A Sub-Tropical Classic: The Fun-in-the-Sun Daiquiri

The Daiquiri is the quintessential rum libation, flavorful and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart. It was born in the Caribbean and eventually swept across the globe like a blast of good news. Crisp, refreshing and amazingly delicious, the Daiquiri is experiencing a resurgence in the United States that borders on the phenomenal.

This is a trend worth riding. The drink enjoys all of the attributes requisite for longevity. It’s easy to make well and loaded with exotic appeal.

A Varied, Yet Delicious, History

The cocktail originated around 1905 in a bar named Venus in Santiago, Cuba, roughly 20 miles from the Daiquiri Iron Mine. It was created by a group of DaiquiriAmerican engineers who originally prepared the drink in a tall glass packed with cracked ice. The process started with a teaspoon of sugar and the juice from two fresh limes. The glass was topped off with 2 to 3 ounces of light rum. The finishing touch was stirring the concoction with a long-handled spoon, a technique referred to as “swizzling or frosting.”

The Daiquiri’s big break came in 1909 when Admiral Lucius W. Johnson, a U.S. Navy officer, visited the mine and tasted the local favorite. Duly impressed, Johnson subsequently introduced it to the bartenders at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C. It was there that the Daiquiri evolved to be mixed in a shaker with the same ingredients and shaved ice. After a thorough shaking, it was poured into a chilled Champagne saucer or Martini glass.

The cocktail’s fame grew from there. The Daiquiri became a phenomenon in the 1920s and ’30s, especially in Cuba when the island was famous for having the swankest clubs, an international clientele and the most capable bartenders in the world. The Daiquiri was one of the drinks made famous in the works of Ernest Hemingway. Its popularity also received a huge boost when in 1961 it was reported that the Daiquiri was President Kennedy’s favorite cocktail.

Making the Perfect Daiquiri

The first secret to mastering the Daiquiri is balance. The three elements that need to be in synch are the tartness of the lime juice, the sweetness of the sour mix and the flavor of the featured rum. Err too much in any direction and the cocktail becomes unpalatable. Too sweet and the drink will be cloying; too tart and the flavor of the rum will be buried by acidity and pithy bitterness. While each is unpalatable, perhaps the most objectionable is over-portioning the rum, which will result in an unpleasant and overpowering experience.

A reliable jumping-off point for a Daiquiri is the traditional ratio of 1 part rum to 2 parts fresh lime sour mix. The two principal variables will be the flavor of the base lime mix — some are more tart than others — and the character of the featured rum. The recipe also may be somewhat affected by seasonality issues. Limes vary greatly in flavor and succulence depending on the time of year.

One piece of advice: In your enthusiasm to create the best and brightest Daiquiris, don’t overlook the original. The classic recipe for a Daiquiri is light rum, sugar and fresh lime juice (a.k.a. fresh lime sour mix), which then is shaken vigorously and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Few cocktails afford a better opportunity to enjoy a wide array of rums. There’s a reason it’s the original, after all.

To help get you in a sub-tropical state of mind, here are the best-kept secrets behind America’s greatest Daiquiris.

Shake or Blend? Isn’t this the age-old question? Let style dictate form. The decision depends entirely on what type of results you’re looking to achieve. If the recipe calls for whole fruit or a puree, blending is the preferred method. Blending a Daiquiri will produce a tall and beautiful concoction.

On the other hand, blending a cocktail with ice might potentially dull the nuances and subtleties that would normally shine through if it had been hand-shaken. It’s a technique that ensures the ingredients are thoroughly integrated and the cocktail quickly reaches proper serving temperature.

If you are so inclined, try preparing the same recipe by the two different methods and sample the results side by side. One likely finding will be that the blended drink lacks the brilliance and vibrancy of the hand-shaken cocktail. A viable response is to bump up the portion of each ingredient. If diminished flavor is a result of ice dilution, just use more of everything. If a little is good, a little more is better.

Spirit Choices. The Daiquiri traditionally is prepared with light rum. Flavorful and crystal-clear, it’s a natural in the leading role. One of the allures of the cocktail is its glorious lime-enriched appearance; a clear spirit leaves the color of the lime juice unaffected. Blended Daiquiris made with light rum, however, often have a pale, washed-out look to them. One option is to splash in Rose’s Lime Juice to bolster the color of the drink or reach for a bottle of gold rum instead.

The clear advantage of preparing Daiquiris with gold rums is that they look as enticing as they taste. Dark rums contribute a rich amber hue to the cocktail, all without adding excess weight to the drink.

No where is it written that you can’t enlist the services of more than one type of rum in your specialty cocktail. For example, the Charles Daiquiri is a delectable concoction made with light and dark rum, Cointreau and fresh lime juice. Splitting the spirit base is a proven technique for instilling a Daiquiri with dimension and personality.

Another among the highly marketable features of the Daiquiri is its unsurpassed ability to showcase an unlimited variety of premium rums. Change the base rum and much of the character of the cocktail will change as well. The other absolute about the Daiquiri is the better the rum, the better the resulting drink.

In that vein, consider featuring a premium añejo rum in your next specialty Daiquiri. It adds layers of irresistible flavors, a dark, wood-induced color and a set of alluring aromas to the cocktail unobtainable in any other way. No two añejo rums are the same. A rum distilled and aged on the island of Barbados, for example, will taste significantly different than one aged on Trinidad, Jamaica or Cuba for the same length of time. That means a Daiquiri made with Mount Gay Extra Old will be appreciable differently than a similarly devised cocktail featuring Appleton Estate V/X, Pyrat X.O. or Guatemalan Zaya Gran Reserva.

Then there are the glorious aged rums from the French-speaking islands, those distilled from fresh cane juice rather than molasses. These are the famed Caribbean rhum agricoles, preeminent brands such as Rhum Clemént from Martinique, Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti and French-made 10 Cane from Trinidad. There is a fresh herbaceous quality to these world-class rhums that make them highly desirable, especially when crafting Daiquiris.

The Daiquiri is an excellent vehicle for featuring a spiced rum, or nearly any one of the numerous flavored rums on the market. Certainly thought also should be given to featuring a premium cachaça in a Daiquiri. These distinctively flavorful Brazilian spirits are typically distilled from fresh cane juice and aged in various types of wood.

The Lime Connection. The chassis of a handcrafted Daiquiri is essentially the same base sour mix found in the undercarriage of a Margarita. The quality and character of the fresh lime sour mix will largely determine the personality of the finished cocktail. Key to success are using fresh ingredients and balancing the tartness of the lime. When deciding what type of sweetener to use, consider guarapa, a syrup derived from fresh cane juice. It is ideal for use in any rum-based cocktail.

The Modifier Spectrum. Modifiers allow you to take the Daiquiri in any creative direction your imagination and good taste decide to go. It should come as little surprise that the most frequently relied upon Daiquiri modifier is fresh fruit or fruit puree. While Strawberry Daiquiris and Banana Daiquiris will forever remain popular, the options are bounded only by your access to fruit. The cocktail is ideal for showcasing unusual fruit, such as ripe mangos, papaya, kiwis, starfruit or guava. Many exotic fruits now are available year round, both fresh and frozen.

Adding in a measure of similarly flavored rum is an ideal way to enhance the taste of the featured fruit. For example, if you’re working with fresh mangos, a recommended additional step is to add a measure of Cruzan or Appleton Estate mango-flavored rum. The fresh fruit and the flavored rum harmonize together beautifully.

The next best thing to working with fresh fruit is to use different combinations of juice to modify the drink. For example, the Florida Daiquiri is made with grapefruit juice and a splash of grenadine. Passion fruit, pomegranate and pomegranate juice blends, orange juice and prickly pear are all frequently relied-upon modifiers.

Liqueurs also often are drafted into service as modifiers. For example, at the legendary La Floridita Hotel in Havana, the signature of the house is the La Floridita Daiquiri, which adds a quarter ounce of Cointreau to the original Daiquiri recipe. The French Daiquiri is made with crème de cassis, while Maraschino liqueur is used to make a Hemingway Daiquiri.

Added Flourish. Sure, it’s understandable that you’re eager to present your new specialty Daiquiri to friends, neighbors and guests, but before you do, make sure that it’s appropriately dressed for its public debut. Elaborate fruit garnishes and colorful sugar rims are two ways to add pizzazz.

Dark rums are ideal for drizzling or floating on top of a Daiquiri. They add a great flavor and greatly enhance the drink’s presentation. Drizzles and floats are especially effective on light-colored, light-flavored drinks.

Swirl Daiquiris are another creative way to enjoy different rums. Swirls are frozen drinks prepared simultaneously in two different blenders. The concoctions are then layered or swirled together in a house specialty glass. Each component can feature a different type of rum. For instance, one layer could be a raspberry Daiquiri made with Mount Gay Eclipse, while the other a banana Daiquiri made with Cruzan Estate Light Rum. Finish it with a dollop of whipped cream and drizzle of Appleton V/X Jamaica rum.

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