Pronounced ‘Dye-Ker-Ree’, this drink bears a close relationship to the Canchanchara, a 19th century Cuban blend of rum, lemon, honey and water, but the Daiquiris creation is credited Jennings Stockton Cox, an American engineer.
In 1898, after Roosevelt’s victory at the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Americans began to exploit Cuba’s iron-ore mines and Cox led one of the initial exploratory expeditions. Cox and his team worked in the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the south-eastern shore of Cuba where the small town of Daiquirí lies and it was while there that he created his classic drink.
The engineers received substantial salaries and generous tobacco rations, after all there had to be some inducements for these qualified engineers to leave secure positions in the USA and brave the threat of yellow fever in Cuba. Thankfully our hero also requested they each received a monthly ration of the local rum, Bacardi Carta Blanca, and noticing that the Cuban workers often mixed Bacardi with their evening coffee, he began to experiment himself.
Drinks legend has it that another engineer called Pagliuchi was viewing mines in the region and met with Cox. During their meeting they set about making a drink from the ingredients Cox had to hand: rum, limes and sugar. Cox’s granddaughter recounts a slightly different tale; namely that Cox ran out of gin when entertaining American guests. Wary of serving them straight rum, he added lime and sugar. However Cox came to concoct the drink, the result was sublime.
On page 38 of his 1928 book, ‘When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba’, Basil Woon writes that this drink was popular with a group who used to meet in Santiago’s Venus bar every morning at eight o’clock. “The boys used to have three or four every morning. Most of them worked in the Daiquiri mines, the superintendent of which was a gentleman named Cox - Jennings Cox. One morning in the Venus Cox said: “Boys, we’ve been drinking this delicious little drink for some time, but we’ve never named it. Let’s christen it now!” The boys milled around a bit and finally Cox said: “I’ll tell you what, lads - we all work at Daiquiri and we all drank this drink first there. Let’s call it a Daiquiri.”
Basil Woon’s account documents the origin and naming of the Daiquiri and unlike many other cocktails where there creation is lost in time, that of the Daiquiri is well substantiated, including the original recipe, recorded by Jennings Cox in his personal diary.
The Daiquiri seems to have travelled back to America with US Admiral Lucius Johnson, who fought in the Spanish-American war of 1898. He introduced the drink to the Army & Navy Club in Washington DC and a plaque in their Daiquiri Lounge records his place in cocktail history.
The Perfect Daiquiri Recipe
In his seminal 1948 ‘Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’, David A. Embury writes, “The Daiquiri, like the Old-Fashioned, deserves an even greater popularity than it now enjoys. For example, it is in my opinion, a vastly superior cocktail to the Manhattan, yet most bars sell more Manhattans than Daiquiris. So far as I can ascertain there are two main reasons why more Daiquiris are not sold: the use of inferior rums and the use of improper proportions.”
To address those two points...
In his personal diary Jennings Cox records his original Daiquiri recipe (to serve six) as follows: “The juice of six lemons; Six teaspoons full of sugar; Six Bacardi cups (‘Carta Blanca’); Two small cups of mineral water; Plenty of crushed ice”
This original recipe and other such historical references specify ‘Bacardi Carta Blanca’ (now known as Bacardi Superior) as the rum used to make a Daiquiri. Thus to make a truly authentic Daiquiri you should use this rum as it purports to be made using the same strain of cultured yeast and recipe so maintains its original flavour profile. Bacardi Superior has a delicate mushroom/blue cheese note, which adds a distinctive character to the finished drink.
Although Cox’s recipe records the use of lemons it is most likely that he is actually referring to limes which are native to Cuba and that the confusion arises due to the common Cuban term for lime being ‘limón. Again to quote from Embury, “Actually lemons are almost unknown in Cuba, whereas lime trees grow in everyone’s own yard.”
Embury’s own recipe calls for sugar syrup and this is something with which I whole-heartedly agree as granulated or caster sugar does not as readily dissolve in cold liquid. If you must insist in ‘spooning’ rather than pouring your sugar please use a mortar and pestle to first crush caster sugar to a fine powder, often termed ‘bar sugar’ or ‘powdered sugar’.
Better still, make your own sugar syrup by pouring one mug of filtered water into a saucepan and over a very low heat, so as not to even come close to boiling, stir in two mugs of caster sugar. Allow to cool, bottle and store in a refrigerator where it will last for a couple of months.
Thus we have our ingredients: Bacardi Superior, freshly squeezed lime juice and 2-to-1 (double strength) sugar syrup. Now to the perfect proportions.
London’s most famous bartender, Dick Bradsell, originally taught me David Embury’s 8:2:1 Daiquiri formula and I used to believe this was the best (I still do when making Daiquiris with aged rum. Embury’s 8:2:1 Daiquiri consists: 8 parts (2 shots) white label Cuban rum, 2 parts (1/2 shot) lime juice and 1 part (1/4 shot) sugar syrup.
Some bartenders make Daiquiris according to the classic Margarita formula with twice as much lime and sugar as Embury. I have experimented with this but found that while tequila is robust enough to shine above the citrus flavour such a large proportion of lime tends to overpower the more delicate flavours of light rum. However, I do prefer a small increase in lime but in proportion to a simular small increase in the rum. After all a mere two measures of rum would hardly satisfy great Daiquiri drinkers such as Hemingway. Thus I have now settled on the 10:3:2 formula show in the recipe here.
Embury’s mixing instructions are, “Shake vigorously with plenty of finely crushed ice and strain into chilled cocktail glasses.” This is to add dilution, a crucial aspect to perfecting the Daiquiri. As crushed ice is so variable in its wetness and so also the amount of dilution it adds to a drink, instead I prefer to shake with large cubes of double frozen ice taken from a freezer with the addition of 1/2 shot iced water. (I ‘double freeze’ cubed ice produced by ice machine). I shake with such vigour that there is indeed crushed ice left in the shaker when I strain the drink. This makes for an ice-cold Daiquiri with the controlled dilution essential to great straight-up Daiquiris.
What’s in the Name
I first visited Cuba with Jamie Terrell back in the days when he was still working behind the stick at London’s Atlantic Bar & Grill and not living a cachaça laced jet-set lifestyle in New York. Fortunately Jamie spoke reasonable Spanish thanks to a sun-drenched season bartending on the Costa del Sol so as we toured Havana’s bars in search of the perfect Daiquiri we were able to question the bartenders. Our first lesson was that asking for a mere “Daiquiri” would result in being handed a blended Daiquiri. We quickly learnt that in Cuba you need to ask for a “Natural Daiquiri” when seeking a Daiquiri shaken rather than blended.
Wherever you are in the world, when ordering a Daiquiri you need to convey to the bartender exactly what Daiquiri you desire. It is essential to be specific otherwise ordering just a ‘Daiquiri’ could result in your being asked, “What flavour would you like - strawberry, banana, mango or pineapple?” In such cases answering “just lime please” often leaves the questioner perplexed.
To further confuse the ordering of a Daiquiri, the great Ribalagua listed his Daiquiri adaptations as Daiquiri No.2, No.3, No.4 and No.5. Thus a simple ‘original’ or ‘classic’ Daiquiri should properly be termed ‘Daiquiri No.1’ and this can be served either ‘Natural’ (straight-up), ‘On-The-Rocks’ (over cubed ice) or ‘Frozen’ (blended with crushed ice).