Daiquiri Cocktails - the drinks history & its perfect proportions

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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 Daiquiri’s creation is credited to Jennings Stockton Cox, an American engineer at the turn of the 20th century.

The Daiquiri's Story

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 he was there that he created his classic drink.

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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.

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Jennings Cox

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 their 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

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...

Ingredients and formula

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"

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This original recipe and other such historical references specify Bacardi Carta Blanca as the rum used to make a Daiquiri. Thus to make an authentic Daiquiri you should use a light white rum. And as Bacardi purports to be made using the same strain of cultured yeast and recipe as in Jennings Cox's day, then modern day Bacardi Carta Blanca is a natural choice. I find that Bacardi has a delicate mushroom/blue cheese note, which adds a distinctive character that I like in the finished drink. In the interest of balanced editorial, I should also mention I'm also a fan of El Dorado 3 Year Old in my Daiquiris. It's important to use a light-bodied white rum as an autentic Daiquiri is a delicate and subtle cocktail.

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 then 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 cup of filtered water into a saucepan and over a very low heat, so as not to even come close to boiling, stir in two cups 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 Carta Blanca light rum, freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar syrup (2:1). Now for the perfect proportions.

Perfect proportions

London's most famous bartender, Dick Bradsell, originally taught me 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 of: 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's recipe. Known as the 'countdown' 3:2:1 formula), I have experimented with this but found that while tequila is robust enough to shine above the citrus flavour in a Margarita, such a large proportion of lime tends to overpower the more delicate flavours of light rum in a Daiquiri.

I do prefer a slight increase in the amount of lime but only in proportion to a similar 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 my 10:3:2 formula.

Perfect dilution

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 mixing a perfect Daiquiri. However, as crushed ice is so variable in its wetness and so the amount of dilution it adds to a drink unpredictable, instead I prefer to shake with large cubes of ice taken directly from a freezer (not ice machine) with the addition of ½ oz (15ml) iced water. I then aim to shake with such vigour that there are fragments of 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.

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Straight-up, on-the-rocks or blended?

In my formative Daiquiri drinking years I followed the convention that a Daiquiri No.1 should be served 'straight-up'. However, I have now reverted to drinking my Daiquiris 'on-the-rocks' and interestingly Cox's original recipe suggests that this may also be the way he originally intended the drink to be served. In his diary Cox stipulates, "Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Do not strain as the glass may be served with some ice." And as Albert S. Crockett notes of this drink in his 1935 "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book", "Personal preference dictates serving the cocktail with finely shaved ice in the glass."

Obviously serving a drink over ice will add dilution so rendering the additional dash of water to my 10:3:2 Daiquiri formula superfluous. Having tried 'up' and 'on-the-rocks' Daiquiris made to the same formula next to each other I have to admit that more nuances are found in the 'up' version compared to 'on-the-rocks'. However, I prefer holding and drinking from a big heavy old-fashioned glass rather than a delicate V-shaped martini glass or curvaceous coupe. Thus, I now vary my serve according to mood but with a splash of water added when served straight-up and omitted when served on-the-rocks.

The 'frozen' blended Daiquiri is said to have first been produced by Emilio Gonzalez at the Plaza Hotel in Cuba. However, it was made famous by Constantino (Constante) Ribalagua Vert who presided over the bar at Havana's La Florida (later renamed Floridita to distinguish it from the restaurant of the same name) for some forty years until his death in early December 1952.

In his 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David A. Embury writes of Havana's Floridita, "This restaurant, at the corner of Obispo and Monserrate streets in Havana, became known as 'La Catedral del Daiquiri' (The Temple of the Daiquiri) and Ribalagua as the Cocktail King - 'El Rey de los Coteleros'". The title was, indeed, well deserved. His limes were gently squeezed with his fingers lest even a drop of the bitter oil from the peel got into the drink; the cocktails were mixed (but not over mixed) in a Waring Blender; the stinging cold drink was strained through a fine sieve into the glass so that not one tiny piece of the ice remained in it. No smallest detail was overlooked in achieving the flawless perfection of the drink.

Ernest Hemingway, the hard-drinking, Nobel prize-winning author, lived in Cuba for years, indulging his passions for fishing, shooting and boozing. In the 30s and the 40s he would often work his way through twelve of the Floridita's frozen Daiquiris - often doubles, renamed 'Papa Dobles' in his honour. The Hemingway Special Daiquiri, which includes grapefruit, was created for him.

In his book 'Islands in the Stream', Hemingway's hero stares deep into his frozen Daiquiri, and Hemingway writes, "It reminded him of the sea. The frappéd part of the drink was like the wake of a ship and the clear part was the way the water looked when the bow cut it when you were in shallow water over marl bottom. That was almost the exact colour."

There's nothing like a Frozen Daiquiri to quench your thirst on a hot summer's day and after experimentation I use a 16:6:6:1 formula with the all-important Luxardo Maraschino.

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What's in a name?

I first visited Cuba with my friend Jamie Terrell back in the days when he was still working behind the stick at London's Atlantic Bar & Grill. Fortunately, Jamie speaks 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 shaken rather than blended Daiquiri.

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).

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Quick links to classic Daiquiri recipes

Daiquiri No.1 Natural (Difford's 10:3:2 formula)
Daiquiri No.1 Natural (Embury's 8:2:1 formula)
Daiquiri No.1 Natural ('countdown' 3:2:1 formula)
Daiquiri No.1 On-the-rocks (Difford's 10:3:2 formula)
Daiquiri No.1 Frozen (Difford's 16:6:6:1 formula)
Daiquiri No.1 (El Floridita style)
Daiquiri No.2 with triple sec and orange juice
Daiquiri No.2 (El Floridita style) with sweet vermouth, white cacao and grenadine
Daiquiri No.3 - with grapefruit and maraschino liqueur
Daiquiri No.4 (Florida style) - golden rum based with maraschino liqueur
Daiquiri No.5 (Pink Daiquiri) - with pomegranate syrup and maraschino
Hemingway Special Daiquiri (Papa Doble) - double the rum with grapefruit and maraschino
Mulata Daiquiri - with aged rum and originally Bacardi Elixir - now with crème de cacao

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