Pod Tiki: The Daiquiri

“My Daiquiri in El Floridita.” It wasn’t the burly man’s American aplomb that took Constantino aback. Havana had been no stranger to yanquee tourism since prohibition. Some likened La Habana to a Paris of the Caribbean. No, it wasn’t that about the stranger. It wasn’t even his curious Spanish, obviously learned in Spain and not the Caribbean. He walked with a stride betraying an earned confidence bordering on arrogance. Like a grousing old man who pretends to be angry then playfully gives a wink. Constantino, head cantinero at El Floridita, Havana, Cuba circa 1930’s, has the man careening through the front door heading straight for the men’s room. As the relieved looking man strode out and past the bar he became instantly entranced by the flashy bartender holding a bottle aloft and pouring a high long stream of shimmering rum. “What’s that, there?” The man was intrigued. So, Constantino made Ernest Hemingway one of his soon to be legendary Floridita Daiquiris. With an indiscriminate lean towards the bar Hemingway mused, “Not bad. Make me one with no sugar, double rum.” With a contagious nod of approval the Papa Doble was born and the now pervasive Daiquiri caught the intemperate glare of posterity. A glare that continues to see into even these our modern days. This is the story of the Daiquiri.  

Rum, sugar, lime juice. It’s improbable that any one person could really be credited with first combining those three ingredients so prevalent in the age of exploration. It certainly goes back further than Constantino in the 1930’s. British Navy Grog rations had been mixed with lime since the late 18th century, and suspicions connecting citrus and scurvy had been documented as far back as Vasco de Gama. When he found the actual Indies, (take that Columbus.) The Taino people of the West Indies are said to have aided infamous plunderer Sir Francis Drake’s ill crew with an elixir of rum, sugar, mint and lime juice, (see my previous Mojito article.) But alas, for our purposes we are dialing in once again on Cuba. Specifically the small mining town of Daiquiri near Santiago de Cuba somewhere in the late 1890’s and one Jennings Cox.

As to be expected by this point there are multiple origins thrown around regarding this cocktail’s legend, but we’re going to settle in on the one I have prominently found. Jennings Cox was a mining engineer leading a team in Cuba at the behest of President Roosevelt in 1896. A story relayed by Cox’s granddaughter claims that; upon running out of gin while entertaining one evening, and not wanting the serve the primitive rum spirit to his guests straight-up, Jennings Cox combined lime juice, cane sugar and crushed ice. Being thoroughly enjoyed by all, the cocktail was dubbed Daiquiri after the town they were mining. In all likelihood Cox had seen local miners mixing these ingredients into their weekly rations of Bacardi Carte Blanc since his arrival. But, you know what they say about he who writes the history. 

And yes, we’re back at Bacardi. The charcoal filtered oak barrel aged pre-revolutionary spirit of Facundo Bacardi would have looked and tasted much different than the ubiquitous crystalline bachelorette party fuel we find today. Bacardi would have been the prevalent rum in Cuba before the subsequently government owned Havana Club forced the largest family owned distillery in the world off the island. (A title Bacardi still holds as of 2019.) 

Bacardi’s popularity was soaring way before Cox would be exploiting the mines of Daiquiri. At some point the 6 year old King Alfonso XIII of Spain had fallen ill with fever. Because remember for all you aspiring time travelers out there this is a time when people died of diarrhea and a fever. Exhausting all the medical knowledge of the day the king’s keepers began administering the royal child small servings of Bacardi rum till he essentially - passed out. Once again the “medicinal” attributes of rum worked there magic and it came to pass that upon awakening from his healing slumber, (aka alcohol doping a small boy) the callow king’s fever broke and Bacardi was credited with saving the life of His Majesty. 

The Daiquiri had already found its way across the Florida Straits by the early 1930’s when Constantino Ribalaigua Vert pivoted from head bartender to owner of El Floridita. Originally opened in 1817 as La Pina de Plata the famous bar remains perched on the corner of Calles Obispo y Monserrate offering a cool and boozy reprieve to the insufferably hot Caribbean afternoons. Personally, I kinda like the original name. I would totally drink at The Silver Pineapple.     

Today the famous bar inside is decorated in a deep vermillion red, the same color as the bartender’s vintage vests. The sizable murals of a uniformed Fidel have been replaced by mirrors and behind the bar a large stormy sepia portrait of a sailing vessel arriving in Havana harbor looks out over the room. A band plays inside, another Cuban jazz rendition of Boy From Ipanema. And there he is nonchalantly casting aspersions over the bar from his spot in the far left corner. In all his bronzified glory. The lifesize statue of Hemingway. I drank a lot of daiquiris with Hem over the course of my stay in Havana. And true, El Floridita has become a bit of a tourist trap, but the essence of the legendary author looms ethereal as I sat beside that statue sharing his view of the bar that claims the title; La Cuna Del Daiquiri - The Cradle Of The Daiquiri. 

The daiquiri seems pretty straight forward, right?. It’s simple, marrying the very basic of cocktail ingredients. But nary another cocktail, I believe, encompasses as many veritable variations. The cuban Floridita version, the “classic”, myriad slight twists and sidestreet variations to those, and yes - even the frozen-fruit-dad’s cabana shirt on lido deck-boat-drink version has a place in the legendary pantheon of the daiquiri. In fact, this is the first drink we’ve encountered in which I prefer a deviation over either the original cocktail or the Floridita. 

Today we’re going to start with the Jennings Cox recipe, which is accepted as the standard, and two Floridita recipes. There are way too many variations of this cocktail to try and discuss them all. And after the night my girl and I spent consuming a legion of daiquiris attempting to perfect the recipes, I don’t think our livers can handle any more “sampling”. For research purposes only, of course. (He types while currently sipping a research daiquiri.) 

Well, that’s enough banter out of me and we’ve got a lot to cover so - Let’s make a drink! 

When I say we tasted several daiquiris in prep for this article I am not exaggerating in the least. My girl and I exhausted our palates and our sobriety attempting to solidify the best versions of our three daiquiris. As with attempting to codify anything in the world of classic cocktails there are usually 2-3 recipes that claim to be the “original”. That being said, it’s pretty agreed upon that the classic daiquiri cocktail recipe reads as follows: 2 oz light rum, 1 oz fresh lime juice, ½ oz simple syrup. 

This as seen in most bars will be shaken with crushed ice and strained into a coupe. Of course Cuban rum is preferred. Havana Club 3 Anos if you can get it. But, since politics make for strange drinking buddies I have some other suggestions. Defaulting to Bacardi my seem inherent. Eh... Current day Bacardi works great for mojitos and Cuba libres but lacks the necessary depth to stand out in a cocktail that’s as rum forward as the daiquiri. Despite Cox’s desire to make his rum more palatable we have to remember he was serving in a time when rum was still regarded as the plebeian spirit of the third world working class. His contemporaries would have been more accustomed to crisp flowery gin, the wheaty burn of Tennessee sour mash, or French Brandy. We should be accentuating the rum flavor in our daiquiri, not trying to cover it up. For that reason I reach for El Dorado 3yr White Demerara Rum. We’re not going to go into the history of Demerara Rums here but hailing from Guyana, using only sugar cane grown along the Demerara river, and being aged 2 yrs longer than most white rums on the market, El Dorado has been taking this category by storm since they burst on the scene back in 1992. I can’t speak highly enough of this rum and any cocktail calling for a light Puerto Rican rum can be bolstered by using El Dorado 3yr instead.

Pretty simple on this one. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with crushed ice, pour in the rum, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously until the shaker feels too cold to hold then strain into a coupe or martini glass. Only notes on this one would be to make sure you use crushed ice in the shaker. It gives the liquid more surface area of ice to bounce off of and aids in dissolving the drink correctly. And of course I don't have to tell you by now you sweet-sweet libation loving fools to always ALWAYS use fresh squeezed lime juice. I recommend making your own simple syrup, too. Get some raw cane sugar and boil up a 1:1 sugar-water mix. In the Pod Tiki household we do one cup of each and keep it in a mason jar in the fridge. Even without the preservatives it should last over a month, but honestly I couldn’t tell you for sure since we usually burn through it post haste. 

Constantino’s El Floridita Daiquiri keeps with the basic ingredients with the addition of Maraschino Liqueur. Also, the way I’ve seen it made there raw cane sugar is used rather than syrup. I generally am not a big fan of syrup if it can be avoided. Unfortunately, in many our tiki drinks it cannot. But alas, here it can. So use the raw sugar. The other defining characteristic of the Cuban daiquiri is that it’s served frozen. 

The blender had recently come into fashion in bars, especially in the tropical prohibition era Havana, and Constantino couldn’t wait to put it into action. He tried many recipes and I believe had four distinct variations on the menu. Even at its inception this contentious cocktail couldn’t be ensconced in just one version. Much like Dirty Dancing 2 Havana Nights, nobody puts daiquiri in a corner. 

After extensive digging through vintage cocktail books and an arduous evening of trial and error, (for research purposes only I implore you to remember), I have settled on the recipe that tastes most like El Floridita Daiquiri I had in Havana. 1 ½ oz El Dorado 3yr Demerara white rum, ¾ oz of lime juice, 1 tsp Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, 1 tsp cane sugar. 


Now, the Cubans don’t generally like their drinks as sweet as we do here in the U.S. of A, so if this seems a little dull just replace the cane sugar with 1 tsp of that simple syrup. Place all that in a blender with about 1 cup of ice and go to town. Conventional blenders work fine but as a pro tip from a non-pro, get your hands on a Nutri-Bullet 900. It mixes consistent and the various size mixing cups lend themselves easily to our more Dionysian business. Post pour the drink should melt rapidly eventually resembling a glacier of debaucherous deliciousness floating motionless in an opaque coral colored sea. 

The Maraschino should be present but not in front of the rum. The canvas of this drink should see the flavors swimming in harmony like a well crafted Bob Ross scene. Purportedly upon enjoying seventeen of these delectable deviants in one sitting Hemingway is quoted as saying, “It was moderately terrific and made me feel a friend to all mankind.” Awe, Hem. He liked his double the rum and no sugar. Which leads us to our next version.

The Papa Doble is aptly named after the author who made his home in Cuba and visited El Floridita frequently. Because Hem liked the bitter-sour over sweet Constantino replaced the sugar with grapefruit juice. Born is the Papa Doble Daiquiri. 3oz Light Rum, ¾ oz lime juice, 2 oz grapefruit juice, 1 tsp Luxardo Maraschino liqueur. If you want to get really traditional forgo measuring your lime and grapefruit for simply squeezing 1 half of a lime and 1 half of a grapefruit. That’s how they do it at El Floridita, but as mentioned before, the size of our fruit in the U.S. generally leaves something to be desired. 

This drink is… well, my notes for this recipe just has the word “whoa” written beside it if that tells you anything. And yes, it’s said that Hemingway first encountered the daiquiri because he stopped in El Floridita to use the bathroom. I’m not buying it since his room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel was a mere few blocks away and it’s no secret the man had a penchant for tippling. I’m just saying. This drink packs an expected rum forward kick with crisp but warm citrus notes thanks to the lime and heavy bitter grapefruit pour. It’s actually quite pleasant if you’re the type who has burned out their palate on spicy-bitter-bullfighting-Africa-artillery-cosmic-yee-haw their whole life and needs the equivalent of a pack of lit firecrackers in their mouth just to feel alive. Look, it’s fine, but I have an admission. In Havana my girlfriend actually ordered the Papa Doble while I stuck to Constantino’s original recipe. Which brings us to the final of our main recipes, the Hemingway Special. 

The Hemingway Special is a Papa Doble made so regular people can drink it safely. The prolific writer once bragged in a letter about consuming seventeen! Daiquiris in one sitting stopping only to, “use the can”. By the way, the bathroom at El Floridita seems to play a prominent role in the Hemingway’s mythos. I can proudly say I’ve pissed in the same spot as Hem himself. But seriously, seventeen daiquiris? If these were Papa Dobles that is quite a feat. It also explains why it was said by the end of his life you could see his distended liver through his shirt. It’s said that he would sit in his corner in his white guayabera shirt and blue shorts reading, writing, and entertaining guests sometimes multiple times a day.  *Drink Responsibly and in Moderation.* 

The Henminway Special as it was labeled on El Floridita’s menu back then encompasses the spirit of the old man while maintaining reasonable drinkability. We’re going to use 2 oz light rum, 1⁄2 oz lime juice, ½ oz simple syrup, 1 oz grapefruit juice, 1 tsp Maraschino liqueur. You can blend that with 1 cup ice, or strain and serve. Cocktail glass for frozen, coupe for strained. This version is a perfect meld of tart lime and bitter grapefruit with a hint of the maraschino cherry depth and that sweet rum and sugar. A great cocktail and of the three, my favorite. 

The daiquiri is a perfect example of how splendid simplicity can be. At its core the three ingredients is all you need. Rum, lime, sugar. Even if you’re not into classic craft cocktails, if you’re not that asshole at parties who scoffs at the host’s booze selection or makeshift drink station, (by the way - fuck that guy) or if you’re hosting and want to impress with a simple yet elegant fresh cocktail… the daiquiri is the way to go. Nice and sweet-tart-tipsy. Refreshing refinement that can be teased up and played with to match your flavor profile.  

Ah, but we’re not done. As I mentioned at the top this is a cocktail with many variants and personal play-with-its. And, one of these offshoots is actually my favorite. I have fallen hard for Plantation 3 Star aged silver rum. Plantation does an incontestable job of masterfully blending rums from Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad to bring us a superb rum that’s simultaneously full bodied enough for tiki drinks and light enough for beachy cocktails. I could rant on forever about this ambrosia of the Carib and maybe a future series on my favorite brands is in order. As much as I love it, I wouldn’t recommend Plantation 3 for mojitos or cocktails using other heavy flavors, as the Jamiacan in it lends a rich funky character that kinda jumps ahead. But for a rum forward daiquiri it lends itself perfectly to the other flavors. Those of which are Henminway inspired. Here is my personal favorite Daiquiri recipe. 2 oz Plantation 3 Star, ½ oz lime juice, ½ oz grapefruit juice, 1 tsp Maraschino liqueur, 1 tsp simple syrup. Shake with crushed ice and strain into a short coupe. Bam!  

I would also like to give an honorable mention to what I call the Jamaiquiri. Sub out the light rum for Myers or another dark Jamaican rum. Even still, don’t be afraid of the dreaded fruit daiquiri. With fresh fruit and good rum they can be quite pleasant, after all. Maybe we’ll tackle that in our “boat drink” series. But hey, the original is pretty damn good by its lonesome with nary a twist or tweek into cocktail nerddom. There’s the Daiquiri my friends. A classic - nay! - a legend all the way. Salute!