strong assertion, I know, with the abuse that Martinis have to put up with regularly (last year, in hopes of stemming the madness, New Orleans held a funeral for the Appletini).  But everyone knows what a Martini is, even if they are misguided enough to use vodka in theirs.  When I told my coworker I was going to write an article about Daiquiris, she responded with “I didn’t know you liked strawberries.”  True story.

These days, Daiquiris most frequently come into our lives as spiked, technicolor brainfreezes, guaranteeing both dental problems and a hangover.  But a Daiquiri, ideally, is not just an alcoholic slushy, even if that’s how Ernest Hemingway was reputed to have enjoyed them (his were with fresh juice and without the high-fructose corn syrup, at least).  As with most drinks that are found frozen at questionable restaurants, it’s been debased to the point of unrecognizability, but it has a noble heart. 
So here’s the skinny: a Daiquiri is just an exotically named Rum Sour.  That is, it is a sour citrus juice (in this case lime juice, a nod to its tropical and colonial origins), rum, and a sweetener – usually sugar or sugar syrup.  It is named for a beach and neighboring mine in Cuba, and was supposedly created by American mining engineers resident in the area in the early part of the twentieth century.  If, as some origin stories claim, it was created when the gin ran out at a party, it is in fact a variation on a Gimlet, the same drink but, you know, with gin.  There are a number of versions – the most famous originating from Hemingway’s old haunt, the La Floridita bar in Havana – most of which focus on replacing the sweetener with something more interesting (grenadine, Maraschino, etc).  Those are all fun, but let’s get the original out of the way first, since it’s a perfect drink to make on your own (I’m all about minimalism in cocktails, and this one is nearly as minimal as it can be). 
First, a word about citrus juices.  Fresh citrus juice has a number of reactive aroma compounds in it, all of which are sensitive to light and air.  The upshot of this, unfortunately, is that pre-bottled citrus juices, or the sweetened, shelf-stable stuff, or even juice you squeezed yourself a couple hours ago is not going to taste the same (read: as good) as really fresh juice.  To get the most out of any drink that features citrus juice as an ingredient, it’s pretty important to squeeze the juice right before making the cocktail.  This might sound fussy, but I promise that once you go fresh, you’ll never go back.  On the upside, most citrus has quite a long shelf-life in the fridge (about a month), so it’s easy to keep lemons, limes, and oranges around. 
The other part of the Daiquiri, the sine qua non if you like your cocktails with a soupçon of pretension (who doesn’t, amirite?), is the rum, and this is where we all get lucky.  Rum, the distillate of molasses (most commonly) or sugar cane juice (in the case of rums from Martinique, the ubiquitous Ten Cane, and the related Brazilian spirit cachaça), is one of the world’s most variable spirits, and also one of the most affordable.  There is a rum out there you’ll like.  And you won’t have to break the bank for it.  Trying to categorize rum is beyond my abilities, because it varies dramatically not only between geographical locations, but between individual producers.  In general you’ll be looking at unaged (white) and aged rums (ignore the “golden” rums – they’re artificially colored white rums).  Either will make a fine Daiquiri, but except on special occasions I go with white rum, which has a less complex flavor (and is cheaper). 
Finally, making a Daiquiri requires having a shaker.  There are two main types of shakers on the market these days, Boston shakers, which most professionals use, and Cobbler shakers, the more common home type.  Cobbler shakers are all-in-one contraptions, consisting, generally, of a base, strainer top, and cap.  Boston shakers are two-piecers, with a metal bottom and glass or plastic mixing glass that form a seal, and require the use of a Hawthorne strainer.  Despite the need for an extra tool, I recommend you use a Boston shaker – you can pick one up at Friar Tuck’s – because it’s easier to clean and forms a more reliable seal (there’s nothing quite as embarrassing as wearing your cocktail).  I learned to use mine from a book – Imbibe!, by David Wondrich, which I can’t recommend enough – and his instructions are better than mine could ever be: 
“To shake a drink, simply combine all the ingredients in the glass (that way you can see if you’re missing anything), bung in the ice… and cover it with the shaker.  Then give the upturned bottom of the shaker a tap with your fist to seat it and shake it vigorously up and down like a piston with the metal part on the bottom, so that if – heaven forfend! – the seal should break, the mess will end up on you rather than on your guests.  To break the seal, hold the shaker in your weak hand, with your fingers overlapping the join between the parts.  Then take your other hand, point your fingers up to the ceiling, and with the heel of your hand sharply tap the spot on the mixing tin where the rim of the glass touches it inside.”  
The Daiquiri

  • 2 oz white rum
  • 1/2-3/4 oz lime juice (the juice of half a lime)
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup* 
    Combine all ingredients in a shaker, then add ice.  Shake until very cold, about 20-30 seconds.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  Try to pretend it isn’t snowing outside. 
    *To make simple syrup, simply combine equal parts (by volume) water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves.  This will keep for several weeks in the fridge; to keep it longer, add a couple tablespoons of some fairly neutral liquor (at least 80 proof).

In terms of white rums, I have a few recommendations but no real expertise.  Right now I’m using New Orleans White Rum, which is a nice, mild rum and is made in the US.  My preferences really lie towards Martinique rums, also called rhum agricole, which are made from sugar cane juice, rather than molasses.  They tend to be lighter, nuttier, and grassier than molasses-based rums, but are also more expensive.  If you want to try one, I recommend the Rhum Neisson, available at Piccadilly.  Avoid La Favorite, which I find tastes like plastic.  It is said that Cuban rum, like Havana Club, makes a fantastic Daiquiri, but since it’s not available in the US I haven’t tried it.  Bacardi, which began as the Cuban brand, is severely eh (and no longer Cuban).  My friends like Rhum Barbancourt, a Haitian rum reputed to be made in the style of rhum agricole (but without the actual legal requirements that those made on Martinique must follow).  It has strong vanilla and fusel-alcohol notes, which I find a bit overwhelming.  David Wondrich recommends Flor de Caña, which is Nicaraguan, and which I know they carry at Friar Tuck’s.  Luckily, most rum is pretty inexpensive, so you can buy a bottle that you end up not loving without an overwhelming sense of guilt.


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