SUMMER. IT ISN'T OFFICIALLY HERE, but we’ve already had some hot, bright days in New York City. When the sun beats down on the back of my neck, and burns my skin a lobster pink, I think of one cocktail and one cocktail only: the Daiquiri. Named after a small village on the southern coast of Cuba - where US troops landed during the Spanish-American war - and an iron mine populated with hard-partying American engineers.
Among them was one Jennings Cox who had the wisdom to combine lime juice, sugar and local Cuban rum over cracked ice and stirred till the outside of the glass was well frosted, much like the swizzles with which we are all familiar. Of course, with rum, sugar, and limes being Caribbean products, and grog (many things were called “grog” but in this instance means a mixture of rum, water, lime or lemon, and sometimes sugar) being drunk in the British Navy as early as 1795, it is entirely possible that someone unknown to history beat him to the punch.
At some later point, we see recipes calling for the drink to be shaken with crushed ice, and strained into a cocktail glass, and finally, in the cocktail dark ages of the late seventies and eighties, thrown into blenders with artificial flavourings, too much sugar, poured like concrete into hurricane glasses and garnished with tiny umbrellas and plastic monkeys - just to be clear, a well made frozen Daiquiri can be a thing of great joy.
Even now, this exceedingly simple and elegant concoction is flogged at places that look like laundromats, with their walls of frozen drink machines resembling tumble dryers, containing slushy mixtures called ‘Shock Treatment’, ‘Monster Melon’ and ‘Blue Mutha Shut Yo’ Mouth’, which often do not contain rum, and bear little resemblance to the classic version we’ve come to know and love. Unfortunately, these drinks, while welcome in the hands of scantily clad post-teen beachgoers in Miami (how else are college guys supposed to get laid on spring break?) have sullied the reputation of a drink as elemental and perfect as the Gin Fizz or Whiskey Sour.
Over the last few years, however, bartenders of a certain quality have fallen head over heels for the Daiquiri and it is making a resurgence like that of the Old-Fashioned. The classic Daiquiri is available and appreciated all over town and variations are popping up with added fruit or different rums. I’ve always enjoyed making the Brooklynite with Jamaican rum, honey and angostura bitters. Lately, I’ve discovered that by very slightly modifying the original recipe you get a drink which I might call a ‘Session Daiquiri’ - named for session ipa with its lower alcohol content - much more suited to long afternoons of tropical porch imbibing than what has become the accepted modern canonical version.
I fill a collins or highball glass with cracked ice, pour one ounce of lime juice over the ice, then three quarters of an ounce of simple syrup, then follow that with two ounces of white rum. Stir or swizzle everything together and sip slowly, letting all the ice melt into the drink over its life, supplying the Caribbean habitué with the necessary hydration.
A long day into evening spent drinking this version would be much less punishing than the same time spent drinking shaken Daiquiris served up. Either way, you can’t lose! Cheers and happy drinking!