Guess what, everyone? July 19th is National Daiquiri Day! So, naturally, today we’re going to talk about the daiquiri.
First off, let’s clear something up right away: when I’m talking about daiquiris here, I’m not talking about those frozen, brightly-colored concoctions that spew from those giant industrial slurpee machines behind the bar. Those kind of daiquiris didn’t appear until 1937, when the Waring Blendor premiered at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago. Named after the popular bandleader Fred Waring (who helped support the original invention and fine-tuned the prototype), the new blender was eagerly accepted by overworked bartenders as a major time-saver, allowing them to churn out iced drinks at a prodigious rate. Thanks to bars picking up this new machine, daiquiris were “improved” to the point where they could be eaten like sherbet with a spoon. Some bartenders even started adding egg whites in the 1960s, making them even thicker. This freezing technique also conveniently destroyed any detectable trace of the rum itself, instead allowing the cold and the fruit flavors to dominate the palette. After a while, you sort of wonder why you have any rum in it at all, much less good rum—and thus the virgin daiquiri was born ;).
While such machines are a great way to churn out drinks for a large crowd, such drinks have little resemblance to the artistry and time required to make original daiquiris. Propr to 1937, a daiquiri required the squeezing of limes, the careful measuring of sugar, proper shaking and sometimes even a coat of powdered sugar along a lime-soaked cocktail glass rim. Bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, bartender and owner of La Floridita—and the first person to introduce daiquiris to Earnest Hemingway—had a particular technique to his drink making. A flamboyant and entertaining bartender, Vert liked to line up a series of cocktail glasses full of ice, pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake the stuff up and then arc it from one half of the shaker to the other just for kicks. Then he’d chuck the ice out of the glasses, line ’em up, and fill them with a single sweeping gesture one after the other—all without spilling a single drop! Visitors would show up simply to watch him pour. As drink historian David Wondrich said in a Times-Picayune article, “he was the show…you went to the bar so you could say that Constantino made me a drink.”
Constantino is credited with inventing over 200 new drinks, but his most famous ones are the four daiquiri types he invented at his famous bar, El Floridita. I’ll be including those in a post later this week about Hemingway and the daiquiri. For now, let’s take a look at some standard vintage daiquiri recipes. While all daiquiris contain rum, lime, and sugar, as you will see that unlike that frozen stuff, ice is NOT a part of the drink itself.
T H E D A I Q U I R I :
While the daiquiri itself is much older than Prohibition, the drink became popular with American tourists during the Roaring Twenties. Like Paris before it, Cuba was an exciting new destination for Americans looking to drink well while on vacation. Thousands of bars and hotels sprung up overnight to accommodate the new influx of tourism, and any bartender could whip up some variation on the local combination of lime, sugar, and rum. Americans found such concoctions surprisingly light and refreshing, especially since white Cuban rum was quite a different creature from the traditional dark New England rum back home. The following vintage recipes feature some slight variations on the lime, sugar, and rum theme. If they also look a bit familiar, that’s probably because of my earlier post on the Bacardi Cocktail, a lemon-scented cousin of the traditional daiquiri.
T H E 1 9 1 3 V E R S I O N :
One portion grenadine syrup, three portions Bacardi rum, juice of one lime. Shake well, and strain into cocktail glass.
T H E 1 9 2 2 V E R S I O N :
Robert of the Embassy Club, who wrote up this version of the daiquiri, claims that the drink is “well known in Cuba and the Southern States of the U.S.A.,” which was likely thanks to the U.S. Naval officer discussed below.
Fill the shaker half full of broken ice and add:
2/6 gill of Bacardi.
1/6 gill of fresh Lime Juice.
Sweeten with Grenadine.
Shake well and strain into a cocktail-glass.
T H E 1 9 3 4 V E R S I O N :
1 Jigger Bacardi Rum
2 Dashes Grenadine Syrup
Juice of 1 Lime
Shake well with cracked ice and strain.
O R I G I N S :
Of course, the idea of combining rum, sugar, and lime can hardly be called new. According to Richard Foss’s Rum: A Global History, “the trinity of rum, citrus and sugar makes it appearance very early” in world history, with all the ingredients for a Mojito (sugar, rum, lemons and limes) being a part of Columbus’ inventory when he sailed to the Caribbean for the second time back in the late 1400s. Rum, sugar, and lime were also commonly found on English ships, especially after Admiral Edward Vernon decreed in 1740 that sailors be issued limes and sugar to add to their grog rations to help stave off scurvy. Rum punch, another early combination of rum, sugar, citrus and spices, was also popular in England from 1649 through the 1890s, with its popularity hitting a high note in the 1720s. The drinks were refreshing and good at concealing sub-par rum, making them popular for much the same reason that Americans drank highly flavored cocktails during Prohibition.
As for the daiquiri itself, according to legend its origins can found in two stories about Americans during the Spanish-American Civil War. The first story involves Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer stationed in the town of Daiquiri in Cuba, not far from Santiago. One of the first iron miners to settle on the island once the war ended, Cox is also credited with creating the first recognizable daiquiri. There are many variants of Cox’s story, but Wayne Curtis describes the most common version in his book And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails:
In one telling, Cox and another foreign engineer spent a dusty afternoon touring abandoned mines near Cobre in 1896. The day’s work over, they retired to Cox’s home for a drink, where the host was mortified to discover that he lacked imported gin or whiskey to serve his guest. With only the local rum that he wouldn’t serve straight, he improvised: he put lime juice and sugar into a cocktail shaker and gave it a lively shaking. The result was surprisingly delicious. “What is this cocktail?” asked the marveling visitor. Cox admitted that it hadn’t been properly christened, but allowed that it was probably a rum sour or something of the sort. The guest found this name insufficiently laudatory. “This name isn’t worthy of such a fine and delicious cocktail,” he exclaimed. “We’ll call it a daiquiri!”
The other story involves a corpulent military officer named William Shafter who supposedly liked his booze and food better than he liked fighting. He supposedly tried the local drink of the “Cuban patriot” in 1898, a muddle of rum, lime, and sugar, and declared that “only one ingredient is missing–ice,” and thus the daiquiri was born!As for Americans becoming aware of the drink outside of Cuba, we can first thank Admiral Lucius W. Johnson for that, a US Navy officer who fell in love with the drink the first time he visited the island nation. It was he who took the drink with him back to Washington DC and introduced it to his Navy pals in 1909. After that, the drink passed into the hands of American bartenders, who tinkered with it until we get the versions we enjoy today—both the clear, cool, refined variety and the brightly colored slushy.
The other person we should thank for popularizing the daiquiri, of course, is Earnest Hemingway. Without him, the daiquiri might have stayed a simple local drink within Cuba. Instead, thanks to his famous taste for Cuban rum throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the daiquiri has lasted through the decades. Today, its’ a symbol of fun, frivolity and summer. As reporter Katie Workman says in her fun, short article on daiquiris, the drink is like “a tiny vacation in a glass…sometimes…with a teeny tiny beach umbrella.”
So get out there and have a daiquiri today. Whether you order a frozen slushy treat straight out of the blender, or you ask for a classy iced glass full of chilled rum and lime, you’ll be sure to enjoy it. Happy national daiquiri day! 😀
Curtis, Wayne. 2006. And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
Foss, Richard. 2012. Rum: A Global History. Reaktion Books, Ltd: London, UK.
Workman, Katie. June 24th, 2009. “The Drink Hemingway Made Famous.” The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/06/24/the-drink-hemingway-made-famous.html
Petro, Brian. May 14th, 2014. “Classic Cocktails of History: The Daiquiri.” The Alcohol Professor. https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/2014/05/14/classic-cocktails-in-history-the-daiquiri/
Price, Todd. July 17th, 2014. “Tales of the Cocktail takes a trip to Havana and the legendary El Floridita Bar (with 2 recipes)” The Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans. http://www.nola.com/drink/index.ssf/2014/07/tales_of_cocktail_took_a_trip.html
Paget, R. L. (pseudonym). 1925 edition. The Cocktail Book: A Sideboard Manual for Gentlemen. Boston, MA: L. C. Page Publishers. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89038582425;view=1up;seq=53
Viermiere, Robert. 1922. Cocktails, how to mix them. London, UK: The Mayflower Press. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31175035242356;view=1up;seq=29
Duffy, Patrick Gavin. 1934. The Official Mixer’s Manual. New York, NY: R. Long & R. R. Smith. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31822031041288;view=1up;seq=169