I'm sitting at one of my favorite bars enjoying a rare night off, and in walks a bartender I know, fresh off his shift. The first words out of his mouth are “Wray & Nephew daiquiri, please!” This is an order I know well. In the realm of the bartender, the daiquiri reigns supreme. How did the daiquiri, a simple rum sour made with ingredients found in almost any bar, become the calling-card cocktail of the bartending community?
Los Cantineros Photo Courtesy of Nick Detrich
To know the daiquiri, you must first know its story. In 1895, a man named Jennings Cox was appointed General Manager of the Spanish-American Iron Ore Company. His job was to oversee iron mines in the town of Daiquiri, on the southern coast of Cuba. The Cuban heat was unbearable to a North American such as himself, but the job came with it's own set of perks. Cox lived in a mansion on a sprawling hilltop, where he threw lavish parties and entertained guests with music, food, and (of course) drink. One fateful night, he decided to serve his guests a rum gifted by his employer, made by the Bacardi company. Uncertain whether his guests would enjoy the Caribbean spirit, Cox added ice, lime, and sugar to the rum before serving it. This seemed like a good way to beat the brutal heat, but he had no idea what magic he had invented.
Original Daiquiri recipe by Jennings Cox. Photo courtesy of the University of Miami
The daiquiri spread throughout Cuba. The beautiful marriage of sugar, citrus, and rum was the perfect refreshment for Cuba’s warm climate. It wasn’t until the 1930's that the Daiquiri would be given another identity by a man who is likely responsible for more blender sales than anyone on the planet: Constante Ribalaigua Vert. Born in Spain, Constante immigrated to Cuba with his family in 1900. His father was a cantinero (bartender) and eventually asked if his son would like to learn the trade. By 1918, Constante was not only an accomplished cantinero, but also took ownership of the bar where he and his father worked, now known as Floridita. Originally opened in 1817 as La Pina de Plata, Floridita is celebrating its 200th aniversary this year. It was at Floridita in the 1930s that Constante perfected the frozen daiquiri. Today, Constante is held in high regard as a pioneer in the bartending community, known for his flavor combinations and relentless hospitality.
Floridita Cantineros make Daiquiris at the grave of Constante. Photo Courtesy of Nick Detrich
One bartender has worked as a modern cultural shepherd, connecting the modern day bartenders of the United States with the rum-soaked roots of Cuban cantinero culture. Julio Cabrera, a Cuban-born bartender based in Miami, has made many trips back to Cuba, bringing American bartenders along for an educational pilgrimage. When asked about the popularity of the daiquiri, he says, "It's so simple. It's three ingredients you can get anywhere. First we saw bartenders ordering the old fashioned, then the negroni, and now it's the daiquiri. As a Cantinero, that's huge." Cabrera has even restored a classic pick-up truck and christened it "El Daiquiri." The truck is a rolling daiquiri station and serves cocktails at various events.
Julio Cabrera's El Daiquiri.
New Orleans rum-slinger Nick Detrich is one of the lucky bartenders who has joined Cabrera on a Cuban pilgrimage. Detrich had a few insights into the daiquiri’s current popularity. "For a three ingredient drink, it's one that offers such a massive spectrum. When I'm getting to know a bartender from the other side of the stick, it's a great introductory tool that reveals a lot. Is he/she a classicist with a crisp, clean, and refreshing Cuban style rum? Is there a bit of Jamaican rum that may reveal a proclivity for the funkier rums? Do they ask me if I wanted blended or Floridita style--then I swoon. It helps me decide what sort of drinks that I'm going to enjoy from said bartender." Nick and Julio will be hosting a National Daiquiri Day event at Detrich's bar Cane & Table during Tales of the Cocktail this year. July 19th is National Daiquiri Day. It is on this day that we celebrate that combination of three ingredients which together stand the test of time.
Perhaps the most social aspect of the reign of the daiquiri would have to be the snaiquiri (pronounced snack-iri) or DTO (Daiquiri Time Out). Over the past decade, I've watched the bartender's handshake change forms. What used to be a shot of whiskey or amaro is becoming small, portioned out cocktails, and here the daiquiri really shines. "It creates more of a connection than just pouring a spirit, since you're actually making something" for fellow bartenders, says Nik Shumer-Decker, bartender at Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia. "It also gives you a chance to customize the flavor for someone, and that's more personal." Another, quieter benefit of this practice is its natural moderation of alcohol intake.. A "shot’s" worth of daiquiri compared to a neat spirit makes a world of difference when it comes to blood alcohol level (and brain power). Ultimately, the snaiquiri is a sign of belonging, a way of saying "I'm in the club." If a patron asks for a snaiquiri, you know they've been behind the stick.
Though I know cocktail history is thoroughly exciting for all of you (especially if you’re hanging out with me), I'm sure you're ready for a drink. We've put together some fun daiquiri variations to add to your arsenal. These recipes take a fun, playful approach to the standard blueprint of the daiquiri, making them as unique as the bartenders who created them.
Mint Daiquiri contributed by Nick Detrich
2 oz Cuban Style Rum (Bacardi works fine in USA)
0.75 oz fresh lime
1 tbsp sugar
0.5 oz Creme de Menthe
4-5 mint leaves
6 oz crushed ice
Blend everything, including mint leaves, in a blender.
Pour into a large cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Boukman Daiquiri contributed by Alex Day
1.5 oz El Dorado 3 Year
0.5 oz Landy Cognac
0.75 oz Lime Juice
0.75 oz Cinnamon Syrup
Shake and strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with a lime wheel.
Daiquiri on Dorgenois contributed by Brian Maxwell, Shaker of Spirits
1.5 oz Cana Brava
0.5 oz Wray & Nephew
0.75 oz Lime
0.5 oz Simple Syrup (1:1)
0.25 oz Benedictine Absinthe
Shake and strain into an absinthe-rinsed coupe.
Garnish with lemon peel.
I would love to keep rambling on about how the daiquiri has cemented a place in our hearts, but I need to finishing packing for Tales of the Cocktail! Be sure to enjoy National Daiquiri Day responsibly, and until next time, keep shaking!
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