Daiquiri: Evolution of a classic

01 December, 2022

It’s been around a long time, but the rum favourite is still constantly being reimagined, finds Shay Waterworth.

Rum, lime and sugar has to be one of the simplest serves ever made, yet the Daiquiri has been around for more than 100 years and is one of the most successful drinks ever stirred, thrown or shaken. In the late 1800s, US engineer Jennings Stockton Cox was leading a mining expedition on the south coast of Cuba following the battle of San Juan, which allowed the US to exploit the island’s rich iron ore. While there, he began experimenting with the local rum – Bacardi Carta Blanca – and the resulting recipe was then called after the namesake town where the Americans were mining. The drink was later taken back to the US through Admiral Lucius Johnson and to this day the Army & Navy Club in Washington DC has a Daiquiri Lounge.

Throughout the subsequent Daiquiri: Before and after century, the rum classic has thrived to become one of the most popular serves globally. To quantify this, the Daiquiri was listed number five in Drinks International’s annual Brands Report, which ranks the most popular classic cocktails in the world’s best bars. Cocktail historian David Wondrich, in an article for Esquire, once said: “In fact, the Daiquiri represents such an obvious marriage between local ingredients – rum, sugar, limes – and American technology – cocktail shaker, ice – that it would take an idiot to not invent it.”

Having said that, the ingredients may be simple, but executing the cocktail requires skill. A well-balanced Daiquiri is frequently used as a metric for good bartending, similarly to how Gordon Ramsay asks any new chef to make him scrambled eggs to determine their ability.

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The simplicity of the serve is what makes the Daiquiri a classic, but it’s also the most twisted drink in history – the earliest of which came from American author Ernest Hemingway. While on a fishing trip to Cuba in the 1930s, the Pulitzer Prize winner famously asked the owner of Havana’s El Floridita bar (known as the cradle of the Daiquiri) for the local drink. After unknowingly tasting his first Daiquiri he famously said: “I want it with no sugar and double the rum.” This, in turn, gave birth to the Papa Hemingway.

Other more recent takes on the Cuban classic hit the mainstream, including the Strawberry Daiquiri and subsequently various frozen varieties, which still litter the streets of New Orleans. Staying in the French Quarter, Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry’s Latitude 29 bar is famous for its Luau Daiquiri, which uses orange juice and vanilla syrup in lieu of the traditional sugar.

Even as recently as 2005 (ish) the Nuclear Daiquiri was invented by Gregor De Gruyther in London’s LAB bar. This expression uses overproof rum, Green Chartreuse, lime and falernum, and would knock your socks off – hence the name.


Fast-forward to 2022 and most accomplished bars have their own twists on the classic Daq. Sergio Leanza, co-founder of neighbourhood cocktail bar Funkidory in London’s Peckham, has a Persian Daiquiri on the menu, using saffron liqueur and rose water, which is one of the local favourites.

As documented by Stockton Cox, Bacardi was the original rum used to make the first iteration of the Daiquiri but, given the simplicity of the drink, the character of the rum is influential. According to the 2021 Brands Report, Bacardi remains the number one rum used to make Daiquiris in the world’s top bars, followed by Cuban brand Havana Club and then Plantation. Each rum manipulates the end product differently, and with the world’s craft distilling culture booming there are lots of interesting rums that make traditional Daiquiris with complex and nuanced profiles.

The Cuban drink is synonymous with the postcard-suitable streets of sunny Havana, yet 7,000km away on a small island in the cold, windy Irish Sea, the Daiquiri is gaining yet another style. Outlier Distilling Company on the Isle of Man started making rum in an old milking shed a couple of years ago and it recently gained significant distribution following a successful showing at the UK RumFest. Its flagship Hoolie rum uses imported molasses, which is fermented and double distilled in a woodburning still before undergoing charcoal filtration, making it compatible with classic serves.

More recently, the Manx producer launched an overproof expression called Hurricane, which is dashed on top of its Hoolie-based Daiquiri to make the Manx Daq, which was a hit among the geeks at Ian Burrell’s RumFest in October.

Outlier founders Ian Warborn-Jones and Rick Dacey

Evidently the Daiquiri continues to be played with by both producers and bartenders, but it’s important to understand how consumers want their Daqs served. At established tiki bars such as London’s Trailer Happiness and Latitude 29, people don’t want to mess with the recipe, they’d rather be specific with the rum that goes into it, whereas in less mature cocktail scenes, the twists are still in charge. Drew Fleming, who recently won the inaugural World’s 50 Best Bars The Blend Scholarship, works at Kiki Lounge in the Isle of Man, serving Daiquiris with Outlier’s Hoolie on the menu.

“We work a lot with big brands like Chairman’s Reserve and Bounty, but we obviously want to use local produce where we can and Hoolie makes a really interesting Daiquiri,” says Fleming.

“Our guests don’t often order them classic – Frozen and Strawberry Daiquiris are by far the most popular.”

Drew Fleming of Kiki Lounge

Right now bartenders are enjoying the classic Daiquiri, pimping it with their preferred rum. Strawberry and frozen varieties aren’t cool, but to consumers they’re still huge – they may not represent much of the original recipe, but they carry the Daiquiri name on as the legacy continues.

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