These days, it’s hard to imagine a daiquiri as anything other than a fun pink-coloured cocktail with a slushie-esque consistency, topped with strawberries and maybe a little umbrella in the glass. There have been so many iterations of this drink invented, changed up and added twists to, that it seems the world has forgotten this cocktail’s roots. The original daiquiri involved much less flourish. It started out as more of a sour, consisting of a base spirit, sweetener, and citrus. Today we’re looking into how the daiquiri ended up so far from where it started, by first learning about how it started in the first place.
Cuba as the perfect setting for the first daiquiri
We can’t begin a lesson on the history of daiquiri without talking about Cuba. This country was once the object of every other nation’s desires, thanks to its ideal climate which accommodates healthy growing of crops. It’s also strategically located as the meeting point of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean.
For most of its history, Cuba was owned by Spain. When the coloniser began to open up the island for trade, Cuba quickly became the source of two major crops: sugar and tobacco. The former proved to be difficult to process, leaving molasses everywhere. This ended up being the base ingredient for rum, which is the base ingredient of the classic daiquiri.
Sick of being colonised, Cuba sought independence from Spain. They had some help from Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated for said independence. But Roosevelt sent US troops to a beach in Santiago called Daiquiri Beach, where a battle ensued near an iron mine.
That battle resulted in the United States occupying Cuba, leaving the country to a fate unchanged.
Jennings Cox’s daiquiri
When it was safe, the iron mine near Daiquiri Beach operated. One miner, Jennings Cox, was one of the many people who profited off the land. His presence in the country lead to the invention of the first daiquiri.
It is said that Cox was entertaining some people one night and ran out of gin. So he purchased the next best thing–rum, which was widely available in Cuba. Cox fashioned a punch out of rum, sugar, ice, lemons, and some water. When his guests asked what it was, Cox called it a daiquiri, after the beach. Technically, what he made was just a good old rum sour.
Cox’s daiquiri was the first recorded recipe for the cocktail, dated in 1896. The original daiquiri called for:
- 1.41 liters Bacardi
- 0.5 liters mineral water
- 30ml sugar
- 6 lemons
- Crushed ice
The daiquiri’s rise to fame
The daiquiri remained a local drink until 1909, when Jennings Cox met with a US naval officer. The officer returned to Washington D.C. with Cox’s recipe, and the daiquiri became a hit, starting at the Army and Navy club and quickly spreading throughout the country.
Some 20-30 years later, technology changed the way the classic daiquiri was served. It took the electric blender and a bartender in Havana to alter daiquiris forever. “Constante” Ribalaigua Vert was a bartender at El Floridita bar. He was the one to introduce the world to the frozen daiquiri, made by blitzing the usual ingredients in a blender.
As tiki bars rose in popularity in the following decade, bartenders began experimenting to create a more tropical flavour to match the mood of the establishment, birthing the ever-famous strawberry daiquiri in the process.
Ernest Hemingway’s daiquiri
Most unassumingly, the celebrated author Ernest Hemingway also had a hand in transforming the daiquiri’s original recipe. A frequenter of El Floridita, Hemingway had created his own version of the daiquiri because he was diabetic.
In the place of sugar, Hemingway used maraschino liqueur and grapefruit juice to give him that sweetness. And so the Hemingway daiquiri was born.
Hemingway’s daiquiri consisted of:
- 90ml white rum
- 15ml grapefruit juice
- 30ml lime juice
- 8ml maraschino liqueur
Back to basics
Daiquiris weren’t the only drinks to experience modifications that strayed far off from the original recipe. Cocktail enthusiasts realised this in the 1990’s, inspiring the hand-crafted cocktail boom, also known as the classic cocktail renaissance. And so, a movement started, getting the daiquiri back to its simplest form again.