The Composition and Politics of the Daiquiri

bar_tools_01When I order a daiquiri more often than not a bartender’s first thought will be of the frozen fruit variety. There is a giddy charm in these colorful concoctions. Imagine a sexy clown drinking one coquettishly through a tiny hole in the middle of gigantic red lips. A true daiquiri is not that ebullient drink. Rather, it is a cloudy puddle in a short, clear glass. The basic recipe calls for rum, citrus juice, and sugar. The citrus is usually lime, but often appears as lemon and occasionally as grapefruit. To my knowledge, nobody has ever expressed a preference for lemon over lime, but regional availability is a factor. Maraschino is sometimes added. Adding a Croatian liqueur to a daiquiri seems wholly inappropriate to me, but some fetishists will advocate Maraschino in just about anything. David Embury, the most eloquent and most definitive writer of modern cocktail literature, gives the following recipe for a Daiquiri De Luxe in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

1 part Orgeat or Crème d’Ananas
2 parts lime juice
8 parts White Label Cuban rum
Shake with crushed ice and strain into chilled glass.

Embury’s choice of sweetener comes down on the tawdry side. Orgeat is a mash of almonds and flower water. Either Orgeat or the pineapple liqueur conveys beach resort decadence. Ordinary sugar does just fine for us working stiffs. The addition of ice can also be questioned. In the days before widespread electric refrigeration, ice would have been uncommon in the Caribbean islands. For a fuller flavor, you might try it at room temperature. The rum must be the white Cuban and not dark Jamaican. The daiquiri is a Cuban drink named for a Cuban village.

The invention of the daiquiri cocktail is commonly credited to an American. In postbellum Santiago, around the time when we of the USA ostensibly freed Cuba and then promptly occupied it ourselves, a carpetbagging engineer named Jennings Cox had the bright idea to temper the harsh rum with lime and sugar. This is his purported handwritten recipe:

For 6 persons –
the juice of 6 lemons
6 teaspoons ful of sugar
6 Bacardi cups “Carta Blanca”
2 small cups of Mineral Water
Plenty of crushed ice
Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker – and shake well – Do not strain so the glass may
be served with some ice.

There are problems with the Jennings Cox story. First, it comes from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s tradition of a noble-blooded European man dominating the culture of a lesser race. It presumes that nobody on an island bathed in sweet fermented sugar and sour citrus juice had never mixed the two liquids until some fat guy with a bowtie and hair parted down the middle came up with the bright idea. Second, the Cox paper clearly mentions lemons, which are virtually unknown in Cuba. Mistranslating the word “limon” as lemon instead of lime is a common mistake stateside, but not one likely to be made by a person in Cuba with a room full of limes. Equally suspect is the specification of Bacardi. While it is perfectly likely that Cox would have used Bacardi brand rum, the shadowing fact is that the earliest known claims of invention appear in a Miami Herald article of 1937 that reads like ad copy for Bacardi, referring to it as “Cuba’s favorite liquor” and the daiquiri as “one of those wonderful rum concoctions made from Ron Bacardi”. An ad campaign by the company stresses the brand’s centrality in the creation of the Cuba Libre, yet won’t mention Coca-Cola by name. Both Bacardi origin stories are about as fanciful as the commercial featuring John Jameson battling the Hawk of Achill.

The popularization of the daiquiri in the USA can be attributed to a couple of hip 20th Century trendsetters. In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway enjoyed the drink during his fishing trips to Cuba. His popular variant, the Papa Doble, contains more fruit juice than actual rum, because Hemingway was a big sissy. Later, President John F. Kennedy named the daiquiri his favorite drink, having encountered it during his stint in the navy. Kennedy further enhanced his enjoyment of Cuban rum, as well as Cuban cigars, by enforcing a near-total embargo with Cuba that lasts to this day. The Catholic Kennedy knew his bible, Leviticus 18:22 and Genesis 2:17, and thus knew that forbidding fruit is what makes it sweetest.


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