Summer daiquiris: a tale of Cuba, rum and Ernest Hemingway

By
Benny Roff
Added
19 December, 2013

Professional boozehound Benny Roff reveals the true soul of the oft-adulturated daiquiri, and shares his recipes for drinking them Hemingway-style.

“He had drunk double frozen daiquiris, the great ones that Constante made, that had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow and, after the sixth and eighth, felt like downhill glacier skiing feels when you are running unroped.” Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream.

A properly made daiquiri is eponymous with summertime. There is nothing that quite suits the season so well. But arguably, there is no drink more maligned than the daiquiri. Daiquiri vans broadcasting their insipid technicolour contents criss-cross our cities like the alcoholic equivalent of a self-help guru pedalling easy answers for the masses. They serve something that may contain more alcohol than a convenience-store slushy, but in sugar content and artificial colouring and flavouring they are little different.

A true daiquiri consists of nothing more that white rum, lime juice and sugar. When the proportions are correct and the dilution perfect, it is a delicate balance: the drink strong, but not obviously so; sour, but a step back from lip pursing; tempered but barely flavoured with sugar. It can be served strained, on the rocks, or frozen in pretty much any type of glass.

The story of the daiquiri really begins with the story of Fecundo Bacardí Massó, a Catalonian who migrated to Cuba in 1830 at the age of sixteen. Rum, at the time, was considered a rough sort of drink, and rightly so – it was a byproduct of sugar production that served to get the working poor of the Caribbean absolutely stonkered on the regular. With the aid of his brother, in 1862 Fecundo purchased an old distillery in Santiago de Cuba with the aim of commercialising his version of rum, using a carefully cultured yeast, and first ageing and then filtering the product to produce a clear spirit. This lighter, more delicate spirit was adaptable to making some truly fine cocktails, in a way that its rough-and-ready predecessors had not been. According to the Bacardi company, the original yeast strain is still in use at their Puerto Rican distillery, the family having moved their operation shortly after Castro’s 1959 revolution.

By the time Jennings Cox arrived in Cuba to work at the Daiquiri mine near Santiago de Cuba in the late nineteenth century, Bacardi was very well known in the region. Adding lime and sugar to rum was certainly not originated by Cox, but his is a feasible tale of adding the two to Bacardi and naming it daiquiri after the iron ore mine in which he worked.

In 1932, Ernest Hemingway sought refuge in Cuba from the fawning masses that inundated his Florida home. While staying in Havana, he became particularly fond of a bar named La Florida and its bartender, Constante Ribalagua. When he saw frozen daiquiris on the bar, his interest was piqued and he tried one. He declared that it was a very good drink, and asked for another with double the rum and no sugar. The Papa Doble, as that version came to be known, became his favourite drink and La Florida his favourite bar. The frozen daiquiri was Ribalagua’s speciality. He apparently didn’t invent them, but with Hemingway as his mouthpiece, he certainly popularised them.

A daiquiri is part of the largest group of cocktails: the sour. Sours are all made from something strong, something sweet and something sour. David Embury, an amateur cocktail enthusiast who wrote the wonderful The Fine Art Of Mixing Drinks in 1948, specified his method of making a daiquiri uses his 8:2:1 formula for mixing sours. That is 8 parts rum, 2 parts lime and 1 part sugar syrup. This formula is an excellent starting point for anybody wishing to experiment with sours. The strong, sour and sweet ingredients could be anything. When mixed in these proportions they have a fighting chance of turning out delicious. He uses sugar syrup as he disdains the use of sugar, either granulated or powdered, in cocktails, as the dissolution is uncertain and residual sugar can wind up in the bottom of the cocktail glass. Like most daiquiri recipes, his calls for crushed ice. After vigorously shaking to achieve the right dilution, it is strained into the glass.

Making a good cocktail is not simply about following a recipe, though I recommend following a recipe exactly the first time you try a new drink. After that, make another one. Change it up, experiment, ask your friends, and if you’re really nerdy take notes.

You will need to make sugar syrup. I recommend making a double syrup. That is: 2 parts caster sugar to 1 part water by volume. To make the syrup, you can mix them thoroughly in a saucepan, then bring it to the boil without stirring and strain it. To make the crushed ice occasionally called for in these recipes, it will be necessary to purchase a machine. A perfectly serviceable hand-driven version is available at many hospitality supply stores or online at a reasonable cost. If you want to, you can crush your ice ahead of time and place it in a perforated tray so that the melty part drains away, leave it in the fridge to melt more slowly.

The lovely unrefined daiquiri

Despite David Embury’s objections, I have a sentimental attachment to this version made with granulated sugar. Drinking it is always an adventure – it might be a little sour, until a few grains of sugar dissolve on your tongue after you swallow. The first few sips yield surprising ice fragments. It is, all in all, my favourite summer cocktail, and no amount of finesse or consistency can take that away from this version.

60 ml white rum, at room temperature

15 ml fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

crushed ice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously until the shaker is so frosty that your hands stick to it. Strain it through a hawthorn strainer (if using a boston, or french shaker) or the perforated lid of the shaker (if using a cobbler shaker) into a martini glass. If you want to get a little closer to Jennings Cox (after all who doesn’t) simply tip the whole mess into a glass.

No 1 frozen daiquiri

This is Embury’s ratio but not his technique. You can use the proportions in this daiquiri on the rocks, or stirred with crushed ice, or shaken and strained, but I wanted to create something that looked like the pictures I saw of Hemingway in La Florida. Because most people won’t use a 100 ml measuring flask, I have made the following few recipes, recipes for two drinks. I have given the weight of ice I think you should use for a frozen daiquiri. You can use less, 100 g less does stop the drink sitting up quite like the slushy in the pictures, but it is delicious.

120 ml white rum, at room temperature

30 ml fresh lime juice

15 ml sugar syrup

400 g ice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until a slushy is achieved. Pour into two of any kind of glass, La Floridita seem to use martini glasses these days, though in the 50s they had narrower and deeper conical glasses. Nobody seems to garnish daiquiris with anything, so don’t.

Papa Doble

This drink contains proportions for one drink only. Before you attempt this, you should be aware that the vast majority of people will find it too astringent. I certainly do. Almost all recipes that I have come across that suggest they are for the kind of daiquiri that Hemingway drank seem to have some kind of sugar in them, which flies in the face of his many references to double daiquiris with absolutely no sugar. It isn’t a surprise, strong alcohol and acid together without the ameliorating affect of even a little sugar are very hard to drink. Even a little sweetener will leave the drink tasting very sour, but balanced. In my opinion the way Hemingway drank them was out of whack. If you’ve ever tried to follow his recipe for Death In The Afternoon which consists of absinthe with champagne poured over the top, you’ll understand that he really liked the potent astringency. So here goes:

120 ml white rum, at room temperature

30 ml fresh lime juice

200 g ice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until a slushy is achieved. Pour into one glass. Hemingway’s record was sixteen of these in a sitting, which is two and three quarter bottles of rum. He was in very poor health at the time of his suicide at the age of 61.

No 3 or Hemingway daiquiri

As previously discussed, this wasn’t his favourite way to have a daiquiri. I’ll just let you try what I thought was tasty. If you make this one without the grapefruit juice it is even further removed from the original, but may have been my favourite experiment of the lot. I’m serving it on the rocks here, or more specifically crushed ice, but they are also lovely frozen. This one serves 2.

120 ml white rum, at room temperature

30 ml fresh lime juice

15 ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur

10 ml fresh grapefruit juice

400 g crushed ice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake hard until the shaker sticks to your fingers. Pour into two double old fashioned glasses. 


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