The Daiquiri is one of my all-time favorite cocktails. It is also widely misunderstood. When many people picture a Daiquiri, it's in the form of brightly colored slush being dispatched from a machine operated by a lever. But this could not be further from the reality.
A true Daiquiri is simply white rum, lime juice, and sugar (or simple syrup), shaken and served up in a cocktail glass. No strawberries, no blender, no tiny umbrella. Today, in the midst of the revival, it is universally beloved by the bar industry, enjoying a level of adoration unmatched by any other drink, and that's no exaggeration.
My first proper Daiquiri was a revelatory experience. If you've never had one, drop everything now, get some good white rum - here are some suggestions - and become one of the enlightened.
As the recipe indicates, I like a little more lime than simple syrup in my Daiquiris. But everyone one is different, feel free to tinker with the balance. The lime disc, which is just a round peel, is to punch up the limey-ness a hair more. I really think it caps the drink off. It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but if you take the extra step, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
2 oz white rum
¾ oz lime juice
¾ oz simple syrup
lime disc with some flesh on it (optional) - here's an example
Combine all ingredients in a shaker, except for the lime disc. Fill with ice, shake for 8-10 seconds and fine strain into a chilled coupe glass. Express the oils of the disc and any juice over the top (shouldn't be more than 4-6 drops), swirl the disc in the glass once to integrate and then discard.
If you make a Daiquiri, let me see! Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.
Finding Your Perfect Daiquiri
Despite being one of the simplest drinks in existence, if you’ve flipped through any of the cocktail books released in the last decade you’ll notice that almost no two recipes are the same. Bartenders are very opinionated when it comes to their Daiquiris and they apply a myriad of tweaks to make, what is for them, the ultimate version of the classic - and they will defend their position fiercely if questioned. This is a great article from Punch that examines this phenomenon perfectly.
I’ve listed some of the more commonly employed alterations below. Though having tasted my way through them all in my own obsessive pursuit of perfection, I still always come back to the recipe I’ve listed above. For me, it is the quintessential expression of a Daiquiri. Its pristine simplicity is like a flawless uncut diamond. But that’s not to say these modified versions are inferior. On the contrary, they’re all delicious. And who knows, you may end up preferring one. Regardless, it's fun to tweak the formula now and again.
Many bartenders prefer using cane syrup in place of simple syrup. This generally means a rich 2:1 syrup made with evaporated cane sugar (that’s the more expensive sugar that’s a very slight tan color). It gives the cocktail a richer, almost creamy texture, with a hint of molasses flavor. Because of the added sugar, you’ll want to scale the syrup portion down to half an ounce in the recipe.
More Lime Juice
The great Sasha Petraske, who is sadly no longer with us, famously preferred Daiquiris with 1 ounce of lime instead of 3/4 oz. As such, many bartenders fall in this camp as well. I was skeptical about this at first, thinking it was just bartenders trying to act macho and drink less sugary drinks. But while I think that's just a little too much lime, I must concede it is surprisingly good. Tart yes, but not out of balance. Give it a try and see what you think.
Splash of Agricole Rhum
This is my favorite way to spruce up a Daiquiri, and sometimes I think I might actually like it better. Adding somewhere between a teaspoon and ¼ ounce of agricole gives the drink a little extra depth and a funky, grassy curveball. I particularly recommend Rhum JM Blanc, the 100 proof version. Incidentally, Daiquiris are also excellent using entirely agricole rhum as their base, or any portion of it for that matter.
I typically don’t recommend using raw sugar in cocktails, but in a Daiquiri, the bracing, concentrated edge it gives the drink is intriguing and worth the extra time it takes to dissolve the sugar - though it’s not sustainable in a high volume setting, in my opinion at least. Use 1 tablespoon of white granulated sugar in place of simple syrup. Stir (or swirl) it in the shaker with the lime juice for 30 seconds, add the rum and proceed. This is how Dave Wondrich’s and Jeff Berry - two writers I deeply respect and reference often - make their Daiquiris. Jeff talks about it here.
Shake with the Lime Shell
Shaking with the rind of a spent lime shell - meaning it’s already been juiced - is a neat little trick. The force from the churning ice extracts some extra oil while you shake. This punches up and brightens the lime flavor.
The success and failure of a Daiquiri largely depends on the white rum you use (ok, proper balance of lime and sugar is pretty important too). I generally don’t like to name preferred brands for specific drinks, I’m a firm believer that great cocktails are a product of the bartender, not the booze. But since so much of a bartender’s Daiquiri recipe has to do with the rum, in this case I’ll make an exception. I think Flor de Caña 4 makes the best Daiquiri, hands down. Though Caña Brava, Plantation 4 year, Denizen White and Santa Teresa Claro are all fantastic, as are plenty of others - El Dorado 3, Bank 5 Island, Brugal Especial and Cruzan Aged Light Rum, just to name a few.
Daiquiris are a blank canvas to which you can add just about any kind of fruit or other ingredient and come up with something tasty. Here are a few classic examples.
2 oz white rum ¾ oz lime juice ½ oz grapefruit juice ½ oz maraschino ¼ oz rich simple syrup or 2 teaspoons simple syrup Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Go to recipe page...
2 oz white rum scant 1 oz lime juice 1½ oz simple syrup small pinch salt (optional) 1½ cups ice Blend for 8-10 seconds and pour into glass. Garnish with a lime disc. Go to recipe page...
I didn’t say a Daiquiri couldn’t have strawberries, just that it wasn’t traditional.
2 oz white rum
¾ oz lime juice
¾ oz simple syrup
Muddle the strawberry in simple syrup and proceed as above. You’ll probably want to fine strain this one.
The History of the Daiquiri
Drinks made or rum, lime and sugar have been consumed in the Caribbean for as long as those ingredients have existed. The creator of the Daiquiri did not create the combination - that’s like saying the person who invented Kleenex came up with the concept of wiping your nose. Some drinks are so basic they are inevitable. This being the case, it’s ironic that unlike most cocktails that are over 100 years old, we actually do have a pretty good idea of where and when a drink called a Daiquiri originated.
Jennings S. Cox (& Friends)
It was in 1896 in, or around, the town of Daiquirí, Cuba, near Santiago - where Bacardi Rum was also made. This was a tumultuous time in Cuba. They were in the midst of an uprising against their Spanish rulers, a conflict known as the War for Independence. It began in 1895 and culminated with American intervention in 1898, aka the Spanish American War. While the war itself didn’t contribute directly to the creation of the Daiquiri, it did have a hand in spreading it back to the United States and beyond.
The leading candidate for Daiquiri creator is Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer who served as general manager of the mines in Daiquirí for the Spanish-American Iron Ore Company (they remained neutral during the conflict because the business was mutually profitable for both sides). Most stories - and there are a few - involve Jennings entertaining one or a few guests when he discovered he was out of good booze and left with only domestic rum. Not wanting to serve it straight, he decided to shoot from the hip and mixed it together with some lime and sugar, and served it in a tall glass with ice. Marveling at this tasty new concoction they decided to christen it a “Daiquiri”.
A concurrent version of this story comes from Robert Huntington Lyman Jr, an engineer colleague of Cox’s who was stationed with him in Daiquiri along with a few others- there were 7 in all. He wrote a letter to a 1935 newspaper detailing his memory of how the Daiquiri came to be, which David Wondrich profiles in this article. This gist is that it was a joint effort. As he tells it, there wasn’t much else to drink down there but rum and they played around with it in different concoctions, having particular success with ice when they were able to get their hands on it. Eventually, they settled on their prototypical Daiquiri. I’m more apt to believe Lyman’s account, since it’s a little more vague, and I’m not one to contradict Wondrich.
Officer’s Clubs and Beyond
Details aside, while they may not have been the first ones to put these three ingredients together, Cox and his colleagues certainly did so in a manner that caught the attention of all they shared it with, and share it they did. Soon many of the surrounding bars in Santiago were serving Daiquiris, among them were the Anglo-American Club - which saw a lot of traffic from American Army and Naval officers, The San Carlos Club and the Hotel Venus.
As to when the drink actually became known as the Daiquiri is another point of contention. Despite some popular stories to the contrary, evidence suggests that it took a little while. One version is that after a few years a bartender at the San Carlos Club dubbed it the “Ron (rum) a la Daiquiri” when Cox couldn’t think of a name for the drink himself.
At any rate, by 1909 the name was set when another key moment in the Daiquiri’s rise took place. Two Naval medical officers named
Lucius Johnson and John Manchester visited Daiquiri and encountered Jennings Cox. He introduced them to his signature drink and they - as enamored with it as everyone else - brought it home with them to the Army-Navy Club in Washington. From there the Daiquiri was on its way to sweeping the nation. That D.C. bar is now called the Army & Navy Club Daiquiri Lounge.
Recipes for the Daiquiri begin to appear in cocktail books in the 19-teens just before prohibition. From the outset, they called for the drink to be strained and served up in a coupe, rather than in a tall glass with ice, as Cox’s original recipe stipulates. Cox also reportedly used brown sugar in his, which didn’t make its way into print either. At some point, one of his colleagues tried to remedy this, but it was too late - which I think is just as well. While we're on the subject, Cox's Daiquiri recipe initially called for lemon juice, but this was quickly changed because limes were so ubiquitous in Cuba - also because lime is better.
As David Wondrich notes in Imbibe, the Daiquiri was the first classic cocktail to be invented outside of the United States, which turned out to be instrumental in its success. Once prohibition hit the U.S. in 1919, thirsty Americans looked to nearby Cuba just 90 miles south to fill the void. This brought a wave of tourism to the Island, which had an established nightlife scene that kept people coming back for more. In the process, drinks like the Daiquiri, Mojito, and rum, in general, moved to the forefront of drinking culture.
From here, the history of the Daiquiri shifts to the 1930s in Havana, Cuba and La Florida Bar where we meet two new central cast members: master barman Constantino “Constante” Ribialigua Vert and one of his regulars, Ernest Hemingway. This part of the story continues on the Hemingway Daiquiri page.